The Ultimate Resource Guide to Goal Setting
What you'll learn in this guide
We've curated the very best information on goal-setting that exists, and laid out a scientifically proven formula for getting the best results out of your goals. From S.M.A.R.T. goals, to the science behind sharing goals – to the best Goal setting apps, goal setting software, and goal-setting templates. This is the best guide and resource tool kit on goal-setting on the internet.
Setting goals can be fun! And having the best information available about goal-setting will help you have fun while getting your ideal life envisioned, getting your plan set for the next steps towards your goals, and some information about how to keep yourself accountable.
Why is Setting Goals Important?
Setting goals keeps us moving forward in both our individual work and personal lives. The significance of goal setting and the knowledge around implementing manageable goals is imperative to achieving your desired lifestyle.
Any planning you do for the future can be considered a goal. It may be that you’re looking to get a promotion, land your first job, exercise or read more – no matter what it is, developing a course of action will be a deciding factor in your success or failure. With proper goal-setting, you will boost your chance of achieving your goals, big and small.
Let’s take a look at your personal life. In which ways do you want to improve?
Making Goals About Your Ideal Life, Not Just Productivity
The initial step in setting personal goals is to analyze your current lifestyle and consider what you want to achieve in your lifetime. Setting lifetime goals provides an overarching perspective that molds the other aspects of your decision making. Here is a high-level overview of the goal setting process:
Writing down a “big picture” of what you want to do or achieve in your life, in ten year intervals. Pinpointing your ideal life in terms of high-level, large-scale goals.
Breaking those down into smaller targets to support those larger goals.
Organizing your plan and working toward achieving those goals.
When setting lifetime goals, you should start big and then drill down to the things that you can do within any timeline, whether 30 years down the road, or one month. Your ideal life is obtainable if you set intelligent and manageable goals. A good place to start is to consider the areas of your life you are seeking to improve.
When setting a goal, which area of your life is most important to you? Consider the following categories and brainstorm on some of these questions:
Key questions to ask while goal setting:
- Career: What do you want to achieve in your career? Are you looking for your first job or interview? Are you searching to move up the ladder at your current employer? Perhaps you value your freedom more than work and want to find a job that allows for better work-life balance. From 401k plans to health insurance benefits and more, there are plenty of goals to work towards in this category.
- Financial: What level salary or rate of financial growth do you want to earn and by when? Are you a saver or a spender? Do you support a family and is that something you’re working toward supporting? This category is heavily tied to your career goals, if money is important to you.
- Family: Are you a parent or single? Do you value long-term relationships and have the capacity for a significant other? Setting goals within this category will help with your overall esteem and happiness for you and those people that are important to you.
- Physical: Do you want to lose weight, or just get in better shape overall? Do you like sports and are you competitive?
- Educational: Are you searching for an ivy-league education, or are you more interested in an economically-efficient trade school? Are you searching to advance a career by going back to school for a second degree?
- Emotional: Is there any part of your mindset that’s holding you back from being your best self? How does that affect you and your ability to stick to a plan and solve problems? Reflecting on your personality and characteristics will let you identify potential pitfalls in your quest to improve your productivity.
- Pleasureable: How do you want to enjoy yourself? Will it require money, such as a vacation or an expensive hobby? Or, do you prefer a modest, quiet weekend lounging at home? You should never forget the value of proper relaxation to maintain your life’s balance.
- Public service: In which ways can you give back to the community? How can you inject your version of change into the world to improve your life and the lives of others? Many good things can come from this category such as improved self-esteem, work experience and a better sense of purpose.
Now that we’ve defined goals and explored some of the areas of your life that they may apply to, let’s discuss implementing a SMART, effective goal.
What Is A SMART Goal?
A useful way of making goals more powerful is to follow the SMART mnemonic. SMART is a simple goal-setting concept, and stands for:
Using SMART goals, you’re much more likely to set objectives that are realistic. It creates a sturdy platform from which to launch and hit whatever target you’re aiming at. For example, instead of having the goal, “I’m going to run a marathon,” apply the SMART goal, “I am going to train for the Chicago Marathon for four months and run the race in a time of four hours.” This a much more solidified proposal, rather than a lofty, picturesque idea. And when you achieve what it is you set out to do, it will feel that much better.
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty; it’s time to begin planning with a goal-setting process.
What Is A Process For Goal Setting?
We’ve defined SMART and what it means to have effective, purposeful goals, now let’s discuss a process for actually implementing a process for goal setting. There are five steps involved in implementing a goal-setting process.
Step 1: Define what it is you want.
The first step in the process for goal setting, is to gain a clearer picture about what it is you’d like to achieve. Remember, that the goal you set is only limited by your imagination – so dream big! Whether it’s within your career, financial, family, emotional or any of the other categories listed above, dig deeper into what is you want. Ask yourself these questions:
- Specifically, what do I want?
