It can be hard to set a realistic goal and achieve it.
But by gaining insights into the goal-setting process and understanding the role factors such as environment can play in your success, you can set more realistic goals and achieve them while avoiding the common pitfalls and distractions.
Whether you want to set personal or professional goals, this guide will teach you how to set better goals grounded in reality and move your life in the direction you desire.
Table of Contents
What is Goal-Setting?
Goal-setting refers to selecting an objective, project, or skill you want to accomplish and then making plans to achieve your goal.
When you set a goal (for example, to work out five times per week), your focus is on the results, the ripped body or how good and energized you’ll feel after your sessions.
But a crucial aspect of goal-setting is not deciding if you want the results but accepting the sacrifices necessary to achieve your goal.
Are you willing to accept the temporary pain that comes with working out every day to lose weight?
Are you willing to accept the boring process, late nights, and weekends on the job required to succeed in your career, at least in the beginning when you don’t have a lot of options?
It’s important to keep in mind the tradeoffs that accompany your goals.
Everyone wants the glamour and excitement of success. But few are willing to accept the high-pressure, long-working-hours lifestyle that comes with it.
The Importance of Goal-Setting
Goal-setting helps you focus on your long-term goals while motivating yourself in the short term.
When you set goals, you take charge of the direction of your personal life or career.
And by giving your life a direction, you can make the most of it.
Two Rare Insights into Goal-Setting
When setting goals, we are often unaware of the costs we need to pay and the importance of systems in achieving our objectives.
- Goal-setting is not only about the results you want but also the costs you’re willing to pay.
So, for example, if you want to become an entrepreneur, you need to ask yourself if you’re willing to forgo the steady income of a regular job for the unsteady paycheck of an entrepreneur.
If you’re not willing to take that risk, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your entrepreneurial goals. It just means you have to find a way to work on those goals without quitting your day job.
And perhaps you could be willing to pay the price of working late nights and weekends on your entrepreneurial pursuit.
- Goals give you direction. Your systems or processes to achieve your goals direct your progress.
So, for instance, if you’re a salesperson and your goal is to make $20,000 per month in commissions, your system is the sales calls or the number of prospective customers you speak to every day.
To achieve your goal, you need to focus on your system and make sure it supports your objectives.
Another example is if you want to be a writer but have no writing schedule or system in place; that makes it difficult for you to actually write.
So whatever your goal, it’s crucial to have a system in place to support it.
4 Tips for Effective Personal Goal-Setting
1. Separate your goals into categories
To set effective goals, it’s advisable to separate your goals into categories based on the most important areas in your life.
For example, you can create categories like career, health, relationships, and hobbies and set different goals for each.
By doing this, you will avoid neglecting important areas of your life.
2. Set weekly, quarterly, and yearly goals
Another strategy is to set weekly, quarterly, and yearly goals.
To do this, you first set your yearly goals and then you use that to set your goals for every quarter, and finally, you set your weekly goals based on your quarterly goals.
The point is to ensure you don’t set your goals for the year and then neglect them till the end of the year when you’re ready to set new ones.
If you’ve failed to follow through on your goals, it’s harder to correct your mistakes when reviewing them yearly.
But by interacting with your goals every week/quarter, you can more quickly see where you’re failing to meet your objectives and adjust to get back on track.
3. Leverage the goal-setting theory
The goal-setting theory states the harder and more specific your goals, the higher your chances of accomplishing them.
So, if you aim to lose weight, it’s more beneficial to set a specific goal, for instance:
- I’ll lose five pounds per week by running twice a day for 20 minutes five days in a week.
This goal will be far more effective than say, setting a broad goal of losing a lot of weight by the end of the year.
If you plan to achieve a goal, be as specific as possible.
4. Set goals that depend on your own actions
Setting goals that depend on your own actions is crucial for self-motivation.
If accomplishing your goals depends on others, it can be demotivating when things don’t go your way and you’re left powerless and unable to change the outcome.
But focusing on the things within your control will dramatically increase your ability to get things done.
For example, in your career, you may want to get a particular promotion. But making that promotion a direct goal is not the best way to achieve it, because the final decision of whether you get that promotion will be made by someone else.
A better way to go about it is to look for the things within your control.
