If you are looking for a guide that will teach you how to set goals that you will accomplish, you’ve come to the right place.
In this definitive guide, we will do a deep dive into goal setting, covering why you need to set goals, different types of goals, what makes goals effective, how to write them, steps to take to make sure you accomplish them, and more.
Let’s get started.
Why set goals?
Why set goals in the first place? Why are they important? Let’s explore why.
Goal setting gives you direction.
One of the biggest reasons for goal setting is this:
Imagine taking a trip in your car but not setting any form of destination. How will you know when you arrive? When should you stop?
Random, spontaneous road trips can be fun, but they still have a purpose behind them.
Without direction or a purpose, you never know when you arrive. You have no direction to drive or move to.
Many people spend their lives that way, meandering through life with no real purpose or direction. They may have some from societal norms, family and friends, or that are pushed on them from others, but none from themselves.
They may have wishes and fantasies, but unless they turn those into goals, that’s all they ever are.
When you know where you want to go and set good goals to define it, you are well on your way to achieving it.
Goals help you focus on the big picture.
Without long-term goals to focus on, our decision making is focused on the now and short-term. That, of course, can easily hurt us long-term.
For example, without a long-term retirement/investing plan (in a sense, a goal), you are likely to spend all of your money for fun now. When the later comes, you have no money.
Same with your health and fitness. Without a goal of better health to focus on, it’s easy not to exercise or eat well, which hurts you long-term.
Goals help you achieve more.
When you set good goals, they stretch you. They push you beyond what you normally think you can do.
When you have the direction and purpose that comes with setting goals, you have an aim that you move toward that you can focus your activities on (versus doing whatever), and because of that, you achieve and accomplish more.
For those who are serious about taking their career to the next level:
It's quick, easy, and worth it.
Goals give you meaning and purpose.
Goals can also give you a purpose. Instead of meandering through life wishing, you have a purpose that you invest your time and energy into.
It can also give your everyday living a purpose and meaning. You have something you are chasing after that is important (if nothing else, to you), and that gives meaning to your day and activities that you don’t have when you have no direction.
Goals grow you.
One of the greatest benefits of pursuing goals is that they grow you. Often, to achieve your goals, you have to learn and grow and change.
You deal with failures and learn from them. You meet new people. You gain new skills. You become something different and better.
Setting and accomplishing goals can make you feel good.
Chasing after goals and accomplishing them feels good. When you accomplish what you set out to do, there is a great feeling of success.
When you push forward over failures and missteps, overcome all the challenges, and reach the end goal, you have something to be proud of.
Goals help you become and be the person you dream of being (they turn fantasies and wishes into reality)
Instead of wishing you could lose weight – you do. Instead of wishing to earn a set income – you do. Instead of wishing for better relationships – you gain them.
Many people wish. Fewer do what it takes and make it happen.
Those are just a few reasons why you should have goals.
For a more comprehensive list, check out the article 21 Benefits of Goal Setting (That Can Revolutionize Your Life).
The different types of goals
Let me give you a quick disclaimer: in this section, I will discuss a variety of goals – don’t get overwhelmed! I don’t mean for you to try them all.
Some are geared more toward business, though they can be applied well personally, others are just different “formulas” you can follow.
I list them here so you can learn about them, if you want, and then pick what fits you.
If you just want the basics of what you should do, just read the long-term to short term and stretch goals, and then move on to the next section.
Long-term to short term goals
I consider long-term goals some of the most important goals you can have.
They give you a big-picture view of your life. It helps you move toward your dreams. It keeps you living just for “now” and helps you plan for the future, to build the kind of life and work you want in the future.
So how do you set long-term goals?
Imagine yourself, 5-10 years in the future. What would your ideal life be like?
When you do that, use blue-sky thinking. No limits. No “yeah, buts..” or “that could never happen” or “that can’t happen because”.
Write out what your ideal life would be if there were no limits or restraints. Think of the different areas of your life, your family, friendships, career, home, hobbies, health, spiritual life, and so on.
You can ask questions such as:
- Where do I want to be in 5 years?
- What kind of job do I want to have?
- Where do I want to be in my career?
- What will my family look like?
- What will our relationships be like?
- What will my health look like?
- What kind of house will I have?
- What hobbies do I want to be doing?
- What do I want to have accomplished?
Answer these questions and write them down. Here are some other questions you can ask.
Compile your goals into one list. We will discuss how to write them effectively, the importance of focus, and how to break them down into manageable pieces later on.
Let’s move on to medium to short-term goals.
Some people also like to write out bucket lists for their life. Jack Canfield in The Success Principles discusses writing out 100 goals that you want to accomplish in your life, and working toward those.
That can be a complement to your long-term goals that you want to accomplish.
Medium goals are goals that are for the year or maybe two years. Many people set yearly goals every year on New Years (though sadly many of them fall through☹).
Your medium goals can be two things:
- Goals that move you toward your long-term goals (think sub-goals)
- Goals for something that you want to accomplish that year
Look at your long-term goals. What do you need to accomplish this year to move you toward your long-term goal?
What do you want to accomplish this year?
Write these things out.
Short term goals can be weekly or monthly goals. They are smaller goals that you can set to help you move toward your bigger goals. They can also be other things you want to accomplish for that month or week (or that your life or work may dictate).
You can ask some of the same questions as before, such as “What can I do to move me toward my medium/long-term goals”, “what do I want to accomplish this month/week?”, and so on.
Daily goals are goals that you can set for what you want to accomplish that day. It may be related to your longer-term goals or may be something that you, your boss or spouse wants to be done.
Do you have to set daily goals or weekly goals?
No, but, as we talk about in planning later, it’s good to have listed what you can do to move you toward your bigger goals, whether you have those set as goals or not.
Having long-term goals are ideal. It helps you focus on the long-term and helps you direct the short-term and your daily activities on the big picture of your life.