- When do I want to do it?
- Why do I want it?
- How will I achieve it?
- Who (or which resources) do I need to help me achieve it?
These questions will help you hone in on what goal will fit into your lifestyle for the better. You’ve undoubtedly set goals for yourself before, but have you ever started working towards something only to abandon it shortly thereafter? We’ve all been there. Write down the core principals of what, when, why, how and who, to set expectations in obtaining a goal. Recording these answers gives you a timeline and a roadmap to the destination, while also giving you a document to reflect upon when you come upon hardships. Only when you’ve answered these questions will you be in the necessary frame-of-mind to move mountains and bring your goal to life.
Step 2: Create Harmony
Now that you understand your specific goal, you need to align the goal with your values, beliefs, lifestyle, priorities, emotions and desired self identity. When your goals are in harmony with the other areas of your life or psyche, your goals will be much more attainable. The objective of this step is to make sure that the areas listed above are aligned with the goal that you’ve set out to achieve. To explore this possibility further, answer these questions:
- Does the goal match my core values?
- Do I truly believe I can achieve this goal?
- Does this goal fit into and support my current lifestyle?
- Are there any conflicts that detract from my ability to attain this goal?
- What priorities of mine do I need to adjust to make room for this goal?
- Are there any other goals I’m working towards that this will conflict with?
- Does this goal support the person that I want to become?
The fact is that unless your core values, beliefs, lifestyle, priorities, other goals, and your self ideals are aligned with this goal, then you’re likely to drift away from your goal’s plan. If there is no alignment, then you will simply not take the necessary actions to achieve this goal.
Step 3: Understand Consequences
Every action causes a reaction. You need to understand the consequences of both achieving your goal and failing in trying to reach your goal. These consequences can be helpful sometimes, and unhelpful other times. It will affect your life, and also the lives around you. Think about how your goals will impact other people, such as your parents, children or significant other. Ask yourself these questions to sort out how your potential actions in working towards a goal might cause positive or negative consequences:
- Who will potentially be affected by this goal?
- How will your relationships be affected by this goal?
- What do I like about my present lifestyle and what do I want changed?
- Would achieving this goal allow me to continue or stop these things?
- What are the consequences of not achieving this goal?
- What’s clearly at stake here?
- What could I miss out on or lose altogether?
- What could I potentially gain by achieving this goal?
- What will achieving this goal allow me to do for myself and others?
- How will it change me as a person?
Let’s say, for example, that you value time with your kids throughout the week. It’s a positive aspect of your life. Now, consider if pursuing this goal will allow you to keep this aspect of your life. You may need to make short-term sacrifices for potential long-term gains – ask yourself how far you’re willing to push this risk.
Typically when people set goals they get very excited about achieving them. However, they don’t consider in advance the sacrifices they will need to make to bring that goal to fruition. Then, while in the pursuit of this goal they give up very quickly because the time, cost and effort involved is just more than they can handle. And when things don’t pan out, they revert back to their old ways.
Step 4: Layout a Blueprint
Now, it’s time to start laying out a blueprint to assist you in making clearer the obstacles you might face and resources that you might need. Obstacles exist in many different forms, including knowledge, people, environment, beliefs, experience, psyche, emotions and more. It’s often challenging doing a thorough self-analysis to understand potential underlying weaknesses of the goal process, but it’s important. Pitfalls create doubt which transforms into indecision, and thus inaction. Being prepared for the inevitable obstacles will give you a better chance at success.
Without initially taking the time to reflect on what could potentially go wrong, you are ill-prepared to deal with any difficult situation that may arise. Ask yourself the following questions to begin drawing out a blueprint:
- What obstacles exist and how could they delay or halt my progress?
- How can I successfully work past these obstacles?
- What resources do I need to achieve my goal and how will I access them?
- What resources do I currently have that can help me achieve my goal?
Resources can come in the form of people, capital and support, among other things. You don’t necessarily need to have the skills to overcome a problem. All you need is the right connections to someone who can help you out. And that, of course, comes down to your level of resourcefulness.
Step 5: Make A Plan of Action
The last and final step in the goal setting process is developing an actionable plan for achieving your goal. Everything that you’ve learned in the previous four steps should be applied when you’re building your plan of action. In as much detail as possible, without getting bogged down, lay out the direction of your goal. The key takeaways should be milestones, the steps needed to get there and how you’re going to track progress and reward yourself to stay motivated.
Having all these elements in place is incredibly important for goal success. This brings up another question, however: What’s the best way to stay motivated once your goal’s action plan is, well, in action?
