The Secret to Setting Goals (And Reaching Them)

No matter what we’re trying to accomplish, setting goals will help us get there. Age-old guidelines are available to assist us in goal setting: make them measurable, attainable, specific and time-sensitive.


But sometimes setting goals can be an ambiguous process, like throwing darts blindfolded. In fact, when I recently formed a mastermind group with two other wonderful ladies, our first step was to set long-term personal and professional goals. (I’ll write more about mastermind groups in a few weeks). This was no small task! Sure, we could throw out a few lofty wishes, but we wanted to make our goals more tangible and real.

That’s when someone suggested we try using visualization.

Visualization, fact or fiction?

Visualization is a meditative process, and given my lack of experience and success in meditating, I was skeptical. Typically when I sit down, close my eyes and take a deep breath, I am attacked by a furry dog. Even without dog attacks, I have trouble focusing my thoughts.

Using the steps outlined below, however, I successfully used meditation to visualize what my life will look like in five years, thus providing structure to my goal-setting process.

A visualization exercise

Set aside 30-45 minutes for this exercise. Also, since you’ll need to carry out the visualization process outdoors, you might want to set aside some good weather, too! Below is the process we followed.

1. Find a quiet, relaxing place outdoors (e.g., hiking trail, park, among trees, etc).

trail in woods

2. If standing throughout the exercise, you’ll need a partner to guide you. If you prefer to be alone, you can sit (and possibly stand/walk towards the end).*

3. Next you’ll need to ground yourself. This is common for any visualization or meditation, and is usually accomplished with deep, deliberate breaths.  Breathing count is really up to you. The net result is for you to be relaxed and focused.

4. Close your eyes. Imagine your life from birth to present to five years in the future. What is your first memory as a child? As you walk through the years of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, what memories stand out in your mind? (Note there is no right or wrong way of thinking here. Allow yourself to conjure memories  unencumbered, and make sure to take note later, after opening your eyes, of the types of thoughts that entered your mind. What emotions were you feeling at the time?).

5. Now fixate on five years in the future. Visualize this future as you want it to play out, but make sure it feels real, not wishful. What does your life look like? Your career? What are the events, activities, sites, sounds, smells taking place as you get closer to your vision? As you walk through the scenario in your mind, ask yourself the following:  What do I hear? What am I feeling? What emotions are coming up?  What colors do I notice?  Is there a smell, fragrance or scent of any kind?  What are my favorite smells?  What is the texture to the room, the furniture, the surroundings? Do I see anyone else? If so, who, what are they like?

6. If standing, walk forward, towards your vision, with arms outstretched and moving forward. If sitting, stand up  and walk (very carefully), forward, as previously described.

7.  Stay with your vision as long as you can to clearly embrace it, feel it and experience it.  Then when the time is right (you’ll know), make a careful counter-clockwise turn. The purpose of this turn is to acknowledge, unwind and heal any issues/pains from your past which impede forward progress.

8.  Open your eyes and take 15 minutes to write your experience down on paper.  Recall as much detail as you can.

Capturing imagery to pin down those goals

Though skeptical about visualization at the outset, I was surprised by the vivid images I was able to imagine five years down the road. Specifically, I could see myself writing at my desk, just like Diane Keaton in Something’s Got to Give, I could smell dinner cooking in my kitchen, and see my dog Walden hiking with me along trails in the hills, as crazy and happy as he is today. After I opened my eyes and wrote these images down, I could work backwards from my ideal lifestyle to create goals.

This process may work more effectively and vividly for some than others. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If it works, continue the practice over time. After all, unforeseen circumstances appear and things change.

Other visualization techniques and tips

Other visualization processes I have read and heard about are somewhat similar to the one I described above, with minor variations. For example, here’s a post that suggests you envision yourself walking down a path (e.g., in the woods, down a beach). At the end of the path is the goal you want to achieve. After taking in sensory details, you let the vision go.

Here’s another post that suggests a pink bubble technique to visualize goals. And another with some other helpful tips to help your visualization exercises.

Lastly, another idea is to to purchase audio of someone else guiding you through the process.

Stay tuned to Friday’s post in which I interview someone who has used visualization in a number of facets of his life, to accomplish fitness goals, fight cancer and and write screenplays. He also shares a number of visualization techniques he has used over the years.

About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.