Remember, of course, that not all your short and medium goals have to be about the long-term. It’s okay to set shorter goals for something that you just want to accomplish that month or year.
Also note that setting long-term or medium goals doesn’t mean they are set in stone. 3 months later life may change and you decide that a certain goal is not something you really want to pursue anymore.
That’s great! They are your goals. You can adjust and change as you want.
Just make sure you change because it’s not what you want any more or because you learned more information that will help you set your goal better, not because you are just quitting because the going got tough.
What are stretch goals?
Stretch goals are challenging goals. They are the “impossible”. They are goals that you want to accomplish, but you don’t know how it will happen or how you will do it.. yet.
They push you past what you know, challenge you, and grow you. If you know how you are going to do it when you start, or it’s “easy”, it’s not a stretch goal.
The bullet train
Though stretch goals have been around, Charles Duhigg discusses them in his book Smarter Faster Better.
He gives a couple of great examples of stretch goals. One of them was the Japanese bullet train. When the head of the railroad set a goal for a train that goes 120mph, the engineers said “impossible”.
They had no idea how they could do it. There was no train anywhere near that speed. But he pushed it, and slowly, piece by piece, improvement by improvement, they increased the speed of the train to 120mph.
And the bullet train was a vital part of revitalizing the Japanese economy.
So what does this mean for you?
One problem with SMART goals (that even Duhigg mentions) is that it encourages easy goals versus challenging goals.
Challenging goals motivate us. They inspire us. They make us rise to the challenge. Easy goals don’t do that.
So with your goals, it’s okay to shoot for the possible. It’s best to challenge yourself.
When you set a goal, if you know something is easy for you to accomplish, bump it up a little bit.
Your long-term goals may seem “impossible”. That’s okay. Just like the Japanese engineers improved little by little, you can work on those goals little by little, and over a few months or years, you may find that those goals are more than possible.
But do make it something plausible – running a marathon in a week after not running for 3 years is incredibly unrealistic. There is a difference.
Also, make sure you believe it’s possible. With your long-term goals, if they seem impossible to you, set a smaller, shorter goal that you can aim for and hit that. Then go a little higher.
It’s okay to start small if you need to increase your belief that you can do it. It’s just not okay to stay small.
For more on stretch goals, check out Your Guide to Stretch Goals: How to Set Them for Exponential Growth
The SMART method is based on the SMART acronym that is meant to help you write more effective goals.
Each letter of SMART stands for a word that helps remind you how to write the goal. Let’s go over what the different letters mean.
(Note: Depending on where you look, you’ll see different meanings for different letters (and we’ll cover a couple), but the main concept is generally the same – though not always. These are the normal concepts.).
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable/Achievable
R – Realistic/Relevant
Your goal is specific, not vague. Saying “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get rich” is vague. It’s just a fantasy.
You have to be specific – how much money do you want to make? How much weight do you want to lose?
You have to have some form of measurement. As the saying goes, “what gets measured gets done”.
If you can’t measure it, how will you know if and when you accomplish it? How will you know how close you are to it? How will you know if you are moving toward it or not?
You have to be able to measure it somehow. For goals you can’t easily quantify, you can have benchmarks or sub-goals that you reach to accomplish the main goal.
Is it something that you can realistically achieve? Is it something that is truly attainable? Losing 50lbs in a week would not meet this criterion, or earning $1,000,000 in a month if you are just starting your business likely won’t either.
But, be careful with “attainable”, “achievable”, and “realistic” (below). One huge danger is that people set goals that are easy and that they know they can do.
As we noted above with stretch goals, those kinds of goals aren’t effective. The goal has to be possible (even in the impossible sense), and they need to challenge you as well.
Is the goal relevant to your life right now? Is it relevant to your job? Is it relevant to your long-term goals and plans? Is it relevant to the stage of life you are in?
Your goals need to be relevant, otherwise, it will make them harder to obtain or could put your life out of whack.
Is it realistic? Is it something that is really doable? (see notes on attainable).
Is there a deadline? Is there a specific time structure you have set when you expect to have it done?
You have to have some form of a deadline on your goal. Otherwise, with the busyness of life, it’s easy to put it off to later – which often never comes.
Following this formula can help you set more effective goals.
To learn more about SMART Goals, how they are often done wrong (and how to do them right), and to see some examples, check out:
- Your Guide to Smart Goals: How You Do Them Wrong, and How to Do Them Right
- 25+ SMART Goals Examples for Life and Work (Both Quick and Detailed Examples)
Now, as helpful as the SMART acronym can be, they do miss some important elements for goal setting (we mention those in the article above).
Michael Hyatt created his own fix for it, what he calls SMARTER Goals, which we will talk about below.
In his book Your Best Year Ever, Michael Hyatt talks about SMARTER goals.
SMARTER goals add and replace a couple of elements to the SMART framework that makes the goals more effective.
As you probably guessed, SMARTER is an acronym as well. Let’s see what each letter means.
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Actionable
R – Risky
T – Time-keyed
E – Exciting
R – Relevant
Your goals have to be specific, not vague. “Lose weight” vs. “lose 50 pounds”.
You have to measure your goals. Measurement provides feedback, let’s you know how well you are doing, and if/when you accomplish it.
You should use action verbs, strong verbs, not passive. Don’t use “am”, “be”, “have”, but words like “earning”, “running”, “making”, “writing”, etc.
We rise to challenges. Make your goals a challenge. The greater the challenge and effort, the more satisfaction we get when we accomplish it.
In fact, Brian Tracy in his book says we should have a 50% chance of failing our goals.
You should have a deadline – but don’t put all the deadlines for your goals at the end of the year. Spread them out or do quarterly sub-goals.
Your goals should cause you excitement. You should be passionate about them. If not, then you are likely not to chase after your goal.
