Goal setting is not a new idea. We all know that we have a much better chance of getting what we want in life if we purposefully set goals.
The content available on the subject is downright prolific. There is so much information out there, in fact, that it can be overwhelming to pick a program, make a plan, and actually get into the business of goal setting and achievement.
The world is full of overwhelm. Figuring out how to go about setting and achieving your goals is very important, but that doesn't mean it has to be complicated. We aim to make life easier to manage. In honor of simplicity, we have researched goal setting for you and put together an easy-to-follow plan for setting and achieving your personal goals. We even included some tried-and-true tips and techniques that can be modified to fit your unique life. Let’s do it.
- What are personal Goals
- Setting SMART Goals
- A Simple System for Goal Setting
- Do it: 5 Tips and Tricks for Goal Achievement
A Bit of Background: What are Personal Goals? Do we Need Them?
Personal goals are the things we want to accomplish in life. Plain and simple. In a sense, all goals are personal because they are created from within and attached to our greatest desires and aspirations.
Sometimes they are looked at separately from professional goals, which are specifically related to one’s professional or work life. That being said, personal goals can most certainly take into account goals related to work or career. Here we will focus on personal goal setting and achievement, with the understanding that the term is all encompassing. Make sense?
Personal goals are the things we want to accomplish in life. Plain and simple.
Personal goals are unique to every individual because they are, well, personal! Seems obvious, right? Despite that characteristic, it can be helpful to see some examples of personal goals to get started. This can churn up ideas and open the mind to the endless possibilities. Here is an assortment.
- Work out 3-5 times each week.
- Write in a journal every day.
- Fully fund an emergency savings account equal to six months’ living expenses.
- Walk the dog at least once per day.
- Pay off the student loan in 18 months.
- Take a hike 1-2 times per month.
- Travel to a new destination twice each year.
- Cook dinner at home 3 nights per week.
- Fit into my old favorite jeans before my next birthday.
- Stop working full time before 50.
- Train the puppy 15 commands before his 2nd birthday.
You get the idea. Goals can be big, small, long term, or short term. Personal goals can be about daily life, a lifetime, or anything in between. They are unique to what you want, when you want it. Personal goals do have this in common: they make life better, more meaningful, and focused.
Personal goals do have this in common: they make life better, more meaningful, and focused.
We know what personal goals are but why do we need to set them? Isn’t it enough to have them floating around our heads? Experts say, definitely not! Setting goals sets your mind up for success. Making your goals explicit helps to focus your attention, time, and behavior towards achieving them. You will fail to achieve 100% of the goals you never set. And the very act of writing them down could make all the difference.
In fact, a study in 2015 by psychologist Gail Matthews revealed that simply writing down goals increased the chances of achieving them by 33 percent compared to having goals that stayed locked inside one’s head. Can your life be purposeful, meaningful, and good without goal setting? Of course it can! But, you have a much greater chance of designing the life you really want by explicitly setting personal goals.
Simply writing down goals increased the chances of achieving them by 33 percent compared to having goals that stayed locked inside one’s head.
Setting SMART Goals
Not all goals are created equally. You will have a better chance of achieving goals that are carefully crafted. Many experts recommend setting something called SMART goals. SMART is a mnemonic device that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.
- S: Specific: Instead of setting a goal to “become wealthy” set a specific goal to “have $1 million invested in a mutual fund by the age of 50.”
- M: Measurable: The goal should be conducive to metrics. What would it look like to make progress and to fully achieve the goal?
- A: Attainable: Your goals should be big, but realistic. Aim high but be sure you can hit the target within a specified time frame.
- R: Relevant: Goals should reflect your values, desires, and abilities.
- T: Time Bound: Goals should have a deadline that will help organize your efforts and keep you motivated to move forward.
A Simple System for Goal Setting
- Set one big, huge, overarching goal.
- Set a series of increasingly smaller goals that lead to that big goal.
Jim Collins is recognized as one of the most influential business book writers of all time. His book Built to Last was a follow up to the groundbreaking, and now classic, Good to Great. In it, he and co author Jerry I. Porras introduced a concept that is now widely applied in corporate goal setting. It’s called a BHAG, pronounced bee-hag.
BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal and it challenges corporations and organizations to set their sights on a super large, awe inspiring, borderline outlandish goal that will be the guidepost for decision making within the organization. The writer’s use President Kennedy’s moon landing proclamation as a prime example of a BHAG.
The author’s wrote, “Like the moon mission, a true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort– often creating immense team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines. A BHAG engages people– it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People "get it" right away; it takes little or no explanation.”
There is no reason why BHAG success should be limited to businesses. That’s why we recommend starting by setting a BHAG for yourself. Think of one huge “clear and compelling” star of a dream goal that you can hook all of your efforts and focus onto. Shoot for the stars! Dream big. Make it “audacious.” Above all else, make it yours alone. Every personal BHAG will be unique, but here are a few examples:
- Retire debt free in Costa Rica.