You can look at the requirements for getting that promotion and then work to meet those requirements or attain the necessary skills.
By focusing on your own actions, you can then think of other options or career paths you can take if you don’t get the desired promotion.
This way, your progress is always within your power, offering you limitless motivation to keep improving and attaining your goals.
How to Set Goals and Actually Follow Through
Setting goals is different from following through on them. Here are four strategies for significantly increasing your chances of achieving your goals.
1. Ruthlessly cut down your goals
It’s often exciting to set several goals and work on them at the same time. But that can easily lead to burnout and frustration.
To make progress, you need to limit the number of goals you work on in a given period.
For example, if you aim to complete your academic thesis in three months, it may be unrealistic to want to keep working on other projects while still working a full-time job.
To make good progress, you’ll need to focus on one project or goal at a time while drastically reducing your other obligations.
2. Create an autopilot schedule
Creating an autopilot schedule can be a powerful way to ensure your most important tasks get done.
The way this works is that you select a fixed time, day, and location where a particular task gets done every week and you stick to that schedule consistently.
This way, you schedule all your other work and obligations around your most important project instead of the other way around.
The best time to schedule this work is usually in the mornings, but other times work as well depending on your schedule.
For instance, if you want to start exercising more, you can schedule that time in the mornings before work on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at your community gym.
So now when looking at your weekly schedule, you can plan so everything else fits around your fixed exercise sessions.
This strategy works well for all other projects and goals.
3. Start slow, set upper limits
When setting goals, we often let our ambitions get the best of us.
You want to become a writer, so you ambitiously set a goal of writing a thousand words a day, without even the experience of writing just 100 words a day.
Or you want to start working out, so you aim to work out for one hour daily six days a week.
You show up the first day, push through the pain of hitting your unrealistically high goals, and then the next day, and the next, till you start resenting the pain, and eventually stop showing up.
To sustainably stick to your goals, you need to start slow, set easy goals, set lower and upper limits, and increase the limits as you get comfortable working on a particular goal.
So, if you want to, say, read more books, then start small, setting a goal of just reading 10 pages a day but not more than 20.
Do this till you feel comfortable increasing your lower and upper limits.
The upper limits are there to help you keep showing up and sustain your progress over time.
How to Set Up Your Environment to Consistently Achieve Your Goals
Our environment significantly influences whether we achieve our long-term goals.
It’s challenging to achieve positive results when you’re in a negative environment.
To make long-term progress, you need to ensure your environment supports your ambitions.
Here are two strategies for optimizing your environment to support your goals.
Simplifying your workspace is a great way to stay focused.
It’s harder to focus on a task when you have your phone right next to you or when there’s a TV or any digital device operating in the background.
To optimize your focus, you need to eliminate other options and distractions.
This also applies to digital environments; it’s harder to focus on one tab when you have several others open.
When in doubt, eliminate all other distractions and options.
2. Visual cues
Having your phone next to you in bed encourages more social media checking and phone use late into the night and right after you wake up.
To promote good habits, you need to leverage visual cues.
For example, if you want to sleep earlier and reduce your TV time, then it may be best to remove the TV from your bedroom instead of just relying on your ability to resist watching.
Placing the right visual cues in your environment can also promote good habits while discouraging bad ones.
So if you plan to achieve a certain goal, think about how you can leverage visual cues to help you adopt habits that support your goal.
How to Track and Adjust Your Goals
It’s motivating to see evidence of our progress, but it’s vital to realize that measuring and tracking is not only about the results.
Measure to see if you’re dedicating time to the things that matter to you most and make adjustments whenever you realize that’s not the case.
Here’s a good strategy for tracking your goals.
Check in on your goals every quarter/year
Reviewing your goals every three months is a good way to make sure you’re always working on the things that matter.
There’s so much to learn from feedback about how well you’re progressing on your goals.
For example, realizing that you’re way behind on a goal could mean that goal may be too ambitious and you need to scale it down, or you may need to make changes to spend more time on it.
The most important thing to prioritize is consistent, sustainable progress.
By reviewing every quarter, you’ll have a good sense of your progress (and would’ve already adjusted some goals) by the year’s end, making your yearly review much more easier and productive.
I hope you found this goal-setting guide to be useful. If you’re looking for more articles like this, please browse the Further Reading section below.