Your goal should be relevant to your season of life, your other goals, and your life values.
You may have noticed that “attainable” was replaced with “risky”. We don’t rise to easy goals, but challenging ones.
Now let’s look at business goals.
Business goals (that can be applied personally)
The 4D’s comes from the book The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling. As you can probably guess, 4D’s stands for the Four Disciplines.
This goal setting method is geared toward businesses, but the principles are effective personally as well.
Lag and Lead Measures
Before we get into the four disciplines, we need to discuss lead and lag measures. Lag measures are generally the numbers or metrics that show if you hit the goal or not. They are after-the-fact.
For example, did you lose the weight or not? Did you earn the revenue or not? Did you read X amount of books or not?
With lead measures, on the other hand, you can look as you go along to see if you are likely to reach your lag measures. They are the activities or goals you do that, if you do them, will likely bring about success in your lag measures.
For example, if you want to make more sales at the company, the amount of sales would be your lag measure. Your lead measure could be the number of calls you make per day or the number of presentations per week.
In theory, if you are making more phone calls or presentations, then the sales will go up. Calls and appointments are something you can track along the way, day to day or week to week.
If trying to lose weight, the amount of weight is your lag measure. Your lead measure may be something like walking 3 miles 5 days a week or eating certain foods or a certain amount of exercise or counting calories.
You can track exercise and food intake. And if you do those, it leads to weight loss.
Got the differences? Awesome. Now let’s talk about the four disciplines:
What you are trying to achieve? This is your lag measure. They recommend only one or two goals at a time so that you stay focused and not spread out.
What are you going to track on a daily/weekly basis to see if you are moving toward your lag measures? They recommend only a couple of these as well.
You need to have some kind of scorecard that shows how well you (and your employees) are doing, and it has to be updated regularly. On the scorecard you need to have the lag measure and the lead measure(s).
When you look at the scorecard, you and everyone else should be able to quickly see how well you are doing and if you are on track or not.
The last discipline is accountability. In the business setting, you have weekly meetings where each person makes a commitment that week that will help them reach their lead measures.
On a personal basis, you can have your scorecard posted publicly. You can try to accomplish the goal with a group. You can ask people to hold you accountable.
In summary, for the 4D’s, you have a goal you want to accomplish. Then you find the activities or sub goals that, if completed, would mean you would accomplish your main goal.
Then you focus on those sub goals and measure and track how well you are doing on a scorecard. You also keep yourself accountable to others.
I personally like this because you focus on the activities that will get you there (and adjust as needed). I like the visual aspect of the scorecards because they let me (and others) quickly know if I’m reaching my goals or falling behind, and it’s a good reminder to keep pushing forward.
If I find myself falling behind, I can examine why and adjust as needed. I can sometimes be unrealistic with my personal deadlines, so I may have to give myself more time while still trying to push myself, or just my activities.
Doerr introduces OKRs in his book Measure What Matters. The concept came from Intel.
Google, Bono, and others use OKRs in their everyday culture at work and missions.
The O stands for Objective and KRs stands for key results.
To do OKRs, you set an objective, then you write out the key results (activities, benchmarks) that, if done, would accomplish your objective.
You then post it where everyone can see, so that everyone knows what your objectives are and what you are working on.
Google actually has a couple of kinds of OKRs, one to stretch and try new things (which they expect some failures with) and some for everyday business (which they expect 100% success).
You can do this in your personal life. Write out your objective then the steps you will have to take to get there. Post it publicly, then start working on all the steps.
OKR’s and the 4D’s
OKRs and the 4Ds are actually very similar. The reason OKRs work is that, though a little different in some ways, have most of the basic principles that make the 4D’s work.
You have your objective – you know what you are trying to accomplish. You have your lead measures – your key results. You have a scorecard of sorts – you post what you are trying to accomplish and see how many of your KRs you’ve accomplished. You have your accountability – it’s posted where everyone can see it.
For more about business goals, check out Your Guide to Setting Busines Goals That Work (And Common Problems to Avoid).
And so on…
There you have it, some of the most common types of goals.
Is this list exhaustive? Probably not. You may find others coming up with their own formulas, and so on, but in reality, most goal processes and formulas have the general same principles – which we will dive into below.
The Key Principles of Setting Awesome Goals
Make sure your goals are written
Make sure your goals are written and not just in your head.
Though the study often cited to convince people to write goals is false, other studies have shown that when you write your goals, you are more likely to accomplish them.
Written goals have power. Michael Hyatt, in his book Your Best Year Ever, gives 5 reasons why writing goals down is powerful:
- It clarifies what you want and don’t want
- It helps you overcome resistance
- It motivates you to take action
- It helps you filter out other opportunities that will come
- It enables you to see your progress.
Focus and simplify – Focus on one goal at a time (2-3 at most)
Earlier we mentioned setting goals for the different areas of your life. And that’s good. However, be careful about trying to accomplish too many goals at once.
Brian Tracy suggests that after you set the different goals (for the year, for example) for the different areas of your life, that you figure out which goal will have the greatest impact on your life. Once you figure that out, you focus on that goal first and put all your effort into it. Then you move to the next.
You may could do a couple of goals at once, but if you try to put full effort into seven goals, you stand the chance of burning yourself out or not hitting your milestones and getting discouraged.
Another reason multiple goals can be difficult is that it sometimes (often) requires a change in your routine for you to make it happen. When you try to do too much, it overwhelms and becomes difficult.
However, if you focus on one or a few, make the movement toward them routine and habit, then you can begin to focus on other goals at the same time without as easily getting burned out or overwhelmed.
Know your starting point
Know where you are at right now in regards to your goals. It’s harder to get somewhere if you don’t know where you are starting from.
How do you know where to set your goals for your weight if you don’t know how much you weigh now?
