Everybody has goals.
Even if you haven’t formally written them down, you have things you want to do and accomplish. You want better grades at school, a better paying job, or that promotion you’ve been hoping for. You want to lose weight, write a book, or create that app you’ve been thinking about for a long time.
The problem is that there’s often a big gap between what we want and what we actually accomplish.
Hence, the need for formal goal setting.
But here’s the thing.
There is a big difference between setting goals and actually sticking with them. From a distance, goal setting may seem simple and straightforward. The reality, however, is that only a small percentage of people who set goals actually achieve them.
According to a study by the University of Scranton, only 8% of people who set goals at the beginning of the year accomplish them. Only EIGHT out of every one hundred people who set goals attain them.
In this guide, we’re going to dive deep into goal setting. We’re going to talk about why goal setting is so important and how you can actually achieve the goals you’re striving for.
What is Goal Setting?
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding exactly what goal setting is. Simply put, goal setting is the process of identifying or creating an objective that you want to achieve. It’s identifying where you are now and where you want to be in the future.
But effective goal setting involves more than just setting a target. If that’s all you do, you’ll find it much harder to achieve your goals. Anybody can say that they want to write a best-selling book or create an app that’s going to change the world. Actually making it happen is something else altogether.
Goal setting is the process of actively identifying what you want to achieve and then taking specific steps to achieve that goal. Effective goal setting requires coming up with measurable objectives, along with a time frame to help guide your actions.
Why Set Goals?
Goal setting empowers you to create the life that you want. It’s like having a scoreboard for your life, helping you to always be moving forward and not drift.
In his book Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want — Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible, Brian Tracy writes:
You become what you think about most of the time. Your outer world ultimately becomes a reflection of your inner world. Your outer world of experience mirrors back to you what you think about most of the time. Whatever you think about continuously emerges in your reality.
Goal setting is a way of transforming your outer world so that it reflects your inner desires. It keeps you focused and motivated, enabling you to turn your desires into actual reality.
Setting goals puts you on a path to success, pushing you to acquire the necessary knowledge, effectively organize your time and resources, and ultimately become the person you want to be.
By setting clearly defined goals, you determine the things that are most important in your life and then prioritize your time and energy to achieve them.
And goal setting is a virtuous circle. When you achieve your goals, you take pride in your success, which raises your self-confidence, which ultimately motivates you to keep pursuing your other goals.
Benefits of Goal Setting
Is goal setting really all that valuable? Yes. Here’s why.
Goals Give You Focus
Goal setting brings life into focus and brings clarity to the specific actions you need to take. Because you know where you’re headed, the purpose of your goal, and how you intend to achieve it, decisions become clear and straightforward.
When done right, goal setting keeps you from wasting unnecessary energy on thinking about what you need to do. You know what you want to achieve and how to get there.
For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds and you have to choose between going for a run or spending time watching a movie, the decision is clear. You gotta get out there and pound the pavement.
Goals help you harness your time and energy toward your desired end. You might have all the resources and time needed to achieve a goal, but if you lack focus, you won’t make it happen. Goal setting gives you the laser focus you need to get what you really want to achieve.
Goals Help You Measure Progress
You know the old saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”? Goal setting is one of the most effective ways to measure progress and personal growth.
Goals help you track your progress and evaluate your performance against set milestones and in relation to your ultimate goal. This then gives you clarity about where you’re succeeding and which areas you need to put in more hard work or readjust your approach.
For example, say your goal is to write a book. Having that particular end goal allows you to figure out how much you need to write each week in order to finish your book by a particular date. You can then evaluate your progress to determine whether you’re doing what you need to do.
The power of the goal setting process is that it helps you measure your progress and then adjust accordingly so that you get what you want to achieve.
Goals Help You Stay Motivated
When you set goals, you are able to stay motivated. As we mentioned earlier, setting goals creates a virtuous cycle of motivation and achievement.
Effective goal setting makes it much easier to hit your long term goals. With each milestone, you feel more confident and motivated to stick to the course.
For example, say one of your goals is to lose 25 pounds. As you weigh in each week, you’re able to see the progress you’re making on your goal. Each pound you lose further motivates you to eat healthy and keep exercising.
