“Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them.” — Jack Canfield
No matter who you are or where you from or what you do for a living, you have goals. Those goals might be grandiose plans that involve extravagant riches or amassing obscene amounts of money, or they might be simple and individualistic like losing some weight or getting pregnant or meeting the perfect someone in your life.
However, no matter what types of goals you might have, it’s likely that you won’t achieve them if you don’t follow through with some basic steps involved with setting those goals the right way. While goal setting might seem simple and straightforward to most people, the truth is that many of us fail to follow through for specific reasons.
In fact, the science behind goal setting tells us that many people fall short of their goals. Did you know that only 8% of people who set goals on New Year’s Eve actually achieve them? That’s pretty drastic if you stop to think about it. That’s only 8 out of 100 people. Think about it yourself. When was the last time you followed through with a goal? I mean really followed through?
I don’t say all this to dissuade you from setting a big goal or reaching for the stars; I’m simply laying out the facts. My hope? Give you the tools you need to achieve all your goals, no matter how big or outlandish they might be. But they need to be set the right way. If you set your goals the wrong way, you’ll likely fall flat on your face.
Look, I know how it feels. I’ve failed to achieve many goals in my life. It’s depressing and disheartening, and it shatters you straight to the core. But whether you’ve failed to achieve a goal in the past or not, you know just how difficult it is to accomplish something that’s big in life. Achieving monumental goals tomorrow requires fundamental changes to your life today.
It’s not simple nor is it straightforward. But there is a science to goal setting that will help you to follow through. As long as you heed the advice in this step-by-step guide, you’ll be on your way to making your dreams a reality. Ignore the advice and you might suffer the backlash of another failed attempt to accomplish something worthwhile.
Setting Goals The Right Way
There’s a right way and a wrong way to get goals. Let’s just get clear on that. The better you are at following a proven and vetted process in setting goals the right way, the more likely you’ll be to succeed over time. However, don’t mistake this as some overnight expedition. Big goals take a long time to achieve, but they also become highly unlikely to transpire when you lack the right approach.
Personally speaking, I’ve given up on goals in the past. I didn’t set them the right way. I left them in my mind, where they stayed in the abstract. Rather than getting clear about them and writing them down on paper, I allowed some notion of them to reside in the far-reaches of my mind where I was sure that they were safe and secure, easily manageable and malleable.
I never materialized those goals in front of me because I didn’t bring them into reality. I just thought about them, visualizing them only in my mind. While it’s easy to fall into this trap, this is a huge mistake. Goals that are left in the mind stay in the abstract. They’re not concrete and they don’t feel real.
Step 1: Write It Down
The biggest mistake that I’ve made in the past in not setting my goals correctly was in not writing them down. Why is this so important? Studies suggest that you’re far more likely to achieve a goal that you write down and create a concrete plan for. The more detailed your plan is on paper, the greater the probability that you’ll follow through and achieve those lofty goals.
If you don’t write it down, you won’t achieve your goals. Plain and simple. Grab a pen and piece of paper and write down your goals the old-fashioned way. Research conducted by Sam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer suggests that students who went about writing their notes on paper, as opposed to typing them, actually learned and retained more.
So no matter what you do, where you’re from, or how big and lofty your goals are, regardless of all of that, if you don’t write them down, it’s likely that you’re not going to achieve them. So, this is the first and most important part of setting goals the right way. You absolutely, positively must write them down. Period.
Step 2: Get Highly Specific About Your Goals
Goals need to be specific. Beyond being written down, they need to be envisioned in your mind with a great deal of clarity. The only way to really do that is to get very specific about them. So let’s just say you want a million dollars. Is that specific enough? What kind of house will you be living in when you have that million dollars? What will you be doing for work?
What is your life going to look like when that million dollars is sitting in your bank account? Can you envision that? Can you picture what it will feel like? You have to place yourself there, as if the goal has already been achieved. Write down every aspect of your life in detail. This is very important.
If you skip this step and you don’t go into detail about your goals, you’ll likely fail. It’s not just about writing them down. They have to be specific. They have to be envisioned and well-thought-out goals that you truly believe will come to pass. When you do that, it’s only a matter of time.
Step 3: Pick An Exact Date On The Calendar
Goal setting doesn’t really work when you lack a precise date in time. The date is an important part of the recipe. You need to pick the date, down to the very day of the month and year, that you’ll achieve that goal. Don’t just say next summer or next year or two years from now. Pick the day from the calendar. For example, Saturday, May 6, Two Thousand and _____. Just fill in the blanks.
It’s easy to skip a step like this. But you can’t. The date that you select is instrumental in the goal setting process because it helps you to break that goal down into milestones. Those milestones will help you to create markers that are effectively smaller goals on the way to your larger goal.
When you pick your date, write it down along with the specifics of the goal. Make it really big on top of the goal. Be sure that you have ample time to achieve that goal. There’s something to say about building up momentum, but you also have to be realistic. Nothing is out of reach as long as you follow through every day, doing little by little, but you also want to ensure you set yourself up for long-term success. Achieving smaller goals will give you big wins that add up over time and give you the confidence to reach for more.
Step 4: Reasons Come First, Answers Come Second
The next step in setting any goal the right way, is to come up with a monumental reason as to why you have to achieve that goal. Remember that reasons come first, answers come second. When you want something badly enough, as in you have a powerful and strong enough reasons for wanting to achieve it, nothing will stand in your way.
