Setting Goals That Work – How to Actually Achieve The Things You Plan

Setting goals is sometimes like making New Year's Resolutions. We do it with the best of intentions, the utmost excitement and a heap of optimism for the future. Then we forget all about it or hope that they'll happen just through intent. On the odd occasion, this does happen, which encourages us to not try too hard. However, if you're serious about achieving all you want to with your current goals, keep reading and I'll tell you how it's done.

The Reflection Phase

Now I know that you're super excited to get to setting goals for yourself and achieving great things, but just hold on a minute. We have some homework to do first. If you just jump right in and set a whole bunch of goals without this step, you'll end up exactly where you are now; with a previous list of unsuccessful goals. Sometimes just coming up with goals and writing them down gives us a sense of achievement because we decided something. We feel really motivated in that moment, but we also feel like we did already made an achievement. So we then go off, feeling productive, and never actually get any further.

This step is really important to making sure we set goals that are achievable and make sure that we have the right systems in place to achieve them. It's not the most fun step, I know this. It takes some thought and some effort. It's maybe even a little uncomfortable, but trust me. Everything will be better once it's done. So here we go.

Looking Back At Our Goal Setting Past

What are some of the goals you've set yourself before? If you make goals on a regular basis, just look back over the last year. What did you decide to do with your time? Maybe you wanted to create a consistent workout habit or eat better. Maybe it was to travel more or spend more time with friends and family. Whatever it was, write them down. Yes, on paper with a pen. I know it's almost archaic to do that now, but just humour me. I want you to be able to look at them.

Which Ones Did We Achieve?

Take a look at that list of goals and think about each on on its own. Which ones did you achieve? What did you do that helped you get there? If you checked off working out more, what did you do to make that work? Maybe you just joined a gym and the cost of it was motivation enough to make you do. Perhaps you got some help in the form of a personal trainer or a workout buddy. Did you join a regular class to keep you accountable and make it a habit? What were the steps and systems you put in place to make sure that this goal became a reality?

What Didn't Work So Well?

This bit is a little bit more painful. I want you now to look at the goals you didn't achieve and be totally honest as to why. No excuses! At no point are you allowed to write down "I didn't have time". If you catch yourself thinking this, I want to you then think of every movie you watched in the last year. Think of every TV show you put on. Remember every time you went out drinking.

I am by no means saying that in order to achieve your goals, you can't have a life (I'm currently binge watching Westworld and about to go to South Africa for 2 weeks), but you also have to take responsibility for the choices you make. Right now, it's Friday night and I'm at home writing in the silence of my living room. No TV, just focused attention and a toffee apple cider for company. Next Friday night, I'll be out with friends, but I can do that comfortably knowing that I'm ahead of schedule with my writing and I can take that night off. So when I look back at my goal of publishing 50 blog posts in 2017, I know that it happened because I made the time to prioritise that goal.

So now you can see which goals didn't work and why. Was it the case that you didn't make them important enough? If so, we need to look at the goals you're setting in the first place. Why are you making these ones? What impact will they have on your life if you do achieve them and what will happen or not happen if you don't? Are you ok with that? In which case, maybe scrap that one for now and just focus on the important ones.

Did some of your goals require help that you didn't get? Maybe you wanted to do something that you weren't sure how to go about. Did you set aside some time to figure out how to do it? Is there anyone you could have asked? Why didn't you? (remember, I didn't have time is not a valid reason!). This can be an uncomfortable process. Were you afraid? And if so, what of? Afraid to try and fail? It's incredibly common and often I have to look at my own behaviour when I'm putting something off and have a talk with myself to see what's actually going on in my head.

So What Have We Learned About Setting Goals For Ourselves?

Now that we can look back on what worked for us an what didn't in the past, we can start to get an idea about setting goals and systems for ourselves to make sure we put things in place that will help us achieve the things we want. We have an idea about the kind of goals we tend to accomplish and the kind of things that get in our way.

Maybe you've now realised that you're the kind of person who needs an accountability partner to keep on track. Now you know that, you can set up a system to have someone on board to check in with and to keep you going.

Maybe you found that you make some goals for the sake of making goals and this time, you're going to focus on the few that have a bigger impact on your happiness and life rather than just things to tick off to feel a sense of achievement.

With this new knowledge, we're now ready to start setting some strong goals and systems the right way.

Setting Goals The SMART Way

SMART is an acronym for how to set goals, describing the different things a goal should be.

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Attainable

R = Relevant

T = Time-bound


If your goals are vague, then the chances of completing them are pretty low. Let's say your goal is, I want to work out more, that can mean a lot of things. If you currently don't work out at all, then going for a walk once a year is working out more, but it's not going to make you fit and healthy. You need something specific that you can keep track of.


In order to keep track of your goal, it has to be measurable. Things like "more" are not a good measure. Think back to our specific section. If you plan to exercise "more" and you currently don't exercise, then going for one walk a year counts as exercising more. However, achieving this goal will not make you fit and healthy. You need to be able to measure your goal. Exercise 3 times a week is both specific and measurable, so now we're getting somewhere.


