We’re led to believe that goal setting is easy, but it is not. Roughly 20% of professionals set work-related goals. Only 14% achieve them.
We set goals, so we can achieve great things in our personal and/or work life. But why—no matter how hard you try or however strong your intentions are—do you sometimes struggle to achieve your goals?
It could be because …
You don’t really understand how to set proper goals.You’re suffering from analysis paralysis: Where do you even start?You’re tired of failing to meet your goals.You don’t commit to your goals because they take up too much time.You set yourself too many goals, so you become overwhelmed and burn out.
Do any of those reasons resonate?
In this article, three goal-setting professionals—Debra Eckerling, Katie Robbert, and Troy Sandidge—will divulge their personal experiences, knowledge, and advice from years of expertise to help us understand:
How to set goals that we can realistically achieveWays we can reach our goals without feeling overwhelmedWhat to do if we’re stuck in a rut with our goals
To win that promotion or reach those targets, keep reading.
Part 1. How to Set Challenging Yet Achievable Goals
If you’re new to goal-setting or a little unsure about the goal-setting process, Part 1 is for you.
Ch. 1: How to set your goals
“Google Maps can help us get to wherever we want to go. But what do you need to do for Google Maps to work? You need to set your destination. If you don’t, you’ll never get to where you want to go.” (Troy Sandidge)
If you’re reading this chapter, I reckon you’ve already googled “how to set goals”’ and been overwhelmed with hundreds of ‘’the best’’ goal-setting models, theories, and frameworks.
There’s the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) theory, Locke and Latham’s five principles, one-word goal setting, and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), to name just a few.
Each framework has its own tried-and-tested rationale. But there are too many to cover in any great detail for the purpose of this ebook.
The goal-setting framework that most of us will be familiar with, though, is SMART goals. This method requires goals to be:
The SMART goals framework is probably something we’ve all used–or at least heard of. It’s been around for over 40 years and is still counted as the number-one method for setting goals.
It’s simple but effective.
Hot tip: This article is a good place to start for SMART goals intel.
If you prefer this method, you still may need guidance through the process of setting those goals.
The intention of this ebook is not to tell you which goal-setting method to choose but to assist you through the process of goal-setting, whatever the framework you prefer.
For instance, the most important part of goal-setting for Troy Sandidge is “specificity.” That focus can be applied to all goal-setting frameworks.
“Be as specific as possible. The more specific, the better. You can really measure your progress and milestones if you’re specific. If you can’t measure your progress on the way towards your goals, you might lose hope, right?” (Troy Sandidge)
For Deb Eckerling, though, goal setting begins before you even begin to look at which goal-setting framework you want to use to set your goals.
“First, you need to know where you want to go. You want to think about where you are now, but you also want to be thinking about your future. What do you want your bio to say about you in a year, two years, three years, or even five years’ time?
“Once you know where you are and where you want to go, then you can determine your mission.” (Debra Eckerling)
Eckerling is 100% right.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in goal setting is deciding what your main goal, or goals, should be.
How to choose your mission or missions
“I find direct journaling with a purpose is just so effective. Direct journaling with a purpose is just 15-minute spurts of babbling based on answers to specific questions like: What do you want out of life? Where do you want to be in five years? You know, those types of deep questions.
“Then, get all your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. Do three, four, or five 15-minute sessions where you just get everything out onto paper. But don’t look at it! Not until you’ve emptied your brain. Then, go back and find your common themes. That will help you find your direction and mission.” (Debra Eckerling)
Then decide on your mission (i.e., big rocks or big-time goals). It might be starting a new career, getting promoted at work, or even just maintaining a good work/life balance. Once you have a set mission, then you can start thinking about what specific goals you need to complete the mission.
How to set goals to achieve your desired outcome
“So, you’ve determined your mission. You know broadly what you want and where you want to go. Now, it’s time to research and explore your options.” (Debra Eckerling)
Brainstorming now is required.
Write down everything that relates to your main mission and the intentions that you want to set yourself.