These can’t be flimsy reasons. They can’t be superficial either. They have to be core reasons that penetrate into your deep-down values and belief systems. It isn’t possible any other way. For example, if you want to make a million dollars, you can’t just say that you want it because you want to be rich or drive a sports car or live in a big house. It doesn’t work that way.
The reason you want that goal has to be compelling to the core of who you are. It has to be associated with an irrefutable feeling that’s embedded within your spirit, your heart and your soul. You want money because of the feelings associated with it. Freedom is one such reason. Time with family is another one. Contribution could also be another one.
Get the picture? Dig deep and find your reasons.
Step 5: Pick Measurable Goals
Make sure that your goals are measurable and that you can track them. The more measurable they are, the more likely you’ll be to achieve them. They need to have a metric that you can track. For example, you can easily track a money goal when you decide on an amount of money. You have a moving target. A specific amount, if you will. And you can measure your progress towards that amount every single day.
When you have a goal that involves weight loss, and you pick a specific measurable amount, such as 20 pounds or 10 kilograms or whatever else for that matter, then you’ll know how much progress you’re making as you work to achieve that goal. This is crucial in your overall journey to achieve your dreams.
That’s why it’s important to have a metric you can track. You can track hours worked or minutes wasted or dollars spent and so on. That gives you the ability to know where you are at any given moment, how far you’ve come, and just how much longer there is to go before you reach that pre-determined target.
Step 6: Create A Massive Action Plan
The next step in setting your goal to maximize your chances of success it to create a massive action plan (MAP). Your MAP is the key to success with your goal. Without it, you’ll feel like a fish out of water, floundering in a sea of misinformation and disinformation. If we likened any goal to a person, the MAP would be likened to the air they would breathe.
Your MAP is effectively your roadmap. It’s like your GPS, turn-by-turn instructions on how to get from Point A to Point B. Imagine an airplane or a car or any other moving vehicle try to get from one point to the next without a map. If you don’t know where to go and you’ve never navigated that area before, how can you expect to arrive?
Your MAP needs to be meticulous in its overall detail. What steps will you take? What will methods or strategies will you use? How will you do whatever it is that you’re setting out to do? MAPs can take a long time to build. But the more time you invest on the front-end, the more likely it will be smooth sailing on the way to reaching your goals.
Step 7: Define Limiting Beliefs
Okay, this step isn’t the easiest one in your journey to achieve. But it’s a necessary evil. As much as we don’t like to admit it to ourselves, we need to define our limiting beliefs. What are the things that have held you back in the past from achieving your dreams? This is an important distinction to make.
Limiting beliefs don’t always live in the conscious mind; they’re often in the subconscious, making them difficult to recognize or identify. You simply have to do your best job to identify them. Dig deep. Talk to others. Use mind maps. Do whatever you can to identify the language and the beliefs that have been holding you back.
For example, how can you want to become a millionaire if you believe that money doesn’t grow on trees because you’ve heard this your whole life? Or, how can you have a realistic relationship goal, searching for a life partner, when you belief that all people are liars? Can you see how a belief can stifle your goal? Identify the limiting beliefs best you can, then spend time refuting those beliefs. Get it out into the open with pen and paper.
Step 8: Overcome Mental Objections
Limiting beliefs aren’t the only things that hold us back from achieving the goals we set; we often have a hard time overcoming mental objections not always associated to limiting beliefs. Somewhere, deep in the far-reaches of our minds, we might not think we’re good enough, strong enough or capable enough to achieve a certain goal.
It might be associated to things we’ve heard others say, or the way that friends or family members scoff at us when we tell them our secret wishes and desires to achieve certain things. Those mental objections begin to take hold in our minds and they linger and pervade our thoughts, stifling our hopes and our dreams.
Write down every mental objection you can think of. Then, write down a rebuttal. Refute that objection. If you previously thought you weren’t smart enough to do something, find all of the not-so-smart people who achieved outlandish results. If you think you have some sort of disability or limiting characteristic, do the same thing. This is all about focus. Focus is real power.
Step 9: Effectively Manage Your Time
The surest pathway to goal achievement lies in the effective management of our time. If you’re a poor time manager, you’re going to have a hard time following through with any goal you set for yourself. Alternatively, if you’re a good manager of your time, you’ll find it far easier to do just a little bit each day to help move you towards your dreams.
The biggest problem that most people face when trying to achieve anything, is getting sucked into the time-wasters that zap us of our capacity for productivity. Learn how to effectively manage your time and you’ll be more likely to achieve anything you set out to achieve in your life.
There are several great time management systems. Find what works for you and work it. I personally love the quadrant time management system, originally created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower but later popularized by Stephen R. Covey in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Step 10: Track Your Progress & Adjust Your Approach
One of the core understandings behind the SMARTER goal setting method is that you are constantly evaluating and readjusting your approach to reach your goal. You shouldn’t be changing your goal. Rather, you should be changing your approach towars achieving your goal.
That’s the trick. And the better you track your progress, the more you’ll understand what’s working and what’s not working. Create milestones and compare yourself to what you set out to achieve. Break your big goals down into monthly, weekly and daily milestones to give yourself markers along the way.
Use an app or simply write down your progress every day. If you’re trying to lose weight, weigh yourself daily, or even twice every day. If you’re trying to save money, chart your progress morning, noon and night. Watch your expenses and look for side gigs. It’s simple as that. As long as you stay committed and stay persistent, no matter what the goal is that you’ve set, you’ll ultimately achieve it.