Next you have to establish whether your goal is attainable. If we stick with exercise as our goal and assume that you're starting from a point of no exercise, then deciding to suddenly exercise for 1.5 hours a day, 7 days a week is not attainable. Even for me, I find that planning to exercise every day isn't really realistic. Life gets in the way and often, my body objects after 10 days in a row. Starting from zero, an aim of exercising for 30 minutes, 3 days a week is much more attainable.


So now we have a goal, but is it relevant? This year, my main focus is to set up some passive income, or even active online income like this blog, so that when I leave my job and go travelling, I have a source of money to fund it and don't have to rely on picking up jobs everywhere I go. I intend to work along the way, but just for fun. I want to try out jobs that I would never get to do normally, meet new people and have new experiences rather than have to pick up a bar job, work my nights and not fully experience where I am. With this in mind, it wouldn't make sense for me to make a goal to read 100 fantasy books this year and take up knitting. Is the goal you're setting right now relevant to your long term plan?

Time Bound

Parkinson's Law states that any task will expand to take the amount of time allotted to it. If you don't set a deadline on your goal, it's just a dream. Even if you set a deadline that's too far in your future, your brain won't focus on it as it's so far away, it's not relevant to your current situation. When setting goals,, you need to give them a relevant deadline and then stick to it. This deadline is non-negotiable.

Now We Need A Plan

Ok, so we have our goals and we've made them SMART. Now that the setting goals stage is done, we need to get down to actually accomplishing them. For this, we need a plan of action.

Break Them Down

We should be setting goals that have a long term impact on our lives. This means that they might take a while to get going. To avoid being disheartened by this and overwhelmed by how much work it takes, we need to break them down into smaller pieces. Don't think of everything you need to do to get to then end, just think of what the next step is to get to the next stage. Then do this over and over.

There are loads of tools out there to help you do this. Chalene Johnson just launched her 30 Day Push Journal that talks you through making 90 day plans and then breaking them down into categories and 30 day segments. It's quite cool cause you get your first one then 30 days later, you get your next one in the mail. Personally, I'm using John Lee Dumas' Freedom Journal. This doesn't do the goal setting part with you, but once you have a goal, it helps you break it down into sections. The journal is for 100 days and you set what you want to accomplish in the next 100 days. Then you look at what you need to do in the next 10 days to get started. Then you set daily tasks for yourself to make the 10 day goal happen. This makes everything small, focused and manageable.

Review Your Progress

In order to keep on track, we need to review where we are and where we need to be frequently. When a plane makes a journey, it's off course for 95% of the trip. The pilot's job is to check in it every so often and make micro-adjustments to point it in the right direction again. We need to do the same thing with our goals. The Freedom Journal has you briefly review each day at the end of the day to see what you struggled with that day and what you can do to overcome this in the future. You also have 10 day reviews to see if your on track with your 10 day goals and then quarterly reviews every 25 days.

By taking time to look again at where we are now, how we got there and where we still need to go, we can plan the next course of action. This is where we can do the reflection steps again. What worked well? Ok, let's add more of that in the next period. What didn't work and why? The why is important. Do we need to do less of this or do we need a better system to get this done? From here, we can make micro-adjustments to correct course and be way more likely to hit our goals right on schedule (or even before!) since we're focusing our aim each time to get closer and closer.

Be Accountable

The initial reflection phase we did before setting our goals makes this step a bit easier. Look back at what you wrote about how and why you achieved certain goals and why you didn't. Find the patterns that helped you or hindered you here. In the goals that you did achieve, did you have an accountability partner? Was this a major factor in keeping you motivated and on track? If this is the case, then make sure you add an accountability partner into your system when you plan you're setting goals.

Another thing to understand is how you're motivated. Are you an Away From or Towards motivated person? Once you know this, you can set up systems to keep you accountable. It could be giving a friend 20 bucks every day you don't exercise if your goal is to get fit, or for every cigarette you have if your goal is to quit. stickK will help you with setting goals and then sign a Commitment Contract. One of the options is that every time you fail to complete a task towards your goal, stickK takes an agreed amount of money from you and gives it to a charity that you hate. I think that's pretty good motivation! If you're more of a towards motivated person, you could make a vision board or Dream Line and set deadlines on them. Share them with people so they can ask you about your progress.

Sharing your goals with someone is a huge part of making sure you accomplish them. If you don't have a friend who you feel you can do this with, look for an online community. There are Facebook groups for pretty much everything now, or look at Google+ and online forums. There will be someone out there who wants something similar to you and the two of you can work together to help each other get it. You may even gain a friend in the process! If you're feeling braver, you cold even look for local communities on site like and find someone you can connect with in person to share your goals with.

One Last Thing...

Believe in yourself. No matter what you have and haven't achieved in the past, every try is a brand new one. No endings are already written and you can do anything you want to. Especially now that you know how to go about it. If you have any questions or want to add anything to this post, please leave them in the comments and I'll get back to every one. Share with us your goals and see if you might even find your accountability partner here. I believe in you. Now go get your dream!


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