How to define one’s goals

I already posted about the importance of having several goals and write them down. But what is a goal? and how should we define them? This is my personal advice based on my experience, I hope it will work for you, too!

Goals vs to-dos

I hate to-do lists.

I mean, I love creating to-do lists, I can spend a lot of time writing down all the things I want to do and try all the possible designs provided by the app I am using. But then, when it comes to really do the things, I hate that list. I try to change the design, but no matter if the background image is a puppy or a telecommunication tower, I hate the list.

I think that I hate the “to-do” concept, things that have to be done, things that I must do, like you had to do homework at school. The to-do list transforms things that I wanted to do into things that I have to and take all the fun out of it.

How should I define my goals?

Goals must stay simple

“Read this book” is a goal. It may seem simple but it must be so. You should not add any time obligation to it, we never know when a goal will be achieved. You should not write down how you plan to reach your goal, too. Why? because time obligation and study plan can both fail, and the goal should not be associated with anything that can fail. You can give up your study plan but you cannot give up your goals.

Examples of what goals are not:

Daily routine

“Reading 10 pages a day” is not a goal. It is a learning routine. If you set “reading 10 pages a day” as your goal, there are good chances that you will end up giving it up. Because reading 10 pages a day is not always possible. Sometimes we are busy, sometimes we forget, sometimes we just don’t feel like reading at all. The day we fail to read 10 pages would feel like the day we fail to reach our goal. And we will throw out the “reading” part together with the “10 pages a day”.


“Finishing this book before july” or “reading this book in a month” are part of your study plan. As soon as a date or a period of time are implied, you are not defining goals anymore but making a planning to say when you want to achieve the goals. The problem is the same as the daily routine. It is difficult to stick to a planning and if you fail, you will eventually loose interest in the goal itself because it will be associated with failure. What actually failed was just the time aspect of the goal, the part “reading this book” can still be achieved. But if you wrote “reading this book in a month” and if you failed on the “a month” part, the whole goal is not achieved.

In this example, your goal must be “finish this book” and that’s it.

How does it work?

This is my advice: write down your goals but don’t write how you plan to achieve them. The trick is that, if you have a notebook full of attractive goals, you will study to achieve them and you won’t need a to-do list to tell you how to do it. Having a lot of goals is important to let you switch activities and allow you to skip what you don’t feel like doing on a particular day.

The problem with daily routine and study plan is that they seem to be imposed on you, they look like an obligation and they are not flexible enough. Even if it’s natural to fail sticking to it from time to time, you will associate them with failure and at the end, you won’t open your notebook anymore, because it will only bring you back to what you failed to achieve.

One might say: “If I don’t force myself to listen to at least 20 minutes of Japanese a day, I end up not listening at all.” Well, if you have several goals associated with listening, that should not be a problem. It could be goals like “listen to this entire audiobook”, “listen to 5 emissions of this podcast”, “reach the next level of my Japanesepod course”, “watch 3 films in Japanese”….

Have a notebook

You should have a notebook dedicated to goals. I bought one myself, with a lined page on the left and a blank page on the right. I write the goal on the blank page and keep the lined page to write everything I do that brings me closer to my goal. Note that I don’t write in advance what I plan to do. It’s only when I have done something that I write it down.

For example:

If my goal is “write 5 posts on Japanese songs”, I can write on the left page how I found the first song, when I posted it, how I decided to start by Ghibli songs, what is the next song I choose and so on. Every time I post about a song, I write it in my notebook.

As there is no time obligation, you can skip a goal that you don’t like that much and go back to it later. You can add new goals anytime. You will never say “I failed to reach this goal” but you can say “that goal doesn’t interest me anymore, let’s do that instead”.

When a goal is achieved you can put a big smiley on it or cross it with a big green checked mark.


For a very long time, I have hated English, because it was the language everyone had to speak and be good at. Being good was normal, and being bad was shameful. On the contrary, I have started German when it was out-fashioned in an educational system turned to Chinese. German is considered to be a difficult language in France. Not speaking was normal and being bad was impressive. English was associated with shame and German with praise.

Everything is here. I love learning new things but I hate having the feeling that I have to do. That’s why I want to keep my goals away from failure, guilt, self-blame, and all kind of bad feelings that make me turn away from the whole thing. If you feel the same way, I hope this post has inspired you!