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Goal Setting

Goal setting is everywhere in our lives. It is at work with our personal and professional development plans. It occurs in our holidays with our new year resolutions. It even occurs when we go to the gym and we decide how much we want to be able to lift. We are constantly being encouraged to think about what is next. But how can you do this well?

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

Pablo Picasso

What is Goal Setting?

Every person’s life depends upon the process of choosing goals to pursue. If you remain passive, you will not thrive as a human being and life will pass you by. In simple terms, goal setting is the act of selecting a target or an objective you wish to achieve. It is a powerful and explicit process which enables you to take control of your life direction and can help provide a focus on which to base the decisions and actions you take.

All goals are based upon thoughts of your ideal future and they help motivate you towards turning that vision into a reality. Think of goals as a dream with a deadline. They are unique to you and can help in any part of your life, including physical health, finances and careers. Goals allow you to focus on the acquisition of knowledge or skills, help you organise your time efficiently and will concentrate your efforts while avoiding any distractions.

Creating a goal boils down to the process of identifying something you want to accomplish and establishing measurable objectives and timeframes to help you achieve it. A well-crafted goal will create a benchmark for determining whether you are successful. The components of a goal are tied together with an action plan for achieving the goal. While the goals will determine the direction you are headed, it is your underlying systems that actually drives the progress. This might be your training schedule or your daily routine. Setting goals will help you choose what system is needed to achieve the results.

Benefits of Goal Setting

Goal setting is the vehicle that drives you to your destination. It helps you decide what is really important to you and clarifies what you want to achieve in life. Goal setting works in three basic ways. Firstly, it energises performance to expend the necessary effort in line with the difficulty of the task. Second, it motivates persistent activities over time. Thirdly, it directs attention toward relevant behaviours and away from distracting propositions.

Establishing goals will help keep you accountable and creates patterns of behaviour that lead to successful achievement of goals. Well-crafted goals enable you to measure progress, help you overcome procrastination and provide ways to visualise your dream. Successful completion of goals will build self-confidence, increase your happiness and keeps you moving on your own development journey. Once you learn how to successfully set goals in one area of your life, it becomes easier to set them in other areas.

How to Set Goals

Most people would start by asking themselves “What does success look like to me? What do I want to achieve?”. However, they should really be asking “What kind of pain do I want?”.

Creating a goal is easy. What is difficult is determining whether you are willing to accept the sacrifices required to achieve your goal. Accepting the trade-offs that come with the goal is an entirely different proposition to creating the goal. It is not only about the rewards you want to enjoy, but also the costs you are willing to pay.

Achievement is frequently hampered by the lack of a clear goal. How can you hit your mark without a clear target? Learn to set clear, measurable and actionable goals. This will help you overcome any impasses and achieve what you want from life. There are six key steps for setting goals:


Think about what you want from life in the next 10-20 years. Create a list as long as you can. You are more likely to put time and energy into something that excites you. Ensure your ideas are important to you and that you genuinely want to achieve them.


Refine your list by selecting goals that relate to areas of high priority within your life. If you don’t focus your list, you will end up with too many goals and fail to devote enough time to each. Establish deadlines of when you want to achieve them.

Review and Limit

Review your list and choose your top three to five goals. Write a paragraph for each and explain why you will achieve them. You must clearly define exactly what you want and attempt to understand why you want it in the first place.


Write specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals. This will enable evaluation and helps you keep track of the progress you are making.

Action Plan

Detail the steps needed to realise your goals. Write them out and create a timeline to visualise the milestones and deadlines you have set yourself. Commit to your plan and cross each milestone off as you make progress towards your ultimate goal.

Stay on Track

Regularly review your goals and modify the longer-term goals to reflect your changing knowledge, priorities and experiences. This ensures that you are monitoring your progress in relation to any successes and failures.

It is important to bear in mind that while your action plan may change significantly, the goals can remain the same. If goals are no longer attractive, consider letting them go.

Types of Goal

Goals can be broadly separated into one of three categories. These categories are not mutually exclusive, and goals are likely to fall into at least two of them. They are as follows:

Time Goals

These can be short-term or long-term. Short-term goals take less time to achieve and build your confidence.

Focus Goals

These are big objectives with potentially life-changing effects.

Topic-Based Goals

These fit into a specific area of your life. For example, finances, career education, family or physical health.

Incremental Goals

It is helpful to think of goal setting as a series of levels. Start by thinking what you want from your life over the next 10-20 years; these are your large-scale or long-term goals. Then start to break down each goal into smaller targets which must be met in order to meet the larger goals. These might be 5-year goals, 6-month goals and even weekly goals. Each should be based upon the previous higher-level goal. Finally you should start working to achieve these smaller goals. When you first start out you may want to begin gathering information to improve the quality and realism of your goal setting.


