How to Set and Achieve Your Goals

How to Set and Achieve Your Goals

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I've often wondered why some people can go about setting goals for themselves and achieving them quickly while so many others seem to struggle to work on them. 

I’ve worked with several leaders and their teams to boost their efficiency and productivity. 

From my experience with them, I’ve realized that anyone can achieve goals. They only require two things: clarity and a plan. 

These work in tandem and one without the other is useless. 

Those who don't achieve their goals often don't have goals, they have wishes dressed up as goals. They also fail to make plans to achieve their goals. These issues completely derail their attempts to make progress towards attaining their goals.

This is why I created Goal Sprint, seven days to clear achievable goals.  In this course, I will help you identify, clarify, and achieve your big picture goals. I’ll explain the step-by-step process that you need to follow to complete your goals.

In this post, I’ll give you a sneak peek of the topics we’ll touch upon in the course.

setting goals for yourself requires planning and a desired outcome (much like a game of darts!)

Achieving Your Stretch Goals

This is the first part of Goal Sprint: 7 Days to Clear Achievable Goals, should you want to complete the course, you can take the course here.

Let's talk about your big picture of success.

What does that look like to you? When I say that, I want you to think long-term. 

Think it over, what can you achieve in a year? Which goals do you want to fulfill in the next 5 to 10 years? 

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and they underestimate what they can do in 10 years. - Bill Gates

I want you to read the quote above carefully and absorb it. Keep this in mind while you are setting goals for yourself. 

We often try to cram too many goals together and want to achieve them all in 12 months. By trying (and often failing) to achieve so many big goals in a year, we condition ourselves that we can't make progress or achieve our goals.

And the thing is, we'll still be here after 5 or 10 years. So, you can start setting goals for yourself that stretch that far into the future. 

Thinking long-term can help you channel your efforts better. 

Plus, your short-term decisions will be dependent on your long-term goals. If you know what you want to achieve in the long-term, you will be able to get more clarity on what to do in the near future.

Achieving goals is easier if you have a clear idea of what you want to work towards and in what time-frame.

If you’re an executive and want to lead your company successfully, it’s essential to have realistic goals. 

I work one-on-one with leaders and executives to help them achieve their personal and professional goals through my executive and leadership coaching.

stretch goals

I can also help you get clarity with your goals and accomplishing your vision. 

To get started, let’s discuss the basics.

What is a goal? 

When I ask this question in a room full of leaders and business people, I usually get blank stares or bits and pieces of an answer. 

But this is because most people think they know what goals are, but only partially.

That's why I want to start this conversation with the definition of goals.

A goal is a desired, aspirational, important, verifiable, time-bound future outcome that a person or group commits to plan and to achieve.

With this definition, we can already see where many of the goals that we think we had in mind, don’t make the cut. Maybe they are not time-bound or verifiable. 

But these characteristics are important because they enable you to track your progress and be mindful of the finish line. When you have a specific deadline, it keeps you focused. 

It’s also essential to set important and motivational goals so that you’ll want to work hard to achieve them. 

When it comes to goals, these are the two keywords you should know — Commitment and Planning.

When you choose a goal to achieve, you will have to give up on other things that take up your time. There will be sacrifices, so you need to be able to commit to your goal.

Plus, you’ll need maybe months or even years to achieve a specific goal. If you’re serious about attaining them, you’ll need to stay committed throughout the process.

The next important piece of the puzzle here is planning. Without a clear plan in place, everything you're working on related to your goals is just a waste of time.

Effective planning can help you pave a smooth path to achieve your goals while staying focused.

In my opinion, the goals that you are committed to and the ones that you plan for will ultimately make you more productive.

Goals And GPS 

If you think about it, goals are closely related to GPS. Essentially, they are destinations that you want to reach.

Your GPS, too, doesn't work well without destinations. Until you give it a destination, your GPS app is entirely useless. As soon as you enter a destination, the app tells you how long it's going to take you to get to where you want to go. It gives you the exact

And guess what, neither do you.

When you set clear goals, you know what you need to do next and the direction you are headed towards. 

However, if they’re unclear, your next steps are going to be inexact. In such a situation, you risk losing time going in circles or not moving at all.

