Goal Setting Guide
The Common Enemies of Goal-Setting
For most of us, setting goals means making vague intentions to get or do X, Y and Z only to let those intentions waft ….into nothingness.
In the event our goals actually get some traction, there are logistical and emotional tripwires that derail and have us abandon the process.
We slump our shoulders and continue carrying the burden of waiting another year for that “fresh start,” only to repeat those actions yet again, or worse, give up on the idea of goal-setting altogether.
The first step OUT of this aspirational + eventual burn-out cycle is to take some time to reflect on your past emotions and experiences around goal-setting.
Here are three common mindsets people find themselves in when they’re ready to throw in the “goal-setting” towel:
- Burned out. You started with all cylinders firing only to blow a fuse three weeks in.
- Disappointed. You did the thing you were supposed to do, and you aren’t seeing results...so...what went wrong?
- Confused. You think you know what you want, but you don’t have the faintest clue of how to get there, so you file it away for Future You to figure out.
Regardless of the mood you associate with your situation, there’s a way around it, and we discuss them ALL in this guide. Best of all, we’ve highlighted the sections that are most applicable to your scenario.
Scenario A: If you find you’re losing steam after a couple of weeks, there's a good chance you’ve tried implementing too many changes at once. You're ambitious (a great superpower to have), but ambition needs to be paired with strategy in order to be sustainable. This could mean grounding your ambition to a WHY statement. It also includes integrating your goals into micro-habits or success structures that lead to substantial change (without exerting too much effort at one time). To get back on track, pay EXTRA attention to the following sections:
- Discovering our “Why”
- Vision to quarterly planning
- Implementing success structures
- Overcoming obstacles
Scenario B: You’re pretty sure you’re doing the right thing, but you’re coming up short on the “results” side of the equation, and that’s leading to many frustrations. To get back on track, pay EXTRA attention to the following sections:
- Discovering our “Why”
- Be + Do = Have Framework
- Creating a growth strategy
- Overcoming obstacles
Scenario C: You know the general direction you’d like to go, and you may even have specific goals in mind, but you’re lost in how to move forward. Of the three, this scenario is the most common. Starting can be very difficult and even paralyzing when you’re lacking clarity. We’d suggest you start with the first section (“Answering Your Why”) and work through each subsequent section. You’ll find yourself slowing down on the sections that need further thought. The great news is that, this time, you’ll have a step-by-step framework that guides you through the entire process.
The Fast Lane To Getting Back On Track
This goal-setting guide gives us the blueprint for navigating the life-changing process of setting goals and (wait for it) ACTUALLY achieving them. No matter how distant that goal feels, it’s possible.
This guide is designed to take us through:
- Discovering Our “Why”
- Envisioning a Quarterly Plan
- Embodying the Be + Do = Have Framework
- Creating a Growth Strategy
- Implementing Success Structures
- Overcoming Obstacles
Go through the sections that are particularly important for your scenario, and be sure to revisit them and the others as you start making progress. It’s through the process of reflection that you’ll begin to identify what’s moving the needle for you and what isn’t.
Let’s start with answering “why.”
Instead of going straight to the “what” and “how” of the goal-setting process, we will first answer the “why.”
Why do goals matter to you this year? Why is it that you’re even reading this guide on goal setting?
Getting clear on our “why” is crucial because it’s a power source we can plug into any time we’re lost in the mire of everyday work and stress. The more clearly we can understand our “why,” the easier it will be to plug into the energy source and the more powerful that energy source becomes to us in the long run.
So, ask yourself: whether it’s personally or professionally, why do you want to level up this year? What is it that you’re committed to creating in the world? What makes you get up in the morning? What makes you get in that extra rep? If you’re able to articulate that into a tangible statement, you will amplify your energy as you move through the new year.
⭐ TAKEACTION: Get clear on your personal “why” statement, and write that down in a place you’ll see it often. (Think: Sticky notes on your desktop.) Examples of “why” statements:
- “My why is to impact a million people”
- “My why is to achieve the best version of myself”
- “My why is to create a supportive family environment and empower my children to be fully self-expressed”
Once you’re clear on why you’re committed to growing… We can create the goals that result from taking action on your “why” statement.
