Get a step-by-step breakdown of the goal setting process and the best tips from experts on how to set goals you’ll follow through with!
Countless celebrities, entrepreneurs, athletes and all-round successful people have attributed their success to goal-setting.
As soon as I accomplish one thing, I just set a higher goal. That’s how I’ve gotten to where I am.
I mean, if Queen B approves, you know you’re on to something.
Goals provide us with a direction and purpose, help us focus on what’s important and ensure we’re actively building the life we want.
Like you, I knew for a long time why I needed to set goals but what stumped me was the nitty, gritty of how. Like hand-hold me and guide me through each step how.
Even worse, once you set these goals…what are you supposed to do with them? How do you get them to become real? What does the process of achieving a goal actually look like?
I mean if my goal was to own a mansion in Peru and train 1000 Labrador retrievers to become my butlers, where am I even supposed to start with that??
If those are your questions too, today is your lucky day because I’ve done the research so you don’t have to.
Below is a round up of the best goal-setting and goal-achieving tips from the experts, broken down into practical actionable steps.
It’s the formula that’s personally helped me put my thoughts in action and progress towards my life goals.
PLUS, I share with you what I think is the most crucial step in the goal-setting process…
It’s the #1 tip that’s helped me stay motivated to follow through to achieve my goals (after years of failed New Year’s resolutions and thinking I just wasn’t a motivated person).
Goal-setting in 5 simple steps
1. Brainstorm your goals and write them down
The first step in the goal-setting process is to actually clarify what you want outta life.
To do this, I love this exercise from Tony Robbins’s Awaken the Giant Within.
Get a piece of paper and write down everything you want for yourself in each of the 4 categories below, both in the short-term and long-term.
Ask yourself: What would I want out in this area of life if I knew I could have whatever I wished for? What would I aim for if I knew I couldn’t fail?
Important: Don’t censor yourself or worry about being ‘realistic’
Our ideas of what’s ‘realistic’ can be very subjective and it can stop you from getting down to your true heart’s desire.
Right now just focus on getting the ideas flowing. Rest assured, there will be a time for filtering later.
If it helps – imagine you have a genie at your disposal and any wish you desire can be granted instantly.
Suspend any disbelief and get down on paper exactly what you’d want if you had unlimited resources, power and money at your disposal.
- Personal growth goals
e.g. What would you like to learn? What do you want to change about yourself? Physically, mentally, socially? What skills do you want to develop? What relationships do you want to form?
- Career/business/financial goals
e.g. What position would you like to rise to in your company? Where would you like to take your business? What investments do you want to make? How much money do you want to earn each year?
- Toy/adventure goals
E.g. If money was no obstacle, what things would you like to have? Or like to do? Buy a private island? A Lamborghini? Meet the Pope? Travel the world? Become a yoga instructor in Thailand?
- Contribution goals
E.g. How would you like to give back? Help out at a local charity? Start your own foundation? Stop carbon emissions? Save the rainforests?
The importance of writing down your goals
According to researchers at the Dominican University of California, you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.
When you write your goals down, it not only forces you to get specific about what you really want but also signals to your brain that you’re serious.
That’s why we’re getting those ideas and desires out of your head and on to paper.
2. Clean up your goals and add a timeline
Clean up your goals
After your brain dump, it helps to clean up your goals so that they are easier to refer to. I like to create a word document with two columns, one labelled ‘Goal’ and one labelled ‘Timing’. I then transfer all my written goals to the ‘Goal’ column under each of the four categories.
Add a time frame for achieving your goal
Now next to each goal write down when you’d like to achieve it. Don’t worry for now about how this is going to happen or whether the timeline is reasonable. Just take a guess.
For example, if you’d like to achieve the goal within the year, write ‘1’ in the ‘Timing’ column. If you’d like to achieve it within 2 years write ‘2’ and so on for 3 years, 5 years, 10 years etc.
Putting a time next to your goal is important because psychologically it commits you to the goal and adds urgency, rather than being ‘something I’ll get round to in the future’.
Bonus goal organisation idea
Another way to organise your goals is to create a table like below in Excel or Word so that you can visually plot your goals in time.
Use whatever method you like best.
3. Pick your focus goals and find your WHY (very important!)
Pick your top four 1-year goals
Pick your most important 1-year goal from each category to focus on. You should end up with four focus goals. This keeps you from becoming overwhelmed.
When you accomplish this first set of four goals, you can then repeat this process for the next set.
Write your focus goals out using the SMART framework
You’ve probably heard of the SMART goal-setting structure before. That’s because it works.
For each of your four focus goals, write them out using the SMART format.
This means each goal is written in a way that is:
Specific: The clearer you are about exactly what you want to achieve, the more motivated you will be to work towards it. Vague goals often don’t work.
Measurable: How will you know when you have achieved your goal? Make sure the outcome of your goal can be measured. It will also help you track your progress.
Attainable: Dream big but make sure your goal is possible. Impossible goals are demotivating.
Relevant: Does this goal match your values? Does it actually matter to you?
Timely: Set a timeframe to make it real and provide urgency for you to take action.
