How To Set Goals: The Ultimate Guide

Goals: find them, make a list of them, and go out and crush them. OK cool, sounds easy enough. But look, we know that’s a big crock of crap. Crushing your goals is the stuff dreams are made of, but then we wake up to reality: we don’t have any goals. Whoops; that’s not good. Want some, though? You should, because goals keep us on track towards our vision. But how do you get them? Well, you probably typed into your favorite search engine “how to set goals” and here you are. I don’t blame you, it’s come down to internet research to find the right methods. Congratulations though, you’ve found (what I subjectively think is) a great guide. For the next few minutes, I want you to forget about what you know in regards to goal setting; toss stuff like the S.M.A.R.T. method out the window.

Goal Setting Technically Started Way Back…

I hold a soft spot in my heart for my kindergarten teacher. Bless her bigger-than-life heart, she wanted the best for me and the rest of the class. Every year, year after year, she’d poke and prod her class of tiny little humans to find out what we love. Mrs. Thompson, wherever you are, I want you to know you did your best. When it was my turn to partake in her kindergarten exercise, we were asked the million dollar question:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A million dollar question with an easy, billion dollar answer. It was almost like she was asking every one of us, “what is your ultimate goal in life?” Every kid, I swear every kid, was able to answer that shit almost immediately, including myself. I want to be an airline pilot, Mrs. Thompson!

These days, I’m scared of flying. How the fuck did that happen?

Well, at least she made us dream… and dream big we did. Nothing was off limits. Your kindergarten and elementary teachers were probably the same way like Mrs. Thompson. She had you fantasizing without a single worry about what life was really about. Then you grew up, and life started to suck. You lost sight of what you want out of life. Responsibilities and the desire to make money took over, the zest in your life disappeared, and you’re stuck putting out random fires on a daily basis. This sounds shitty and depressing because it is.

Goals are supposed to be the antithesis to that. The protagonist to their antagonist. They are supposed to be the list you turn to daily to keep you on track towards fulfilling the life you kinda want, not the one you kinda have. Yet who has an actual, physical copy of their goals — not just in your head?

It’s time to create the masterpiece, your individual canvas; something that will become a continual work of art. Ready to start moving towards your real talents, real purpose, and real passions? Here’s the ultimate “how to set goals” guide, the right way.

It encompasses five parts:

  1. Dreaming up your goals like a kid
  2. Assign your dreams some values
  3. Break them down into manageable chunks to turn them into goals
  4. Stay consistent with your goals
  5. Motivational reminders to continue forward

Mrs. Thompson, Mr. Perry, Mrs. Richards, or whoever your kindergarten teacher was, would be proud.

Dream Up Your Goals Like A Kid

There’s a couple things you need to put aside before you dream like a kid again:

  1. Your bullshit, because we all have it, and
  2. Your “let’s be realistic here” voice.

Got them on the sidelines? Ok great, now’s the time to flex those creative muscles. One more thing before you begin: whatever you write down isn’t going to be some defined path you need to follow. You also won’t need to follow it like it’s set in stone or it’s black & white. Just go with the flow here, and follow instructions for once — don’t try to be realistic. I know we’re all rebels inside, and we love to reject the rules — but follow along here.

Split your life into five categories:

  • Personal
  • Financial
  • Professional
  • Relationships
  • Health

For each of the above categories, spend about 10 minutes writing out everything you hope to achieve. Write down the short term goals and also the lifelong long term goals. Nothing is off limits. If something comes back to you at a later time, add it. But toss aside all distractions and really try to focus on them here. A quick note: don’t get too detailed for particular goals/achievements. For instance, if you’re describing that you want a house, keep it high level such as where and what size. Don’t talk about the interior colors and the trim, just that you want a house by the beach. Don’t we all, anyway?

Man sitting at sunset meditating on hill.
You don’t need to look like this to set your goals.

By the way, I honestly don’t care how outlandish a goal sounds, write it down. Having trouble getting started? Here are some examples of how to set goals:

Personal

Anything in regards to your personality, how you want others to perceive you, how many books you want to read, what knowledge you want to gain, what hobbies you want to pick up, where you want to travel, things you want to do in your lifetime (bucket lists), how many houses you want to own, and more.

Financial

Self explanatory. Do you want to make six-figures a year? Seven figures? $100 million in total assets? Own stocks? Reach $1 million in assets before you’re 40? Achieve six-figures in passive income? Own multiple rental properties?

Professional

Ahh, the million dollar question. What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime at your career? Want to own a business? Want to work for Amazon? (just be prepared for a cutthroat environment and a poor work-life balance). Want to achieve a great work-life balance at a job? Want to work super hard, save all your money living like a peasant, and retire at 40?

Relationships

This encompasses both personal, professional, and romantic. On the personal side, what kind of friends do you want? How many? On the professional side, what kind of networking do you hope to accomplish? Who do you want to know? On the romantic side, what kind of partner are you attracted to? What qualities do they possess?

Health

Want to work on your mobility? Want to gain muscle or lose fat? Want to pick up a sport, or some physical activity? Got a desire to eat healthier? Maybe eat less meat, or cut down on sugars? Or even carbs? (although there’s nothing better than water, flour, and yeast).