On the other hand, if you have a desire but no goal, you’ll have a much harder time making your desire actually happen. You might want to lose weight, but without a specific, concrete goal, it will be hard to resist that bowl of ice cream at night.
Goals Help You Beat Procrastination
When you set goals, you establish a timeframe for what you want to achieve (more on that in a minute). The time frame of a goal keeps you moving forward and taking action, even when you don’t want to.
Goal setting creates a sense of incompleteness in your mind. An open loop if you will. You have these particular goals you want to accomplish, and until you do, you feel a sense of urgency to close the loop. Having a goal creates an internal pressure to take action, even during those times when you don’t want to.
When you always have your goals in front of you, it keeps you focused on where you want to be in the long term and what you need to do in the short term to get there.
How to Set Goals
Okay, now that you know why goals are so important, let’s talk about how to set goals. There are some very specific things you need to do in order for goal setting to be effective. If you don’t do these things, the odds are low that you’ll hit your specific goals.
Define Your Core Values
Before you set a goal, it’s essential that you define your core values. Don’t start with goal setting until you’re crystal clear on your values.
Your values guide your actions and decisions in life. They are the things that you believe are important in your personal and professional life, and they determine how you interact with other people and define your priorities.
Your values guide the choices you make and determine whether your life turns out the way you want. When your actions and life aligns with your core values, you experience happiness. On the other hand, when you don’t act in accordance with your values, you feel profound dissatisfaction.
Effective goal setting drives you toward the things you value. Andrew Carnegie said, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.”
Before you can set helpful goals, you need to know what you value most. Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Who do I want to be?
- What things matter most to me?
- What makes me happy?
- What energizes me?
- What do I want people to say about me at the end of my life?
- What am I willing to sacrifice for?
- Who do I look up to and why?
By carefully examining your personal values, you can identify what matters most in your life. Then you can tailor your goals so that they align with your values and help you create a life that is meaningful.
Create Goals That Are in Line with Your Values
Once you’ve figured out what’s most important to you, it’s time to create goals that are in line with those things. Setting goals that align with your personal values increases the chances of you actually achieving them.
The more your goals align with your values, the more motivated you’ll be to pursue them.
On the other hand, if your goals run counter to your value, you’ll create internal conflict that will hinder you from getting where you want to be. And even if you achieve them, you won’t find true fulfillment and satisfaction in your achievements. You’ll end up feeling conflicted and remorseful.
When you set goals that flow out of your values, you’re able to move away from things that hold you back in life and concentrate more on things that bring value and a sense of accomplishment.
Create SMART Goals
SMART goals are:
This approach to goal setting significantly increases the odds of you hitting your goals.
Let’s look at each aspect.
You need to have specificity and clarity when it comes to goal setting. If you’re clear on what you want, you won’t be motivated to achieve it or know what steps you need to take to get there.
The goal of having a successful career doesn’t have enough clarity to be motivating.
Ask yourself the following questions as you set goals:
- What do I want to accomplish?
- Why do I want to accomplish this?
- Who else is involved?
- What resources do I need to hit this goal?
Instead of saying that you want to have a successful career, a better way of setting goals is to say something like, “I want to be a C-level executive in a Fortune 500 company so that I can leave a legacy of hard work for my family.”
Setting specific goals helps you stay focused and prevents you from getting pulled into other, unnecessary activities. Specific goals also help you envision the end results, which can help you stay motivated in tough times.
Vague goals almost never work. Why? Because you don’t have clarity on the outcome you’re trying to achieve and what you need to do to hit your goals.
For example, say your goal is to grow your business. Without a specific objective, there’s no way to know whether you achieved your goal. Does a 1% increase in revenue constitute growth? What about 10% What if your costs increase at the same rate?
In order to work, you need to set goals with measurable, concrete outcomes:
- Grow revenue by 30%
- Lose 20 pounds
- Write a 50,000 word novel
- Run 13.2 miles
Setting a measurable goal means specifying an exact quantity within your goals. Focus on using numbers rather than generalized phrases like “a lot,” many,” and “enough.”