This is a mnemonic acronym which helps guide the creation of objectives. SMART goals are:

Specific: Defined, clear, and unambiguous.

  • Who: Who is involved in this goal?
  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where: Where is this goal to be achieved?
  • When: When do I want to achieve this goal?
  • Why: Why do I want to achieve this goal?
  • How: How will I get there?

Measurable: Specific criteria that measure progress toward the goal.

  • How many or how much?
  • How do I know if I have reached my goal?
  • What is my indicator of progress?

Achievable: Attainable and not impossible to achieve.

  • Do I have the resources and capabilities to achieve the goal? If not, what am I missing?
  • Have others done it successfully before?

Relevant: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose.

  • Is the goal realistic and within reach?
  • Is the goal reachable, given the time and resources?
  • Are you able to commit to achieving the goal?

Timely: A clearly defined timeline with a starting date and a target date.

  • Does my goal have a deadline?
  • By when do you want to achieve your goal?

Principles of Goal Setting

There are five key guiding principles which enable successful goal achievement. They are as follows:


Attachment to goal

  • This is the degree to which an individual is attached to their goal and it is directly related to their determination to reach it. Goal performance is strongest when commitment is strongest. If performance is below necessary levels, committed individuals will increase their performance to reach it while less committed individuals are more likely to give up.


Specificity of goal

  • Vague goals have limited motivational value. Conversely, clear goals make it easier to understand the task at hand. Precise and unambiguous goals can be easily measured.


Degree of goal’s difficulty

  • Goals must be challenging yet attainable. This can improve performance through increased self-satisfaction and the motivation to find suitable solutions. If goals are not within our ability they will lead to dissatisfaction and frustration.


Degree of goal’s demands

  • Overly complex tasks introduce demands that may mute the goal-setting effects as they overwhelm and negatively impact morale, productivity and motivation. Always ensure there is sufficient time available to complete the goal.


Presence of progress reporting

  • Goal setting becomes more effective with immediate feedback. This helps determine the degree to which a goal is being met and how you are progressing.

How to Achieve your Goals Consistently

Choice Architecture

We often make decisions based upon the environment within which we find ourselves. For example, sleeping with your phone next to your bed makes checking social media the default decision when you wake up. This is known as choice architecture. Choice architecture plays an important role in determining whether you are successfully at achieving your longer-term goals. This is because it directly influences your short-term actions. Take a moment to think about the environment around you.

If you are constantly fighting the environment, you will find it hard to make progress each day. However, if you ensure the environment aligns with your goals, it will become easier to focus on what you want to do. You can do this in a few ways.

  • Consider eliminating excess noise and focusing on only the signal you need to address.
  • Consider creating an environment that visually nudges your actions in the right direction.
  • Consider scheduling events while motivated today. That way you need to opt-out rather than opt-in during the future.

Ruthlessly Eliminate your Goals

Goal competition refers to the idea that goals compete with one another for your time and attention. Whenever you chase a new goal, you remove focus and energy from your other pursuits to focus on the new goal. This obvious has implications for your previous goals!

To make progress, it is best to focus on one goal at a time. Reorganise your priorities and try to focus on just one at a time. The problem of goal selection is often far bigger than problem of goal setting. Choose one and ruthlessly eliminate everything else. You will find that goals need to be consistently pruned in order for new goals to come into our lives and let us get excited about new opportunities.

Stack your Goals

You are more likely to stick with your goals if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behaviour. This is known as an implementation intention. You can use it to stack your habits. For example, complete the following:

“After/Before [current habit], I will [new habit]”.

This method produces results because you create a specific plan for when and where you will implement goals. It allows you to link actions to something you are already doing each day.

Set an Upper Bound

When working on goals, we always think about the minimum threshold we want to hit. But what if we added an upper bound? Unsurprisingly, it is a good thing to do. It helps you push hard enough to make progress but not so hard that you embark on an unsustainable action. Upper limits make it easier to sustain your progress and reach that magical zone of long-term growth.

Reflecting on Achievement

When you have successfully completed some goals, take a moment to reflect on how you did. If it was too easy, perhaps your next goal should be a little harder. Similarly, if a goal took too long, perhaps the next goal should be easier. You will have grown as you completed your latest goals and gained new skills, experiences or knowledge. Consider the following:

  • Does any of this new information affect your other goals?
  • How might you need to change them?
  • Are there any skill deficits that you have which need addressing?

Tips for Goal Setting

This article has covered a lot of ground when it comes to creating goals for yourself. We’d like to offer a few closing thoughts to help ensure you really make the most of your goals.

  1. Each goal should be a positive statement.
  2. Be precise in your goal and ensure you have a way to measure it.
  3. Give each goal a priority to enable you to direct attention to the most important ones.
  4. Enable incremental progress by keeping operational goals small.
  5. Set performance goals that cover something over which you have control.
  6. Set realistic goals which you know you can achieve.