Vision to Quarterly Planning
Now that we’re clear on WHY you want WHAT you want, we can zoom in on the stepping stones required to get to that WHAT.
Take a moment to think really deeply… If you lived your “why” statement day in and day out, in a reality where you couldn’t fail… What would you have done/have/become in 25 years?
Perhaps, we hope to be financially independent, or we want to revolutionize an industry with a ground-breaking product or service.
Note that we are using a 25-year period because if we’re given 25 years to accomplish something, time is no longer a factor. With that long of a timeline, we have permission to think AS BIG as we want. With 25 years, someone could feasibly move to Mars. (Or worm their way into a timeshare at the very least.)
So get creative! These are your personal and professional goals we’re talking about, after all. What is it that you REALLY want?
Once we’ve got a couple of 25-year goals or dreams on paper, let’s zoom into the 5-year mark of those 25 years. What do we envision we’ll need to have completed by the 5-year mark to be on track for the 25-year plan? If we zoomed in further, what would you need to accomplish this year? Finally, how should we set up the first 90 days to accomplish our life goals down the line?
Of course, this oversimplified timetable we’ve sketched out is just to get your goal-achieving juices flowing, and the plan will shift as we begin to work through each step.
The purpose of this exercise is to take one (or two) of our life goals and scale it back far enough to brainstorm actionable steps you can take in the next 90 days.
⭐ TAKEACTION: Write down 2-3 “dream” goals you’d hope to have accomplished 25 years from now. To the best of your ability, conceptualize what you’ll have to achieve by the 5-year, 1-year, and 90-day mark to be on track to accomplish the 25-goal(s). Circle your 90-day goals, and we’ll break those down into more digestible steps in a later section.
Pro Tip: Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable (within your control), Real (grounded in this thing called reality), and Time-specific.
Example of quarterly planning:
25 year goal: Create a sales training company that helps one million people a year to improve their sales by 25%
5 year goal: Become VP of sales at current company and increase sales year over year by 50%
1 year goal: Lead my sales team to improve their sales by 25% year over year
90 day goals:
- Hit 125% of personal sales target
- Read 5 sales books
- Meet with everyone on sales team and create a growth plan deliverable
Employ the be + do = have framework.
Let’s explain the “be + do = have” process.
Most people believe that once we HAVE something (e.g., a promotion or more financial resources) is when we’ll get to DO the things that we want to do and transform into the person we’ve always dreamed of BECOMING (e.g., a happier, more successful, accomplished, valued version of our current selves).
Generally, this will not work because we’re relying on external measures (e.g., waiting for a big client to find us or giving our self-worth to others for validation) for us to step into our ideal persona. And that kind of passivity turns life into a waiting game.
We have to reverse engineer our thinking process.
To reach our goals, we have to BE the kind of person who would achieve the results we want. For example, a writer could reflect and ask herself, “What kind of person would be able to successfully sell her screenplay?” Some traits that come to mind might be someone who’s creative, resourceful, persistent, scrappy, and emotionally resilient in the face of unhelpful criticism.
Once that person has energetically stepped into the successful, accomplished screenwriter persona, she can begin to ask herself, “What kinds of things would a successful, accomplished screenwriter DO consistently?”
“You are what you repeatedly do, therefore, success is not an act of excellence… It’s a habit” - Aristotle
Perhaps, she’d begin seeking out other screenwriters and joining networking groups. A successful screenwriter could set aside time every morning to work on her craft before her responsibilities for the day begin.
Whatever your goals might be, take them through the Be + Do framework, and you’ll be in a more suitable position to work toward your bold and brassy life goals.
Examples of incorporating your new “way of being”:
- Showing up to meetings with positive can-do attitude, ready to tackle problems
- Trying your best and intentionally going the extra mile
- Being curious about others and be interested in helping them
- Being a leader in any situation
⭐ TAKEACTION: Visualize the type of person who would achieve what it is that you’d like to achieve. Write down any traits or characteristics that come to mind. Next, brainstorm the kinds of habits and actions that archetype would take to accomplish your goals.
Create a growth strategy.
The Be x Do → Have is a straightforward mindset to implement, especially once we know the actions that need to be taken. But what if we’re unfamiliar with the stepping stones required to reach our goal? (E.g., How do screenwriters get in touch with movie producers? What does the format of a script look like?)
