The new year can provide a wonderful opportunity to first review where we are (check this out if you need some tips to get you started), and then create some direction and clarity in where we are going. A new year can bring renewed enthusiasm and a fresh perspective. But what happens when that enthusiasm wears off? To set truly effective goals and set ourselves up for success, we need to do some planning. Here are 6 steps to set effective goals that have meaning and provide motivation.

How to set effective goals


1. Backward design

backward design - how to set effective goals
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Backward design is a simple yet powerful way to set effective goals. It involves starting with the end in mind, gaining clarity about what our “ideal” result would be, then working backward to create the goals and plan to make that happen.

Take a moment to imagine that it is the end of the year (or 6 months from now, or whenever the logical “end point” is for you). You wake up excited because so much progress has been made. What does life look like? What have you achieved? What was your experience? What steps did you take along the way?

Think about each key area of your life when you consider this. Danielle La Porte identifies five areas of life. In order to lead a fulfilled and thriving life, each of these areas requires focus. She breaks it down as follows:

  • Livelihood & Lifestyle: this could be career, finances, home, travel, resources, possessions…
  • Body & Wellness: this could be health, fitness, nutrition, mental health…
  • Creativity & Learning: this could be self-expression (artistic or otherwise), interests, education, development…
  • Relationships & Society: this could be romance, friendships, family, community, giving back…
  • Essence & Spirituality: this could be inner self, truth, intuition, faith, practices…

What areas of your life need the most focus? What would you like to accomplish in each area? What could you focus on to make that a reality?

Write down everything that comes up. Circle the anything that feels like it should be your priority, then take a break.


2. Review it

review - how to set effective goals
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Taking a break allows us to gain some valuable perspective. I recommend a day for big goals, but if that is not possible, try a state change – get outside for a quick walk, have a cuppa with a family member or friend. After a break come back and review everything that you have on paper. How does it make you feel? Do the priorities you identified earlier still sit well with you. Are your focuses aligned with each other? If they make you feel empowered and excited (perhaps a little scared) then you are on the right track. If they aren’t sitting right with you, then take the time to explore why.


3. Connect with the why

For each of your core priorities, ask yourself: What is my purpose? What are my reasons? Why do I need to achieve this? Exploring the ‘why’ behind each goal is a critical step to making it sustainable.

Here’s a personal example:

I am currently training to run a 25km race in April. Logically, I could have set my goal as something like this: to complete the 25km Loop the Lake race on 8 April 2017, running the entire way. It’s specific, I can measure progress, it’s ambitious (I am having to work pretty hard with training), it’s realistic (I think!), and it has a time frame. But do you know what, I honestly don’t care if I finish a 25km race. That goal alone doesn’t give me the push I need to make time to train. That goal doesn’t get me through a when a run is feeling hard.

What does? Connecting with my why. My why isn’t to run a 25km race (although that will be pretty cool). My why is to establish the habits that make myself more of a priority in my life. I struggle to do that in my life, and when I do, I often override it at the last minute prioritizing something else.

The race date looming makes it easier to schedule the time to do something for me (for now, running). Building this habit with running will allow me to then transfer this to other ways of prioritizing myself. And my why is what keeps me going.

Write your why for each focus down. Tony Robbins says that if you are not able to write for at least a paragraph on why you must complete your goal, then it’s not compelling enough.


4. Craft it into something meaningful

craft it - how to set effective goals
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Now that you have an idea on the direction you want to take and the why behind it, it’s time to craft your specific goals. In order to set effective goals, they need to be clear and aligned with your vision. Keep true to your feelings. Your goals should make you feel positive, not pressured, although the will probably make you feel challenged. Formats like SMART goals (specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic, and with a timeframe) are useful, but don’t overthink it. Don’t get stuck trying to make it fit if it doesn’t.

Keep it simple, clear, and connected to your compelling why.


5. Make a plan

make a plan - how to set effective goals
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Often achieving a goal will mean making change to the way you do things. Take some time to factor in how you can easily incorporate this new goal in your everyday life. Do you need help or resources? This is not about changing yourself until your goal is achieved and then reverting back, it’s about building new habits to help you achieve what you want. Come back to your backwards design. Work backwards from your end goal. Break your time frame down into logical chunks and work out the last action you need to take to make your goal a reality, then the one before that, then the one before that. Let each action build on the last.


6. Revision is great!

Sometimes life will happen, things change and sometimes the goalposts shift. That is alright. You may have set a goal at the beginning of the year but then part way through, your circumstances change. Goals are not set in stone. It is fine to alter them to your current circumstances. Just keep connected with your vision and your why. A popular presupposition used in NLP (neuro-linguistic processing) is there is no failure, only feedback. Use your experiences – positive and negative – to better resource you to progress toward your goal.


For more, check out the top reasons why goals don’t work. Have you already set goals for the year? Are you looking to gain some clarity? Follow these simple steps to get clear on what you want to achieve this year. These steps can be used for any type of goals, big or small. Take the time to set effective goals now that set you up for success.

What is the goal that you are currently most excited about? Share it with us in the comments below.



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