Lucy felt stuck. She was bright, talented and frustrated. She was stalled in her career and overwhelmed in her personal life and it was creating major stress in her life.

The problem was she didn’t know which area in her life to tackle first, or how to come up with some next steps to move her forward. That’s where I came in. As her counselor, I suggested she take an overall look at each area of life that was a concern by making what I call a Healthy Balance sheet. By listing each area she wanted to make some changes in, we could come up with some practical next steps, set some goals, and construct a plan. Here are the categories Lucy came up with:

• Spiritual
• Career
• Finances
• Social
• Recreational

I asked Lucy to list what she was currently doing in each of these
areas and what she needed to do to get on track. For example, in the career category, she wanted to get her MBA to advance her career.

To help her move forward we had to set short-term, long term, and now goals and develop a plan. To help I used Gerald Egan’s model and his acrostic SMART to help jump-start her. Here are 5 Keys to goal setting:

• Specific
• Measurable
• Appropriate
• Realistic
• Timely

To get results, Lucy had to be specific enough about her goals to drive her to
action. She needed to see measurable results each day, and she needed the goals to be situation appropriate for her life and congruent with her values. She also needed her goals to be realistic. Finally, she needed to be certain the time was right for her to accomplish each goal she set.

Once we talked about each area it was time for me to give her some questions to

• Now that you know what you want, what are some specific next steps?
• What can you do right now to see measurable results? Later?
• What incentives will keep you going?
• How hard are you willing to work?
• What are the costs of choosing this strategy? Are they appropriate and congruent with my values?
• Can I sustain this over time?
• What do you need to do to stay committed?
• What opportunities should I be developing?

Plans need structure to drive us to action. I asked Lucy what sequence of specific actions would help her accomplish her goals, and which actions would be most critical to start? To develop the plan she would need:
• Discipline
• Resources
• A plan for unanticipated obstacles
• Concrete list of things to do
• A sequence of action
• A time frame to accomplish the plan

To plan for obstacles we developed a contingency plan in case her current plan wasn’t working. She could also choose to modify the plan along the way to adapt to changes in her life.

Having a plan for life goals helps us develop needed discipline and keeps us from being overwhelmed. The plan also gives us opportunities to re-evaluate the appropriateness and timing of our goals. Thinking ahead helps us to anticipate possible obstacles and plan as best as we can for them.

To set your personal goals, begin by thinking what solutions make the most sense for you, then put these key principles into action to develop your plan. The possibilities for a better future will be endless.

Back at you: What obstacles have you faced in goal setting? What has or hasn’t helped you in working SMART?

Author's Bio: 

Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in the Northern Virginia/DC area. She is the host of Heartline Podcast and Consider This. Her show airs on several radio stations as well as the Internet. They can be downloaded from or heard on Women’s Radio Network, as well as iTunes at Heartline Podcast. Rita writes for numerous publications and blogs. Her articles have appeared in Counseling Today Magazine, Thriving Family, and Christianity Today, Kyria. Her book on moving through the losses of life will be released in Fall 2013 by Leafwood Publishers. Follow her at, on FB and twitter @heartlinepod.