Of course, any amount of ambiguity in unchartered territory is not only okay but expected. A lack of clarity just means we need to spend a little bit more time exploring the tools and resources that’ll help us understand what the path ahead holds.
Immerse ourselves in the information available.
If we need to build up a skillset to achieve our goals (which, in most cases, will be a resounding yes), a growth plan may mean reading the recommended books, subscribing to podcasts, or signing up for online courses, etc. There is so much information out there in any field or niche; a bigger concern might be cutting the chaff from the REALLY good stuff...But, to develop more discerning eyes, we have to know what we don’t know, and the only way to do that is by casting a wide net initially and educating ourselves with what’s accessible.
Seek out a coach or a mentor to shape our mindset.
Enlisting a mentor or coach is a highly underrated course of action when leveling up our mindset. It’s beneficial if we are treading unfamiliar waters and need help navigating the path ahead.
Someone who’s been there and done what we want to achieve can look four or ten steps ahead of where we are right now and prepare us for it, whether mentally or in a more logistical way. The insight a mentor can provide us can be immeasurably valuable. Knowing what to expect will give us stability during moments of fear or uncertainty that we’d otherwise have to toil with on our own.
Join a networking community or Mastermind group in the relevant field.
Surrounding ourselves with support can also come in the form of joining online communities of like-minded individuals. The key is to gain exposure to other people’s knowledge and experiences. Within a group, we can ask questions on potential roadblocks and receive a broad spectrum of responses. If we’re honing a specific craft, being part of a community allows us to elicit detailed feedback on your progress and gather strategies we can incorporate to elevate our game.
⭐ TAKE ACTION: Make a list of 3-5 specific actions as part of your growth strategy. The more specific you can get, the easier it will be to incorporate them into your weekly schedule.
HABITS: Implement success structures to keep your goals within reach.
You might have the right mindset, but without the proper structures in place, it’s very easy for your plan to fall through the cracks.
Imagine building a staircase: You’re laying out each step a bit higher than the one before, and without the proper infrastructure to hold up each subsequent step, your staircase will crumble. Pursuing your goals is a lot like building a staircase. Without those support beams, you’re essentially fighting with the laws of gravity, and your progress will falter.
So what do success structures look like, and how do we take advantage of them? The following are some key suggestions:
Use like-minded individuals or groups as external accountability.
Another great benefit of joining a group or Meetup is its potential as an accountability measure. For many, trying to meet self-imposed deadlines can be a tricky thing.
They are privy to a lot of procrastinative measures; after all, there are no immediate consequences to extending a deadline, especially if no one else knows anything about what you’re trying to get done.
Having accountability partners or groups makes our endeavor more “real.” Coming prepared for any meetings we schedule with our group provides us with built-in deadlines.
Set monthly or weekly goal planning reviews.
As we start to make progress, our goals might act a bit like moving targets. That’s because the more we learn about a specific topic or gain a deeper understanding of the process, our goals will morph into something we had not originally envisioned. We may have underestimated the amount of time a step might take, or we might discover we can skip another step altogether. These changes can throw us into a bit of a loop.
Setting a monthly goal-planning review allows time and space for us to address the influx of new information and determine how to best integrate and edit our plan for that following month. Review meetings are also an excellent opportunity for us to reflect on how far we’ve progressed. Acknowledging each step we take, no matter how tiny, serves as a wellspring of motivation as we move forward.
Incorporate deep work periods in our schedule to make consistent progress.
Most of us understand we have to prioritize our goals to make substantial headway. Prioritizing is not making a vague intention about doing something later or setting it on the back burner until our fickle streams of motivation or “inspiration” strike.
Here, we must enlist the tools and resources that will help us make consistent progress. One of the most powerful strategies is to work toward your goals in blocks of time called “deep work,” best described by Cal Newport (who coined the term) as:
“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits.”
Build in “deep work” periods toward your goals by scheduling in blocks of time on our calendar (preferably the same one you use for your work). Doing so will protect the time from being monopolized by everything else (given that we aren’t afraid to enforce our boundaries.)
To make those deep work periods as productive as possible, create rituals to get in the right headspace and implement those that optimize our focus. Use Brain.fm’s Focus category to initiate and drive your deep work periods and keep you in a flow state for as long as you need. Routinely using Brain.fm has the added benefit of signaling to your brain that it’s “GO” time every time you put on your headphones.