Scientific Goal Setting
There have been many studies on the effects of setting and following through on goals. According to recent research, “A review of both laboratory and field studies on the effects of setting goals when performing a task found that in 90 percent of the studies, specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than easy goals.” This supports step five, listed above. Having a detailed plan is much more likely to help you ultimately reach your goal.
You’re two to three times more likely to stick to your goals if you follow a plan. Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior. When these implementation intentions are achieved, it provides an action/reward response, which is an innate reason why people set and work towards goals.
The human brain is made up of a concoction of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters include two chemicals called serotonin, which affects your mood, and dopamine, which affects your motivation, attention span and pleasure receptors. In addition to mood, serotonin regulates memory, mood and behavior, which can affect your ability to achieve a goal. Similarly, dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, elevating our mood. Put simply, our brain makes us happy when we work towards our goals.
The science of goals is abundant, and the evidence shows that there’s a right way and wrong way to set goals. The science has even crossed over to social media and the role it plays in attaining goals, with studies giving us interesting insight.
How To Focus On Process More Than Outcomes
It seems like the best way to reach a desired result would be to focus on that result, try to move toward it, and judge each attempt by how closely you approximate it. But actually that approach is wrong. If you only focus on the results, and not on the process and techniques, you’re less likely to learn and be successful.
By default we tend to be forward-looking, goal-pursuing, results-focused. Why is that? Because we’re naturally inclined to be discontent with our present situation and are constantly striving for a better future. Because results are simpler to plan, measure and evaluate than processes. Because we’re worried that others will judge us based on the results of the goal, and that maybe we care too much what others think.
So how can you focus on process over outcome?
- Don’t pursue the rewards directly, trust that they will come. Focus on the process with diligence, and let the outcome take care of itself.
- Stop worrying about what others will think of you and your vision.
- Choose for yourself how to rate your performance. Rate yourself based on the effort, not the outcome. Don’t try to win today, try to become a winner. Determine what your best effort would look like, and then make it happen.
- Be aware of your performance, so you can learn to identify when bad results follow good processes, and vice-versa.
Why & How To Get Accountability
Accountability is very effective in accelerating your performance. When you connect with a coach or mentor, you can iron out the kinks in your action plan, develop a sure-fire winning strategy and execute with confidence, knowing that you’re being guided by someone who is invested in your goals.
Here are a few more reasons why you need accountability to help you achieve your goal:
- Assists in measuring your success and progress.
- Keeps you more engaged in the plan.
- Keeps you more responsible in the execution of the plan.
- Validates your thoughts, ideas and actions.
So how do you get accountability? The ideal way would be to find an accountability buddy who can help each other stay on track with the progression of your goals. Either a friend, boss or other professionally-based connection that understands your plan, what you’re working towards and why. With an accountability buddy, mentor or coach, you will accelerate your success and break through limitations. Whether it’s today or in the future, at some point you should consider getting assistance to truly reach a high-level of achievement with your goals.
Of course, if you don’t have a trustworthy accountability buddy, you can always try a mobile app to help you with goal setting.
The Very Best Goal-setting Apps
If you’re struggling to find an accountability buddy, there are tons of apps for both iPhone and Android. Check out some of these goal-setting apps to improve your goal setting:
Strides is easy-to-use and powerful. It can set up reminders so that you don’t forget to maintain the daily habits that support a larger goal. Sync Stride across your devices for seamless access to your data.
Available on iOS
Way of Life
Way of Life gives you plenty of charts and graphs of your progress. With daily reminders to input goal data, you’ll see visual representations of your goal progress.
Available on: iOS
GoalsOnTrack is a web-based and mobile app that helps users develop and stick to goals based on the concept of SMART goals. It offers offline tracking and a built-in journaling feature where you can get specific by writing in detail about your goals and progress.
Coach.Me offers personalized habit coaching and leadership coaching as a part of its services in addition to its free mobile app. Select a goal, track your progress, earn rewards for sticking with it and use the community aspect by getting involved and asking questions. If you really end up loving it, you can upgrade to hiring a real coach for as little as $15.
The Best Of Goal Setting Software
In the same vein as goal setting apps, goal setting software assists individuals and organizations in managing their progress. Here is some top-notch software that will assist you in your success:
Workboard is a solutions-based goal management software that provides clarity, alignment and engagement in goal-oriented efforts. In a centralized program, organizations can track all of their progress for seamless integration for any team. Find out more about Workboard here.
TINYpulse Perform™ helps you track employee performance in real-time with a research-backed approach. With a nice interface and integrated work station, TINYpulse keeps all your tasks in one location for easy access. Find out more about TINYpulse here.
Perdoo enables organizations to collaborate on their goals. Transparency on goals and their alignment helps to crowdsource knowledge, communicate the bigger picture and reach new levels of engagement. Find out more about Perdoo here.
