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The 3 Goal Setting Personalities to Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

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Reviewing Greatful Goals

Denver, CO April 2013: I was 27 years old, riding my bike home from work at 9am on a muggy spring morning. I had just been let go from my job as a… I don’t even really know what what I did there… Assistant I guess.

This setback came 4 months after quitting a teaching masters program. Before that, I had been fired from a banking job. Before that, the solar company I was performing outbound sales for went out of business. My last commission check – one of the 3 I earned in 6 months – had bounced.

As I peddled home I started to think about what I wanted. It wasn’t this.

I knew I needed a different path to success. Society’s rules (work hard, pay your dues, conform to the system) were not delivering the safety and security promised.

I was done listening to the generic advice. Done trying to join some start-up, working towards someone else’s vision. Done trying to climb the corporate ladder. I was just done.

I immediately went home and started applying for blue collar jobs. They could have my body, but not my mind. I needed that right now.

Westminster, CO June 2013: Still 27, in my car listening to a guided meditation in the Lowes parking lot where I was on a break from my 4am shift. The sun was rising. The mantra was “What do I want?” “How can I best serve using my unique gifts and abilities?”

The following months would be one of deep introspection. One where I would compose and re-compose my values, core-beliefs and come to better understand my strengths.

I used personality tests like the Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder. I started reading biographies of influential people who had similar psychological make up as me to see how they overcame their struggles.

I was in a deep stage of collection and processing.  I was not going to let things out of my control dictate who I was.

I was going to figure out who I was and what I wanted. Then, I’d backwards plan to get there.

What I didn’t quite realize at the time, is that I was on a journey to be an ultimate goal setter.  I was going to know EXACTLY what I wanted out of a potential career and then I was going to figure out a way to get it.

On my 28th birthday I wrote out my vision for the coming year. I did things a little bit differently. I wrote my vision as if it has already happened. Sort of like it was a journal entry from my 29 year old self, writing with gratitude and hindsight of the follow year.

Date: Aug 16, 2014

I am so grateful for the last year. This year I have been able to make a living doing work that I am passionate about, helps other people, aligns with my core values and is fun. I am physically stronger than any other time in my life.

My health…

My family…

My friends…

My personal cash flow…

I wrote all of this down on a Google Doc. Much of what I wrote came from notes I had been keeping since my reflective journey began on that bike ride home in April.

Downtown Denver, September 2013: I was in the vacant downtown office of a famous online dating company that had recently moved their headquarters to LA. I was helping an online dating coach market his business. His mentor told him that the best thing he could do for his company was to have everyone on his team read David Allen’s, Getting Things Done.

I’d never heard of this book before. The cover looked fairly corporate and cheesy. But I was devouring all kinds of self-help books at the time, what could one on productivity hurt?

Little did I know how big of an impact this “cheesy, corporate” book would have on my life. The ideas of capturing all of the things that I need to get done, disciplining myself to make front end decisions and the system of organizing, reviewing and doing all of the stuff I needed to get done were the missing ingredients for my assured success.

The letter from my future self pointed the car in the right direction. GTD filled it up with gas.

I started integrating the system into my life, seeing almost instantaneous results. I had my personal life on lockdown. I wasn’t dropping any balls and was stress-free because I knew what I needed to be doing from moment-to-moment.

I couldn’t stop talking about it with family and friends. I’d help people out wherever I could. I started a blog so I could write about all of my GTD successes. And then, one day when I was helping my dad clear his email inbox, it clicked.

I really liked being a productivity coach. Maybe I could make a living doing this. Heck, the first sentence of the letter from 29 year-old Zack said, “I was making a living doing work I am passionate about, helps other people, aligns with my core values and is fun.” This would be a perfect fit.

Denver, CO August 2014: I’m now 29. I went from one of the most stressful, low years of my life to one that was full of travel, fun and abundance. It’s honestly been one of best years of my life. I feel confident and in control of my future. I attribute 90% of that dramatic difference to setting goals and reviewing them often. It kept the important things on top of mind, helped me spot opportunities and warned me of pitfalls.

Goal-setting and reviewing is life changing. Setting SMART goals – goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time targeting – is what will set the high achievers apart from the dreamers.

Goal-setting and reviewing is going to continue to be an increasingly necessary skill because of the ever expanding number of opportunities available in our world. The more choices we have, the greater our need for focus.

Since becoming more aware of this area of my life, I’ve noticed three basic goal-setting personalities.

The first personality writes and reviews their goals often, and they have the most success achieving them. On the other end of the spectrum is the personality that does not put their goals to writing. They still have goals, they’re just less clear about them. Without clarity, they rarely have the chance to move toward them. This personality has the least success achieving their dreams or bringing any of their ideas into the world.

The middle ground is also dangerous territory. It’s the personality that writes their goals, but fails to review them. Failing to review your goals on a regular basis cools down your momentum and makes your goals more difficult to reach.

I call these 3 goal-setting personalities: believers, freezers and achievers.

#1 Believers#2 Freezers#3 Achievers
  • Believe they don’t need to write their goals down
  • Set it and forget it!
  • Write their goals down and review them on a regular basis
  • Forget their goals
  • Change or rewrite their goals every few months
  • Continuously meet and make achievable goals
  • Make random decisions
  • Make short-term decisions
  • Make long-term decisions

Believer, Freezer, Achiever Test

  1. Did you set any New Year’s resolutions or create any other written goals this year?
  2. Do you remember what they are?

