How to Set Goals

How to set goals? Like all things, its actually quite simple – once you’ve done the ground work, which is:

  • Get the ‘Big-Picture’ first, and always keep your eye on it.
  • Work out what you REALLY want, not what you think you want.
  • Work out what you can realistically do and achieve.

These are the foundations or the ‘rocks’ of your goal setting process. They set the direction for your goals, so it’s really important to put the time into working them out properly. And they are unique to you, which is why only you can do it.

Once you’ve worked this out, you can prioritize and set your goals! You’ve probably heard of SMART Goals, well ours are SMARTer , which guarantees your goals contain all the necessary components to maximise your goal setting success.

Goal setting is of course an on-going and dynamic process. Your priorities and therefore your goals will change from time to time (for example if you start a family) and when this happens, it’s important to sit down and go through the goal setting process again.

Also as you grow older and mature, your motivators and drivers will change so on-going review is necessary to make sure your goals are still relevant to you.

What you want when you’re 20 will not be the same as what you want when you are 40. But armed with these skills, it is a tool for life – no matter what stage you’re at or how old you are.

Get the ‘Big-Picture’ first

The first and most important step in how to set goals - what is YOUR ‘Big-Picture’?

This is one of those philosophical questions that go in the same boat as “What’s the meaning of life?" and "Why are we here?”, and you may never be able to truly answer it for yourself.

But if you want to try to define it, your ‘big-picture’ is your one guiding principle, your shining light, that forms the basis for all your decisions and actions.

If you were a company, your ‘big-picture’ would be the Vision or Mission Statement.

So, it is a statement outlining an idealised description of your life’s outcome. It will inspire you and create your target. It can apply to different parts of your life – your family, your career – and it is the end target that you want to achieve, and where your goals need to take you.

To help you work out exactly what your ‘big-picture’ is, think about your tomb-stone. Macabre I know, but your tomb stone is a concise summary of your life – what you have achieved, and how people remember you.

How do you want to be remembered? Of course, you may want to be remembered in several ways – as a career woman, family man, skilled professional – there are many aspects of your life that you need to consider. Too much focus on one aspect of your life could leave you feeling empty in another.

The classic example here is people who focus too much on their career driven by ‘empty’ goals of power, ambition and making money, only to neglect their family. Most of these people when on their death bed wish that they had spent more time on the ‘important’ things in life – an indication that they didn’t get a handle on their personal ‘big-picture’.

It’s a question of balance, and you’re the only one who knows the perfect balance for you.

You may not be able to put your ‘big-picture’ in words, but try to visualize what your life would be like if it was perfect in every way - this is your ‘big-picture’, and your goal setting needs to reflect it.

This is critical for how to set goals.

So what do you really WANT?

Now that you have an eye on your ‘big-picture’, what do you REALLY want?

Remember that goals must be personal and meaningful, otherwise you’ll have no reason to achieve them. So you need to work out what YOU really want, not what other people think you want. This is the key to how to set goals.

The best way to work out what you really want is to brainstorm your thoughts to come up with a wish-list for each of your relevant life aspects. This is the chance for you to let loose by picturing your perfect life, and putting down in writing what that perfect life would look like.

Mind-Mapping is a great way to get to the heart of all your dreams and desires - just what you need for how to set goals.

What’s a Mind Map? It’s an attempt to de-jumble your mind into some logic, and allows you to set the scene for what you really want.

[Mind mapping has many uses - so it's a good skill to learn. Find out more under the 'Life Skills' tab on the NavBar under 'Decision Making and Problem Solving'.]

The importance to goal setting is that by using the Mind Mapping concept, you can cover all of your life aspects on the same piece of paper instead of traditional brainstorming where you’ll end up with a separate list for each life aspect you want to consider.

And since life aspects are heavily connected, using a Mind Map gives you a considerable advantage for how to set goals.

Personal Strategic Plan

The Personal Strategic Plan offered by GoalsGuy is a step-by–step program that leads you through the goal setting process, and delivers a strategic plan of attack for your to achieve YOUR goals. It is based on the premise that life will not go according to plan, if you do not have a plan to begin with. The Personal Strategic Plan also helps you identify what’s really important to YOU – and that’s what’s REALLY important.

So what can you really ACHIEVE?

The Mind Mapping process will give you a really good idea of what you really want, but in how to set goals you also need to know what can you really achieve?