Assign “Values” To Each Goal

Now it’s time to get realistic with your potentially unrealistic goals. It’s time to start assessing how long you think each one would take. Think about each goal, and how long it would take to achieve it. Assign a value to it; in other words, the number of years you think it would take. Put your goals under each category in order, going from the long-term ones to the short-term ones.

You’re probably thinking you have no realistic idea how long a lot of goals would take to achieve and so you’re about to complain. Here’s a little secret: none of us know what we’re doing. Which means no one really knows how to set goals or how to assign values to goals. So just assign a value. Don’t get caught up in the details. I might have to repeat that one more time: don’t get caught up in the details. You’d probably win a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in “mastering details”. But this ain’t the Olympics.

We like progress, right? So far we’ve got a list of our goals, and the time it would take to complete each one. Now the real work begins.

Breaking Down Your Goals Into Manageable Chunks: What Can You Accomplish Now With Them?

The trick with goals is the fine art of breaking them down into smaller and smaller chunks, whereby it becomes a situation where you ask yourself the following:

“What can I do today to move me closer towards my goals?”

This question is something you should be asking yourself every morning. The problem is most goals that are 5, 10 or 20 years out seem impossible. But they really aren’t, I promise: you just make them. And by making them seem out of your reach, you’ve given up.

The ones you wrote down that you can accomplish within a year or so are a bit easier to manage. But the problem with a bunch of one year or less goals is that you want to attack them all. You’ll just overwhelm yourself, naturally.

I would start simple: choose one goal from each of the five categories that you claim you can knock out within a year, then formulate a way to break the goal down into manageable chunks — in other words, what can you do in the next six months to move you closer to accomplishing it? And from there, what can you do in the next three months? And from there, what can you do in the next month? And from there, you guessed it…what can you do in the next week? And last but not least, you’ll be able to answer what you can do with that goal today.

Then, spend a bit of time planning the new week, and how you can fit these things into your schedule. Because remember, it’s about what you can do today to move you closer to your goals. That’s really the gist of it, so it’s worth repeating another way:

What can you do in this moment to move you closer to your wants and desires?

Remember, what you do on a daily basis should be a mix of two things:

  1. What I call “real life”, or the things that require your attention which are a bunch of crap. Dealing with “fires” at the job, adulting crap like laundry and cleaning, and the stuff that makes you cringe like nails on a chalkboard: calling your insurance providers, etc., and
  2. Your short-term and long-term personal goals.

You should aim to have your goals severely outweigh “real life”. This won’t happen more than likely, but it’s a good thing to aim at. Why? Because it’s probably tipped the other way. At this point, you don’t have any sort of clear vision on your future. You don’t have a clear vision yet, at least; using this how to set goals guide, you can begin to reverse the damage.

Stay Consistent With Your Goals

Consistency is paramount.

It’s already a challenge how to set goals, but it’s a whole new ballgame to keep up with them on a weekly, monthly, yearly, and multiple years-long basis. Month after month, it’s tough to continually refine your goals to match where you are in life and what you want.

I know I’ve set goals and then walked away from them, or even gotten off track. Don’t fall into that trap. Again, don’t fall into that trap. Hard work has two parts: action and consistency. Action is good and beyond what most people do. Consistency is where the “actioners” fuck up.

You need to spend a significant amount of time refining and making sure you’re on track. You need to accomplish the mini sub-tasks for each goal that’ll put you on course towards the bigger one. If you’re on a deserted island and you want to eat fresh fish for dinner, you can’t cook shit until you actually build a fishing line, walk out to the water, stay patient and wait to catch a fish, start a fire to cook the fish, and then serve it.

Be consistent. Don’t just set goals and then miraculously expect them to come to fruition because of your mental will. Action. Baby steps. Movement. You need them all.

You Need An Injection of Motivation

I just spent the last few paragraphs hounding you to stay consistent. I get it, it’s hard. Really, really hard. So while self-discipline is paramount for anything in life, an injection of motivation definitely doesn’t hurt in your quest on how to set goals and stick with them.

Spend just a few minutes writing a paragraph about yourself in the 3rd person, something you’d see as a quick bio in a magazine or newspaper about you living the life you want. I know this sounds like a bunch of fuckery and pure cheese, but hear me out. This is purely for motivational purposes but it helps. Anytime you find yourself off track or feel like you’re getting off track, read it. Even if it’s been a few weeks sliding off your course, dig in and read it. Then consider where you currently are. In fact, I’d consider reading it every day. Let it fry into your brain that you deserve better.

The disconnect between where you are and what you wrote is where your goals come into play. Your goals, on top of your action and consistency, are all that’s standing between where you are and what you want.

Remember, nothing changes if nothing changes. Your life right now is the culmination of all the choices you’ve made in the past. If you want that to change, you’re going to need to saddle up, partner. Envision your future, write it out, give it a value (time) system, break it down into manageable chunks, and give yourself the motivation to keep going. It’s a five step process.

Step one could prove the most life-changing — it’s time to dream like a kid again.

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