How will you know how to take the next step in your career if you don’t know where you are now?
Knowing where you are at now gives you a foundation to build off of and helps you show progress as you go. It can also help you see potential hurdles as you start and move along.
Know your “why”
Probably one of the most important steps you can take to keep focused on your goals to completion is to know the “why” of your goals.
Why do you want to pursue this goal?
Many people want to “make money”, but money in itself has no intrinsic value. Why do you want to make the money? What will you do with it?
Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to exercise? Why do you want that position at your company? Why do you want to start your business? Why do you want to accomplish “X”?
Know your “why” and write it down. Have it available to look at when the going gets tough.
Gail Hyatt, the wife of Michael Hyatt, said, “People lose their way when they lose their why.”
Knowing your “why” can keep you going when the hard times come.
Make sure you are willing to pay the price for your goals
When you are setting your goals, make sure you are willing to pay the price to achieve those goals.
This is a big reason that many people never achieve New Years or other goals – they aren’t willing to pay the price.
It’s a lot more comfortable staying where you are at and doing what you are doing than having to make the sacrifices to achieve.
For some, the price of being a little overweight is less than the price of the effort to lose that weight.
The price for earning more money is more than the cost of staying in the status quo.
The price of reading more books is more than the status quo of watching tv all the time.
What often gets people to change is that the pain of staying where you are is more than the pain to get to where you want to be.
Any worthwhile goal is going to cost you something – time, money, entertainment. It will cause you to have to grow, learn, change.
There will likely be disappointments and failures.
Are you willing to pay the price?
The cost of not changing
One way to help you see the cost, both ways, is to see yourself if you achieve your goal and to see yourself if you don’t. Visualize yourself in 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years.
Where are you at? What was the cost of staying where you are? What is it like if you pursued your goals? What’s your health like? Your finances like? Your family and relationships like?
What is the cost of NOT pursuing your goals?
Make your goals specific
One reason many people never accomplish their is that they aren’t specific about what they want.
“I want to advance my career”.
“I want to lose weight.”
“I want to earn more money.”
The problem with these is that they are so vague – and because they are so vague, they are just fantasies.
How much weight do you want to lose? How many pounds? Be specific!
What do you mean by career? What position do you want to obtain? In what company?
How much money do you want to make? If I give you $.10 more per hour, you are earning more money – that’s probably not what you want. What do you want? How much specifically?
Vague goals rarely/never come about. Make sure your goals are specific.
“Earn $75,000 this year” or “Earn $25,000 more this year in commissions”.
“Lose 30 pounds by Thanksgiving.”
“Become vice-president of marketing in 5 years”.
If you are wanting to buy a new house, for example, list out everything you want in the house. The list doesn’t have to be in the goal itself, but you want to be specific so you know what you are looking for.
Make your goals measurable
As the saying goes “what gets measured gets done. “
If you can’t measure it, how do you know when or if you accomplish it?
Find a way to measure your goals. If it’s not quantifiable (such as the amount of weight to lose or money to make), set specific a milestone(s) that you have to accomplish.
One example is Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and bringing him back safely. We know we accomplished it when it happened. It was measurable.
Deadlines are powerful. Parkinson’s law says that work fills the time available to it. We can often accomplish more when we give ourselves tighter deadlines.
And without deadlines in general, without a timetable, then it’s easy to think of your goals as “something in the future”.
“I’ll get to it next week”.
“Ill start soon”.
Daniel Pink in his book When gives testament to the power of deadlines for most kinds of work and the power of the middle.
For teams, the middle point is the “uh oh” point. It’s where the team realizes that half the time is gone, so they better get on track and get going. Studies of all sorts of team showed this phenomenon.
Without a deadline to give ourselves, we never have an “uh oh” point. Everything is just sometime in the future.
What if you miss your deadline?
Ok, so you set a deadline, but it’s come and gone and you didn’t meet it. What does that mean? Are you a failure?
No. It’s okay.
Here’s an easy solution. Look and see what went wrong. Maybe your deadline was unrealistic. Maybe you let yourself get distracted. Maybe you really aren’t passionate about your goal.
Then, if it’s something you still want to pursue, learn from what went wrong, set in place ways to do better, and set a new deadline! No biggie!
Make sure it matches your values and priorities
One reason people fail at their goals or are disappointed when they “succeed” is that their goals and pursuits do not match their values and priorities.
First, you need to know what those are. If you don’t, take time to write what your values are and what your priorities are in your life.
Then, make sure your goals match those.
Too many men have lost their wives and families because of focusing on the wrong priorities. Too many parents have lost time with their kids because of mismatched pursuits and priorities.
Make sure your ladder is on the right wall before you begin to climb it (and if you find yourself on the wrong ladder, climb down and lean it against the right one!)
Make sure it’s something you are passionate about
Make sure your goals are your goals. Make sure you aren’t doing them because someone else wants you to or you feel societal norms tell you to.
If you are trying to live someone else’s goals, you aren’t going to have the fire or passion to accomplish it. You don’t have your “why”.
To accomplish anything worthwhile takes time, effort and struggle. It’s tough to go through that when it’s not something you want yourself.
Make sure the goals you write and pursue are what you are passionate about. Make sure it’s something you want to accomplish. Make sure you have a strong why behind it.
Make sure your goals are relevant to your life
Is your goal relevant to you and your life right now? Does it make sense with your work and family and life?
Is the goal relevant to your long term goals and dreams? Is it relevant to your values and priorities? Is it relevant to your work, job, or season of life?
Make sure your goals are relevant. Some goal may fit better at different times of life than others, or when you are in different positions at work.
If it doesn’t fit, it will likely hurt you instead of help.
Make sure your goals challenge you
It’s important to set goals that challenge and stretch you. You are more likely to become motivated and emotionally attached to challenging goals than weak, easy goals. See Stretch goals above to learn more.
