How to Set And Keep Effective Goals, Step-by-Step

The new year is just around the corner…

The promise is a new beginning, a reset of sorts. It’s the opportunity to start with a clean slate.

And that’s why so many of us do what we do every year.

We make New Year’s resolutions. We set personal and professional goals to transform outlived habits, achieve new goals, and become a better version of ourselves.

On the one hand, our goals may be as simple as getting more sleep or spending less time online. On the other hand, some goals may be as complex as starting a new business or changing career.

But no matter how simple or complex goals may be, all too often they drift away as the new year gets underway.

Just google “new year resolutions broken.”

You’ll see that up to 80% of New Year’s resolutions fade away by February!

They’re forgotten, left the limelight, and eventually disappear for good.

And most of us won’t lose any sleep over it!

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that less than 10% stick to New Year’s resolutions. Which means 90% of us have the best of intentions but don’t follow through!

But why does this happen? Year after year? And how do you join the 10% who stick to their goals?

You see, a goal is analogous to a target. But few have real, concrete goals. Without a goal, you’re just drifting along hoping for things to improve. But with a goal, you have a definite direction and purpose.

Though we’ve all been told how important goals are, few of us know how to set them effectively.

When you define goals to create change in your life, look that they have the following characteristics. If they don’t, there’s but a small chance you will accomplish them.

Is It Your Goal?

Sometimes we set goals that are not ours. For example, one of your goals may be to “get in shape.” But when you stop and take a closer look, you realize it’s your partner who’s passionate about getting in top shape… not you.

What’s the problem here?

It’s tough to stay the course and follow through. You’ll experience inner conflict and resistance toward goals misaligned with what’s important to you. And it’s tough to remain committed to anything you’re not 100% behind.

Don’t get trapped by someone else’s dream! Make sure the goals you pursue are your own and congruent with YOU!

And don’t forget to build your goals around your life and the lifestyle you want!

Is Your Goal Possible?

While I dislike using the phrase “realistic” in this context, it’s reasonable to ask if your goal is realistic and achievable. Is it something you can reasonably accomplish? And most importantly do you think it’s possible for you?

Because if you don’t believe you can achieve it, you won’t pursue it.

And what would be the point?

Be sure to set goals you believe you can accomplish given the resources available to you.

Let’s say one of your goals is to double revenue in the next twelve months? Do you think it’s doable for your business or is it far from achievable? Frame your goals, so they are realistic and achievable.

And don’t allow yourself to get affected by what others are doing. Every person and every business are unique. You want to pursue goals that are important and appropriate for your unique situation.

What’s The Plan?

What steps will you take to make your goals come true…? What’s your plan?

If you don’t know what you must do to make your goals reality, they’re bound to remain dreams. These goals are more like a wish, lacking clarity and concrete ways to make them come true.

You must create a plan of action once you’ve set your goal. Create a list of steps and milestones that will lead to achieving the goal.

Too many of us spend far too much time thinking about what we want instead of doing. But things will change only once we start to commit to and then take steps toward reaching our goals.

Start with the end in mind and work your way back to the present. What steps could you take today toward reaching your goal? Then move forward from there.

Giving Up Too Soon?

Are you committed to your goals, or are you ready to give up when the going gets tough?

Most of us are prepared to stay the course if the goal is important enough, but often jump ship when it’s not.

That’s why you want to think about committing to a goal carefully:

  • How important is it to you?
  • Do you believe in it?
  • Is there congruency between the goal and you?

However, even when you’re committed and have congruency, sometimes it’s tough to stay the course.

Invariably roadblocks seem to come out of nowhere, and one problem after another stops you from reaching your goal.

Should you give up or stay committed?

Before you decide to give up on your goal, revisit it once more.

  • Is it still important and valid for you?
  • Was there a change in underlying assumptions?
  • Or do you need to adjust steps in your plan?

If the goal is still valid, stay the course. If you need to adjust your strategy and approach, make the necessary revisions.

But if you find your goal is no longer relevant, it’s time to let it go and cross it off your list. Pursuing it much longer would be a waste of your time and the resources you could put to better use elsewhere.


Now that you’ve set your goals, how can you make sure you’ll follow through with them? What must you do to stick to your goals?

Here are four things to consider if you’re serious about joining the 10% club.

Be Specific

While starting a practice is a goal, it’s far from specific. The goal is vague at best. It doesn’t define the type of practice, the location, nor the timeframe to get started.

Here’s an example, looking for a new car.

The goal of: “I want to buy a new car,” is rather vague.

But when you change it to: “I want to buy a 2019, crimson red pearl Subaru Outback Limited with titanium gray leather interior”, that’s a different story. You’ve expressed your goal with clarity. You know exactly what you want!

When you have clearly defined, specific goals, you’re far more likely to accomplish them. You allow your brain to lock onto the target and tune out irrelevant information until the goal is achieved.

When you formulate your goals, be as specific as you can. While some goals may lack specificity at first, don’t be afraid to go back and fine-tune them as you gain more clarity.

Set A Deadline

Without a deadline, you might find yourself waiting for a long time. Having a deadline gets you moving; but without one, you’ll be unlikely ever to get started.

When you set a deadline for yourself, you’re creating a sense of urgency that propels you forward. Having an endpoint date creates focus and urgency.

Just as before, a deadline gives your mind focus and direction; you’ll be far more likely to achieve a goal. It allows your brain to lock onto the target and tune out irrelevant information until the goal is completed.

Whenever you set a goal for yourself, be as clear as you can be and set a deadline for accomplishing it. Remember, nothing is written in stone. You can always adjust or move a deadline.

What’s important is a deadline will get you moving closer toward your goal, faster!

Write It Down

It’s been said that a goal not written down is just a wish. Set yourself up for success, write down your goals!

When writing down your goals, include the following:

  • What it is you want to achieve?
  • When do you want to achieve it?
  • How you’re going to achieve it?
  • Why do you want to achieve it? It’s been said anything is possible if there is a big enough why!

But don’t stop there.

Once you’ve written out your goals, review them on a regular basis. Take a few minutes every day to review your goals. It refreshes your mind and refocuses your intention on the steps you must take to move closer toward your goals.

Measure It

If you don’t measure your progress, how will you know if you’ve achieved your goal? Without measuring, how will you know if you’re making progress?

Some goals are easy to quantify, while others are not. A simple example is losing weight.

Let’s say you’ve set a goal to lose 10 pounds over the next three months. At the end of the quarter, you will know without a doubt if you did or did not meet your weight loss goal. Your scale will not betray you!

But goals that deal with less quantifiable characteristics can be a bit more challenging. That’s why you might have to develop your own measuring scale. Make sure you’ve set up your scale and that your goal can be measured before you get started.

Unless you measure and track the progress toward your goal, how would you know that you’ve accomplished your goal? That’s why your goals must be measurable.

And it doesn’t’ have to be complicated. But there must be a way for you to assess your progress and recognize when you’ve hit your goal.

In Summary…

Some 200 years ago Florence Nightingale said,

“Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.”

A woman ahead of her time, no doubt…

Humans are driven to create better versions of themselves and with it a better world. Setting goals are the key to moving forward and making progress; they allow us to grow and reach new milestones.

It’s been shown that those with goals regularly outperform those without goals. So, if you don’t have any goals now, create some for yourself and see where they will take you.

What are some of your tried-and-true goal setting strategies? Let me know in the comments!


By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.

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