The Secret to Truly Effective Goal Setting

When we talk about successful people, they all come with a similar descriptor: they’re driven.

The good news? Being driven isn’t an innate trait. It’s something that happens to us all when we’re focussed on an end-goal that’s so compelling that we’ll do anything to get there.

Studies from pioneering psychologist Edwin A Locke have shown that the more specific and ambitious the goal, the better the performance. In short, “shoot for the stars and you might hit the moon” has some genuine scientific basis.

But there’s a catch: in order to make that ambitious, specific goal actually work for you, you also need to want the goal more than anything else. Conflicting goals will also derail the process – for example, you may have a goal to lose 15 kilos, but if you’re also trying to grow your cupcake business, you might be in trouble.

So here’s the magic ticket – be honest about which goal is really going to drive you, and then own it. In our experience working with clients to set goals, we’ve identified six key steps to setting goals you’ll be motivated to achieve. 


Dream big

Remember we’re talking ambitious goals – ones that scare you a bit. So, what would you wish for if you found a magic lamp? And be honest.  

There are goals that society will see as more worthy – spending time with your kids, volunteering at a charity, or building a house for your mother, for example. But for goals to work as a motivating force, you need to really want them. That means setting aside what you think you should be wanting, and focussing on what will actually drive you. If you really want Botox every six weeks, or to never cook again, or something equally ‘frivolous’, then so be it. It’s about what success looks like for you.

For one of our clients, that looked like two Jaguars sitting in the driveway. While a traditional accountant might baulk at an ‘unnecessary’ luxury spend, those cars were, in actuality, an investment. They were an end-goal that stayed top of mind through every late night, every tough conversation and every set-back.

These are your goals – you’re not answerable to anyone for them.

To do

Ask yourself, what does my ideal life look like? Is it travelling the world? Playing golf every day? Having the resources to make it home to put the kids to bed every night? Is it an entirely designer wardrobe?


Bring a bit of practicality

You need to strike a balance between choosing goals that are so ambitious they scare you, and goals that are, in truth, unachievable. That’s the sweet spot.

So, once you have your big dream, there are a few things you can ask yourself to help you find the right spot.

  • How often have people achieved it? A Facebook-level success story happens once in a generation – should you be aiming for something that more people have managed?
  • Are the steps to get you there something within your control (or does it come down to a whole lot of luck)?
  • Do you have enough perspective to make this call? Sometimes reaching out to a coach or mentor will give you a realistic idea of what ‘ambitious but achievable’ looks like for you.

To do

Once you have your goal, write it down and put it on your fridge, on the edge of your computer, on the back of your hand – where ever you’ll see it every day. Ask yourself throughout the day, “Is this contributing to my goal?”


Work out the baby steps

When people start running, the idea of finishing a marathon seems ridiculous. But running for two hours, three times a week? That’s doable.

So breaking down your big ambitious goal into smaller steps will make it all seem more possible – and give you reasons to celebrate along the way.

For our coaching clients, we do this by working backwards. You want two Jaguars? Great. What does your business need to look like to make that possible? What growth do you need to see to hit that?

And we take it further, down to the day-to-day. What things should you be doing every day, or every week, that will deliver on that growth? Maybe that’s a dollar figure target, or a number of sales meetings you need to have each month –these steps all need to be tangible and specific. Having them defined will mean you can focus every day around your bigger goal.

To do

Ask yourself what needs to happen to achieve your goal. Define what you can do every day, every week, or every month that will contribute to that.


Get accountable

Isn’t it so easy to surf Facebook for an hour instead of tackling that boring/hard/scary task that will move you closer to your goal? It’s easy, because who will know, really? What’s one hour, in the scheme of things?

Well, just as taking small steps every day really add up, these small time-wasters and procrastination sessions do too. A coach is an obvious solution to this – but really, you just need someone you have to face regularly and explain your slow progress. The positive side of this is, you’ll also have someone who will celebrate the small wins alongside you – they will understand how important each one is in the big picture.

To do

Find a way to be accountable to someone. Hire a coach, partner up with a contact or colleague, or enlist a bossy friend.


Say no

You have your goal. This is your focus – everything else is a distraction. That means you need to say no to things. Say no to yet another drinks night with friends. So no to a TV binge session. Say no to the exciting new business idea. Say no to that seemingly good investment. You can revise your goal whenever you want – it’s your life – but don’t pretend that chasing other dreams or opportunities isn’t going to hold you back on your current one.

To do

Every time you’re urged to do something or see an opportunity, ask yourself if it will help you toward your goal. If not, ask yourself if that time and attention it will cost you is worth it.


Take care of yourself

‘Stay focussed’ must always come hand in hand with ‘stay well’. Nothing is worth losing your health or your important relationships, or neglecting your life admin. In reality, achieving your goals depends on these things – keeping your life in balance should be part of the plan.

Make time in your week to be present with your loved ones, to eat well, move your body, pay your bills, vacuum your house and give your mind some downtime. This will be a constant balance – you won’t get it perfect every week (or ever!) but keeping these things top of mind is half the battle.

To do

Schedule time into your week to exercise and define hard parameters to your work day.


So, what do you want?

This is the exciting part – defining your goals (the ones that will really motivate you) is an exercise in wishing, dreaming and hoping. Start big, get excited, and then break things down into small, achievable chunks. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to say no to other things and stay focussed, when you have an eye on a prize you’d only ever dreamed of.

If you need help setting your goals and keeping on track our business planning and coaching services are perfect solutions.  Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you achieve your dreams by defining your goals and keeping you on track.