It also tells you how many turns there'll be and let you know how many feet you have to go on this street before your next turn. Additionally, it will help you avoid traffic.

Even if you get stuck, it will estimate how long it's going to take you to stay in traffic before you get to your destination. 

Your GPS doesn’t say that you’ve arrived until you reach the final destination. And then it just goes back to being dormant again because it only works when it has a destination.

The entire process is definite.

This is exactly how your goals are supposed to guide you

goals guide

Image via Pexels

Think of your goals as destinations. They are milestones you need to achieve to create that big picture vision.

Setting goals for yourself can be overwhelming, I know, and it can lead to what I call goal confusion. 

So, let’s take a look at some examples of how to set a goal and achieve it.

Setting Goals for yourself: A few Examples

It’s obvious that you need to have goals in mind in order to achieve them. As we discussed earlier, many goals may be unclear, confusing, or contradictory in nature.

I want to remove any scope of doubt in your mind. So, let’s talk about some things that people confuse with goals.

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes, so let’s clear the air. 

Goals versus Wishes

Goals and wishes are similar, but not the same.

Here’s how they differ:

Goals are outcomes that people want to achieve. On the other hand, wishes lean more towards hopeful thinking and fairy dust. They're thoughts and intentions without any urgency or action.

Let me explain the difference with an example:

Goal: I will pay off $27,000 of credit card debt by [date].

That is a solid goal, right? It's something you would want to do. It's evident. There is a specific timeline to pay off  the $27,000 of credit card debt. It's also clear that you’ve not accumulated student loan debt or mortgage debt. 

All the details are clear.

You know the exact date by when you want to pay off your credit card debt. You can tick it off when you accomplish it because you know when you've achieved it.

Wish: I want to pay off my credit card debt this year.

That's something you could say pretty much any year. That's something most people say every year, and it never gets done. 


Because it's a wish, not a goal. 

It's not actionable or time-bound and you don’t know how to achieve it. None of the details are mentioned. How much do you want to pay off? What year is that? 

These answers are missing because we aren’t asking the right questions.

This resolution is probably something you said last year. If you said it last year, then you meant it last year, and that's what happens. 

Wishes are good intentions. 

They sound good. They are things we know we should say.

But they are things that we never get clear enough to achieve. 

They never crystallize in our minds enough to take action, and that's why wishes are terrible because they often masquerade as goals.

Goals Versus Tasks

Just like wishes, tasks are often seen as goals. 

But how to tell them apart?

Goals are forward-looking and big picture things, right? A goal is an overarching outcome you're trying to achieve. Tasks, on the other hand, are often simple to-do list items.

Here's an easy way to tell the difference. If you can check something off in an afternoon or 20 minutes, it’s a task. 

It was never a goal. Goals are more long-term and require more planning, effort, and time.

Again, let’s look at an example.

Goal: Climb Everest by September of whatever year. 

That's the goal. Get to the top of the world by September of [year]. 

Task: Read a blog post on the best ways to prepare for an Everest ascent. 

Two different things, right? 

A task will take you about 15 minutes and probably provide you some information to learn.

Multiple tasks can help you achieve your goal, but they are not the same thing.

Remember, if you can check it off quickly, it's a task; it's not a goal.

Goals Versus Projects

Next, let's look at projects versus goals. At a first glance, they can seem pretty alike. Well, they are not.

Goals set the direction for your projects, but projects are the steps you take to achieve goals.

An example should be able to explain the difference more clearly:

Goal: I will create and sell a course by [date].

Project: Research the best platforms or plugins for online course creation and distribution. 

As you can see here, the project is going to help you achieve the goal.

goals vs projects

Image via Pexels

When you know which platforms and plugins are best for online course creation and distribution, you’ll be closer to achieving your goal.

It’s one solved piece of the puzzle.

When you start at the top, you’re looking at the big picture and setting goals for yourself. Fundamentally, they are the milestones that help you achieve that big picture vision of success.

But on the way, projects help you support these goals. A smaller subset of these projects is tasks. 

That’s how all the three — projects, tasks, and goals are interconnected. If you want to achieve your goals successfully, you will need to work on all of them strategically.

They are important to work towards your bigger vision. Projects and tasks break goals into manageable steps.