- Become a self-made millionaire.
- Sell my business for enough to set up six-figure trusts for my children.
- Finish in the top ten at the Boston Marathon.
- Compete in three Olympic Games.
- Publish a book that hits the New York Times bestseller list.
- Own a ranch that houses a non-profit animal sanctuary for big cats.
Write your BHAG down in private and highly visible places. Look at it often. Tell people about it and expect wide-eyed feedback. Your big goal should incite a riot of reactions. If it doesn’t, it may not be big, hairy, or audacious enough.
There is no reason why BHAG success should be limited to businesses. That’s why we recommend starting by setting a BHAG for yourself.
Now that you have one giant goal to rule them all, you are ready to go to step two. It’s time to set a series of increasingly smaller goals that lead to the big one. Think of your BHAG as the final destination. Along the way, you have to cross a series of obstacles. These smaller goals will be the roads, stepping stones, or trails you will take and the tools and skills you will acquire that are necessary to get all the way there.
In her book Your Goal Guide, author and goal-setting coach Debra Eckerling lays out a highly detailed plan for breaking a big ultimate goal into smaller goals that will keep you on the path to what she calls “GoalTopia.” She recommends that you first determine the long-term goals you will need to achieve in order to reach your final destination. Under each of those long term goals, you will list benchmarks or hurdles that you will need to clear to achieve those long-term goals. Under those benchmarks or hurdles, you will list tasks you need to take care of to clear the hurdles.
Let’s look at the debt-free retirement in Costa Rica for example. One long term goal might be to pay off an existing mortgage in fifteen years. Under that, you need a list of increasingly smaller goals that may look something like this:
The Big Goal: Retire debt free in Costa Rica
- Pay off the existing mortgage in fifteen years.
- Make two payments per month equal to twice the required payment.
- Create and stick to a monthly budget.
- Eliminate credit card debt.
- Pay off the car loan.
Outlines, lists, diagrams, funnels, using a digital tool like doit, filling in a goal worksheet: the format you use is entirely up to you. The important thing is to go through the process of taking that one big goal and breaking it down into smaller and smaller bites that can be accomplished steadily as you make your way.
Do it: 5 Tips and Tricks for Goal Achievement
Making the effort to seriously consider and intentionally set personal goals for yourself is a massive step in the right direction. Checking them off your list and getting the work done is the next challenge. In short, it’s time to actually do it. Successful goal achievement is part psychology and part process. Set yourself up for success with some tips and tricks that really work.
- The Psychology of Small Wins: There is real power in victories, no matter how small. Checking achievements off your goal list delivers a jolt of feel-good chemicals to your brain, such as dopamine. Your brain wants more of that, so you intrinsically become motivated to do it again and again. This is one of the reasons why breaking down goals into ever-smaller steps works so well. The more frequently you get that hit of pleasure, the more motivated you are to get back to work.
- Show Up: The act of simply showing up, no matter how you feel or what else you need to do, is hugely powerful. Anthony Trollope was a prolific English novelist who published 47 novels while maintaining a “regular” full-time job. He did this by committing to write 250 words every 15 minutes every single day. He did that every day, without fail, and achieved amazing results. Decide how much and how often you can “show up” and actually show up to do it.
- Prune Your Priorities: James Clear likens priority setting to the pruning of a rose bush. If left to its own devices, a rose bush will grow so many flowers that it will actually hurt the plant. In order to grow and bloom to its maximum potential, it must be pruned. Some blooms have to be sacrificed in order for the others to flourish. In order to focus on achieving your goals, you are going to have to do some pruning, too. Eliminate activities that don’t get you closer to your goals.
- Fill in the Blank: Research has shown that writing down a sentence that says when and where you will perform a certain behavior or habit makes it more likely that you will consistently do it. Fill in the blanks for activities related to your personal goals in terms of when and where you will do them. For example, “Everyday after breakfast, I will write 500 words in my home office.”
- Accountability Tools: Visual displays of progress can be invaluable in holding yourself accountable to your goals. You can go old school with this by using household items like clothespins. If you have 5 daily tasks to complete, list them on a piece of paper and clip each pin to one side of it. As you get the tasks done, move the clothespins to the other side. Choose a visual system that works for you and put it right where you can see it. You can rely on technology as an accountability tool as well. Using a productivity tool like doit.io can help keep you focused and organized with built-in visual cues that keep you headed in the right direction.
The practice of goal setting is omnipresent in the modern world for good reason. It works! If you want to build a life that accurately reflects your values, desires, and ambitions, personal goal setting is a time-proven way to achieve that.
Now it’s your turn. Make space in your schedule to work on your goals. Decide right now when and where you will begin this work. At the appointed time, start developing your own personal big, hairy, audacious, goal.