I have a big confession to make, and it might be a little mind blowing… I used to hate goals. I know, right? How can someone who’s expertise is on this very thing even be able to say something like that?!
Let me take a step back for a minute and explain. My first real introduction to goal setting was early on in my 10 year career in the corporate world. Basically, I was given a template to set goals that I didn’t have a lot of control over, but made some nice looking charts and that was about it. The personal connection, meaning, or motivation to achieve this goal was either in exchange for a small raise, or more set out of fear of losing your job. You can probably see why I wasn’t leaping out of bed to achieve these so called “goals” at the time.
As someone that tends to be more externally motivated, achieving goals was great for my ego and a little pat on the back to ensure I was doing everything right in my job, and that was about it. I soon began to see goal setting as a meaningless activity that took up valuable time I could have been spending elsewhere.
When I entered into entrepreneurship, I remember hearing my first business podcast about goal setting and cringing. I couldn’t understand why someone who had full control over their business and time would choose to spend it on such a meaningless, time consuming, task.
Although skeptical, I jumped into goal setting for my new business, and unfortunately, it wasn’t much better of an experience. I followed the advice that your goals needed to scare you. “Take your original goal and multiply it by 10! THAT’s what your goal should be.” and I did it. I set a goal that in my head, I told myself before I even went after it that there was absolutely no way I was going to achieve it. It ended up being a completely defeating experience and as a result, I lost a lot of belief in myself and my business along the way.
I had resolved to never setting goals again. There was a time that I truly believed that as long as I was giving it my all and giving it my best effort, that was enough.
All of that changed when I entered the Mayo Clinic coaching training program. I saw how something I once saw as a defeating activity could be a powerful tool for building confidence and belief in a person’s own ability to achieve something. I saw how it was a tool to help amplify motivation and excitement towards a bigger vision. And I learned how, when used correctly, goals can help you create serious momentum in turning your dream into reality.
When set up the right way, goals can make a huge impact in your overall success, whether it’s for a health goal, a fitness goal, a life goal, or a business goal.
Personally, I’ve seen goal setting take clients from completely stuck and overwhelmed to extremely excited and re-energized to take on what they want most in life. I have seen clients lose large amounts of weight, leave dead end jobs, revive friendships, and total life transformations that wouldn’t have been possible without the proper goal setting. I’ve even seen the effect successful goal setting has had on my own business. Transforming it from a hobby to a full-time, income producing, business.
But, you don’t just have to take my word for it, a Harvard Business study reported some pretty convincing statistics relating to goal setting and success.
- 83% of the population do not have goals
- 14% have a plan in mind, but goals are unwritten
- 3% have goals written down
The study found that the 14% who have goals are 10 times more successful than those without goals. The 3% with written goals are 3 times more successful than the 14% with unwritten goals.
Not only does setting goals set you up for more success, you become exponentially more successful in regards to the amount of time you put in to them and whether or not your write them down.
After coaching hundreds of people through goal setting, I’ve seen how that statistic more than speaks for itself. Goals are your foundation to success. And although my introduction to goals was unfortunate, it’s allowed me to leverage my experience and make sure no one else endures the agony of ineffective goal setting strategies.
That’s why I’ve created this ultimate guide where I’ve taken everything I’ve learned from my training as a Mayo Clinic trained coach and put it into an easy to follow, step-by-step process. I’m going to teach you everything you need to know when it comes to successful goal setting and how to create a well structured, fail-proof goal that will not only keep you motivated from beginning to end, but also help you build confidence in your ability to achieve success in any area you choose.
"Goals Are Your Foundation to Success."
Zig Ziglar may have said it best himself,
“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”
So, if you are new to setting goals, or you’ve tried it before and walked away with a less than favorable experience, it’s worth your time to slow down and set yourself up for success. Follow these steps, in order, complete them at 100% effort, write them down (of course!), and you’ll be amazed by what you truly can accomplish. So grab a notebook, or grab a copy of my free Goal Planning Success Roadmap, and a pen and let’s get started:
1. Start with a Desire for Difference
When I have an initial conversation with a potential client, it usually starts with me asking them, “so what made you decide to schedule a call with me?”. This isn’t just small talk, it’s actually to get some very valuable information from them. To determine if they are even ready to set a goal.
If someone says, “I have to lose 30 lbs because I hate being so tired all the time and I’m tired of putting everything else before my own needs.”, that’s a much different overall conversation than someone that says, “I dunno. My husband says he’s concerned about my health and thinks that talking to a coach would help.”
In order for a goal to be effective, you need to start by acknowledging the change you want to make. It’s usually accompanied by phrases like,
- “I need to… “
- “I want to… “
- “I have to…”
Believe it or not, this is where a lot of people might think they’ve already a created a goal, but in reality, they’ve barely just started. This reason, alone, is why so many goals fail.
So, before you do anything else, decide what is you desire to change.
2. Understand Your Strengths
If you’re going to set up a goal that will actually result in success, it’s so important to take a few steps back and start from the beginning. I compare this step to painting a room. The best outcome will come from a room that’s been prepped with painter’s tape, a drop cloth, and investing in new, fresh paint brushes.
