How to set effective goals that you can achieve in order to live your best life
- Do you dream of achieving success but never actually achieve it?
- Do you keep setting the same goals each year?
- Are you living the life you want to live?
The difference between those who dream and those who succeed is often a result of simply knowing how to set effective goals and dedicating yourself to achieving them.
How to Set Goals
If you are serious about setting and reaching your goals then print our free goal planner before you go through each of the stages below. It will provide you with the templates you need to do the work described below.
Before you start this journey to achieve your goals, it is important to know WHY you want to achieve your goals. How will reaching them improve your life? This will keep you motivated. The journey will not always be easy but when you know how much and why you want something it will make it easier to put in the effort. This is your motivator.
Either write your motivation in your journal or create a vision board (a visual representation of your goals).
- Use our free motivation template to write down WHY you want to reach your goals.
- If your motive isn’t clear you might want to use the 5 whys template that gets to the root of your motivation.
- You can create a vision board to visualize your motivation. We have a free vision board maker with which you can create a printable vision board in minutes.
- Write down all the ways in which achieving your goals will improve your life. The more reasons you have the more motivated you will be.
Describe your current situation
Where are you at in life? Are you happy with where you are right now or do you want to improve yourself or your life? How do you feel? What are the things you would like to change?
- If your goal is to lose weight then determine your starting point by weighing yourself.
- If your goal is to increase sales then work out how much you sell today.
- If your goal is to be debt-free then determine how much debt you have.
When you know what your starting point is it encourages you to be honest with yourself about how much work you have ahead. This will make it easier to set achievable goals.
Describe your current situation. Complete the page titled “Issues with my life”.
Describe your perfect life
Think about what you want from life and what your ideal future would be. You first need to know what you want to achieve before you set out to reach these goals. Set goals for all areas of your life to ensure a good and balanced life. Remember, you are planning YOUR perfect life so set the goals that YOU want to achieve, not ones that other people might want for you.
What does a perfect life look like to you? Where do you want to be in 10 years? What do you want to achieve if anything is possible?
Identify your priorities for each role in your life and focus on them
Develop a personal vision for each role in your life. This will help you prioritize your limited resources (your time and focus). Determine your Personal Mission Statement to determine your core values and what you really want to focus on in life.
If you don’t know where you are going, you will waste time on things that don’t lead you to the right path. However, once you have set goals, you can ensure that all your daily activities will help you reach that path. If they don’t, then don’t waste your time doing them.
Create your Personal Mission Statement. It only takes a few minutes with our free online mission statement maker.
- Make a list of your roles in life (e.g. mother, daughter, small business owner, friend, wife, student, etc.).
- Create a personal vision for each of these roles.
It is important to set your goals and put them in writing. If you don’t know where you are going, then it will be difficult to get there. Once you have set your goals, they will act as a roadmap and they’ll help you reach them.
When you have clear goals, you’ll use your time more efficiently because you’ll prioritize the steps you need to take to achieve them. This will also make you happier because you’ll be spending your time building a life you truly want to live, instead of getting sidetracked by activities that don’t lead to your goals.
Where would you like to be?
Identify what area of your life you’d like to improve. It could be your financial situation, habits, relationship, career, self-esteem, etc.
Where would you like to be? How would you like to improve yourself? How would you like to feel? Which goals would you like to achieve?
Think and dream big! Don’t limit yourself. What would you like your ideal life to be like? What would you do if you had all the time and money in the world?
Write down your goals
“People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them can ever imagine.” Brian Tracy
Set your goals (see our free Goal Planner with goal quotes).
The goal planner has a section for goals in seven areas of your life (family, health, financial, social, education, career, and character). It is important to set goals that will reflect all your priorities in life. If you only focus on one set of goals – such as work then you will find your life is going to be unbalanced. Your relationships or health might suffer. However, when you take all areas of your life into account, then you will achieve all your goals and live your best life. If you suspect your life is not in balance then check our Balance life wheel or do our free wheel of life assessment.
Make sure your goals are SMART. Each goal must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. The goal planner will help you make your goals SMART. However, if you want to get a better understanding of SMART goals then see our SMART Goals Template.
Click on the button below to convert any goal into a SMART goal.
Why is it important to set realistic goals? If your goals are not realistic, you will feel overwhelmed and give up before you achieve them. Your goals need to be realistic, yet out of your comfort zone. If you need to stay in your comfort zone to achieve your goals then you have not set them high enough. You need to work hard and make the effort but they need to be achievable with reasonable effort and work. Take into account that you are setting goals in various areas of your life. You might want to start with one big goal in one area and small goals in the other areas.
Add your goals to the goal planner.
Make your goals time-bound
Your goals must be time-bound but they must also be reasonable. Add a deadline to each of your goals. When you don’t set a deadline then you tend to put things off and they never actually happen.
Are your goals reasonable and achievable?
Don’t tackle too many goals at once. Choose one or more goals that are reasonable and achievable. You can set smaller goals in other areas of your life or start on those areas when you have achieved your first goal. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed but don’t only focus on one area as it will cause other areas of your life to suffer.