Answering the above questions will let you know if you fall into the believer, freezer or achiever category. If you answered ‘no’ to question #1 you’re a believer. If you answered ‘yes’ to question #1 and ‘no’ to question #2 you are a freezer. Answering ‘yes’ to questions #1 and #2 makes you an achiever.


Do Not Know What Their Goals Are

Believers often pass blame on external forces and often wish for things that are outside of their of control.

Believers can often be heard saying…

“If I only had a better boss.”

“If I only had a more understanding spouse.”

“If I only had my degree.”

Will Never Reach Their Goals

In the absence of clearly defined goals, you will become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia. Facebook updates, celebrity news and other things in life that have almost no value are focused on to fill the void that comes from lack of purpose. No goals can ever be reached because none have been established. Or as Benjamin Franklin pithily puts it, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” 

Make Decisions Randomly

Just like building a house without a blueprint, random decisions lead to random results.

Believers are often responding to crises and spending their time on activities that bring short-term pleasure, but often have negative long-term consequences (staying up late to watch TV, eating fast food, getting to work late).


Forget Their Goals

These goal setters allow their goals to cool or completely freeze. They write goals like Ron Popeil puts chickens in the rotisserie oven that made him rich, they just ‘Set It and Forget It’.

Freezers can often be heard saying…

“I should find a new job.”

“I should work on my relationship with my spouse.”

“I should take night classes.”

Don’t Reach Their Goals Often

Forgotten goals, not having goals, not knowing where you are going, it’s all the same. You go nowhere.

Make Short-Term Decisions

Just like building a house without reviewing the blueprint often, uncertain decisions lead to less certain results.

It is necessary to review your goals often in order to bring them into reality. Freezers often make good starts, but fall short because they don’t have the follow-through necessary to make their big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs) happen.


Notice When They Are Acting Out of Alignment With Their Goals

Achievers recognize that writing and referencing their goals on a daily basis is a habit that will focus their energy so they can achieve more with their life.

Achievers can often be heard saying…

“I said I would find a new job. What am I doing to make that happen?”

“I said I would work on my relationship. How can I change my behavior for the better?”

“I said I would finish my degree. Is that still important to me right now?”

When achievers notice their actions are not moving them closer to their goals, they will course correct. They’ll adjust either their behavior or their goals. Both choices are intentional and lead to predictable outcomes.

Think of Actions That Will Get Them Closer to Their Goals

Goal: Find a new job. => Action: Take advantage of an opportunity to learn how to use a new software that will make you a better job candidate.

Goal: Work on relationship. => Action: Hear about a book on communication. Get the audio version and listen to it on the way to and from work

Goal: Finish degree. => Action: Notice the community college near their house has the required courses you need to finish their degree. Enroll.

Thoughts on what steps need to be taken will come from both your conscious and unconscious mind. If you take action on those thoughts, your actions will lead to results which will motivate you to take more actions. Continuous, small action is easiest path to achievement.

“Mile by mile it’s a trial; yard by yard it’s hard; but inch by inch it’s a cinch.” – Anonymous

Remember Their True Priorities

Every time you read your written goals they will be ingrained further in your mind. Having a firm grasp of what you want and where you are going leads to a more balance life and better long-term decisions. Additionally, when a long-term goal is reached it is noticed, giving it a change to be appreciated.

Make Reviewing Your Goals Easy

You can make reviewing your goals a ritual by putting them in an obvious spot, such as the refrigerator or your computer.

I personally have all my goals in Evernote and review them daily as part of my morning ritual. I also have a friend who has a clear sense of what he wants out of life (he’s finishing his MD MBA next month) because he carries his written goals and values around with him on a notecard.

Have Your Best Year

I want you to have a year like my 28th. I want you to get exactly what you want out of life. Putting your desires to paper is like drawing a map. And just like a map, it can be pretty useless if you never look at it.

Stop wandering and start traveling towards a destination worth getting to. Write yourself a letter. Commit to looking at it 52 times.

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Posted by Ibby  | September 25, 2014 at 3:18PM | Reply

This seems a little simplistic. Many high-achieving people don’t set “new year’s resolutions” because you shouldn’t need an artificial benchmark to force you to set goals. If you really know what you’re doing with your life, you don’t need to write a note on your fridge telling you to get your professional or graduate degree – you’re already doing it. I’m all for writing down a to-do list, but your goals should be more innate than that. If you need to look at a post-it note to remember what you should be doing, you’re already derailed and floundering.

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | October 7, 2014 at 1:48PM

I agree, Ibby. Artificial benchmarks like “new year’s resolutions” are not necessary. But I would argue that a disproportionate amount of high achieving people have written goals in addition to to-do lists. They take the time to write their goals because they recognize that the mind naturally aligns itself into a more coherent state when it seeks to transmit knowledge than when it is merely processing it for its own needs.

Posted by ali jan qadir  | September 24, 2014 at 3:12AM | Reply

Talking about achievers you have to mention Arnold, perfect example of setting goals and achieving them.

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | October 7, 2014 at 1:37PM

I couldn’t agree more Ali. I just watched the documentary Pumping Iron a few weeks ago and that guy is a machine

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