Make sure your goals are realistic as well
Is your goal realistic? While we should stretch ourselves, making goals that are “way out there” can demotivate us.
Also, is it really something you can do now? If you just had your first baby and started a new job at a new company and taking care of a sick parent, is it realistic for you to start marathon training?
It might be. I’m not saying it’s not, just make sure you don’t overwhelm and demotivate yourself where you don’t do it later when it’s more realistic for you to do so.
Make sure to stretch yourself, but make sure it’s something you can realistically do.
Visualize your goals
Visualizing is useful in multiple ways.
First, it can help you pay the price. Seeing yourself where you want to be and where you are now can help motivate you to pay the price. Seeing your life as what it would be if you never pursued your goals can also have the same effect.
Visualizing your goals also can help you see your “why” and help make your goals more real. Many goal “gurus” swear by it.
We have a thing called reticular activation. Our brain and mind focus on what we focus on. When we focus on the negative and failure, that’s what we find. When we focus on success, our brain helps us head that way.
Take the car you had a few years ago. When first bought it, you likely saw it everywhere you went. Then you got a new car, you stopped seeing your old car but began seeing your new car.
This happened to me just renting a car a couple of years ago. I flew to Texas and rented a car – they gave me a green Kia Soul. When I was driving that car, and even for a little while afterward, I never saw so many green Kia Souls on the road. Seriously.
That’s why it’s important to focus and think about your goals. Visualize them as reality. Sense it, feel it. Hear the sounds of it. And, most importantly, feel the emotions of having your goals fulfilled.
When you read over your goals, think and visualize them. This helps make them more real, helps your brain focus on them, and helps keeps you focused on pursuing them.
How to write your goals
There is no one set way to write goals. There are some good principles that you should follow, and some of it is left up to you.
I’ll tell you how I write mine sometimes, along with suggestions by others, and let you decide which way you want to do it.
Make your goals short (not long)
It’s important to keep your goals short and sweet. The shorter the better.
Short goals are more memorable. They are more inspiring and motivating. They are more clear cut and understandable. They are also more likely to be read and reread versus a really long goal.
Think about it. Which of the goals below is more inspiring, more motivating, and one you are more likely to reread or even rewrite on a consistent basis:
“Earn 20% more commission by June 30th” vs. “My goal is to earn more money through my job. I will do this by making more phone calls and visiting more customers. I will be able to do this by arriving 30 minutes earlier to work. I hope to earn 20% more commission than I am currently making by June 30th.”
“Lose 15 pounds by July 31st” vs. “I want to lose 15 pounds off my body by July 31st. I will do this by eating more healthy and exercising more. Doing this will make me feel better and look better…”
Which one is better to you?
Think about Kennedy’s moon goal. Part of why it was inspiring was because it was short. If it was written like most mission statements and many goals of businesses, it would have not inspired near as well.
And think about it – how many people really know the “mission statement” of their organization or their goals? Why do you think most people don’t read it, or if they do, don’t understand it?
I’ll tell you why: they are too often overly wordy and written in corporate-ese. They are long. Most are not inspiring in the slightest.
So with your goals, make them short. Think of it as $10,000 per word. You should be able to look at your goal and instantly know what you want, or rather need, to do.
Anyone should be able to look at it and know instantly what you are trying to accomplish. If they can’t, there is a problem.
What about putting your “how” in the goal?
Some articles recommend putting the how of your goal in the goal.
In other words, they want you to put your methods, the description of how you want to accomplish the goal, in the goal.
Some SMART goals templates have you write a sentence for each letter (which makes your goal uber long!)
As you probably noted above, I disagree with that.
There’s a difference between your goal and the methods to get there. Your goal itself is not likely to change very much. Your methods, however, might.
Let’s say you are looking for a house and try to use the realty books to find one. That’s your method. If it doesn’t work, do you quit? No! You just try a different method. Maybe go online and search the MLS or check out Zillow or talk to a realtor, or so on.
Your goal for the house stayed the same – the method you used changes.
Keep them separate.
What if making my goal “specific” makes it uber long?
Ok, let’s say your goal is to find your significant other, or if you have met that person, a new house.
Yes, you want to be very specific about the house or person you want. Write it out. Write in detail.
However, keep that paper separate from your goal. Have the list of qualities you want, and your goal, which may be “Find my dream house with at least 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, and fits all the needs on my dream list…” or “Meet the man/woman of my dreams…”.
Of course, with those, you may have goals of how to find them or how to meet that person versus that exactly, but those are simple examples.
But think about it, if you are pursuing that goal – are you going to keep looking and rereading a goal that’s a page or two long (or more) or a simple sentence?
Yes, you would probably go over the specifics frequently to remind yourself or to compare, but it’s best to just have the description nearby.
What about putting my “why” in my goal?
That’s up to you. I’m a big believer of keeping it short; however, putting a simple “why” in your goal could help boost your motivation when reading your goal.
For example, if your goal is to lose weight, putting a why may look like:
“Lose 15 pounds by June 1st so that I can fit into that nice swimsuit.”
“Lose 50 pounds by Fall as an example for my kids and so that I can be around and healthy for my grandkids.”
You get the idea?
If putting a simple “why” in it helps you, go for it! It’s your goal.
But if you have a list of whys (which is good), you probably want to only stick with one or two in the goal.
Write in the positive, not negative
When you write your goals, you want to write them in the positive, not negative. You want to say what you want, not what you don’t want.
It’s a brain thing. It’s about what we focus on. When we focus on the negative, we often get the negative, and when we focus on the positive, we are more likely to get the positive.
For example, don’t write statements like – “to not smoke anymore” or “to quit smoking” or “to not be a smoker”. Write “To be smoke-free” or “to be a non-smoker for X days”.