Create an action plan
Before you start taking action, it is important to create an action plan. Research shows that those who take the time to plan before they take action are more successful.
Brainstorming – what do you need to get to where you want to be?
Ask yourself what qualities, skills, knowledge, tools, and resources you’ll need in order to reach these goals.
For example, if you want to lose weight, you might need motivation and nutrition advice. If you want to get a specific job you might need to take a course or get a degree. If you want to start your own business you might need to take a course on how to start a business.
- List the changes you would like to make and the tools and resources you will need to acquire in order to reach your goals. You might need to do research or consult with people who can help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Make a list of things that you could do in order to reach the goal. Try to come up with 6 ways to accomplish each goal. For each option, write a few tasks that would help you achieve this. In my weight loss example, I can stop eating sugar and then have the following tasks or action items to cut out sugar: Get rid of the sugar at home; let everyone know that I have stopped eating sugar for accountability; buy healthy food, etc.
- Open the “brainstorming” page in the goal planner and complete it.
List the action items
Once you know where you are going you can make a plan to get there. You are much more likely to stick to your goals if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior required to achieve your goals.
During the brainstorming session, you thought of 6 ways to accomplish each goal. Choose the top 3 mini goals that are most likely to bring you closer to your goal and move them to this page.
For each goal, you will set mini-goals and for each mini-goal, you will set action items with due dates.
Use your goals to create a work plan
A work plan must set goals, outcomes, and the action items required to reach those outcomes. Each action item should have a due date and you must track all action items to ensure you are on track. If you don’t then you will just have a long to-do list that serves no purpose.
Take the goals you set for the next 12 months, and divide these goals into four (i.e. determine which of these goals you will tackle in the next 12 weeks / 3 months).
Why three months? Ideally, your workplan should be 12 weeks long. The 12 Week Year redefines your “year” to be 12 weeks long. When your “year” is only 12 weeks, you don’t have enough time to get complacent and procrastinate. If you have a whole year to finish your yearly work plan then you might push things off for 11 months and then work really hard the last month to meet your goals. Create a new workplan for every three months.
Create action items that will lead you to achieve each of these 12-week goals. Add a deadline for each action item.
- Think about what you want your life to look like in 10 years.
- Think about what you have to do within 3-5 years in order to achieve this 10-year goal.
- What do you have to do in the next year in order to reach that goal?
- Take your goal for the next year and think about what you have to do in the next 3 months to get there in the next year. There are many benefits to planning for the next 12 weeks. See the 12 week year.
- Move your goals to the planner.
Plan each week in advance
Use a weekly planner or our free 12-week year planner to plan each week in advance. Each week, reflect on your priorities and schedule the activities and tasks that matter most. Schedule your weekly planning session in advance. Block off about half an hour each week to plan your week. If your week starts on a Monday then do this on Friday afternoon or over the weekend. Don’t leave it until Monday morning.
Review your 12-week plan and decide on the action items for that week. Ensure that each action item is clear and actionable. You must know exactly what you want your outcomes to be at the end of the week.
Schedule a specific time for each action item on your weekly plan. We mentioned that your goals need to be SMART but so do the action items that you need to complete in order to reach those goals. Each activity needs to be clear (specific), measurable (you need to know exactly what you are going to do), achievable (make sure you have the time and resources to get it done that day, reasonable (don’t schedule more than you can do each day) and time-bound (set a time and date to complete each task).
Be careful about which tasks you add to your workplan. If a task doesn’t lead you to any of the goals you have set above (in all areas of your life) then don’t add it to your workplan.
You are going to find yourself in situations where there is too much going on and too little time to address everything. Look at your goals and mission statement as a road map to help you know what to deal with and what to focus on. When you focus on the things that matter most you will know exactly how to prioritize your time.
Always set a deadline for your tasks and goals
It is important to set a deadline for every task on your to do list or every action item in your goal planner. Split projects or bigger tasks into single manageable and actionable tasks with a deadline for each.
Track your progress
List your goals on a goal tracker. This will help you visualize and track them.
Celebrate your wins
Each time you reach a goal or a milestone, celebrate it. Reward yourself.
- Look at your list of goals and action steps and set a reward you will give yourself when you reach the goals or milestones.
- Now is a good opportunity to list some of your past successes. Congratulate yourself on these achievements. The more you acknowledge your past successes, the more you will succeed in the future.
Once you have set your goals, place them somewhere in sight (such as on your desk, on your vision board, or by your bathroom mirror). This way, they will keep motivating you and you will always keep them in mind when defining your priorities each day – whether consciously or subconsciously.
Who do you need to be to reach your goals?
Ask yourself who you need to be in order to reach your goals. What can you do to condition yourself for success?
The Be-Do-Have Model is a good way to think about your life and your purpose. It will help you take control of your life and understand who you need to be and what you need to do to reach your goals.
With the be-do-have mindset, you need to first focus on who you have to be to reach a specific goal. Only then, should you think about what you need to do to achieve it and what you will have once you do.
- Read about the Be-Do-Have Model
- What inspires you? Immerse yourself in things that inspire you.