Here’s an example of a broad vs SMART goal:
Broad goal: I want to start an e-commerce business in the next year.
SMART goal: I want to launch an e-commerce website selling baby clothes and reach a monthly income of $3000/mth by 30th September.
Know your WHY (my #1 tip to stay motivated to follow through with your goal)
This part of the process was the game-changer for me.
If you’ve ever had the experience of setting goals and then forgetting about them, or losing motivation halfway through, then welcome to my world.
Doing this step really changed that for me.
When have strong reasons for why you really want something and are crystal clear on what they are, it makes a huge difference in your commitment and motivation.
It provides fuel and drive that’s going to pummel through any obstacles in your way.
For each of your four 1-year goals, take 2 minutes to write down why this goal is important to you and why you’re 100% committed to achieving it within the year.
Why is this goal compelling for you? What will you gain by achieving it? What will you miss out on if you don’t?
Are these reasons strong enough for you to follow through? If not, think of better reasons or think of a better goal. One of the keys to sticking to your goal is to aim for something you really want. If you feel lukewarm towards your goal, not only will it be hard to stay committed but there’s also not much point.
Again, I can not say this enough: Make sure your reasons are strong and compelling.
Really take the time to think about your reasons. If you have a strong enough why, you will figure out the how. When things get hard, you will need to call on your why to get you through.
4. Remind yourself of your goals regularly (ideally every day)
Print out a copy of your top four focus goals and stick them somewhere you’ll see every day. This could be in front of your mirror, on your desk, on your fridge, on your smartphone or even saved as a desktop background.
This will keep your goals top of mind and keep you working towards them. If you have a strong enough set of reasons and have committed yourself to achieving your goals, I find keeping your goals top of mind to be pretty straightforward. I think about mine every day, even without seeing my visual prompts.
Bonus tip: Visualise yourself achieving your goal successfully
Recently I’ve started incorporating daily visualisation into my goal-setting routine. It’s a technique that many top athletes and performers use.
To do it, just spend a minute or two visualising yourself attaining each of your goals. The trick is to really connect emotionally with the satisfaction and happiness you’ll feel. Imagine you’ve done it, you’ve achieved your goal. How do you feel? How are you celebrating? What do you see or hear around you?
The human brain can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. That’s the reason we get scared during scary movies even when we know everything is fake.
Visualising thus, helps cultivate confidence and belief that you’ll succeed and gets you excited to keep going.
5. Review and update your goals regularly
Review your goal list every 6 months
Every 6 months, go through your whole goals list and brainstorm new goals or remove goals that are no longer relevant. You can do this more often if required.
Remember, it’s ok to change your goals as your priorities change. As you move towards your original goal, you may realise it’s not something you want after all. Or some other new, exciting goals may appear on the horizon that you decide you want more.
Be open and flexible to a change in direction. Just don’t abandon a goal because of fear or because it’s too hard! Persistence trumps everything when it comes to success.
Bonus tip: Immediately set new goals as you come close to achieving your old ones
Immediately set a more challenging goal as you approach achieving your current goal.
This ensures you don’t miss a beat and can continue expanding and growing.
Otherwise, you may fall into the trap of hitting a major goal and feeling like you’ve reached a pinnacle with nowhere else to go.
In fact, continuous improvement is a never ending quest. If you feel like you’ve conquered one area of your life, switch your focus to another area and aim for bigger and better things there.
There is always further room to grow and contribute to the world.
Now that you know all the ins and outs of successful goal-setting, what are the steps to achieving your goals?
5 steps to achieve goals successfully
You should now have an awesome list of exciting goals you can’t wait to accomplish. But how do you actually go about turning them into reality?
Contrary to popular belief achieving big goals is not the result of one major herculean effort.
Rather, it’s an accumulation of small actions applied consistently.
That doesn’t sound very sexy but it’s true; A best-selling novel is 500 words written every day. An Olympic medal is the result of showing up and training on a daily level.
The basic idea behind achieving goals is to break them down into progressively smaller and smaller steps until you get to a point where you can take an action now.
A giant goal can seem overwhelming (so much so you may never start!) but breaking it down to something as easy as doing a google search will get you moving.
Momentum will build and as you keep taking these small actions consistently, and your goal will practically take care of itself!
Below, I outline the process to do this.
I adapted these techniques from Barbara Sher’s Wishcraft.
1. Break down your goal into small manageable steps
Use a flow chart to visually map the path to your goal
The first step to achieving your goal is to break it down into key steps. I really like using a flow chart to do this because it helps you visually picture the linkages between each step.
To start, put your goal on the right hand side of a sheet of paper (or use an online app like Mindmup which is what I personally use).
We’re going to work backwards from this goal to identify the key steps that you need to hit before you can reach this goal.
To figure out each preceding step, ask yourself – what do I need to do before this to get here? Keep going until you get to a step you can start taking action on right now.
Let me show you what I mean with an example:
The blue box on the right contains my example focus goal i.e. Create an e-commerce website that earns $3000/mth.