Wishes, on the other hand, are not comparable to goals. When people say things like, “I want to get promoted” or “I want to be happy,” they are only listing down what they hope to happen.

If you treat wishes as goals, you’ll struggle to see any tangible progress and move ahead. 

What’s more? 

They're not clear or specific enough to achieve. 

There's nothing here that you can dig your teeth into and say, "I want to achieve that because... wait, what does happiness even mean?" 

Happiness can look different every single day.

Similarly, what does getting promoted mean? 

To what position and in what company? You need to be more specific.

(On a side note, if getting promoted is on your goal list, check out my Amazon #1 Best Seller PROMOTABLE.)

Now that you have a better idea of what goals are, you can learn more about goal setting here.

New Year's Resolutions And You

Every New Year,  everyone is thinking, talking, and posting about their New Year's Resolutions using hashtags such as #newyearnewme #goals.

We write blog posts about them and post them on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. But unfortunately, the only thing we don't do is achieve them. 

I'm glad they're called New Year's resolutions because they are not goals. They're resolutions. And a resolution means you say you are going to do something. 

That’s all.

There is no planning or commitment involved.

Unfortunately, for most people, they never get past the talking phase. But ultimately, those things never get done.  

While growing up, I knew someone who had the same New Year's resolution every single year. 

It became a running joke, and they were in on the joke, so it was no problem. To this day, that resolution stands undone.

It has been decades.

new year goal

Image via Pexels

New year's resolutions such as the ones below aren't goals.

  • This year I'm going to eat more healthily. #fitandfabulous
  • This year I'm going to call my parents more. #familymatters
  • This year, I'm going to be more open. #theyearofme
  • This year I'm going to go to the gym seven days a week. #gymrat4life

Honestly, only that last one is close to being a goal, but it's not quite there. That's why New Year's resolutions can be deceptive because they seem like goals, but they're not.

And that's why most people throw their New Year's resolutions out the door often by mid-February. 

What this means is that these weren't that important from the beginning. 

If they were important, they would have kept up with them; and would have made a plan and stuck with them.

So what I want you to see is: 

New Year's resolutions aren't goals.

Why New Year's Resolutions Are Terrible

I believe that New Year’s resolutions often do more harm than good. One of the problems is that you're only thinking about making a change in your life once a year. 

We need to be thinking about our lives more often than once a year, and not just during the holidays when you're already preoccupied with vacation, travel, family, and food.

We end up just throwing together some slapdash resolutions that, more often than not, we already know we're never going to achieve.

I was conducting a workshop on goals, and I brought this topic up about how New Year’s resolutions are thrown away in a month or two.  

One person shouted out, "if they last that long." Seems like it’s something we all understand deep down, doesn’t it?

4 Reasons New Year's Resolutions are Terrible

We don't believe we will accomplish them, but we say them anyway, and that's bad for a few reasons: New Year's resolutions set you up to think about change only once a year.

  1. New Year's resolutions set you up for failure because there’s no commitment, no plan, no specificity.
  2. New Year's resolutions condition you to believe you can't make progress. Because year after year, you try, then you fail. 
  3. New Year's resolutions can lead you down the path to even worse habits because you've reinforced the belief that you can't do it. You can't do better anyway. You can't achieve the goal. So why fight it?
  4. New Year's resolutions finally kick off a cycle of cynicism and shame where you become less and less engaged in your success.

Because, if you don't believe you can achieve your goals, you never will.

Achieving your goals requires trust in your capabilities. You need to believe that you can achieve them. If you are conditioned to believe that you can't change, you probably won’t. You can’t be thinking that you are not good enough to stick to your word.

New Year’s resolutions can make you think in that direction, and that’s why I don’t like them.

So are New Year’s resolutions a love it or leave it? For me, they definitely give a “leave it” vibe. If you ask me, I’d say throw them in the middle of a field and set them on fire. 

I wish we never had New Year's resolutions. I wish we used the term, “ New Year's goals.” 

That way, we would have something a little more tangible to work on. 

But even then, I think looking at your life and changing your life and behaviors only once a year is a way too little input to bring about any significant difference.

You've Achieved All Your Goals

Okay, let’s talk about the bigger picture. 

Say, you’ve achieved all the goals you set.  You deserve an achievement award. Congratulations. You earned it. You are a model citizen.