Rituals around our deep work periods build in a layer of comfort and ease, ensuring that we carry through with the work required to achieve our goals.
⭐ TAKE ACTION: (a) List 3 ways you can keep yourself accountable to your goals. (b) Schedule your deep work periods for the following month in your master calendar.
Become aware of your obstacles and plan around them.
Whenever we redirect ourselves in some way, there’s bound to be a little bit of resistance. We are only human, after all. Change makes us bristle. In any case, expecting some form of friction will make us more equipped to deal with it and face less discouragement in the process.
The most important tool at your disposal when facing these obstacles is self-awareness.
How do we stay self-aware? We get curious and try to understand our shortcomings. If we resist this process, we risk experiencing the same pitfalls again and again and getting “stuck.” Only once we’re able to recognize these obstacles are we able to overcome them.
Our resistance usually comes in the form of internal or external roadblocks.
Obstacle Type #1: Internal Beliefs
The trickier of the two, internal beliefs are embedded in the subconscious and often masquerade as external roadblocks. For example, one might attribute their inability to write due to a lack of time. While there can be an element of truth to that (e.g., someone works a 9 to 5, and they certainly don’t have a SURPLUS of time to commit to their craft), there may be some belief systems that keep that person unwilling to work around it.
Internal beliefs can be difficult to recognize at first because our minds are more positioned to see them as facts than beliefs (meaning they were picked up and amenable to change).
To belabor the screenwriting example, any number of beliefs could keep our fellow screenwriter from pursuing her goals.
“Writing is always going to be hard... Even if I could manage to finish a script, the chances of anyone wanting to make an actual movie off of it are nil... All that time and effort writing is going to be a waste.”
When these (unhelpful) beliefs layer on top of one another over time, they create a fortress of fear and resistance. The good news is these belief systems can be breached. It’s a pretty straightforward process, but one that requires patience and time.
Recognizing a belief (as a belief and not a fact of life) diminishes its power, thereby loosening its hold on our subsequent actions. Over time, they can be replaced by more accommodating beliefs, optimistic and compassionate ones that give us the freedom to pursue those life goals wholeheartedly. Getting into the habit of journaling or simply being mindful of them can be a transformative practice.
Obstacle Type #2: External roadblocks
The external roadblocks are roadblocks that deal with the logistical side of pursuing our goals. We want to get A, B, and C done in a timely manner, but we already have engagements that take up most of our waking hours. We could have our eye on a course we know will help us achieve our goals, but the course is a lot of money, and our savings account has seen better days...
When faced with an external roadblock, many of us will file their goals back into the “someday” folder. But there’s ALWAYS the option of working around roadblocks. Odds are that there are countless routes to getting what we want. If that means downsizing our progress to a daily (or even weekly) action item that takes all of half an hour, that’s still meaningful progress. Working around a roadblock could also mean scouring the web for the countless hours of free high-quality content (a case for being alive in 2020 if we’ve ever heard of one) while we save up for that course.
The key step is recognizing these obstacles are roadblocks, not dead ends. The more we get into the practice of thinking this way, the more naturally this flexible line of thinking will come up.
⭐ TAKE ACTION: Take 15 minutes to journal any reasons that have delayed your goals in the recent past. Identify which ones are beliefs. Once you’ve identified an unhelpful belief or thought, label it as such and acknowledge it’s not a fact. Imagine moving forward in a world where that belief did not exist. For those that appear like roadblocks, brainstorm “tiny” actions you can take to make progress (no matter how small).
NOTE: If you still feel resistant after coming up with a few solutions for your external roadblocks, it might be worth digging deeper and identifying some of your thinking (think: underlying belief systems) that make those solutions less than 100% in your mind.
If you complete the complete goal-setting guide, you’ll be in the top 1% of 1% that not ONLY write down their goals but have a fully robust plan on accomplishing it with a system to review on a consistent schedule. Congrats for being that type of person!
We’re so excited to help you get back on track & achieve your goals.
The Brain.fm Team
P.S. We want to hear from you! What is your #1 goal for 2021? Let us know on Twitter @brainfmapp