Big Goals, Little Details

Isabel du Toit


In 2015 I learnt a major lesson about goal setting. I had set some pretty hefty goals: to pay off my student loan, set up a retirement annuity, start paying off a car, move to a flat in Cape Town, study further, lose 14kgs, learn German, and paint two new paintings. Ambitious, right?!

I left 2015 having achieved a smattering of smaller goals, and only one of my main goals. Despite having achieved a lot, I still felt I had failed.  This is when I realised that while some may be motivated by the unattainable I am not, and that setting unrealistic and overly specific goals was restrictive and demoralising.

I entered 2016 dead-set on learning from my goal-setting mistakes. I started off by looking at who I wanted to be and built a set of goals that would help me take a step closer to this by 2017. I set 46 goals, which fell into eight categories: financial, career, physical, family, friends, mental, travel and spiritual. Each category had specific and broad goals which altogether made for holistic growth over the course of the year.

Here are two goals that were on my list

  1. Broad goal: Maintain healthy habits

In 2015 I was very strict and didn’t touch carbs. This meant – no pancakes from the annual church bazaar, no cake on my birthday and no chocolate eggs over the Easter period. Although I never spiralled, I often felt I was missing out during special events. In 2016 I changed my methods, allowing the odd treat, and guess what… it did not impact my health/wellness at all. The lesson? It’s ok to let go every now and again! Contrary to what I thought would happen, allowing myself room to be imperfect (aka HUMAN) increased my resilience and let me value the special moments in my life.

  1. Specific goal: Pay off my Student loan

I started with my budget, taking into account my rent, medical aid, petrol, cell phone contract and so on. I added a certain amount for clothes and socialising, until what remained was the maximum I could spare. I then worked out a payment plan and set a debit order that left my account on the 4th of each month.

In tough months when unforeseen costs arrived I ate yoghurt for dinner and explored free activities, discovering some great spots as a result. In October 2016 my student loan was paid off! We opened a magnum of champagne at a family celebration dinner. The next month I treated myself to some new sunnies, clothes, and shoes! Feeling positive and rewarded, I then set up a dedicated account and immediately started saving to travel. The lesson? Some goals are tough. Period. Just keep your eye on the prize!

My goals adjusted with me, meaning that I upped the ante in many cases, but also didn’t feel like a failure when life threw me a curve ball.

I realised that goals can only become habit if they fit into your lifestyle. One of the questions I had to ask myself was this: realistically what actions can I add to my current lifestyle that will allow me to achieve one specific goal?

To answer this question, I made sure that each habit forming goal I set myself was broad enough to encompass the aspect of my life that I wanted to change, and flexible enough to fit into my current lifestyle. In the end, 40 of the goals I achieved have successfully paved the road to improving my health, fitness and mental wellbeing.

But there were still specific things that I wanted to accomplish, like paying off loans and finishing projects. I set myself 6 specific goals that were time bound and had a clear end goal. The broader goals acted as a confidence boost and became a driving force in this process, helping me to stay motivated to achieve these goals.

Here are some lessons I learnt to help achieve any goal:

  1. Write down your goals, placing them where you will see them daily.
  2. Forgive yourself for small delays or moments of weakness. You’re only human.
  3. Do not say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend. Give yourself a break.
  4. Reward your successes! Pour some bubbly, go away for a weekend, buy the shoes you’ve wanted for a while or even take a day off from responsibilities.
  5. Adjust your goals to suit you.
  6. Share your goals and use your network of friends, family, and co-workers for their knowledge and advice. You are not alone. You’ll be surprised how much you can achieve with the support of your friends and family.

I did not achieve all my goals and abandoned some. 2016 ended on a high and I can now say with confidence that I am closer to who I hope to be!


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Isabel du Toit is a Project Coordinator at Fetola, particularly focusing on the SAB Foundation Tholoana Programme, and plays a key role in the management of the mentor portfolio and mentor – mentee relationships. She has an Honours Degree in International Studies from Stellenbosch University, and a certificate in Project Management.


  1. Awesome post. I think a lot of people, including myself, struggle with goal setting because we only do it verbally. I’ll be sure to follow those tips.

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