Then split these intentions up into smaller goals that will help you achieve your mission.
“It all goes back to your main mission. How are all of these goals going to support your purpose? A great place to start is by throwing everything out there. Then you can categorize and make sure there’s a nice balance between the easy stuff and the stuff that’s like, ‘Oh, wow! This dream really is possible!’” (Debra Eckerling)
Like Erling, Sandidge suggests taking time at the beginning of your goal-setting journey to work out what you really want.
He also believes you should consider what the repercussions of working towards your goals could be as well. The answer is not always as simple or as straightforward as you might think:
“Too many times, we want to go right into it, and just do all the things that we’ve listed. But we need to think: Are we set up and mentally prepared for what we’re trying to achieve? Am I realistically capable of achieving this goal? What’s required? What are the sacrifices I might have to make? Do I have the time? If not, can I make time? What are the things I haven’t considered?
“You can put your goals onto paper, but what’s the reality?
“We’re often guilty of living in our own world, where what we think vs how it actually is are two very different things. We often don’t want to deal with the reality of it.” (Troy Sandidge)
Ch. 2: How to set challenging yet achievable goals
What we want to achieve is usually big. So, we set ourselves big milestones to help us achieve those big goals.
In addition to setting ourselves big, life-changing goals, we also need to set ourselves smaller, short-term goals that are quicker and easier to accomplish.
You want easy yet effective goal setting, so you have quick wins right off the bat.
Also, you need harder-to-reach goals for those big dreams. Those harder-to-reach goals might be two, three, five, or 10 years out of reach.
You need a good balance of both.
“I don’t believe that every goal needs to be challenging. You sometimes just need an easy win to keep you motivated.” (Katie Robbert)
The easy, quick wins give you the motivation and confidence to keep moving towards the bigger, harder goals that will, ultimately, change your life.
“Once you start seeing those wins, it psychologically keeps you in a good state of mind, so that when you take on something bigger, you’re a little more resistant. If something is harder to do, maybe you’re not as committed. It’s like a domino effect.
“Some productivity experts say that you should start the day by making your bed so that you feel like you’ve accomplished something, straight away. It can be that simple.” (Troy Sandidge)
So, what’s the best way to set these easy and challenging goals?
Put some cold, hard numbers behind them.
“Take the emotion out of it. When you’re using emotions to set goals, it becomes harder to measure your progress.
“I know for myself, if I’m setting a fitness goal, for example, I might be inclined to back off a little to make it easier on myself. But if I stick to metrics, those are the numbers that I’m working toward. There’s no leeway or get-out-clause.” (Katie Robbert)
Ch. 3: How to prioritize goals (especially in fast-paced, quick-change environments)
When you’re in the dark depths of goal setting, you may easily get blindsided by everything you want to achieve.
Sandidge offers the following advice regarding that challenge:
“People have a lot of goals they want to achieve, but they can often prioritize them using the wrong metrics. I like to use these four Ps to prioritize my goals:
Power. Decide which goals align with you in your most powerful state. Because if you’re at your most powerful, there’s a high probability that you’ll succeed.Personalization. After you’ve established which goals align with your greatest power, then you narrow it down further. Which are the goals that mean something to you? Which are the most personal?Passion. When you’re talking about personal goals, there’s more passion involved. And when you’re more passionate, you have this emotional connection that makes you want to work at them more often, and more frequently.Persistency. And then it’s about persistence. When our goals align with our passion, it feeds back into our power. And the success or progress we experience when working towards goals that align with our greatest power naturally helps us to become more persistent in our efforts.
“It’s not always about achieving the biggest thing. It’s not always about tackling the most urgent thing. Sometimes, it’s about just doing the thing that you can actually do.”
But what about when life gets hectic?
Situations, people, and environments can change so quickly these days. How do you keep on track with your goals with distraction and tumultuous change swirling around you?
“We write user stories. A user story is a simple sentence: I want to do X so that I can do Y because this will help me achieve Z.
