Interested but don’t have time to read all this right now? I can send you a free ebook of this post if you prefer. Just click here.
Do you have goals that you want to achieve? Have you tried and failed to achieve goals or “New Year’s Resolutions” in the past? Do you want to greatly up your quality of life over the next decade?
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a system that has helped me succeed as a CEO, a business owner, a father, a husband, and now as founder of a startup. This system has been culled from the tips and teachings of famous top performers and productivity experts like Tony Robbins, Peter Drucker & Tim Ferriss and from mentors in my personal life.
And, now, I’m sharing my system with you. The system is completely free, there is no up-sell, there is no catch, just simple, actionable principles that you can start using today.
This guide will show you how to implement a proven system that will help you achieve your personal goals and to achieve success. Investing a few minutes now can lead to years of success by simply making the right high-impact decisions.
By request, I have included several free tools and the entire contents of this post in a free ebook download that you can receive by clicking here to read at your leisure. Or, you can simply continue reading the complete guide right here and now.
The Right Naming System
First things first – if it’s a New Year’s Goal, quit calling it a New Year’s Resolution and start calling it a Goal. New Year’s resolutions are famous for one thing – not being kept. What we call things and our related expectations are far more powerful than most people realize. I touch on this in my Jim Kouzes post if you would like to read more, but, it’s enough to know you should quit calling them resolutions and start calling them goals.
Set the Right Goals
“We overestimate what we can accomplish in a year but underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.” – Tony Robbins
Nothing is more important than setting the right goals in the first place. What you choose to focus on is far more important than the system that you use. Effectively carrying out a goal that you never should have pursued in the first place is a waste of time and energy, so, let’s dig into how to setup the right goals.
Most short-term (1 year or less) Goals are simply too ambitious. Many of our New Year’s “Resolutions” require really big, very sudden life changes that cause a major shock to our daily habits and routines. This causes us to quit within days or weeks of beginning and is the cause of the well-deserved reputation held by resolutions.
However, most of our “big picture” Life Goals (goals that take longer than 1 year to complete) are not ambitious enough. Ask most people what they want from the next 10 years and their answers will generally be modest at best. “More free time”, “be a department manager”, “pay off the house” or “make more money” are pretty common answers.
There is nothing in these answers powerful enough to get you fired up about life. Most of these answers are not goals at all, they are merely made up answers that someone will offer because you put them on the spot.
It’s an interesting bit of irony that most of us think we can accomplish big things in just 1 year, but, we have either modest plans or no plans for the next decade. You need to flip this on its head.
Up your Life Goals
Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go – Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland
Many people don’t even have a goal for their next 5-10 years. This is like getting in your car, driving aimlessly, and hoping that you end up somewhere that you want to be. But, if you are reading this, you’re not most people. You have chosen to put some thoughts into your goals which immediately puts you in an elite category. It’s the first step of a broader journey.
You need to set some Life Goals. These can be 3, 5, 10, or even 20 year goals. The length doesn’t matter. But, these are much more significant than a 1-year or 6-month goal.
Pick Life Goals that can radically change your life. Your Life Goals should be grand life projects that help direct all your 1-year or shorter goals. Your Life Goals should give your life direction and purpose. Your Life Goals should be missions that you can look back on fondly when you are much older and be proud that you even attempted.
With a Life Goal, you’re now setting off on a road trip with a destination in mind. Will you reach your destination every time? No. Will you change your mind midway through the trip and pick a different destination? Absolutely. But, simply having a destination in mind will put your life on a vastly different path than aimless wandering.
Your Life Goals should be big enough that first sharing them with others today should be embarrassing. Anything less is too small.
- Set goals so big that achieving them would radically change your life.
- Set goals so big that you are pumped to get to work on your goals everyday.
- Set goals so big that, when the times get tough, you can think back on your “big goals”, how your life could change, and get jazzed up again.