You're someone that people admire. You're someone that people want to be like; they want to emulate you. They are looking at you saying, "Wow, if my life is only half as successful as yours was, then guess what? I will be great."

So here are 3 of the 11  questions I share in the course.

  • What are people saying about you at your award ceremony? 
  • How would you want them to describe you?
  • What stories are they telling about you that are like, yeah, that's so you?

These questions are fundamental to clarifying your big picture vision of success.

Think about it from all of those areas. And here's the key. You get to choose the narrative. You’re in control.

So, choose wisely.

Very wisely.

Before you start working on your goals, I want you to keep the big picture in mind. I want you to think about the awards you get and the way you are remembered.

Think macro.

Don't limit yourself to what you're doing now. I want you to push yourself a little bit into that realm where you can stretch your goals and imagination.

Your biggest successes lie just a little bit beyond your grasp and that's where your greatest achievements are waiting for you to find them.

Still aren’t sure how to start setting goals for yourself and achieve them?  

Take my all-in-one Goal Sprint course and learn to set goals with ease in SEVEN days.

Setting Your Goals For 1, 5 & 10 Years

Goal setting first requires you to identify a few goals that you want to pursue. Think about how you can get that lifetime achievement award on stage. What do you need to do to make that ceremony happen?  

That’ll give you a better idea of the goals you need to prioritize. 

how to set goals

Image via Pexels

I realize that the award and the ceremony are only wishes in your mind. But if you introspect a bit, they will lead you to your goals.  

Once you have some goals in mind, note them down. Write out 20 or 30 of the things you would love to accomplish. 

If you come up with more, outstanding! 

What’s next?

I want you to go back to the list of goals and divide them into three categories: 1, 5, and 10-years.

Think about the time-frame that each goal will require to accomplish. Be realistic about the time-frame, don’t try to rush anything.

Next to each goal, write down the time-frame for it.

Let’s filter out the list further.

I want you to pick the one goal that’s the most important for each time period. 

So you get to pick 1-one year goal, 1-five year personal goal, and 1-ten year goal. 

Not sure how to choose? As yourself the following questions:

  • Which goals will move you toward your big picture of goals the fastest? 

  • Which goals do you want to accomplish and are willing to sacrifice to achieve?

By narrowing your list and focusing on three instead of 30 goals, you can fine-tune your focus.

What we're doing is we're now going from all the cool things in the world you could be doing to the three most important set goals for yourself that you actually want to accomplish. 

We're removing a lot of the overwhelming stuff that’s not important for the time-being.

This exercise can bring you more clarity. 

We're getting a lot more zoned in and specific about where you want to go and what you want to do with your life.

You’ve got three goals that you want to accomplish.

I want you to have some of those fantastic goals, spread out over one, five, and ten years because this is the way we move forward. 

Achieving your big goals begins with understanding what's most important to you.

Remember, if you’re leading a team, you must know what’s most important to you first. 

Only then will you be able to decide where and how to lead your team.

For more information on this, you can check out my course on leading high-performance teams.

Goal Achievement Plan

Your goal achievement plan has to be personalized because it's yours, it's not mine, it's yours. It reflects what you want to accomplish. 

By considering your lifetime achievement award ceremony, you were able to gain clarity on what you want to prioritize.

Based on that, you set goals for yourself that will help you make the award ceremony a reality.

You know the entire process.

Now it's up to you. 

Get to work and zero in on the 3 goals that are most important to you. 

Take time, write down all your wishes.

Don’t filter anything out.

Whether it's going back to school or starting a family, whatever it is, write it down, and give it a 1, 5, or 10-year time frame. 

I hope this guide on how to set goals for yourself and achieve them will help you plan out your goals well.

What big goals did you decide to tackle over the next 1, 5, and 10 years? Share yours below. I can't wait to see them in the comments.

BTW, this is the first part of Goal Sprint: 7 Days to Clear Achievable Goals. You can take the full course here.

Want me to talk to your team about goal setting? Hire me to speak now!

About the author 

Dr. David Arrington

David a husband, father and the principal of Arrington Coaching. He and his team work with leaders, teams, organizations, and entrepreneurs. He regularly speaks and writes on leadership development, team alignment, and peak performance.

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