The Beginner’s Guide to Goal Setting

When I speak publicly, I often ask how many people believe in the power of written goals. Every hand shoots up. Yet when I ask how many of them have written goals for this year, very few hands go up.

The Beginner’s Guide to Goal Setting

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This always surprises me, given the fact most people know intuitively (and research has proved) that those who write their goals down accomplish significantly more than those who do not write their goals.

Some of this, I suppose, is just inertia. But from years as a corporate executive and now as a mentor, coach, and occasional consultant, I know that most people have just never been taught how to write effective goals.

With that in mind, I wanted to offer a basic goal-setting primer. You can find plenty of advice online, but these are the five principles I follow in my own practice:

  1. Keep them few in number. Productivity studies show that you really can’t focus on more than 5–7 items at any one time. And don’t try to cheat by including sections with several goals under each section. This is a recipe for losing focus and accomplishing very little. Instead, focus on a handful of goals that you can repeat almost from memory.

  2. Make them “smart.” This is an acronym, as you probably know, and it is interpreted in various ways by different teachers. When I refer to smart goals, I mean this. Goals must meet five criteria. They must be:

    • Specific—your goals must identify exactly what you want to accomplish in as much specificity as you can muster.

      Bad: Write a book.
      Good: Write a book proposal for The Life Plan Manifesto.
    • Measurable—as the old adage says, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” If possible, try to quantify the result. You want to know absolutely, positively whether or not you hit the goal.

      Bad: “Earn more this year than last.”
      Good: “Earn $5,000 more this year than last.”
    • Actionable—every goal should start with an action verb (e.g., “quit,” “run,” “finish,” “eliminate,” etc.) rather than a to-be verb (e.g., “am,” “be,” “have,” etc.)

      Bad: Be more consistent in blogging.
      Good: Write two blog posts per week.
    • Realistic—you have to be careful here. A good goal should stretch you, but you have to add a dose of common sense. I go right up to the edge of my comfort zone and then step over it. (If I am not out of my comfort zone, I’m not thinking big enough.)

      Bad: Qualify for the PGA Tour.
      Good: Lower my golf handicap by four strokes.
    • Time-bound—every goal needs a date associated with it. When do you plan to deliver on that goal. It could be by year-end (December 31) or it could be more near-term (September 30). A goal without a date is just a dream. Make sure that every goal ends with a by when date.

      Bad: Lose 20 pounds.
      Good: Lose 20 pounds by December 31st.
  3. Write them down. This is critical. There is a huge power in writing your goals down even if you never develop an action plan or do anything else (not recommended). Henriette Anne Klauser documents this in her fascinating book, Write It Down and Make It Happen. When you write something down, you are stating your intention and setting things in motion.

  4. Review them frequently. While writing your goals down is a powerful exercise in itself, the real juice is in reviewing them on a regular basis. This is what turns them into reality. Every time I review my goals, I ask myself, What’s the next step I need to take to move toward this goal. You can review them daily, weekly, or monthly. (I review them weekly.) It’s up to you. The key is to do let them inspire and populate your daily task list.

  5. Share them selectively. I used to advise people to “go public” with their goals—even blog about them. But in his 2010 TED talk, Derek Sivers makes the compelling case that telling someone your goals makes them less likely to happen. Now I counsel people not to share them with anyone who is not committed to helping you achieve them (e.g., your mentor, mastermind group, or business partner).

The practice of goal-setting is not just helpful; it is a prerequisite for happiness. Psychologists tell us that people who make consistent progress toward meaningful goals live happier more satisfied lives than those who don’t.

If you don’t have written goals, let me encourage you to make an appointment on your calendar to work on them. You can get a rough draft done in as little as an hour or two. Few things in life pay such rich dividends for such a modest investment.

Question: What is your experience with setting goals? Do you have written goals? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Joan Harrison

    Thanks for this reminder Michael, I have been keeping a list of goals, however they needed some ‘tweeking’ after reading this, I feel more confident in my goal setting since your article cleared up a few grey areas:)

    • TorConstantino

      I agree Joan, Michael’s proactive suggestions and tips have an incredible ability to clear up foggy thinking….

  • Paolo_Sini


    this post is really helpful. I used to set my goals using a to do list or something similar. I never used the S.M.A.R.T. way. I think it can definitely be more effective than a generic to do list. I hope this will help me increase my blog commitment.

    • TorConstantino

      You make a great observation Paolo about the need to be specific. While our overarching objectives/strategies can be generalized (i.e. “I want to consistently generate WOW content on my blog…”) the execution/tactical component has to be granular (i.e. “My blog editorial calendar with contain three posts a week on MWF comprising an original post by me; a book review and a guest post.”)

  • JoeFilipowicz

    Great primer on goal setting. Thank you Michael. I love #5. Share selectively. My wife and I have made this an annual ritual. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, we share our goals with each other for the coming year over dinner on New Year’s Eve before midnight strikes. It’s a great way to kick off the New Year and it makes us both aware of what we are striving for in our lives.

    • TorConstantino

      Awesome point Joe – I too have made the mistake of “oversharing” my personal goals and objectives – to the detriment of those very goals at times.

      Part of the problem is that I tend to see my goals as content seeds for my blog; however, I need to constantly re-learn the lesson that just because I can share something – doesn’t mean I should.

    • Eddy Hood

      I’m kind of addicted to New Year’s Eve. As an entrepreneur, it’s my Christmas.

      I shut my self up for a solid 24 hours and write out my coming year.

      Cool tradition Joe.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That sounds like a great practice.

    • Marcia Francois

      we do the same :) other people don’t think it’s very romantic or exciting but hey, it’s been working for me!