BetterWorks promotes higher performance engagement that drive results. The company boasts that 95 percent of customers improve transparency, 92 percent increase alignment and 72 percent see higher employee engagement. Find out more about BetterWorks here.
The Best Productivity Apps
When working towards a goal, it’s important to improve productivity. Working smarter, not harder, can save precious time and resources. Here are some of the best apps to keep you productive:
OneNote is a virtual notebook in which you can write, type, and add images and clippings from websites you use. It is a note making app with lots of features, it saves the notes online so you can access them from anywhere, anytime. Write a to-do list, class notes, homework, a grocery list. And if you want to share your notes to anyone you can easily send them with your co-workers, friends and family.
Dropbox is a cloud storage platform where you can signup and store important files such as images and documents where they can be accessed from anywhere at anytime by anyone you wish. Images, videos and PDFs can be easily backed up and large files can also be transferred to anyone without the need of an email attachment. You can edit the documents right from your mobile device and then uploaded back to Dropbox. With a basic free account you get 2GB of storage, a premium account starts at $8.25 a month.
The official calendar app from Google lets you schedule your tasks more effectively with automation. With the new update you can add your goals in the calendar and will it automatically schedule the times for you throughout the whole week. You can also integrate the app with other calendar apps to get your all schedules in one place and adjust them accordingly.
Best Books On Goal Setting & Productivity
There’s a ton of books out there to help you out, as well. Here are the best books on goal setting and productivity:
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
A classic in productivity if ever there was one. Everybody from Presidents to CEOs to college students use this book to organize themselves and stay on track doing what’s most important. This book provides a methodology for both life and work goals.
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller
Keller’s premise is that we work on too many things at once. We would get significantly more done, with less effort, if we reduce the number of things we focus on – preferably down to just one thing. So, instead of measuring our productivity by the number of things accomplished, Keller prompts us to focus on the one thing that will most greatly impact our day, week, month or life.
Good To Great, by Jim Collins
Not every business is inherently destined for greatness. For those who aren’t, Collins shares how you can take your business from good to great. By taking the combined successful strategies of 28 great companies, Collins gives you what you need to reach your goals and take your business to the next level.
Awaken The Giant Within, by Anthony Robbins
Awaken the Giant Within is all about taking control of your life, of your abilities, and of your destiny. Robbins is renowned for his motivational and uplifting messages, and has been a life coach to some of the world’s foremost success stories, including Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey.
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get It, by Kelly McGonigal
This book puts a different spin on productivity and explains the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve health, happiness and – of course – productivity. McGonigal explains exactly what willpower is, how it works and why it matters. She also gives you tips and exercises on improving your self-discipline and willpower. There’s also a related 10-week course if you want to extend what you’ve learned in the book.
How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
Highly anecdotal with a litany of true tales, Carnegie gives us timeless advice that serves as the framework for all successes. If you’re going to be successful, you have to learn how to communicate effectively and how to lead respectably. Through this quick read you’ll learn how to win friends and influence people, helping you reach your goals and achieve success along the way.
TL;DR 10 Takeaways From This Guide
Goals are incredibly important to happiness and success in many different areas of your life, whether you’re focused on career, family, education or exercise. Using the right goal-setting process will help you zone in on specific actions that you need to take to achieve those goals. No goal is too outlandish with the right methodology in place – and if you ever need help along the way, this guide is always be here for your reference.
In summary, here are the 10 takeaways from this guide:
- Know the basics: Your ideal life is obtainable if you set intelligent and manageable goals.
- Stay SMART: Remember the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) mnemonic when crafting your goal’s vision.
- Be time conscious: Set a timeline and deadline for your goal to ensure that you’re staying on track.
- Analyze your lifestyle: Align your lifestyle with your proposed goal to understand your weaknesses and strengths.
- Know where you’re going: Make an action plan that lays out a roadmap so you can reach your destination.
- Read the research: There are tons of studies about how and why goals are important. Stay up-to-date with the latest scientific research to understand new and cutting-edge goal setting techniques.
- Know the do’s and don’ts of social media: try not to boast or brag on social media about your goals. It could harm you or your brand and end up diminishing your success.
- Focus on process, not outcomes: It’s easy to imagine a fairytale outcome, but stay steadfast throughout the process so you can actually achieve the goal.
- Don’t be afraid to get an accountability buddy, or at least an app or software, to help you and your organization stay ahead of the curve manage and track progress.
- Knowledge is power: Educating yourself on goal-setting, developing good work habits and boosting productivity will help you gain an edge in achieving your goal; read about goals as much as possible.
- The goal you set is only limited by your imagination – so dream big!