The Problem with “Small” Life Goals
If you take nothing else from this guide, it should be this: Your Life Goals need to be bigger. Here’s what wrong with Small Life Goals:
Small goals usually aren’t enough to get you really fired up. No matter what your goal is, there will be problems and setbacks. You need a goal where the results of a win are big enough that thinking of them will get you motivated to push through problems and setbacks that will occur.
A Life Goal of a 10% annual pay increase isn’t going to keep you up at night working and planning. A Life Goal of building a company that will sell for millions and set you and your loved ones up for life will keep you up at night.
You will face more competition when going for Small Goals. When identical job openings are posted at both $25,000 and $50,000 annual salary, the $25,000 job will get 2 to 3 times more applications. The identical higher paying job is actually easier to land, because it has less competition.
Why don’t more people apply for the $50,000 year job? Many simply don’t believe they are capable of winning big. They incorrectly believe that there must be more competition for that job. They don’t even look at jobs in that pay range. Many believe they deserve little, so they receive little. Many people trap themselves in a prison of their own low expectations.
The truth is that you are capable of much more than you know. And it’s not until you push yourself to the breaking point that you find out what your real capabilities are.
Your First Task
Your first task in Life Goal setting is to begin believing that you deserve to win big. Simply changing this core belief in your heart will put you in a different, much more sparsely populated league of competitors immediately.
Also, set Life Goals that tie into specifically what you really want. Pick goals that, even if you fail, you will have enjoyed the process of trying. Don’t set a goal of having a fitness model body if you really don’t care for fitness or working out. Don’t set a goal of having lots of money if you just think money would be “nice to have”.
Set goals that really tie into your unique wiring as a human being. There is something that has tugged your heart and mind for years. What is it?
More on Life Goals
Set goals that fit your particular interests and not goals that fit what you think other people want you to do. This is very important.
Some people set their goals based on pleasing others or meeting some expectation from society. This is a recipe for failing and for feeling like a failure. Some people say “well, I guess I should lose weight” or “I guess I want a management position” because people around them want them to do these things.
Focus on what you want, not what others want you to want. If you want to know more about overcoming the Fear of What Everyone Else Thinks, see my post on the topic by clicking here.
Set goals that won’t feel like a total waste of time if you fall short. If you set a goal of being a New York Times best-selling author and your book fails to make the best seller list, you might still be pretty happy if you love the process of writing. Maybe you still carved out a career as a paid writer and can be pleased with an “80%” result.
However, if you don’t even really like writing, but, want to be a best-selling author purely for fame or money, then you would probably be extremely upset if you fall short. You would probably feel like you wasted your time because you hated the process, you purely wanted the result.
Pick goals that, even in failure, you can enjoy the process of striving for and/or goals that help you learn valuable skills for your next adventure. Read more in my post on Failing And Still Succeeding.
Once you get clear about what you want, you will start to find ways to get there.
You know how, after you test drive a specific car, you now see that particular type of car everywhere you go? The cars were there all along. But, your brain didn’t know they were important to you before, so, your brain wasn’t paying attention or looking for them.
By simply getting clear about where you want to go in your life, the subconscious horsepower in your brain will kick in and get busy looking for ways to get you there. Get clear on what you want, and make your subconscious your ally.
Set both your Life Goals and 1-Year Goals using the SMART system. SMART is a well-known framework for goal-setting and its 5 principles for goal-setting are the keys to any successful goal.
Specific – A goal like “be a better person” or “live healthier” is not specific enough. Ask yourself what you really want to accomplish and what is driving you. Instead of “live healthier”, a specific version of your goal might be “lose weight” or “increase strength” or “complete a half-marathon”.
Measurable – Your goal must be objectively measurable. For example, once you have decided that you want to “lose weight”, you now need to refine that you want to “lose 20 pounds” or be able to “run a half-marathon in less than 2 hours”.
Achievable – Is your goal realistic? Start with a goal that is realistic in the timeframe you give yourself. If you want to lose 10 pounds in 6 months, this may be realistic, but, losing 100 pounds is probably not. Short term goals that are not achievable are a waste of time and can actively damage your psychology by making you feel like a failure.
