“You don’t get what you want in life. You get what you schedule.” I will never forget the first time I heard this quote. It hit me like a ton of bricks and still rings true today. Because no matter how great your goals are, you will only meet them if you have a strategy for turning them into action items that you can schedule into your day. Keep reading to learn how to set goals you’ll actually hit – in three easy steps.
How to Set Goals Step One: Choosing Your Goals
Circle of Life Exercise
If you need help figuring out where to start, I recommend using this tool common in the health coaching space.
The Circle of Life is a great way to assess how you feel in 12 distinct areas of your life. In fact, I like to revisit it each quarter as I set my next set of goals. Here’s how to use it:
- For each of the 12 categories, rate on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied you are with each. If you give yourself a 1, place a dot at the center of the circle. Conversely, if you give yourself a 10, place a dot at the edge of the circle.
- Once you’ve rated yourself in each of the categories, connect the dots.
- Reflect on your circle. Is it actually a circle, or is it more of a star?
- Use this information to help you decide what goals you want to make to improve your less-satisfactory categories.
- Proceed to step 2 under the “Braindump Exercise” section.
For example, if my “education” and “home cooking” categories were rated lower than other categories, I could set a goal to enroll in a cooking class to learn how to cook more dinners at home.
As mentioned above, I like to revisit the Circle of Life exercise each quarter. It is surprising how our satisfaction with these categories can shift over time.
If you already have some ideas of goals you’d like to set, you may not need to use the Circle of Life to help you. If that’s the case, or if you have a particular area of your life where you’d like to focus, follow these steps:
- Thinking about the next 12 months, list all the things you’d like to accomplish. If you already have goals in mind, list them here. Be sure not to censor yourself – let your mind flow and put everything down on paper.
- Group similar goals together. Look for themes, patterns, or overlaps.
- Narrow the list down to 10-12 total goals.
How to Set Goals Step 2: Make Them SMARTER
If you’ve been around the goal-setting world for a while, you may be familiar with the “SMART” goal framework. More recently, I learned the “SMARTER” framework, and it makes how to set goals a whole lot easier. So what is the “SMARTER” framework?
Your goal needs to be specific and spell out precisely what you want to accomplish. “I want to read more” is not a specific goal, but “I want to read one new book a month” is.
How will you know when you’ve hit your goal? You need something to measure it by. “I want to get healthy” is not only not a specific goal, but also how will you know when you’re “healthy”? What does healthy mean to you? “I want to drink half my body weight in water every day” is both specific and measurable.
Your goal needs to be something you can control and take action on. Your goal shouldn’t be a feeling but the actions that lead you to a feeling. “I want to feel financially secure” is not an actionable goal. Figure out what it will take to feel financially secure, and make that your goal. An actionable goal could be “I want to have three months of living expenses in my emergency savings account by June.”
Your goal should be something that you have yet to accomplish or become consistent with, but at the same time, it should be doable. If saving three months in your savings account means you have to change your lifestyle so drastically that you can’t pay your rent or mortgage – that’s too risky. But if it means you get takeout fewer times a week – that’s appropriately risky.
You need to have a date that you will start your goal, accomplish your goal, or a frequency with which you do your new goal – this is part of what makes a goal measurable. The example above: “I want to have three months of living expenses in my emergency savings account by June,” the “by June” makes this time-keyed.
Your goals shouldn’t bum you out; conversely, they should excite you! To do this, take time to associate your goal with the feeling you’ll have when you hit it. Admittedly, not many people get excited about saving money, but when you tie the act of saving to the feeling of financial security (or that trip you’ve been dreaming about), skipping takeout gets a whole lot more exciting.
The last step in setting goals you’ll be able to hit is to make the goal relevant to your current lifestyle. Also, realize it’s okay to change your goals throughout the year. In January, you may set a goal you want to accomplish over the summer, but when June and July roll around, that’s no longer a priority for you. Guess what? That’s okay! This is your life, and these are your goals. You get to decide what’s important and when to tackle your goals. Another example of keeping goals relevant is that you may have a goal at the beginning of the year to “drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.” By June, this may have become a consistent habit you no longer need to have listed as a goal because it has become part of your new lifestyle. Congrats! You now have room to take on a new goal.
How to Set Goals Step 3: Assign No More than 2 to 3 Goals per Quarter
Wait, only two to three goals per quarter? Yep. The final step to setting goals you’ll hit is focusing your energy on only a few goals at once. You will break these quarterly goals into monthly, weekly, and daily action items. If you have too many goals at a time, you end up feeling overwhelmed and hitting none.
Some goals will have a deadline; once you hit it, you can move on to another one. We call these achievement goals. You’ll recognize these goals because they will have a date listed that you want to accomplish them by (because you made them measurable and time keyed). Sometimes these goals will repeat throughout the year because it’s a goal you want to hit multiple times. That’s totally fine.
Other goals are new habits you’re looking to adopt, and you need to list them as a goal so that you focus on the necessary action to hit them. We call these habit goals. You’ll recognize these goals because they will have a frequency that you want to do them. Examples we have discussed here have been: “I want to read one new book a week” and “I want to drink half my body weight in water every day.” Sometimes you will repeat these goals for multiple quarters because it takes that long to make it into your new lifestyle. Again, that’s okay! But once these new habit goals become your new routine, remove them as a goal and bring in another one from the list you created when we started this process.
How to Set Goals: Putting it All into Action
Once you have your goals for each quarter, the next step is to break them down into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks. Depending on the goal, it may not be realistic to think that you’ll be able to work on it every single day. But taking a larger goal and breaking it down into smaller, actionable tasks that you can schedule into your life is the key. The more action you take towards your goal, the more successful you will be. And once you hit that goal, it’s time to find a new one for next quarter! Go back to your original list and decide which one you want to conquer next. And don’t forget to take some time to celebrate your accomplishment and acknowledge your hard work. Staying committed to hitting goals is simple but not easy. So be sure to take time to celebrate!