"Small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results" - Robin Sharma
I'd say we're all in agreement on this point: to achieve what we set out to do is an all-around wonderful part of our lives that leads to happiness and success in our lives. No matter our definition of those terms, it's safe to say we want to be happy and successful people in accordance with what that means on a personal level. The place where we all tend to diverge is in our approach. Some people simply want to get from point A to point B, some people want to focus on growth and change along the way, some people want a small shift, some people want to upturn their entire lives, etc.
So you can better understand where I'm coming from, consider me a pathological planner in recovery--I would always be thinking about where I want to go, what my next step is, how do I achieve all of these goals on this very specific timeline I've set out for myself. There's a difference between goal-setting and attempting to steer the course of your entire future, on the other hand. The latter operates on the assumption that you will be the same person over time and want the same future, which tends to be dead wrong. Moment to moment there are minute changes accumulating within yourself that you cannot even contemplate on the grand scheme of your life.
You are always in the tumble of waves--or the world around you--that insist on change. You are constantly shifting and reforming as a person, even in the smallest of ways. The long term plans and goals that you set out for yourself are for the person you are now. Not the "you" of tomorrow, next month, year, or decade. The "you" of now. This doesn't mean you shouldn't plan out a future and set appropriate goals to getting there--no, on the contrary, you must envision a future for yourself and take concrete steps that allow you to achieve your dreams. You must allow the person you are now to grow into yourself and your full potential. There are several key ideas that will help you achieve this in a more enjoyable and productive manner.
Break down goals into the smallest of habits or actions. On the outside, it seems responsible and healthy to want to deal with a mental illness, like anxiety or depression, but it's completely overwhelming and paralyzing to sit down and figure out what you're supposed to do about it. Not to mention that these disorders in and of themselves make it harder to do the very actions that would help alleviate them. Break it down into the smallest of steps: get out of bed this morning, schedule an appointment with a mental health therapist, invite a friend over to talk, etc.
That's not a great example because there are a million steps to alleviating those disorders that take a lot of trial and error, falling down and getting back up, and a lot of headaches over why you still have a problem. A better example: I wanted to be a better writer, which involved reading more. I would read a few articles each morning until that became a habit, then that escalated to reading (on average) a few books a week (that took several years to develop).
Don't get carried away with setting a million goals. Choose the smallest number to which you can devote time and attention on a daily basis so that you can do all of them justice. One of the biggest mistakes I'd make is getting overzealous with all I wanted to achieve and ended up tossing most of the goals, feeling completely burnt out and demotivated. You're more likely to achieve your goals and grow much more as a person when you set five or fewer reasonable goals that are all interrelated. For example, to improve your mood your interrelated goals could be to 1) see a therapist once a week 2) do yoga for half an hour each day and 3) write a page of reflections on your thoughts and feelings each day.
If it feels right, allow certain pursuits to take the center stage instead. You may settle on one or two goals that are of great personal importance and fit in nicely with your lifestyle. It's not necessary to keep up regular habits and actions that just don't seem right--sometimes there's more room for growth in a different direction, and that's completely okay, so don't stymie that growth with the less important.
Know that you are not a failure if you want to change your goals or shift your focus elsewhere. Everyone may want you to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer--even you may have wanted to pursue one of those career tracks, but if you find yourself taken with nursing, microbiology research, or a completely different field in the process, you're allowed to rethink your original intentions. I wanted to be a doctor, hands-down, but the person I am now is much better suited to be a therapist and poet. I let myself pursue more courses and opportunities in those areas and found much more joy and satisfaction. Sometimes we have to endure some discomfort and drudgery in achieving anything of importance, but overall my aim is to bring more joy and satisfaction into my life. There's no set path for that, but some paths seem to be better than others depending on who you are.
I wouldn't have ended up where I am had I continued on a path that didn't feel right. It was necessary, however, to continue on a path full with enriching goals and habits that helped push me into my current aspirations. Though I sound confident that I have decided on the right path for me, I know that some aspects of how I envision my future are simply wrong. Whether in big or small ways, there are parts of the future that are completely unpredictable and no amount of planning can compensate for those surprises.