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How goal setting works

Goal setting is one of those phrases that everyone uses and is often bandied about as the solution to everything. Need to be more successful? Try goal setting. Want to be motivated? Set some goals! Plagued by procrastination? Have you tried goal setting? The only problem is goal setting alone is not going to do much for you if you don’t a) do it properly and b) follow up with some actions to achieve those goals.

So, here are my 7 steps to make goal setting work for you:

1. Define the areas of your life that are important to you

This could be family, home, career, money, health, fitness, personal development, happiness, fun and activities, spirituality, giving back, self-fulfilment, and so many more. You get the idea. Pick which ones are the most important to you.

As an example, you could pick family, career and health (you can pick as many as you want)

2. Think about what you want to achieve in each area of your life

What would make each of these areas as good as it possibly can be, a 10 out of 10 so to speak. Pick one thing for each area of your life.

In our example this could be:

  • Family: spend more quality time as a family

  • Career: get a promotion by this time next year

  • Health: get in shape to run a half marathon

3. If you haven’t already done so, turn each of these ideas into SMART goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound

Take the first item: “spend more quality time as a family” – if you only spend 5 minutes extra every day, that’s “more time” but that’s of course not what you’re after. Hold yourself accountable and make it easy for you to know whether you have achieved your goal – what exactly do you want to achieve and by when. And give yourself a chance by making it possible to achieve the goal.

If you want to get in shape to run a half marathon, are you doing this for health reasons or to help out a charity? If it’s the latter, you probably won’t keep up running and this won’t benefit your health long term. In this case, the goal is not really relevant to your health. Why we do something is important. The right “why” can motivate you to push yourself more and to help you through difficult patches.

Let’s have a look at our examples again:

Family: spend every dinner at the dinner table (instead of in front of the TV) and talk about our day

Career: be promoted to Team Leader by [date]

Health: have successfully completed the “Robin Hood Half Marathon” in September next year

4. Decide which of your goals to tackle first

As much as you’re getting excited about achieving all of your goals in all of your life areas, it’s not realistic to expect that you can tackle them all at once. It’s just like with New Year’s Resolutions – if you set one goal you are much more like to achieve it than if you set 10.

Having said that, I do believe that you can set a career goal as well as one for your personal life at the same time, but don’t go further than that. You want to give yourself the best possible chance.

Maybe there is a goal that will lead to achieving another more easily. In goal setting we can call this your “meta goal”. It’s the one goal that will make several other goals possible. Have a look at your list and see whether one of your goals qualifies as a meta goal. If you do, this would be the perfect goal to focus on first.

If all the goals in your life areas are fairly independent of each other, simply pick the one that you think will make the biggest difference to your life.

5. Create an action plan for your goal

What are the steps you need to take to achieve your goal? Write them down, ideally with a check box next to them, so you can tick them off one by one as you’re making progress.

NB: It really doesn’t matter whether you’re writing things down on paper or in an app. Use whatever works best for you and what is easiest to use.

If you don’t know exactly how to go about achieving your goal, find someone who has done this already. Whether it’s a friend, a relative you can ask for advice or maybe someone has already written a book about it. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel; chances are high that someone has done the thing you want to do before you or at least something very similar.

6. Decide exactly when, where and how you’re working on your goal

The more specific you can be, the easier it will be for you to stay on track. When are you going to work on your goal; where will you be; how will you go about it?


Family: I will spend this coming Saturday afternoon clearing the dining table so that we can have dinner in the evening together. I will also talk to each of my family members on Saturday morning about making this a regular occurrence.

Career: I will book a meeting with my manager on Monday morning to discuss what I need to do to move up to team leader.

Health: I’m following the “Couch to 5k” programme to start with and will do the planned exercises as soon as I get back home from work.

7. Get accountability

Doing something all on your own can be difficult. You only have yourself to be accountable to and it’s easy to let yourself off the hook when you get too busy or too tired.

You can either join an online group or buddy up with a friend who is trying to achieve something themselves. You can check in with each other regularly and feed back how you’ve been getting on. This will make you more likely to stick with your goals as you really don’t want to report “no progress”.

How I can help

One of the biggest hurdles to achieving your goals is often a lack of time. If you’re already working 60 or more hours every week it can feel close to impossible to fit anything else into your week. All you want to do is relax those few hours that you have left. Fair enough.

But what if I told you that you didn’t have to work that many hours every week but still get your work done? That you could stop playing catch-up, be less stressed and have time for those life goals?

I have helped a wide variety of people do just that, work fewer hours and still get all the important things done. And I believe that I can help you, too. You can check out my Coaching Programme page to find out more or if you’d like to have an informal chat to see how that could work, get in touch. You can reach me via email and we can set up a mutually convenient time for a chat via Zoom or phone. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


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