Relevant – Is this goal relevant to your interests and desires for your life? Don’t fall into setting a Life Goal for yourself that you aren’t jazzed up about. Achieving anything big takes hard work. If you aren’t “all in”, you are wasting your time. For more, refer to the Up Your Life Goals heading above.
Time-bound – An old English proverb says, “What can be done at any time is never done at all”. When we tell ourselves that something can be done later, we will put it off. Your goal must have a definite deadline set or you will procrastinate and it won’t get done.
Picking Your Life Goal(s)
Either write on a blank sheet of paper or use the Goal Sheet that I have already setup for you in the free Goal Toolkit (click to download).
Write down your Life Goals and set a number of years for each goal. Again – make sure these goals are BIG and that they tie directly into what gets you excited. Don’t worry a great deal about specific time horizons, for now just take a stab at what sounds right.
Once you have momentum from your first year, you may be able to achieve your goals faster than you expect right now. You will, at a minimum, have a much better sense of how long things will take.
Set as many Life Goals as you like. Most people will likely only have 1 to 3.
- I will build a company worth $5 million in 10 years
- I will have a BMI of 12% and weigh 160lbs. in 5 years
- I will have 1 New York Times best-selling book in the next 10 years
- I will have $500,000 in my children’s college fund and have my house paid off in 10 years
As you can see above, these goals can be structured anyway that you like, just stick to the SMART framework. Got your Life Goals? Now tie some “dreams” to your Life Goals.
Set Some Life Dreams
A Life Dream is a specific experience that you can have once you achieve your Life Goal. The difference between a Dream and a Goal is that a Dream is an experience, not an achievement. For the highest impact, the dream should be imagined in vivid detail.
Want to make a lot of money as a Life Goal? Your Life Dream might be buying your mom a house, a car, or sending her on an all-expense paid European vacation. Or, your Dream might be purchasing a luxury car for mom or dad or your best friend.
Sometimes, a Life Dream and a Goal might actually be one and the same. Maybe you want to finish or win a prestigious triathlon as a goal. Your Dream might simply be the experience of finishing or talking to your friends about the race afterward.
The imagining of your Experience in vivid detail is very important. If you want to buy Mom a house then: picture the house, imagine the morning you bring her there, the look on her face when you give her the keys, the feeling you get when the tears roll down her face.
If your Dream is finishing the big race, imagine: what you will feel after you finish, who will be there, what the medal might look like, what the meal afterward may taste like, and what the hotel bed might feel like once you make it back to the hotel.
Again, the more vivid you can make these dreams the better. These Dreams will be your fuel on your darkest days. Make them specific. Imagine the sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and smells.
These imagined sensations can serve as very powerful anchors in your mind. They are more powerful than mere words for reaching the lowest, most powerful parts of the brain.
Add these Life Dreams to your piece of paper or to the free Goal Sheet in my free Goal Toolkit. In the toolkit, there is also a sheet you can use to write your detailed imagining of the experience.
Set 1-Year Goals
Now, that you have at least one Life Goal and one Life Dream, you need to reverse engineer what year 1 of that journey might look like.
Year 1 is largely about ramping up and getting in motion. If you want to make $10 million in the next 10 years, you don’t need to make $1 million in year 1.
Resist the temptation to ask too much of yourself in the first year. Don’t simply chop up a 10-year or 5-year goal into 1/10th or 1/5th increments. You will have much more momentum and you will be a different person with more resources by years 3, 5, or 8 than you are today. Remember – the days of standing still year after year are over. You will make progress this year and will build on that next year.
Many people fail in New Year’s Resolutions because they attempt sweeping life changes all at once. They say, “Ok, I’m going to start eating 1800 calories per day and I’m going to work out 4 times per week starting the first week of January and I’m going to lose 50 pounds this year”.