For example, if your goal is to be the best realtor in California, set a goal of selling 20 homes in the first month rather than saying, you want to sell “many” homes this month.
By setting measurable goals, you can monitor your progress at any particular time and compare your progress against the end goal.
You can identify and celebrate what you’ve achieved and also identify areas where you might need to readjust your approach. Knowing exactly how much progress you’ve made is a powerful source of confidence that keeps you moving towards your goal.
Despite what you were told growing up, you can’t do whatever you want. If you’re 35 and 5’ 4”, you’re not going to play in the NBA, no matter how hard you work. That stuff only happens in Disney movies.
If you want to achieve your goals, they have to be attainable. This doesn’t mean that you don’t dream big. It just means that you recognize limitations and take them into account.
Is it realistic to be a millionaire? Sure. Is it realistic to be richer than Jeff Bezos? Probably not.
Orison Swett Marden said:
All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.
The key word there is “sometimes”. Goals should stretch you and push you to do things you didn’t think you could do. But they shouldn’t be 99% impossible.
So set realistic goals but also be aggressive in the process. Take time to think through your goals and establish what you can actually achieve based on available resources like time, energy, finances, and focus.
Figure out whether you have these resources and the abilities to achieve the goal. If the goal requires more than you can provide, then that goal is going to be really tough and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
A relevant goal is one that actually matters to you and will make a real difference in your life. Having a goal of being able to do 100 pushups without stopping because you want to have a stronger back and be able to play with your kids is great.
Having a goal of being able to do 1,000 pushups without stopping because you want to brag about it on Facebook isn’t nearly as relevant.
Before you set a goal, ask yourself why you want to achieve it. Is achieving the goal worth the sacrifices it will require in order to get there?
As you plan out your goals, calculate what it will cost in order to achieve them, in terms of time, energy, money, etc. Then evaluate whether the goal is really relevant to your life and will significantly improve it.
Every goal should have a deadline. You have to be very clear about when the goal will be completed.
This applies to all types of goals regardless of whether they’re short-term goals that take a week or long-term goals that have to be completed quarterly or yearly.
By setting a timeline for your goal, you’re able to compare your progress to the due date and then figure out how much you have to do in order to deliver on time. This creates a sense of urgency that enables you to remain focused on the goal until you complete it.
Write Down Your Goals
If you want to achieve your biggest goals, you need to write them down and regularly review them.
Written goals tend to stick in the mind and act as a constant reminder of what you want to achieve. Again, to quote Brian Tracy:
A goal that is not in writing is not a goal at all. Everyone who succeeds greatly works from clear, written, specific, detailed goals and plans, reviewed regularly, sometimes every day. I personally recommend that you write and rewrite your goals each day, day after day, week after week, and month after month. This programs them deep into your subconscious mind where they take on a life and power of their own.
You can also place reminders of your goals all around you. Write them on Post-It notes and stick them on your bathroom mirror and car dashboard. Put pictures of what you want as the wallpaper on your computer and phone. The more you review your goals, the more they’ll be constantly on your mind and the more you’ll take action.
Take Action On Your Goals
The final, and most important step is to constantly take action on your goals. If you don’t take action, all your goal setting efforts are for nothing. Remember, goals are not ends in and of themselves. Goals are a stepping stone to changing your life.
The point of having goals is to actually achieve something, not just dream things up. Every day, you should take specific actions on your most important goals. The more action you take, the quicker you’ll achieve the things you most desire.
Take The Long View
Achieving success in meeting your goals requires a long term perspective. You need to be able to see where you want to go and be patient with how long it takes to get there. Don’t give up on your goals if you don’t see results right away. Stick with them. Put in the effort. Don’t give up.
Management and productivity expert Peter Drucker said, “We greatly overestimate what we can accomplish in one year. But we greatly underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.”
The key to having the life you want is to have the five year view. Or if that’s too long for you, take the one year view instead of the one month view. Imagine what you could accomplish if you take consistent action on your goals day after day, month after month.
Will it be easy? No. Will there be days you lack motivation? Yes. Will there be times you want to give up? Yep.
But don’t give up. Those who succeed with goal setting are the ones who persevere.
Don’t wait around for the life you want. Create it through the power of goal setting.