Get Committed to Your Goals

“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back”

We have all had the experience of setting a new goal with optimism and excitement about what the future might hold.  If goal-setting were an easy or trivial matter, there would not be so many motivational books written on “how” to realize your dreams.  What is it that so often goes wrong with goal-setting?  How do we so often end up getting in our own way, tripping over our own feet, and being blind to reality when in pursuit of both realistic and lofty goals?  Tragically, unmet goals often stem from a lack of commitment.

If you are struggling with an unmet goal, it is probably not the first time you have had this experience.  Recognize the inherent vulnerability in deciding that you are invested in reaching a goal.  To admit to yourself (and others) that something is “important” to you, you are opening yourself up to potential failure, disappointment, and loss.  There is usually risk involved in achieving things that are worth achieving.

If it was “easy” to reach important goals, we would struggle much less and their value would decrease.  Things that take effort, willpower, and perseverance are often admired by others and increase our own sense of competency and self-worth.  To begin the process of truly getting committed to your goals, ask yourself, “Am I ready and willing to accept the inevitable mental and emotional discomfort that I must endure to reach this worthwhile goal?”

It is important to consider both short-term and long-term goals in the process of setting your objectives.  The short-term goals are attainable in the near future and ideally build upon one another in the pursuit of a larger long-term goal.  A clear example of short-term goals building upon one another to reach a larger long-term goal is obvious to most students.  Each class that you take in any given semester represents a short-term goal (i.e., complete the course successfully).  These short-term successes build upon one another and ultimately you arrive at the doorstep of your long-term goal: the degree.

Once you have your chosen goal clearly outlined in your mind, honestly ask yourself the following questions (Hayes, 2005):

If you responded “yes” to all of these questions, you have completed an important step towards reaching your goal: you have set one.  The next step in the process of getting committed to your goals is to assess whether or not your goal is short-term or long-term in nature.  Imagine your entire life as one long line, extending from birth (at the left) to death (at the right).  Imagine where you would place your goal on this “life line” related to when you imagine you could reasonably attain this goal.  The distance between where you are now and where you place your goal should tell you whether or not the goal is short-term or long-term.

No matter how many thought exercises or conversations with others that you have about your goal, it all means very little if there is no action applied towards reaching it.  You must choose to behaviorally commit yourself to your goal if you want to reach it.

  • What is one thing you can do today to move you closer to your goal?  (Now do it.)
  • What parts of your life can you identify as getting in the way of reaching your goal?  What can you do about this obstacle?
  • Are you willing to tell other people about your commitment to your goal?
  • Identify ways in which you can pre-commit to your goal.

Recognize that there is no “right” way or “one” way to reach your goal(s).  We are all on our own paths and arrive at our chosen (and seemingly unchosen) destinations in our own way, at our own pace.  However, just because we each have our own “process” for how we go about things and reach our goals, there is no excuse for inaction.  If you have made the decision to not act on something that you desire, you must accept the fact that inaction is also a choice.  Only you can decide what it will take to get committed.

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Hayes, S.C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: May God help me! by radiant guy / CC BY-SA 2.0


  1. Mary Ross on August 7, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I appreciate your saying there is no right way or one way to reach goals, but no excuse fro INACTION. Where I have difficulty is separating steps to take in reaching short-trem and long-term goals (differentiating the two). I get so eager to make sure my short term goals are met and I am being responsible, that I have trouble knowing how to back up and reexamine if my long-trem goals are guiding me. I hope you share research and certainly your encouragement about this in the future. I so appreciate the depth of thought in your daily posts. Thank you!

    • Laura on August 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      Mary – It can be very difficult to make the distinction between short-term and long-term goals and make sure that your actions are aligned with both. Short-term goals tend to provide much more immediate rewards (i.e., gratification), so people can easily become fixated on reaching their short-term goals and neglect the long-term. Part of being “responsible” is being mindful of how each action that you take is in line with your larger, long-term goals. It can be helpful to routinely “check in” with your progress related to reaching those long-term goals… noticing how your short-term goals fit into the larger picture. I will write more about goal-setting, commitment to goals, and what the research has to say about both in the future. Thank you for your comment!

  2. Sara on August 8, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Wow! the quote says it all: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
    Thank you!

    • Laura on August 9, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed this article, Sara! Thank you for visiting and for your comment.

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