They do this coming off a month of no exercise, holiday feasts, and sweets. The change is simply too great and their mind and body reject it. We want to get on the right path, get some momentum, and play the long game of success.
Play the Long Game in 1-Year Goals
Your initial 1-year goals should be fairly modest. You want to “win” year 1, develop confidence, and get in motion in the right direction. If you do this, you will be much better suited to produce in year 2 and beyond. You will be a more capable, better positioned person going into year 2 that can achieve far more next year than you can this year.
If you want to lose 60 pounds in the next 3 to 5 years as a Life Goal, you might set a year 1 goal of losing 10 pounds, working out twice per week, and cutting out most sugary drinks. That’s it. Year 2 you might get more aggressive on diet and exercise and lose more weight.
For big 5+ year Life Goals, year 1 should be more about setting yourself up for future success. If you want to make $5 million in the next 10 years, year one should probably be more about learning, networking, testing ideas, and simply changing your current circumstances to be better positioned in the future. The amount of money you make in year 1 is not relevant. What is relevant is how much better positioned you are going into year 2.
You want to have 1-year goals that you can meet and exceed so that you can grab momentum and confidence. Most people set goals that are not realistic early, fall short of them, feel like a failure, and quit.
You simply want to end your first year by being closer to your Life Goal than you began the year. That’s it. You want to be primed for bigger, better things in Year 2. That’s all you really have to do in Year 1.
But, here’s the thing – as you get momentum and confidence in Year 1, you will probably find that you will get way beyond your Year 1 goals and you will keep pushing. You will find new internal resources that you didn’t know you had. You will find external resources like new friends, books, etc. that you didn’t have before.
Instead of setting a big short-term goal that you can’t meet, you will blow away a modest goal. You will feel like a winner, not someone who can’t meet their goals & expectations. The difference in psychology here is enormous.
All these things will accelerate your new path. But, let this happen naturally.
Most people are impatient. They want the achieve their goals immediately, so, they try to do it all at once.. It doesn’t happen immediately and they get frustrated and quit entirely. Don’t be most people – play the long game.
Write Down Your 1-Year Goals
Using the SMART criteria above, define 1-year goals and write them down on a sheet of paper or download my Goal Sheet from my free Goal Toolkit.
It’s very important that you write your goals down. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey, but, there is something powerful about translating your goals out of your head and onto something tangible like a piece of paper.
If you want to really ratchet up your chances of success, write your goals (both 1-Year and Life Goals) down repeatedly – once a month, once a week, or even once a day. The psychological tuning is profound, the cost is low, the potential upside is great.
Once you have your 1-year goals, you want to break them down into Weekly Goals. Anything bigger than weekly goals are not really actionable.
If your 1-Year Goal is to write a book, you may wish to commit to writing 30 pages per week. If your 1-Year Goal is to lose 10 pounds, you may want to commit to 2 workouts per week and no more than 2 sugary drinks per week.
Setting these Weekly Goals is important because this is where you get to think about the part of your goals that are actually actionable. Pick the right Weekly Goals and then take care of these small daily and weekly activities, and your big picture Life Goals will take care of themselves.
You may also break down your Weekly Goals to Daily Goals if you wish. In most cases, however, you aren’t trying to perform a particular activity every single day of the year, so, weekly might make more sense.
Make your Weekly Goals about Actions, not about Results. Some actions have very direct results. You write 30 pages of a book and you have 30 pages of a book. However, some results cannot be guaranteed in fields like sales, sports, or other areas influenced by chance.
As a salesperson, don’t set a goal to “make 2 sales per week”, instead set a goal to “talk with 20 potential customers per week” or similar. Whether the customer chooses to buy or not is up to them, but, how many you talk to and how well you present to them is up to you.
It is very important that your Weekly Goals be completely within your direct control. If you take the right actions repeatedly, the law of averages will work for you in the long run of months and years to reduce the role of chance. But, 1 week is too small of a sample size for this to even out. If you don’t feel that your Weekly Goals are 100% within your control, you will give yourself a psychological “out” to shirk your goals.