Anything big worth doing will have a required amount of prep. Strengths may seem unrelated to setting goals, but it’s actually a very important part of the process, so don’t skip it.
Make a list of your strengths –
If you’ve completed Strength Finders or a similar analysis, it will give you an accurate list of strengths to include for this process. However, even if you haven’t invested in a test like this, brainstorm a list of your strongest assets or skills in relation to the statement you make in #1.
For instance, if you originally said you need to start working out again, it will be helpful to note if you’re an extrovert or introvert, which will help you determine whether or not group fitness classes might be a good option for you later on in the process.
Make a list of the things you enjoy doing –
Looking at the previous example, if you’ve decided you need to you need to start working out, make a list of the workout activities you enjoy most.
Be honest on what you don’t like to do or what you’re not good at or where you need help
This is a time to get specific. The more you can differentiate your strengths from your opportunities and the things you enjoy over the things you don’t, the easier it will be later on.
Next, circle any items on the list that you wrote down for both strengths and things you enjoy. These hit a sweet spot for goal planning and you’ll want to come back to these later.
3. Get Clear on Your Motivation
Now that you have your desire to change and your strength outlined, you’re ready for your next step. Getting uber clear on why you want to make this change in the first place. Out of all the steps, this is the one that requires getting uncomfortable for some people because it can feel emotional, but just embrace it and I promise it will be well worth your time to creating a successful goal. So go ahead – put on some meditative music, grab your journal, and let’s get to work.
What Challenges are You Experiencing?
Put a timer on for 5 minutes and let your thoughts come to the paper (tip:I find I can get my thoughts out faster when I type, so I like to journal in a word doc. You can also use your voice recorder on your phone and talk it out, if that’s your thing).
Write down all the struggles and challenges you’re having right now because of this thing you want to change. For an example, if you’d like to lose weight, maybe it’s causing you to be low on energy or not able to keep up with your kids. This might get a little emotional, but that’s okay. Just allow yourself to go there for a few minutes.
Why would you want to make this change?
You might find yourself repeating what you said from the last question, but that only validates that it’s a good reason.
What are the 3 best reasons to make this change?
Again, the answers may sound similar to the prior questions, but you’ll be rewording them in a positive light. For example, if you’d like to lose weight and your initial reason is because you can’t keep up with your kids, this question will help you rephrase that answer to say, “I’ll be able to chase my kids around and have energy to play with them at the park”.
If you’re struggling to get to the root of your motivation with this step, that’s okay. Do your best to really dig deep, but this is one of the main reasons why working with a coach can be so beneficial. Well trained coaches know how to adjust questions and get you to find a deep inner motivation that you might not have even been aware of before. This is one of my favorite parts of the coaching process. Some people even refer to this as the “aha” moment, and it can take some deep work to get there. It’s not uncommon to spend an entire coaching session just on this part. So, when walking through it yourself, don’t be afraid to slow down and really reflect on these points.
4. Take a look at the past
You’ve officially passed the hardest parts of this process. For some, that won’t feel so bad, but for others, it might feel so difficult to complete that they think they can skip it. Do not skip step #3. If you did, go back and work on it before you move to this step.
Our past is often the best place to get clues for what will work best for us in the future. Look back on a time when you’ve tried to make a change like this in the past and answer these questions:
- What did you do before when trying to make this change?
- What worked? What didn’t work?
- What did you learn from that experience?
I once had a client who wanted to create a morning routine in order to help her be in a better mood throughout the day and become more productive. When we talked through this part together, she had tried to get up earlier before, but it never became a habit. She’d always find her warm bed more comforting and hit the snooze button until she turned it off and stopped waking up early. When we dug into what exactly she did in the past, she talked about how she would plan to workout in the morning, but when the time came, she really hated getting up early to workout. Her motivation around working out first thing in the morning wasn’t going to change, and it was causing her desire to create a morning routine to fall apart. What we found was that she had, in fact, had success in getting up early in the past, so we knew she was capable of doing so! But, what we also found out was that trying to workout first thing in the morning was detering her from continuing the routine, so we learned that starting her morning with something she was excited about and really enjoyed would likely be more successful.
You can run through this same scenario for yourself and come up with some great takeaways, however, this is another part where talking to a coach can have some major benefits. A trained coach will be able to look at the big picture and help you see some potential learnings from that experience that you didn’t notice.
5. Visualize the outcome
For some people this step is the most fun, especially if you consider yourself a “dreamer”.
When it comes to the topic of visualization, it may have been thought of more of a “woo woo” practice back in the day, but more and more studies have been done on the effects of visualization for outcomes, and it’s gained a lot of support, especially in the world of sports.
One of the most famous stories about visualization is Michael Phelps. Before every swim meet, he would put on his headphones and visualize himself nut just swimming in the pool, but winning the race. In fact, during an Olympic 200-meter race, Phelps got water in his goggles and couldn’t see for the last length of the race. However, he has practiced this race so many times in his head that he didn’t need to see to finish. Not only did he win the gold metal for that race, but he broke a world record. Phelps attributes his success in this moment to his visualization practices before every race and creating the ideal race scenario in his head every time. Pretty incredible.
