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How to Set Goals and Actually Achieve Them

How to Set Goals and Actually Achieve Them

  • Only eight percent of people stick to their goals; the other 92 percent give up. There’s a key difference between the two groups: the people who succeed know how to set good goals.
  • A good goal has to have several things: a deep purpose behind it, clear-cut parameters for success, and diversified meaning that makes it easier to handle failure.
  • This article covers how to set goals for yourself that you’ll actually keep.

Here’s a little money-saving hack: if you want a good deal on a gym membership, join in January.

Any gym owner will tell you that January is their most lucrative month of the year. Gyms offer discounts and run marketing campaigns, and pretty soon new members come flooding in, all intent on sticking to their New Year’s resolution: to get in shape.

Getting fit is a worthwhile resolution. But that same gym owner will tell you that by February, every year, the newcomers have stopped showing up. Only eight percent of people stick to their New Year’s resolutions.[1] For the rest, excitement wanes, motivation runs out, and it’s back to the couch instead of the gym.

Reaching your goals takes work

What sets the successful people apart? What does it take to be in the eight percent of people who succeed at their goals, instead of in the 92 percent who don’t?

It’s a good question. There are a few reasons people fail at their goals. In his recent Bulletproof Radio podcast episode [iTunes], high performance coach Brendon Burchard talks about what it takes to set your mind to something and actually achieve it.

“You have to ask, ‘who do I have to become to achieve the purpose I want?’” Burchard says. 

Burchard acknowledges what a lot of motivational coaches don’t: reaching your goals is hard work. It requires doing things you don’t want to do. That’s why 92 percent of people who set New Year’s resolutions fail — your motivation runs out sooner or later, and when it does, you have to dig deep to stay committed to your goals.

Most people give up when faced with hard work, or they overcommit and burn themselves out because they don’t think long-term. It’s a shame, because research shows that working hard (and sustainably) toward a goal that truly matters to you is one of the best ways to enrich your life.

With a little guidance and the right mindset, you can set meaningful goals and actually achieve them. Here’s how to set good goals, pursue them properly, and make it into the eight percent of people who stick to their New Year’s resolutions.

Create purpose, don’t search for it

If a goal is worthwhile, it’s going to be difficult to reach it. You’re going to struggle, fail, learn, and work hard, and by the time you achieve your goal, you’ll be a quantifiably stronger person than you were when you started.

But in order to weather all the hard work and failure along the way, your goal has to really mean something to you.

The good news is that you get to decide on that meaning. The second law of success in Bulletproof Founder Dave Asprey’s new book “Game Changers: What Leaders, Innovators, and Mavericks Do to Win at Life” is “Never Discover Who You Are.” Instead of trying to discover who you are, decide on who you want to be, and actively create that person. If you let others tell you who you should be, you’ll never have a real sense of meaning in life, and you’ll struggle with feelings of mediocrity and creeping misery.

Meaning in life isn’t something you find, it’s something you create, and if your goals aren’t imbued with meaning, you won’t want them badly enough to stick with them through hard times.

If you want to lose 40 pounds to get abs, for example, you probably won’t make it. How you look is superficial. But if you want to lose 40 pounds so you can be fit enough to play with your kids and be alive when they’re in their twenties, you’re much more likely to stay committed to that fat loss.

Identify a purpose that drives your goals. Make it something that really matters to you at a deep level. Get as specific as possible, and write it down somewhere. Purpose is what will keep you going on the path to success.

You’ll also be happier when you’re working toward something that really matters. Overcoming obstacles in pursuit of something valuable gives your life meaning, which leads to a deep sense of fulfillment.[2] Figuring out challenges also shows you that you’re stronger than you thought, which builds resilience.[3]

So pick something you really want and that carries deep importance to you. That’s what you’ll structure your goals around.

How to set good goals for yourself (and actually achieve them)

Once you’ve chosen a purpose-driven goal, it’s time to figure out how to achieve it on a practical level. You want to set clear parameters for success when it comes to your goal. That way you’ll know exactly when you succeed and exactly when you fail, and you can figure out where you’re falling short and correct it.

A lot of people don’t get specific with their goals. It’s understandable — if you don’t define failure, you’ll never have to acknowledge when you’re failing. But being able to identify your shortcomings is crucial to success, and in order to do that, you have to be practical and specific with your goals.

Let’s continue with the example from before. You want to be a better parent to your kids, and right now you’re too overweight to run around with them without getting winded. What would success look like? Write out the parameters:

  • Lose 10 percent body fat
  • Play ball with your kids for an hour, four times a week
  • Be able to run a mile in under eight minutes

You’ll notice that all these parameters for success are quantifiable. There’s no room for interpretation; either you run a mile in eight minutes or you don’t. Either you’re fit enough to play with your kids for an hour, or you aren’t.

Set specific, practical goals with clear parameters for success. You have to know, unambiguously, when you’re succeeding and when you’re failing.

The next step is to set a timeline for your goals. Maybe you aim to lose one percent body fat per week, or start by playing ball with your kids once a week and work up to four times a week in the next six months. Set a clear schedule, and make it challenging enough that you fail 20-40 percent of the time. That failure means you’re pushing your limits. Aim to reduce the amount that you fail, week by week.

To summarize, your goals should have:

  • A purpose driving theme
  • Practical, quantifiable criteria for success
  • A timeline that challenges you so you fail 20-40 percent of the time

Keep track of your progress in a journal or a free habit tracking app like Way Of Life. You want to have data that shows you how you’re doing.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

You’re going to fail on the way to your goals. It’s an inevitable part of growth. Failure is important feedback. It tells you when you’re falling short and offers an opportunity to examine yourself, figure out what you’re not doing well, and correct it.

Failure also sucks. It’s painful to find out that you’re not good at something, and it takes humility to accept your shortcomings and work to correct them. Most people try to avoid failure, which is a fool’s errand; instead, make yourself more resilient to failure by having several goals at once.

Having multiple goals diversifies the meaning in your life. Maybe you fall short on goal A one day, but you do a great job at goals B and C. That makes goal A’s failure less devastating, and allows you to figure out why you fell short and correct it instead of being overwhelmed by your failure.

Set three or four goals for yourself at a time. More than four can be overwhelming and decreases the value of each goal. Fewer than three means you’re too invested in each goal, and when you inevitably fail, you’re more likely to feel crushed and give up.

Use these tools to set good goals for yourself. Get clear on what you really want, and why, and how you’re going go get it. Instill a sense of purpose in your life, then work hard to achieve it. You might be surprised by what you can do.

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