Don’t write things like “To not eat junk food anymore” or “to not yell at my kids anymore”. Write it more positively:
“To only eat healthy foods for the next X weeks” or “to only speak with a calm voice toward my kids”.
Do you see the difference?
When possible, the positive is always better
Present tense, “I’m kicking-butt-going-after-it” tense
What tense should you use to write your goals?
Some recommend writing in the present tense, as if you already accomplished the goal. For example:
“I am enjoying my new home with 4 bedrooms….”
“Im gratefully spending more time with my kids…”
The reason for this is that is they say it helps with reticular activation – that it makes it real and normal in your brain so that it becomes real in your life.
This can be a positive thing to try and do. See if it works for you writing it this way.
I personally like what I call ”kicking-butt-going-after-it” tense. Basically, I just start with an action verb and go with it.
“Earn X amount of dollars by”, “Increase sales by 20% by..”, “purchase my new home by”, “spend 30 minutes more with my kids every day…” and so on.
Either way works fine, whichever works best for you. As I mentioned above, one reason some recommend writing it in the present tense is to make it reality. But I find either way works for that when you visualize your goal, feeling the emotions and all, whichever way you write it.
So write it as it fits you, then visualize!
Start with a verb
This isn’t mandatory, but I find that starting with a verb is powerful and makes the goal even shorter. There’s no need to add “my goal is to” or “I will” or “I want to”.
In my opinion, those are just wasted words.
Use action verbs and tense to write your goals
If you can, write your goals with an action verb (and active tense!).
Instead of saying “I am in my new home” or “have a new house” you would write “I am enjoying my new home…” or “purchase my new home by”.
Instead of “I have more money” you might write “Earn 20% more on commission” or “Increase my salary by X this year.”, etc.
The goals seem to come more alive when you write them with an action verb.
Remember to make it specific, timely, and measurable
As mentioned before, make sure your goal is specific, not vague. Make sure it has a deadline and that it can be measured.
You can use one of the methods, such as SMART or SMARTER to help you write them out that way if you so desire.
Here are some examples of some goals written out:
Here are some examples for you:
Earn 20% more on commission by June 30th.
Purchase my dream home by March 11th.
See at least 5 houses by February 11th.
Run my first marathon by November 2nd.
Write for 30 minutes every day on my book for 6 weeks.
For more examples, see 25+ SMART Goals Examples for Life and Work (Both Quick and Detailed Examples). They are written for SMART goals, but cover the information above.
Now that we talked about how to write them, let’s talk about the next and most important part – actually accomplishing your goals!
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The key principles for staying with and accomplishing your goals
The importance of breaking your goals down
Lofty goals are awesome. It’s great to pursue the impossible. It’s excellent to do the challenging.
Unfortunately, when we are trying to chase lofty, huge goals, they can sometimes be overwhelming.
That’s why it’s important to break down your goals.
If you look at your goal and it seems impossible, you don’t know where to start, or you have a hard time starting, break it down.
You can break it down into subgoals, and work on hitting those, and/or you can break it down into steps.
We discussed medium and short-term goals. What smaller goals can you do that will help you hit your big goal?
For example, for us to land a person on the moon, we had to actually get something to the moon first – we had to hit it first. We had to have a landing system, and so on.
To continue this train of thought, let’s talk about planning out your goals.
Plan your goals out
Planning is important. Brian Tracy says that every minute of planning saves us 10 minutes of execution.
Planning helps make the dream into reality. It helps you break down your goals into manageable, feasible steps that you can follow.
Let’s look at ways to help you plan your goals.
Start at the end and go backward
Look at the final result of your goal. What was the last step you had to take to get there? Ok, now what step did you have to take to get there?
Keep going until you have your steps listed out.
List out all the steps you know you will need to do.
Take time and write out everything you know you will need to do to accomplish your goal. Then sort and organize the steps by order and/or by importance.
Then, start working on the steps, piece by piece.
Some goals are huge. You may not know many of the steps that you need to do to get there. But maybe you know something you will have to learn or do to get there.
Take the moon example from above. We had to be able to hit the moon before we could land someone on it. That would be a sub-goal.
Maybe you have to learn a new skill or buy equipment or get some paperwork or so on.
Whatever it is, break it down into subgoals that you can focus on. By focusing on and accomplishing the subgoals, you are pushing toward your main over-arching goal.
Write out the first step
Of course, there are times you may not know much of anything that you need to do to get to your goal. You just know you want to get there.
In those cases, focus just on the first step. What’s the next step you need to do? Research? Talk to someone? Learn a skill?
Whatever it is, do it, then focus on the next one.
However you do it, plan what you can. Then implement the steps into your schedule and daily routines.
Danger: It’s good to plan ahead. However, don’t feel like you must know everything before taking action and be careful of over planning.
Some people never start because they are stuck in analysis paralysis or they are afraid to start without knowing every step.
Don’t do that.
Plan what you can and take action. If you don’t know how to get there, that’s okay. Just take the first step. Then the next. Then the next.
This is the most important part. Take action!
Once you have your goal, once you know where you want to go, once you’ve planned (even if it’s the first step), do it!
Do something toward your goal.
There’s a law called the Law of Diminishing Intent. What it says is that the longer you wait to take action, the less likely you will take action.
Find something easy and simple to start. Just start!
Then, start adding steps toward your goal or goals to your to-do list or schedule. Make it part of your everyday life.
Milestones are checkpoints. You use these to make sure you are on track and on target. It gives you a chance to adjust and re-aim and reanalyze if you are off target.
These could be medium or short-term goals or they can be something you check when you review your goals.
Your goal may be to read a certain amount of books for a year. Every month (or quarter) you could check and make sure you are on track. If your goal is to read 24 books, you would make sure at the end of March you read six.
Post your goals
Some people like to post their goals where they can see them – such as the mirror, bedroom wall, and so on.
Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principles said he stuck a $100,000 fake bill above his bed so that he would see it every morning to remind him of his goal.
Review your goals frequently
Many of the goal setting “gurus” recommend, at a minimum, reading your goals every day. Others, including Brian Tracy, recommend writing out your biggest goals every day.
The reason for this is to make it part of your daily thought process and to keep you focused on your goals.
It can be easy to get distracted by the craziness of life. Constantly reviewing can help keep you focused. Find what works for you and review them frequently.
Hold review sessions
Some people like to hold a yearly review session to review the last year and how it went. They may ask how well they did on their goals, what they are proud of, what they learned, what they can do better, and so on. They also use it to plan the next year.
Quarterly reviews can be helpful. They can be used to check milestones and see how your goals are going and if you need to make adjustments.
You may want to even consider monthly and weekly reviews – how well you did that month/week, if you need to do anything different the next month/week, and so on.
If you are setting daily goals, you probably want to ask yourself at the end of each day how well you accomplished your goals. Where did you succeed? Where can you do better? What can you do to do better?
Again, find what works for you, but make sure you review in some fashion, otherwise, you are more likely to forget your goals completely.
As you set and plan your goals, think about the hurdles that might come your way – or rather, that will.
What things could come along that could throw you off from your goals?
If planning on running, what are you going to do when it rains multiple days in a row?
If losing weight, what are you going to do about parties, holidays, or the temptations when you are feeling stressed and week?
If you are trying to start a business, what are you going to do when sales aren’t as expected, if the supplier is late, if you get sick, and so on?
Planning for the hurdles that will come your way can help you prevent them, be ready for them, and ultimately help keep you focused on the goal instead of quitting because of the hurdle.
Expect mess-ups and failures
Expect to mess up and fail. It’s a part of life. The difference between those who succeed and don’t is their reaction to the mess-ups and failures.
Do you pick yourself up, learn from it, and then move on and forward? Or do you quit?
Looking at New Year’s resolutions, it looks like most people quit. Don’t be like them.
Failure and mess-ups will come. Expect them. And expect that you will learn from them and keep pushing forward when they do happen.
Be flexible with your goals
It’s okay to be flexible with your goals. It’s okay to adjust and change as needed.
You may come to your quarterly review and realize that your estimated deadline or measurement was unrealistic. That’s okay, adjust it as needed.
Or maybe the goal now is not something that you want to pursue anymore. That’s okay, too!
These are your goals. It’s okay for you to be flexible and adjust.
Find accountability for your goals
Finding accountability can sometimes mean the difference between success and failure. It’s easier to quit when no one is looking or expecting something out of us. But if we are being held accountable by others, it can help us stay on track until we finish.
Depending on your goal, there are sometimes others who are pursuing the same thing. You can join a group of like-goaled people to keep each other accountable.
Or you may post a scoreboard or your goals on the wall for everyone to see.
Or you may just ask people to hold you accountable and help.
However you do it, finding accountability can be a boost when times are tough.
A little bit over time beats sporadic large chunks
Keith Ellis, in his book The Magic Lamp, says that “Even ordinary effort over time yields extraordinary results”.
To accomplish your goals, you don’t always have to commit a lot of time. Sometimes we get demotivated because we feel we must put a lot of time in every day, and when we mess up, we quit.
You don’t have to do that. A little effort over time, consistently, yields tremendous results.
Reading 15 minutes a day every day, depending on your reading speed, can be 12+ books a year.
It’s okay to do a little bit – just do that little bit consistently, and the results will blossom.
Score yourself on your goals
Scoring yourself can not only be helpful, but fun.
When you see yourself moving forward and “winning”, there’s joy in that.
And if you see yourself falling behind, you know somethings not working and can make adjustments before it’s too late.
Speak to yourself with positive affirmations
How we talk to ourselves has a powerful effect on us. Too often we tear ourselves down and are negative.
Don’t be that way. When it comes to your goals, speak positively to yourself.
Tell yourself that you can do it. That you can stick it out. That it’s worth the price. That you can succeed and will succeed.
Tell yourself you are capable.
When you mess up, don’t beat yourself up. Tell yourself it’s just part of the learning process, learn from it, and keep moving forward.
The importance of being persistent with your goals
Persistence separates the winners from losers, the successful from the unsuccessful.
Anyone can set a goal. Anyone can read this guide and put checkmarks on every box of a “how to set goals” checklist.
But not everyone has the persistence to see it through.
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – you will have mess-ups and failures. You will have down moments when it comes to your goals. You will have a price to pay.
The question is, when the failures and mess-ups happen, will you have the persistence to pick yourself back up and keep going, or will you quit?
Persist. No matter what happens, make the commitment that you will see your goals through – to the end.
Keith Ellis in his book The Magic Lamp says:
“The most skillful person who gives up will always finish behind the most inept person who does not. The most intelligent person who gives up will always finish behind the most simple-minded person who does not. The most talented person who gives up will always finish behind the least talented person who does not. The most gifted person alive, if he or she gives up, will always finish behind someone – behind anyone – who does not.”
Make your goals routine
As much as possible, make working the steps toward your goals part of your daily routine.
If you can make it part of your routine, make it habit, it will make accomplishing your goal that much easier.
An example might be if you are writing a book. To make it part of your routine, set a part of your day that you will work on it every day.
It could be right after breakfast or your morning shower or right before bed. Whatever it is, try to do it at the same time right after the same thing every day.
Or if you just have a list of steps that you need to accomplish for your goal that are different each time, just have a set time, each day, where you work on it.
Make it so that you follow the same previous activity (as much as possible) each day.
Doing so makes it routine and habit.
If you do it spontaneously, whenever you have time, you are much more likely to miss doing it. It’s not impossible, but it makes it harder.
Find a way to enjoy the process
We want the goal – it will be awesome – but the steps to get there can sometimes not be so enjoyable.
