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How to set realistic goals

Big ambitions like “stopping drinking” are important, but they can be overwhelming.

Breaking your big ambitions down into smaller realistic goals will help you to get there one step at a time.

When your goals are realistic and achievable, you’re more likely to complete them. And with each step forward, you’ll get a sense of achievement that will motivate you to do even more.

What are your goals?

Your goals might be to do with your health, getting out and about, or something to do with your drinking or drug use.

But it’s also important to have goals that include fun activities. Achieving fun and pleasurable goals releases happy hormones in your brain, helping you make positive connections and motivating you to do more.

Fun goals might include:

  • going for a day out with friends or family
  • joining a local activity group
  • cooking your favourite meal once a week

Little things like this can add up to big, positive changes in your life. But for this to happen, your goals need to be clear and realistic.

You just need to follow a simple formula:

An easy way to set realistic goals

Start by writing down your big ambition.

This could be something like drinking less, stopping altogether or improving your health - whatever big change you want to make in an ideal world.

Next, think about the first thing you can do to work towards your big ambition - no matter how small.

To make sure it’s realistic, ask yourself these five questions. Your goal should be:

  1. Specific: What exactly do you want to do?
  2. Measurable: How will you know when you’ve done it?
  3. Achievable: Can you realistically do it?
  4. Relevant: Does the goal relate to something important in your life?
  5. Timely: When do you want to achieve it?

So if your big ambition is to stop drinking altogether, then your realistic goal could be: “I will have a drink-free day tomorrow.”

This is a good realistic goal because it’s something you can do immediately, but turning it into a regular thing will help you build steadily towards your big ambition.

Another example

Let’s say your big ambition is:

“I am going to exercise more.”

For this ambition, a realistic goal could be::

“I am going to go swimming for half an hour at lunchtime next Friday.”

This goal is:

  • Specific: it’s about swimming, not exercise in general
  • Measurable: you’ll know for sure when you’ve done it
  • Achievable: half an hour of swimming a week is a realistic amount
  • Relevant: it works towards your general goal of exercising more
  • Timely: you will have until next Friday to complete it

And when you've got a good idea for your own realistic goal, use our simple goal-setting tool to give yourself a helpful, motivating reminder.

Get support

If you're not sure about your goals, or you're struggling to achieve them, we offer free, confidential advice online or you can get in touch with one of our local services.

We’ll work with you on your own goals, whether that’s reducing your drug or alcohol use, stopping completely or just staying safe and healthy.