I’ve then worked backwards asking myself ‘what do I need to do before this to get here?‘ to identify the step that leads to the next e.g. To create a e-commerce website that earns $3k/mth, I need to ‘make sales’. To make sales I need to ‘build a website’, ‘increase traffic’ and stock ‘in-demand products’ that people want to buy.
And so on, and so forth, until you break down the steps so much you get to an action you can take right now, which are the steps highlighted in yellow on the far left-hand side of the example flow chart.
These actions are usually quite simple things like do research or make a phone call.
And there you have it, you’ve now created a logical ‘map’ of how you get from today to achieving your goal. And on top of that, with actions you can begin taking straight away.
- Every single actionable step probably won’t fit on your flow chart and that’s ok. Create a separate document and record them there. On your flow chart, just put down the main milestones because its purpose is to provide you the overall logic of how you go from today to achieving your goal.
- If there are gaps in your knowledge, put a ‘?’ for steps you are not sure about. You can always go back and update them as you do more research and the process becomes clearer.
Put together a to-do list of your actionable steps
From working through your flow chart, you should have a list of actionable steps you can take right now. As mentioned, these are highlighted in the yellow boxes in my example flow chart e.g. ‘Research trends’.
Make a separate list of these actionable steps and they will become your to-do list. You can also add in all the actionable steps that didn’t fit on the flow chart.
2. Plot your key steps against a timeline
The next step in the process is to plot your key steps in time.
Not only does this set your intention and make it ‘real’, it helps you to prioritise which actionable steps you should work on first.
Buy a year/monthly view wall calendar or alternatively, set up a chart like below in a spreadsheet.
Take each of your key steps from your flow chart, give them a deadline and plot them into your wall calendar. If there are external deadlines for your goals e.g. exam dates you can plot these in too.
All your timings will be based on guesses at this stage and that’s totally fine. It’s still important to put them in to provide a timeframe to work from. You can always go back and modify the timings later as you get more information and can make a more realistic guess.
Stick this calendar somewhere you can refer to quickly and often so you can keep track of your progress and any upcoming deadlines.
3. Schedule in a weekly to-do list
Having timings for your key steps should give you a good idea of what actions you need to complete first.
Take your to-do list of actionable steps we created earlier and schedule them into a weekly planner, one week at a time.
It’s important to set aside a time every week e.g. every Sunday to schedule in your to-dos for the following week. You can review what deadlines are coming up and schedule in tasks accordingly.
Your to-do list will be ever evolving as you uncover follow-up actions and cross off others.
When you schedule in each task, remember to specify the exact day and time you plan to work on it.
Research shows that setting an ‘implementation intention’ i.e. specifying exactly what action you will take at a specific day and time or situation, can double the likelihood of you completing it.
Even if you do not get round to completing all the tasks you set yourself for the week, you will definitely do more than if you had not scheduled any of them in.
Now that you know what needs to be done, all that’s left is to go out and do it!
Taking these small actions consistently is what will lead you to reaching those big goals. It’s really that straightforward.
4. Review and celebrate your progress
There’s nothing more motivating than progress towards a meaningful goal.
In your weekly planning session, remember to look back on all the progress you made the previous week.
Sometimes the action can seem so small that it can feel insignificant. But any directed action, no matter how small, moves towards its point.
If you ever feel any doubt, take another look at your flow chart. It will show you how your small actions are building up to your key milestones, which in turn are building up to your goals.
So every google search you do, every email you send is worth celebrating. Reward yourself regularly for steps you complete even if it’s just a mental pat on the back, and when you reach bigger milestones give yourself a bigger reward.
Each goal you achieve and celebrate will spur you on to achieve your next goal.
In a nutshell
5 steps to successful goal-setting
- Dream big and write down your goals
- Pick your four focus goals
- Make them SMART and find your WHY
- Keep your goals top of mind (look at them every day!)
- Review and update your goals every 6 months
4 steps to achieve your goals
- Use a flow chart to breakdown each goal into key steps
- Plot your key steps against a timeline
- Schedule in your weekly to-do list (and take action!)
- Review and celebrate your progress
Final thoughts and tips
There you have it! A comprehensive step-by-step guide to the goal-setting process and achieving any goal you desire in life.
For me, the most effective way to follow through with any goal boils down to two things:
- Knowing your why
- And taking consistent action
Knowing your why will keep you motivated and allow you to persist when obstacles appear (and trust me they will).
And small steps and directed action is how anyone achieves anything big in life.
Remember though, goals are not the be all and end all. They give us a direction to head, but don’t fall into the trap of telling yourself you’ll only be happy after you’ve reached your goal. Your life is happening right in front of you so make sure you’re also enjoying the process. It’s often the personal growth we experience overcoming obstacles to achieve our goals that gives us ultimate fulfilment.
And lastly don’t give up. Persist. Try things.
If they don’t work, adapt your strategy.
The number one predictor of success is tenacity. A lot of people give up when they’re just within reach of their goal. Don’t become one of those people. Always give that final push, even at what feels like the eleventh hour.
Was this guide useful to you? What tips and techniques do you use for goal setting and attainment? Please share in the comments below, I would love to hear your thoughts!