Write these goals on your sheet of paper or on the Goal Sheet in the free Toolkit.
Tricks That Will Help You Stay on Course
The Streak Tracker
The problem with most goals is that you start out strong and then slack off as time goes by. The Streak Tracker turns this on its head with a trick of psychology.
Chart out a sheet of paper with 52 boxes, one representing each week of the upcoming year (you can start at any time in the year, just make the current week into Week1), or use the “Streak Tracker” in my free Goal Toolkit.
Post the Streak Tracker where you can see it everyday. Every week that you fulfill your weekly goal, check the box for that week. After several weeks or months, you will have a nice streak of checks going. Your job is simply to “not break the chain”.
You will feel accomplished every time you see the paper. On these weeks that you feel like slacking, the idea of messing up your streak will make you think twice as positive pressure mounts. Over time, your new actions will turn into habits and external tricks will become less important. You can also combine your Streaks with Reward Checkpoints which are covered next.
Setup “reward checkpoints” or other positive incentives for yourself as you progress toward your goal. Use these rewards in conjunction with streaks to create mounting pressure on yourself to keep going.
For example, you might set a minor reward at every 3 weeks in a row of meeting your Goal. You might have an even bigger reward for yourself for meeting your Goal 10 weeks in a row. You might have a huge reward for 26 or 52 weeks in a row.
What would you be willing to spend if you met your goals every single week for 6 months? Or 1 year? Don’t be afraid to splurge a little here. Similar to Life Goals, we want this reward to be big enough to motivate you.
Set these up checkpoints up in advance and use them to help yourself keep pushing. The rewards must uniquely match what you like and are interested in.
Your reward can be a new gadget you have wanted, a fancy dinner with your spouse, a vacation, anything that revs you up. Use your imagination to setup rewards that will really motivate you.
You can also set a reward for yourself if you exceed your Goals in a given week. Maybe if your goal is writing 30 pages of your book in a week, but, you write 75, you reward yourself.
Use Negative Emotions to Your Advantage
Create punishments if you fail. This may seem hardcore to some, but, it is very powerful and effective. For many of us, negative incentives are the most powerful of all.
Possible “Punishments” to Incentivize You
- Tell everyone you know what your 1-year goals are, create a building sense of embarrassment if you quit and let them down. Post about it on social media, tell your closest friends, make a big deal out of it.
- If the people that you tell doubt your goals or think you are crazy, develop a desire to “prove them all wrong”. This alone has fueled a lot of big successes.
- Join a competition, a class, some kind of peer group that will provide peer pressure to keep you onboard in moving toward your goal.
- Give your friend (the one who you know will cut you no slack) some embarrassing picture that you don’t want anyone to see. Tell them to post it on social media if you fail.
- Give away a meaningful sum of money (enough to sting if you lose it ) or one of your favorite possessions to a friend or family member until you “earn it back” through completing your Weekly Goals and by maintaining your Streak. If you fail, they give the item or the cash away. If they are giving the cash away, consider having it go to something that you don’t like – like the athletic booster fund of your most hated college sports team. We are looking for all the fuel that we can get.
A strange fact of human nature is that seemingly inconsequential factors like embarrassment or competition can sometimes motivate us much more than positive factors of real consequence like income or health. Use this bit of human irrationality (and everything else you can get your hands on) to your advantage.
Conclusion – Stack the Deck to Win
It’s hard to guarantee success in any endeavor. But, if you stick to this proven system, your odds of success are very high. You will have put real thought into where you want to go, rather than drifting along from year to year. You will have setup a system to get you moving. And, you will use psychological tricks to make our human quirks work to your advantage instead of sabotaging you.
Make sure that you post your Goals and Streak Tracker where you can see them every single day. Put them on your refrigerator or over your desk.
Now, it’s just a matter of going out and executing on your plan. You have all the tools you need to blow your next 12 months out.
All the best,