However, if you can find a way to enjoy the process, it makes accomplishing your goals so much easier.
Ask yourself, “How can I get myself to enjoy doing this?”
What can you do to start enjoying it? Is there something you can change around? Can you do it with someone else? Can you gamify it? Can you keep score and reward yourself?
Some of it may just be attitude. Work on changing your attitude toward the work.
One way to do this is to visualize. Visualize yourself enjoying the process. Tell yourself that you do. Feel the emotion of loving and enjoying it.
This can help you over time enjoy it more.
Awesome, we’ve covered some awesome tips to keep you pushing toward and accomplish your goals. One thing that sometimes hurts us, though, is staying motivated when it gets tough.
Let’s look at some tips on staying motivated about your goals
How to stay motivated toward your goals
Motivation to keep going (or even start!) on our goals can sometimes wane. Here are a few tips to help you keep going.
Take action immediately
The best thing you can do to get motivation and inertia going for your goals is to take action immediately.
The longer we wait, the easier it is to keep pushing it off. Life happens, and suddenly, 3 months down the road, we never started.
When you set your goals and plan it out, take action immediately. Do something easy and simple to get start. Just get started!
Remember your why
Remember the “why” of your goal. Why are you wanting to accomplish this goal?
Sometimes reviewing your sheet of “whys” can be a big boost to motivation. You could even post a picture or something on the wall to help you remember your “why”.
Be realistic about the commitment
It’s great to be optimistic, but we also have to be realistic. Some things take time and effort. Some take changes in our life.
Be realistic before you start (or wherever you are at in the process) on what the commitment toward this goal will entail.
Otherwise, when it’s slower or harder than you anticipated, you will get more demotivated easier.
Visualize the end result
Take time to visualize how it will feel when you accomplish your goal. What emotions will you have? Feel them.
See and hear the end result. Doing so can help you keep pushing forward.
Gamify and chain your goals
Gamify your goals. Make accomplishing them fun. There are even apps that can help you do that.
Scoreboards can be a part of the gamifying process. You can even reward yourself when you reach a certain score or point.
Chaining also can help. For example, put an X on each day you work toward your goal. The more X’s you get in a row, the more motivation you have to keep going because you don’t want to break the chain. It’s also encouraging to see a long list of X’s for when you do miss one, knowing how much you’ve done.
Measure the gain, not the gap
Focus on what you’ve accomplished, not on what you haven’t accomplished.
If you’ve lost 5 pounds of 50, don’t focus on the 45 that you still have to go, focus on the fact that you’ve already lost 5 pounds!
Don’t focus on the fact that you haven’t run 7 miles yet, focus on the fact that you’ve run 3.
Do you get the idea? Focusing on what you haven’t accomplished and how far you’ve got to go can be demotivating. Focusing on what you have done can help keep you encouraged.
Don’t compare yourself to others
Sometimes we may have the same goals as others, and they may be advancing faster than us.
If we aren’t careful, we’ll let envy and jealousy enter and it can demotivate us (and also hurt our relationship with that other person).
Instead of comparing, focus on your gains. Someone may have lost 10 pounds while you lost 5. SO what. You are different people in different situations in different circumstances.
instead of focusing on the difference between you two, focus and celebrate how far you have come.
Granted, if someone is making a lot more progress than you, there’s nothing wrong with talking to them and seeing what they are doing and getting advice. That’s actually a great idea.
However, don’t start comparing.
For more ideas on how to stay motivated, check out 31 Tips on How to Stay Motivated About Your Goals (Even When You Get Discouraged).
What to do when you fail to meet your goals (or just plain mess up)
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we fail or mess up.
Maybe our deadlines were unrealistic, maybe there was more to the goal than we realized, or maybe we just forgot about it.
Whatever the reason, a failure or mess-up happened. So what do you do?
First, forgive yourself
There’s no reason to beat yourself up over it. Forgive yourself.
Acknowledge you made the mistake, learn from it (which we will talk about below), work not to do it again, and move on.
Do a post mortem (learn from it)
Do a post mortem of your goal.
What happened? Why did it fail? Was there anything you didn’t account for? What was unexpected? And so on.
Take time to examine why the failure happened and what you can learn from it.
And, if you learned from it, in many cases, then it’s not really a failure.
Recommit, revise, remove and restart
These three suggestions come from Michael Hyatt’s book Your Best Year Ever.
If you want to still accomplish this goal, recommit. Reset the deadline or whatever you need to do, and start back at it by taking action.
If you want to accomplish the goal, but you need to do some changes toward the goal, revise it.
You can adjust the goal – it’s yours anyway.
And, if it’s just that the goal isn’t important anymore, that’s okay, too. Remove it, find another goal, and restart.
So what are your next steps?
- Set some goals! Take some time to think about what you want for your life – whether for this year or 5 years down the road.
- Write them out. Put them on paper. It may be a good idea to get a notebook or journal and write them in it. It’s a good idea to think about and write out your whys for your goals as well.
- Plan it out. Write out the steps you will need to take to get there – or if nothing else, the first step.
If you wrote long-term goals, you may want to make medium and short term goals to help you get there.
- Take action. Take the first step. Don’t overanalyze or wait. Do it! Then make it part of your daily schedule and routine.
- Remember to focus. Don’t try to do too much at once. You can always start more goals after you finish or make your focused goals part of routine.
- Go back and look at some of the other ideas in this article that may help you – such as finding accountability or setting up a scorecard.
- And lastly, persist. Don’t give up. You can do it!
In this definitive guide, we covered why you need to set goals, different types of goals, principles of good goals, how to write goals, how to set yourself up to accomplish your goals, how to stay motivated, and what to do when you mess up.
That’s a lot! I hope you have found this guide helpful and useful.
Now to you: What next step are you going to take?