Well, hypothetically, you can achieve anything you want to – but that’s not always the case. Resources, natural skill and ability, time – these all factor into whether we can achieve something or not.

The aim of goal setting is to set achievable goals, even if that means taking a larger goal or dream and breaking it down into bite-size chunks.

A personal SWOT analysis is a great way to work this out – it’s a detailed look at you and your life and will help you identify the most beneficial goals worth pursuing right now based on your current situation, and to identify goals that will help you prepare for the future.

For the purposes of goal setting, it is useful to perform a SWOT analysis on each life aspect as it will help you identify where you need to improve, and therefore help you set goals to make these improvements.

More importantly though, the SWOT analysis allows you to identify your internal strengths that you can capitalize on to seize your opportunities and thwart any external threats.

A template for your personal SWOT analysis is available in the ToolBOX, as part of the FREE Life Planning Workbook. Print out a separate page for each life aspect you want to analyze, and summarise the results on the SWOT Summary page, also available in the ToolBOX.

And find out more on how to set goals by doing a SWOT analysis under the 'Life Skills' tab on the NavBar under 'Decision Making and Problem Solving'.

Prioritise and Synergise

So you should now have your ‘big-picture’ [as a tombstone inscription], a wish-list of what you really want [from your Mind Map] and an analysis of what you can actually achieve [from your personal SWOT analysis].

It’s now time to pick the first goal or couple of goals to focus on.

Why only 1 or 2? Goal setting is a skill, and like all skills, how to set goals takes time and practice to become proficient at it. So start with a single, easy goal or two to practice on. Once you’ve achieved this one (or made some progress towards it), you’ll feel motivated to try the process on some harder goals and confident in applying the process.

In the meantime, don’t throw out all the work you’ve done – just because you’re not actively pursuing a goal doesn’t make it any less important. Just put these on the backburner until you’ve got some successful goal setting under your belt.

How to chose which goal? Well you need to consider:

  • How important the goal is to you – prioritise! Starting on high priority goals will keep you more focused and motivated to achieve, than goals that are just considered ‘nice to do’.

    [You'll find some tips on how to prioritise on the "Life Skills" tab on the NavBar, under the section on 'Planning and Organisation']

  • The type of goal – ‘habit’ changing goals are often short-term goals and may therefore be easier to achieve. ‘Skill’ goals can have quite a clear path and may therefore appear easy, but beware that ‘skill’ type goals can take a long time to achieve so its important that they have lots of milestones to make the process manageable. ‘Outcome’ goals can be easy or hard, long or short, depending on exactly what they are.
  • How comfortable are you that you know HOW to achieve the goal – for example, achieving optimum health and fitness may be a Must-Do goal for you and there is heaps of information and guidance on how it can be done, so that would be a good goal to chose as a starting point rather than something like achieving world domination!
  • Make the most of goal synergy – some goals have benefits in several life aspects. How to set goals that synergise? Riding your bike to work for a ‘fitness’ goal will also help the planet and your hip pocket. Kill as many birds as you can with the one stone for maximum goal setting success!

In a nutshell, prioritise and synergise!

Make your Goal SMART

Once you have a set of personal goals that are meaningful to you and will ultimately help you achieve your ‘big-picture’, all you need to do is develop your chosen goals and make sure they’re SMART or SMARTer.

How to set goals that are SMART? All you have to do is document the goal in the following easy to follow format:


When you’ve documented your goal, read it through – this is the crux of how to set goals and if you don’t believe what you’ve written, now is the time to go back and look at why.

You need to commit to what you have written, so ask yourself:

  • Am I really committed to undertaking the actions I have prepared?
  • Am I really committed to achieving the action items within the timeframe I have set?
  • Am I convinced that this is what I really want?
  • Am I excited about the outcome from this goal?
  • Am I prepared to allocate the resources and make the sacrifices I have identified?
  • Am I actually going to do it?

If you answered “YES” to all of these questions, great! Continue to the ‘How to Achieve' tab on the NavBar.

If you aren’t sure or had some “No’s” in there, then you need to go back and look at ‘why’ - there is no point continuing if the goal you’ve developed and documented has a flaw in it.

A template for documenting how to set goals that are SMART is available in the ToolBOX, as part of the FREE Life Planning Workbook. There are 2 versions available for you to chose from, depending on how much information you want to include.

The ‘My SMARTER Goals’ template allows you to write several goals on the one page, where as the ‘SMARTER Goal’ template is for a single goal only, but allows you to include more detail.

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