If you’re not quite ready to take your visualization to the Olympic level, here are a few steps to getting started:
Write your visual description
You’re getting your money’s worth out of that notebook. It’s time to journal again, and visualize what your day and life will look like once you’ve successfully achieved your goal. Write it in the present tense, as if these things have already happened. Use phrases like, “I am” and “I have”.
Write a letter to yourself when you have achieved your goal
Write a letter to yourself as if you are writing it to someone you greatly respect. Write it as if your goal has been accomplished. What do you want to tell yourself in that moment? Are you proud? Excited? How is your life different? What is something you never want yourself to forget about this moment?
This letter will serve as a tool to help you stay motivated once you are ready to work on your goal, so be sure to keep it somewhere that’s easy to see so you can go back and read it when you need a little boost of motivation.
Create a vision board
It’s time to break out your crafty side and have some fun. Some people even love making this a party. Invite a few friends over who are working on their goals and create a vision board together.
If you’re not sure what a vision board is, search for some inspiration on Pinterest, which is full of vision board ideas. There’s no right or wrong way to make a vision board, as long as it gives you some visual reminders on what you life will look like once you’ve achieved your goal. For example, if your goal is to create more balance in your life and prioritize time for self-care, you might want to have a picture of someone getting a massage on the board, and someone in a yoga post. Maybe you’ll add some pictures of new workout clothes or a person finishing a marathon. Whatever your vision is for what life will look like, that’s what you’ll put on your board.
Vision boards can be on paper, or digitally made, but be sure it’s something you can print out. You’ll want to have a physical copy somewhere that you’ll see if several times everyday. Keeping your vision board in a place where you’ll see it often will keep your vision top of mind, kind of like how Phelps does his visualization right before each race.
If you’re thinking this step will take too much time, and you want to skip to the next step, don’t. Visualization is a critical part to the success of your goal, so pause here and make sure you complete this step before moving to the next one.
6. The actual goal setting part
PHEW! Can you believe it?! We’re actually to the step that most people jump right to without doing any of the previous steps. After completing the prior steps, you probably have a better understanding for why most people don’t follow through on their goals. They didn’t put in the work that you’ve just completed, which means you’re already doing a great job of setting yourself up for success!
- Make your goal SMART
Now that’s you’ve practically written an entire book about the change you want to make, creating a SMART goal will be simple!
A smart goal is a more formally written out goal that is:
Basically, your goal should be so clearly written that you can put a checkbox next to it and mark it once you’ve completed it. No gray area here!
If you need some help making your goal into a SMART goal, check out my goal planning roadmap, which will give you some simple steps to follow to transforming your goal into a SMART goal.
Ready to hear something funny? Those goals I talked about when I was working in the corporate world were SMART goals! Ha! Funny how this thing goes full circle, right!? . Anyways, once you’ve written out your SMART goal, you’re ready to break it down.
- Break it down into smaller milestones
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this big goal you’ve just created. Don’t panic. It’s time to work backwards and create some smaller milestones. Completing your goal over the course of small baby steps will lead not only to better follow through, but by giving yourself time to achieve your goal, it’s more likely to become a lasting habit since you’ve worked through ways to incorporate it into your lifestyle, instead of suddenly removing something in your life to make room for your goal.
Think of 3 – 4 milestones, or check in points you could create along the way. For instance, if you’re goal is to run a marathon, you’ll probably want to create a milestone about running a certain number of days a week or a specific small distance first and building your way up from there.
Once you’ve created 3-4 milestones, break those down into 3 actionable tasks you would need to take to achieve that milestone. Going back to our prior example of running a marathon, you may need to buy new shoes, run 3 days a week for the first month, and find a running buddy. Breaking it down into small bite sized tasks will take the overwhelm out of your goal quickly.
This is often where I see my clients asking for help in the beginning of the process, so we’ll work through this milestone and task process together. A coach will be able to take a step back from what you’re trying to accomplish and point out considerations you might have missed.
And there you have it – you now have a fully baked, well thought out and clearly defined goal that will set you up for success. Creating a goal like this can take time, but taking the time now to tap into your motivations, visualize your success and breakdown your steps will go a long way in your overall success.
Not sure what to do next?
Grab a copy of my free goal planning success road map that includes worksheets and questions to help you through these first 6 steps, and also includes additional sections on getting into action and not only achieving your goal, but turning it into part of your everyday life. The roadmap gives you the exact steps you need to follow in order to successfully achieve your goals so you can start living the life you deserve.
About the Author - Jen Wright
Jen Wright is a Mayo Clinic trained Wellness Coach, Certified Cycle Instructor, mom, and wife living in Minneapolis, MN. With over 10 years of experience in Marketing, Project Management and Leadership for corporations, Jen became passionate about helping others through their health and wellness journey after overcoming her own health challenges. Jen has since helped hundreds of others create healthier, happier and more fulfilled lives through her caring and strengths-driven approach to coaching.
For more wellness and success tips, follow The Driven Mama on Instagram: @TheDrivenMama