Goals – we all have the best intentions when we set them, but, very few of us actually achieve them.  Why is that? It’s because intentions aren’t enough.  So much so that research has shown that up to 92% of people don’t achieve the goals they’ve set (based on a university study that looked at new year’s resolutions).

How can you become part of the 8% that do achieve their goals? Rather than just rely on good intentions, increase your chances of successful goal setting by applying some of the research into human behaviour and how the mind works to your goal setting process.

What is goal setting?

First you need to understand there is more to setting goals than just saying what you want.  Goal setting is defined as:

‘the development of an action plan designed to motivate and guide a person or group toward a goal’ (Wikipedia)


‘the process of deciding what you want to accomplish and devising a plan to achieve the result you desire’ (www.thebalancesmb.com)

Both these definitions show us there is more to setting goals than just stating what you want.  The additional component, that is missed in goal setting techniques such as SMART (unfamiliar with SMART goals – read about them here), is the plan, the actions, what you need to do to get what you want.

What steps can you take in your goal setting process to give you the best chance of success:

  1. Know what you want and when you want it by
  2. Get realistic – ask yourself, how much ‘pain’ am I willing to take to achieve this
  3. Set your standards – what do you need to do daily or weekly to achieve your goals.
  4. Detail the when, where and how of your standards.
  5. Match your surroundings to your goal
  6. Track your performance
Step 1 – Know what you want and when you want it by:

This step is the 101 of goal setting. If you don’t know what you want, then how will you know what you need to do to get there or even when you have got there.

For example, if you want to lose weight, setting a goal as ‘I want to lose weight’ is not enough.  You are not saying how much, you are not saying by when.  With a vague goal such as ‘I want to lose weight’ our brain can’t start to process ‘the how or the what’ as it doesn’t have enough information.  Get specific, set a time frame and make sure you can measure it so that you know once you are there. A couple of examples:

  • By 31 March 2019 I will weigh 60kgs
  • It is 30 June 2019 and I can do do three strict full body weight pull ups
  • By 31st December 2019, I will have $5,000 in savings

Read more on getting specific in your goal setting here.

Step 2 – Get realistic – ask yourself, how much ‘pain’ am I willing to take to achieve this:

Let’s be honest, there is a reason you aren’t at the weight you want or don’t have the money in the bank you want.  It’s because to do the things you need to do to get what you want is hard.  It might require sacrifice (sacrifice that chocolate biscuit or glass of wine), it might require time (work on writing my blog each night rather than watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (yes I’m guilty of it!)), etc.

The real challenge of goal setting is not determining what you want and if you want it, that’s the easy part.  The real challenge is whether you are willing to accept the sacrifices required to achieve your goal. Are you willing to put up with the boring, ugly and sometimes difficult process that comes before the amazing outcome.

It’s easy to sit around and think what we could do or what we’d like to do. It is an entirely different thing to accept the trade-offs that come with our goals.

I have a friend that talks about wanting to lose weight almost every time we catch up.  She is very specific about how much and when by. She even can talk through the things she will do next week to get started on this.  One thing she doesn’t do, is accept that those things will mean ‘pain’.  According to her, she doesn’t have enough time to exercise.  The reality – she isn’t willing to experience the ‘pain’ of getting up 30 minutes earlier to fit it in.

Look at your goal that you want to achieve and ask yourself – how much pain am I willing to experience to achieve that?  Is the outcome worth what I have to sacrifice to get there?

Step 3 – Set your standards – what do you need to do daily or weekly to achieve your goals.

Now you are realistic about what you have to do to achieve your goals (the actions, the pain, the sacrifice), now it’s time to set the standards around that.

Standards are things in our life that are non-negotiable.

I will not leave the house without brushing my teeth is a standard.

Washing your hands after going to the toilet is a standard.

We can set standards around everything we want to do and setting these standards help us create new (and often better) habits.

Do you want to drink more water – set a standard of how many glasses of water you will drink each day.

Want to be fitter and stronger – set a standard of how many times you will exercise each week

Do you want to reduce how much alcohol you drink – set a standard of how many alcohol free days you will have each week.

Step 4 – Detail the when, where and how of your standards.

Now you know your standards, make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behaviour.  Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a behaviour.

In one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence:

“During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were 2x to 3x more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behaviour.

Once you have your implementation intention written, align it with a current habit or action to increase your chances of doing it.

To do this, fill out the sentence:

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].  For example:

  • Push ups: Before I take my morning shower, I will do 10 push ups.
  • Flossing: After I brush my teeth, I will floss.
  • Morning exercise: Before I go to bed, I’ll set out my workout clothes

This step works as you not only create a specific plan for when and where you will implement your goals, but also link your new goals to something you are already doing each day.

Step 5 – Match your surroundings to your goal

Even with the best intentions in place, we make decisions we aren’t aware we are making.  To really help your goal setting process, identify what options surround you and eliminate distractions exist that might derail you and implement options that will help you succeed.

I love a glass of wine while I’m cooking dinner and white wine is my preferred.  If there is a bottle in the fridge, I am more likely to pour myself a glass of wine when cooking dinner than if there isn’t one.  So, to help with my goal to drink less, I don’t keep wine in the fridge during the week.

  • Are chocolate biscuits in the cupboard, you’re more likely to give into that 3pm sugar hit.
  • Is alcohol in your fridge, you’ll be more likely to drink it.
  • Do you have a bottle of water on your desk while you are working, you’ll drink more water.
  • Is the TV unplugged from the wall or the remote is hidden in another room, you’ll be less likely to turn the TV on.

This is known as choice architecture and has a massive impact on whether or not you achieve your goals in the long-term.  It’s very hard to stick with positive habits in a negative environment (i.e. junk food in the cupboard) and it’s a lot easier to form positive habits if your environment supports it (i.e. bottle of water beside you while you’re working).

Step 6 – Track your performance

What gets measured gets results – the things we measure are the things we improve on.

The human mind loves to receive feedback and one of the most motivating things we can experience is evidence of our progress.

By measuring your results, you get insight on whether or not you are making progress and this is why measurement is so critical for effective goal setting.

  • People find when they keep a food journal, they eat better.
  • If you measure how many sales calls you make a day, it becomes very evident if you aren’t doing enough to reach your targets.
  • Want to get better at push ups-measure how many you do every day.
  • When I measured how many articles I wrote each week, my output increased.

There are so many ways to simply and easily measure your progress towards your goals which is covered in more detail here  XXXXXXXXXXXX

What now:

There is a lot covered in this article.  I recommend just get started. Keep track of your progress and adjust things as you go along to ensure your success.

For more information on these steps, click below to receive access to the Six Step Goal Activation Plan.


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