“By writing out user stories, you get to understand exactly what your role is. So, when things get busy or distracting, you can go back to your user stories and remind yourself what your main goal is: ‘Doing THIS is gonna get me to my main goal. Anything else right now is a distraction, so let’s stay focused.’
“I know, this is easier said than done. We all get ‘shiny object’ syndrome. But that’s one of the more effective ways to keep yourself or team members on task with keeping goals prioritized.” (Katie Robbert)
Fun Fact: User stories originally came from software development teams. They used those stories to prioritize which website features to build. User stories allow you to see the bigger picture and help you rationalize decisions around which goals you should focus on first.
For Eckerling, it’s a little simpler to stay on track and focused on the big prize:
“For me, it really goes back to that main mission. When you know what you stand for, it’s the best decision tree ever. So when opportunities or distractions come your way, you can quickly assess whether it’s in alignment with your goals or your purpose, and if it’s going to help you get to where you want to go.
“So it really starts with the groundwork. It starts with the mission, and then you make sure that there is alignment with that, on a day-to-day basis.”
Summary of Part 1
Setting goals comes down to four key tasks:
Make specific decisions. Know exactly what you want to achieve, or work towards.Write it all out. Do a brain dump and get all your goal-related thoughts, questions, doubts, and concerns out onto paper. And don’t forget to consider the reality of what it will take to achieve your goals.Set easy wins and challenging milestones. Use numerical metrics to set easy, short-term goals that will keep you motivated and hard, long-term goals that will change your life.Prioritize. Focus on goals that complement your greatest power. Avoid life’s inevitable distractions by regularly revisiting your main mission and keeping your daily tasks aligned with that.
Part 2: How to Achieve Your Goals
Once you’ve chosen your final destination, how do you get yourself there in the most direct, and effective way?
If you’re in any doubt about how to reach your goals, then Part 2 is for you.
Over the following three mini-chapters, we’ll cover how to make sure you achieve your goals:
Hold yourself accountableContinue to assess and evolveBe realistic
Ch. 1: Hold yourself accountable
When we hold ourselves accountable for achieving our goals, our mindset automatically changes. You’ll feel 100% responsible for your own success. Whether you reach your goals or not is down to you.
You’ve put the groundwork in during the goal-setting phase. So, you’ll be acutely aware of what the consequences will be if you don’t achieve your goals. That means you’ll naturally make decisions and resolve to live your life in a way that allows you to work towards your goals effectively.
If you don’t feel accountable for your goals, there’s a risk that you won’t take them seriously and won’t, therefore, prioritize working toward them. Procrastination and distraction will creep in, and they won’t feel as time-critical or as important as they should do. Your approach will lack purpose, and you’ll drift, achieving nothing.
3 ways to hold yourself accountable
Write your goals down
When you write something down, it becomes tangible. It’s there, in black and white. It’s you, saying to yourself, “I am going to do this, and I am fully committed.”
“When you really want to make something happen, you must turn perception into reality by writing it down. It’s like a contract between you and yourself. When you start doing that, you’re actually willing yourself to align.” (Troy Sandidge)
Share your goals
If you share what you’ve written, that’s saying to our networks: “This is what I want to achieve. Please help me with my life choices and support me on my journey towards achieving my goals.”
“It’s important to have somewhere where you can share what you’re doing. You could be vague or specific depending on your comfort level, but to be with people who are going to celebrate all the steps along the way is super important. It’s very motivating.” (Debra Eckerling)
Holding yourself accountable requires grit, determination, and a resolve not to give up when the going gets tough. Weeks, months, or even years may pass before you achieve your goal or even start to see the results you want. So, however small the achievement or progress, reward yourself for working hard, every day, towards your goals.
Those little rewards serve as a reminder that there is something positive, waiting for you, at the end of your journey. Keep going!
Ch. 2: Continue to assess and evolve
Your motivation can easily drop off during the quest to reach your goals. You can often lose sight of the bigger picture and settle for something that isn’t actually what you want.
