Giving Up on Goals? 4 Tips for Setting Goals that Work

Jan 17, 2013

The whole goal-setting topic is a tricky subject—it’s wrought with land mines. It seems so proactive to set ambitious goals, but despite our best intentions, most such goals are missed. When that happens repeatedly, we get discouraged and many of us never set goals again—to avoid the pain of missing them.

However, failing at goals may be because we’re creating and managing goals incorrectly, not due to being an undisciplined person.

4 Tips

Here are 4 tips you can use to achieve more success with goal setting and thus rekindle your faith in the process. Setting goals is still the best way to make progress in just about any area, so I hope you give one or more of these a try and get back on the goal bandwagon.

1. Create more goals that you have direct control over

Too often we beat ourselves up over missing goals we have no direct control over. For example, the goal of getting a raise at your job is not under your direct control—that’s someone else’s decision. And you cannot directly remove body weight (surgery aside!); rather you have to add exercise or diet to do that. So to increase your success rate, add to the larger goal some smaller goals that represent specific actions you can take that may lead to the larger goal like “take 30 minutes of exercise every day.” Then track your daily compliance on such goals to keep your attention on them. Using one of the new online sting/reward systems can greatly help you do that (see next point).

2. Use a tracking and sting/reward system

Some ongoing goals need steady motivational reinforcement; goals like making 10 sales calls per week, or exercising 30 minutes each day. There are lots of new online systems you can use that will track your progress on goals like this and thereby keep your attention on them. Many have smartphone apps that help. One I like called both tracks your progress and can alert you and then even automatically “sting” you with a small fine as you fall off the plan and miss your milestones. Why do this? It makes a longer-term outcome more immediately connected to short-term successes and pains. You can even link BeeMinder to a Wi-Fi connected weight scale and accurately measure and motivate an on-going weight-loss goal—users say it really works. Read more about here.

3. Write Vision Statements 

For an important goal like starting a new career or, say, getting a new home, write out a vision statement that vividly describes how life will feel when you reach your goal—and then review that statement often. Perhaps set a recurring task to read the goal every week, or even every day. When you do the review, mentally imagine your new life as if you have reached it—pretend you can feel it. Research shows your subconscious mind drives you to success when your emotions are positively engaged over and over like this—don’t underestimate how powerful this can be (for more details, see Chapter 9 of my 2010 book Master Your Workday Now).

4. Avoid arbitrary deadlines

For many goals we often set a deadline date that is completely arbitrary—there is no direct impact if that specific date is missed. The trouble with that is, when the date arrives, you’ll recall that it’s arbitrary and you’ll likely skip any action. That’s especially true in a busy workplace—there will always be some other fire drill going on in your business that requires more attention. And after skipping a lot of these, you lose respect for the deadline process—even with real deadlines.

It’s better to set deadlines sparingly and instead use your business intuition to recognize the right moment for most of your smaller goals. But if that fails repeatedly for an important item, then rather than an arbitrary deadline, set a real deadline—one that has some meat to it. The meat might be using a date that will impact others if missed—one you’ll hear a complaint for quickly. And if others are not affected, the meat might be a fine you set for yourself that you have to cough up when you miss a deadline; one way to do that is described in point #2 above.

So don’t use arbitrary deadlines—they just don’t work. Put some meat on your deadlines, or don’t use them at all.

See my longer article on Arbitrary Deadlines


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3 Responses to Giving Up on Goals? 4 Tips for Setting Goals that Work

  1. Excellent post and it’s so true that we shouldn’t create more goals that we have direct control over.

    There is also a little technique you can use, if you have the courage that will almost guarantee the achievement of big goals and dreams. It is based on the idea of “social pressure”.

    Think about this; let’s say you have a goal to lose a certain amount of weight or achieve some desired level of fitness. You can set the goal privately and tell yourself, “I am going to achieve this goal by August 1.” On the other hand, you can make the goal public by telling all of your friends and family what you intend to do and even give a date for your desired completion.

    As soon as you take that goal public, you move into a different state of mind. No longer are you at the mercy of your own self-discipline (which has been tarnished by years of bad habits). Now you have a much more powerful force dictating your day to day actions and decisions.

  2. Raymond says:


    In your book ‘Master Your Workday Now’ you suggest having a goal statement list of ‘Fall Goals’ which are activated each morning, reason behind being that it sets a natural time frame in which to achieve your goals.

    I think that idea is good, and it works for smaller goals, but say if you have a goal to learn another language, that is certainly achievable, but not a season goal and definately still needs daily activation, what would your counsel be?

    I would be really interested if you would answer the following: When you do your goal activation in the morning, how many sheets of paper do you have and what are they headed as?


  3. Raymond says:

    Actually I have read the rest of the chapter – I see that bigger goals may take up a page – to really get spun up about right?

    I think this is a great idea – I guess the hardest part is going to be writing out some really good goal statements!

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