- At this stage, you are not thinking about what you need to do but rather WHO you need to be. Look within. What is holding you back? What do you need to be in order to feel empowered? What kind of person can do the things you want to do? Who do you want to be?
- Who do you need to not be in order to reach your goals?
Have the confidence to go after your goals
We can all achieve our goals if we have the right mindset. You can use the power of your mind to transform your life. Your thoughts create your reality. Therefore, spend your time thinking about your goals and how you can achieve them. Don’t think about the obstacles and how difficult they will be. Instead, keep your thoughts positive and it will increase your chances of success considerably.
Sometimes we don’t do things because self-doubt prevents us from going after the things we want to do. Mel Robbins 5 Second Rule will help you overcome self-doubt and negative self-talk, and push yourself to take the actions that will enable you to achieve your goals.
It is also important to believe that you are capable of achieving your goal. If you don’t then you will lose hope and stop working toward it. If you don’t believe that you will succeed then there are two possible reasons:
- you set your goal too high and it isn’t achievable and realistic (which means that your goal is not SMART). In this case, you should revise your goal (see the SMART goal template).
- you lost confidence in yourself and you need to work on this (see how to write affirmations to boost your self-esteem).
Visualize yourself reaching your goals
Visualization is a popular practice that can be used to make changes in your life and achieve your goals. Athletes use this technique to help them reach their goals. They visualize themselves performing and winning before an important race. Use this technique to reach your goal.
Act as if you have already achieved your goals
Act as if you have already achieved your goals. Fake it till you make it. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, then act like you think a runner would act. How would they train? What would they eat?
Take responsibility and don’t make excuses
When you step out of your comfort zone, fears and doubts often arise. Can I really do this? Do I have the time or resources? Is it the right time?
This is probably the biggest difference between those who achieve their goals and those who don’t. Most people don’t achieve their goals and don’t live their best life. They listen to this negative self-talk and decide to jump back into their comfort zone. Things might not be good there, but they are used to being there and don’t have to deal with the fear of the unknown. On the other hand, people who succeed, don’t let these negative thoughts stop them. They understand that things might not necessarily work out well if they leave their comfort zone but they are willing to take the chance. They understand that if they keep doing what they are doing, they will keep getting what they are getting and they want a better life. If things don’t work out well they will use it as a learning opportunity. As Thomas A. Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Another difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is that those who achieve their goals take responsibility for their goals, actions, and their lives in general. Those who don’t succeed generally prefer to blame others for all their problems. They are always focused on why things don’t work for them, instead of focusing on finding solutions and making things work.
- Each time a negative thought enters your mind, understand that you have two options: make excuses and stay in the same place or find a way to take action and make things happen.
- Remind yourself that if you don’t make changes, then your life won’t change.
Choose the people you spend time with
“You are the average of the five persons you spend the most time with”, Jim Rohn
Choose the people you spend time with well because they will influence you. Surround yourself with the people who live the way you want to live.
How to handle setbacks
On your way to your goal, you will inevitably encounter setbacks. To reach your goals in life, you will have to learn how to handle setbacks. It’s part of the process and you have to accept that. Successful people have not reached where they are today without failing on the way. For example:
- Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team
- John Grishan’s first novel was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishing houses
- Stephen King’s first book was rejected about 30 times.
It’s not that successful people don’t fail. It’s just that their failure doesn’t stop them.
Sometimes, failure actually helps you see things that you missed before and makes you even more successful. See what to do when life gives you lemons and how you can turn them into lemonade.
Have you had any setbacks in the last few years? What did you learn from them? Did anything positive come out of them?
If you’re currently failing to reach a goal, ask yourself: Why haven’t you achieved this goal? Identify all the obstacles that have held you back so far. Once you have identified the obstacles, focus on finding possible solutions. Then start taking action. Don’t dwell on problems. Instead, focus on finding ways to find solutions.
Don’t neglect self-compassion and self-care
If you are the kind of person who puts everything they have into achieving their goals then don’t forget about your needs. No matter how hard you are working to achieve your goals you still have to look after yourself. I am definitely guilty of doing this. I often work for too long without taking breaks which isn’t really effective. In the end, I probably get less done than I would have had I taken a break. That is one of the biggest advantages of timeboxing. You can schedule time blocks for self-care. Treat these meetings like you would treat a meeting with a friend. You wouldn’t arrange to meet a friend somewhere and then just not show up.
“Self-discipline” and “self-care” often clash when you work too hard. The problem is that in the long run, we need both to effectively reach our goals.
Without self-care and self-compassion, it’s easy to lose both motivation and energy. Working too hard for too long eventually leads to burnout. Therefore, it is important to take breaks, look after yourself and spend time on self-care. Stephen Covey called it Sharpening the Saw in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. It refers to the idea of continually improving oneself in four areas: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. By taking care of oneself in these areas, one is able to perform at a higher level in all aspects of life. Therefore, it is important to take time for self-renewal and self-care, as this will improve overall effectiveness in all areas of life including achieving your goals.
No matter how hard you work, always dedicate time to self-care and taking care of yourself and your needs.