Say your big mission was to save $900,000 and buy your dream home within the next 10 years.
Five years down the line, after a couple of setbacks, a few of life’s unexpected curveballs, and an underlying hint of impatience, you might think, “Well, I’ve got $650,000, that’ll get me a decent house, that’ll do.”
POOF! Just like that, your dream home disappears.
Even though you might have a lovely house, it’s not your dream.
“Clients can easily feel like, ‘Well,I hit like a quarter of our targets, so I’m done.’ But if their overall goal is X dollars in revenue, if they stop now, then they’re not going to reach that goal. So, we inspire them to continue by not only showing them the cold, hard metrics but by also giving them new or different tactics to help them reach that goal. It’s a constant process of assessment and evolution.” (Katie Robbert)
To find that continuous motivation and to keep that bigger picture in your mind’s eye, you need to constantly assess how you’re doing and to evolve.
“There’s a sort of maintenance to achieving goals. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. So if my top goal is revenue, how do I ensure that I am, and everyone on my team is, taking actions that lead back to revenue?” (Katie Robbert)
You want to keep or improve what’s working and change or remove what’s not. Doing so will alter how you approach your goals and help you work towards them in new, efficient, and effective ways.
“Keep what works and mitigate what doesn’t. Go through this cycle at every milestone or every KPI, or whatever your metric or measurement system is, in order to evolve constantly until you achieve the goal.” (Troy Sandidge)
Ch. 3: Be realistic
The usual advice is that we should work towards our goals every single day. But life is not linear. It’s filled with delightful peaks and difficult troughs.
Some weeks, we have the time, space, and mental capacity to take on the world and our goals.
Other weeks? We don’t.
“You can think about your goals every day because I think that’s human. But when you’re setting yourself up for success, you have to look at your life. You might say, ‘15 minutes a day is easy. I can do 15 minutes a day.’ But guess what? Life happens. You’re going to miss a day, maybe two. And if you’re tempted to just tack on that time, 15 minutes on Sunday becomes an hour on Wednesday. But if you didn’t have 15 minutes on Sunday, you don’t have that hour on Wednesday.” (Troy Sandidge)
The consequences of failure are worse than the consequences of simply not having the time or capacity to do something. So, don’t set unrealistic deadlines or put yourself under unnecessary time pressures to complete goals.
Plan, prioritize, and physically commit to what you can realistically do. Block the time out in your calendar. When that time comes up, DO it!
“At the beginning of the week when you’re prioritizing what needs to be done, pull up your calendar and look at how much time you can realistically commit to the actions you need to take, and only sign yourself up for what you can commit to.” (Debra Eckerling)
Don’t over-commit, over-stretch, or over-promise. If you only have an hour a week, you only have an hour a week.
“Entrepreneurs who are trying to build something new sometimes only have an hour a week to work on their side hustles, passion projects, or the things that could change their life. That’s often all they have, but that’s OK.” (Debra Eckerling)
And don’t forget to take some time off once in a while. Take a break from the constant pressure of working towards your goals.
Summary of Part 2
Achieving your goals, however big or small, takes dedication, determination, and a lot of hard, hard work. You often find that you have to push yourself to keep moving forwards with your goals, especially when life throws you curveballs.
But you can keep yourself on the path to achieving your goals by:
Holding yourself accountable for achieving your goals. Write your goals down, share them with others, and don’t forget to reward yourself for achieving small wins or reaching key milestones.Continuously assessing your progress and doing what works and changing what doesn’t. Achieving your goals doesn’t end when you reach wherever it was you wanted to go. It’s often about being able to maintain your goals once you’ve got there. So achieving your goals needs to be a constant process of evolution. Ever heard of the saying “Careful what you wish for?” Everything has a consequence. You need to be able to maintain the status quo when you arrive at your goal destination.Being realistic and kind to yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure with unrealistic deadlines and time commitments, and don’t forget to take a break!
Part 3: How to Keep Going When You’re Tired of Failing
“What happened? Did you run out of time? Did you run out of energy? Did you run out of motivation?” (Debra Eckerling)
Failing to achieve your goals, whether they’re for work or personal, is a common problem.
Failure drains enthusiasm and motivation. It often can prevent you from pushing forwards, through the hard times, and out the other side to success.
It can make you feel, well, like a failure. It has a knock-on effect on your self-esteem and confidence, which can stop you from trying again or setting yourself new goals.
If you’re on the verge of giving up your goals, Part 3 is for you.
Over the following three mini-chapters, our goal-setting experts will establish what to do when we’re fed up of failing and stuck in a rut with our goals.
Measure performance using KPIsKeep perspective and don’t get lost in the dataRemember that failure is inevitable (and that it’s OK to fail)
Ch. 1: Measure performance using KPIs
KPIs are an ideal measuring stick to warn us when we’re straying off the path towards success, about to fall into the flames of failure. KPIs are a must-have if you want to achieve your goals.
“Let’s say I run an ecommerce business. I need to have X number of cart fills. That’s my KPI in order to reach my revenue goal. I know that every cart fill is worth $500, so to get X number of cart fills, I need to work out how many people I need to bring to my website to get the cart fills I need.
“If we see that we’re down on website traffic one month, then we’re likely to be down on cart fills, and, therefore, not on track to meet our revenue goal. We can then do something about it before we lose our way.” (Katie Robbert)
Hot tip: Social media management platforms, like Agorapulse, make keeping track of social media management KPIs easy with built-in reporting and Social Media ROI tools. Check it out for yourself and either book a free demo or start a free trial (no credit card required).
KPIs also help us to prepare for future success by giving us key information that will allow us to evolve and succeed next time. If we fail to reach our goals, it’s imperative to know why: What went wrong? Was it down to you, or was it circumstantial?
If we don’t know why we failed, we’ll almost certainly fail again.
Plus, if we consistently measure our performance and keep track of our successes, we can physically see how far we’ve come. This is a tremendous help when we’re fed up and struggling to reach a particular milestone.
It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to look back at what you’ve achieved, especially if you think you’ve reached rock bottom with your goal and are ready to give up. It’s a form of proof that shows that you CAN do it and that you DO have what it takes to get there.
All you need to do is keep going.
“It can get so frustrating when you’re like, ‘OK, I’m working REALLY hard here, but am I getting anywhere?!’ You need to see those little indicators to keep your head in the game. That’s what will keep you motivated and out of that rut. I love a simple pen and piece of paper, a Google Doc, or a spreadsheet to track my progress and keep my win lists.
“When you’re tracking your wins, you can look at the end of the week, at the end of the month and say, ‘Oohhh, I did five of these actions and ten of those – I’m actually doing OK.’
“It’s all about seeing those little check marks that show you what you’ve done. They will keep you motivated to keep going.” (Debra Eckerling)
Ch. 2: Keep perspective & don’t get lost in the data
Sometimes, to see the wood for the trees, we have to step back a little to gain perspective.
The same applies when we’re working towards our goals.
We can get so caught up in the journey of getting to our goal that we can often forget what our end goal is.
All we’re doing is plug, plug, plugging away at something, but we’re not registering any progress because we’ve lost sight of where we’re heading. Frustration and despair set in as we stray from the path of success and this can cause us to give up on our dreams.
“We can often get lost in taking actions, reading books, listening to podcasts, and consuming all this information, but if we don’t know where our set destination is, we don’t know where to put this information or how to use it to get us to where we want to be.” (Troy Sandidge)
Sometimes, all that’s needed to get out of the rut you’re in is to go back to square one and rediscover your mission.
“Remind yourself: what do I hope to get out of my life? Maybe you just need to do something a little different. Maybe you need to take a break. Maybe you need to start over, and that’s OK. Or maybe it’s time to put another goal first, and switch things up.” (Debra Eckerling)
People often lose sight of their mission because they’re focusing too much on their KPIs and not enough on where they’re wanting to go and what they’re wanting to achieve.
As we discovered in the last chapter, we do need KPIs to keep us on track, to keep us motivated, and to help us succeed if we fail. But obsessing over the facts and figures can dampen the dream and extinguish the spark of motivation.
“One of the healthiest ways to keep momentum is to not get too lost in the data. Although data is very critical and very important, being too focused on a certain KPI will make it difficult to keep going. If you’re struggling, just make sure that what you’re doing is in alignment with where you’re trying to go, and don’t sweat the data too much.” (Troy Sandidge)
Ch. 3: Remember that failure is inevitable (and that it’s ok to fail)
The biggest secret to achieving your goals is accepting that you’re going to fail and seeing that you need to fail if you want to achieve. Failure always teaches us something.
Take VCs, for example. Although ultimately, they’re looking for signs of success, some VCs won’t invest in a start-up or an entrepreneur if they don’t see a failed business or two in their portfolio.
“Failure is gonna happen. There’s nothing we can do about it. Not achieving our goals, whether it’s by time or by revenue, is destined to happen. What makes some people successful though, is how they redefine what they didn’t achieve, in order to achieve it.” (Troy Sandidge)
It’s how we deal with failure that counts. It’s about moving past the failure, finding out what went wrong, and establishing ways to do it better, next time.
It’s about asking yourself the hard questions and accepting the (sometimes) even harder answers:
Did I fail to achieve my goal because I didn’t give myself enough time?Did I not ask for enough help?Did I not have a big enough budget?Did I not have the right players or talent in place?Did I not have the right ecosystem or circumstances in place to make this happen?
“There are two different types of people in this world: The doers and the doubters.
“The doers achieve their goals because they keep going, regardless of whether they fail or not. Failure is not a defining moment for them.
“I know people who have failed to meet their goal one month but bounced back and tripled their revenue the following month. Despite not achieving their goal, their mental strength allowed them to get back on track.” (Troy Sandidge)
The problem is: Failure can dent your confidence.
The solution is: HAVE A BACKUP PLAN.
What will happen if you don’t meet this goal?
Let’s say your goal is to make a million dollars in one year. If you don’t make a million dollars by the end of the year, what will happen? Will you have to lay teams off? Will you have to cut budgets? Will you have to reassess your priorities?
Or, what happens if you’re halfway through the year and you’re not even at 50% of your goal, you’re only at 29%. Is that OK? What is going to happen if you don’t meet this goal?
“Maybe the goal is so important that if you don’t stay completely focused on it, you have to try harder to meet it because you’ve already walked through the scenarios of what will happen if you don’t meet this goal.” (Katie Robbert)
Working through different scenarios to understand what could happen if you don’t achieve your goals will help you understand what’s likely to happen. Doing so will put your mind at ease, and give your confidence a boost.
“That’s why I like alpha and beta goals. So when you’re working on more than one thing at once, if you get stuck on one, you can work on the other. That way, at least something’s moving forwards and it’s going to make you feel good and motivated to pick yourself up and keep going.” (Debra Eckerling)
Summary of Part 3
Failure is a necessary part of success. Accept this, and your mindset will change. Failure won’t seem like the end of the road for you and your goals. You’ll see it as an opportunity to grow, improve, and achieve your dreams.
But this will only happen if you don’t lose sight of your goals. Of course, measure and track your progress towards meeting your goals to prepare you for success and keep yourself motivated, but don’t get lost in the data.
Keep stepping back and checking in: Are you still aligned? Are you still heading in the right direction?
What We’ve Learned About Setting and Achieving Goals
Setting goals is the best gift you can give yourself. Wherever you are in your goal-setting journey, remember this:
“Take the time and energy to figure out what you want to accomplish and what you’re going to be proud to say about yourself. Gift yourself that time to work towards your goals so you can turn that life you want into reality.” (Debra Eckerling)
Now, go get ‘em! Let’s smash those goals in 2023 and beyond!
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