  • Jason Stum

    Back in February I wrote down my personal and professional goals for the first time in my life. I always knew that I should have done this, but never thought it was that important or would have much of an impact. I figured as long as I knew inside what I wanted to accomplish, that was good enough.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong. Putting pen to paper and expressing my goals in the way Michael outlines above made it REAL. It’s something tangible that I constantly see day in, day out. It keeps me on task and focused on what’s important in ways I never thought possible.

    The only thing I do in addition to what Michael suggests is I keep my goals at the top of my Evernote as well, so no matter what device I’m on or where I am, my goals come with me.

    Thanks for the post Michael!

    • Heather C Button

      I agree with your point about Evernote Jason. It should be first on whichever device or software you use first in the morning.

      • Jason Stum

        Wait…there’s software other than Evernote?! ;)

    • TorConstantino

      Awesome comment Jason – I applaud your focused tenacity!!!

      • Jason Stum

        Thanks Tor, I appreciate it!

    • Inge

      I write down my biggest goals as an affirmation on an index card and carry that in my pocket. Low-tech, but it works.

  • Tracey Brewer

    This is a helpful list! It’s always great to be reminded of the importance of goal setting. I find that reviewing my yearly goals at the end of each month helps keep me on track as well.

    • TorConstantino

      Absolutely Tracey! Beyond my personal goals, my wife and three kids set up “family goals” – one of my favorite exercises at the end of the year is to go over the ones we accomplished and the ones we didn’t together as a family. We’ve done it two years running – it’s a great habit to start instilling in children!

      • Jonathan Harrison

        What an awesome feature of legacy – to empower the family tree!

  • Jonathan Harrison

    Michael – as always, an elegant breakdown of a vital and ofthen misunderstood practice.
    I have written goals, and I combine #3 & #4. I re-write my goals on a visable card often, reviewing and assessing as I re-write. This helps keep me focused and allows for a fluid and adaptive approach.
    I don’t change so much as refine. For example, I initially had a dollar amount of income as an annual goal. “I make $$$ a year.” But through this process, the goal has become “My wife does not need to work because I am earning an annual income of > $$$.”
    When I include the “why” and the “What I can do if I accomplish this goal” in the actual goal itself, it helps keep the drive going.

    • TorConstantino

      Awesome point Jon about marrying the “why” to the “what.” One of the things that WeightWatchers teaches (yes, I attend WW – it has helped me lose 30 lbs over the past 12 months) is to have an anchor as to why you want to lose weight.

      The anchor or “why” helps moor you against the ups and downs that always occur en route to the goal. Great point bro!!!

      • Jonathan Harrison

        What a great example, and a surpurb success story. How are you seeing your “whys” realized since succeeding with the “what?”

        • TorConstantino

          Specifically relating to my physical issues – both my parents died in their early 60s from heart disease. My “why” is try like heck to ensure I’m around to my 80s, so I can see my future grandkids.

          The short term why is the series of good reports I’m getting from my cardiologist and excellent blood work ratios – that’s more detail than you were interested in I’m sure….

          • Jonathan Harrison

            I did ask, after all…that must feel great to receive the positive reports from cardiologist – to see those outcomes and know that you can rise above the “it’s just my lot in life” mentality.
            ::digital high five:: (or whatever the cool kids are doing these days)

  • Deborah Owen

    I had never written down my goals before this year (2013), and I had never even written down – in a calendar, with a specific time allocated to it – the things that I hope to accomplish daily. I have been doing both now for a few months, and it is amazing how much more I am getting accomplished! So I guess I am simply vouching for your suggestions in this post. Thanks!

    • TorConstantino

      That’s fantastic Deborah. Do your daily goals support a larger “yearly” or life goal? They don’t necessarily have to…I’m just curious :-)

      • Deborah Owen

        Hi Tor (BTW, I heard your interview with Jeff Goins!). At Michael’s suggestion in an earlier blogpost, I wrote down yearly goals for the first time. Some of what I do on a daily basis helps me work toward those goals, some are short-term goals, and some are just things that have to get done!

    • Michele Cushatt

      Great endorsement, Deborah.

  • Marcus A. Cylar

    Thank you, Michael, for a helpful post as always. I’d actually never heard of the SMART acronym, but I will definitely be applying it in my own life. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling point #5 in particular is going to resonate with a lot of people. I think it’s important to share selectively not only with respect to who you share your goals with, but even more so regarding the timing with which you share. Verbal ozone what God is doing in your life before it’s time for God to reveal it can have you end up like Joseph — hated by his brothers and sold into slavery!

    • Michele Cushatt

      True. And talking about your goals can provide a sense of satisfaction similar to the feeling of accomplishing them, which can sap some of the drive behind achieving them.

      • Marcus A. Cylar

        Never thought about it like that, but you’re absolutely right. That’s helpful insight, thanks.

  • Jonathan Squirrell

    Like many of us, I suppose, I have known about this for a long time. But there is a world of difference between ‘knowing about’ and ‘doing something about’. Thanks for the timely reminder.

    • Jonathan Harrison

      You are right about that distinction, Jonathan. It sounds like you will be doing somthing about that today!

  • Ken Zimmerman Jr.

    Setting goals is critical to giving you direction. I think so many people get stuck in the same debilitating pattern because they don’t write down goals. I usually do my goal setting in early December for the upcoming year with yearly goals and monthly goals that help accomplish the yearly goals. I have made much more progress this year by adding two to three weekly goals each week. You can’t spend all your time in planning but it does not take very long and has helped me finish several goals ahead of schedule. Thanks for these posts, Michael. They help people achieve their full potential.

    • TorConstantino

      Great thoughts Ken. Norman Vincent Peale (and others) have used the example of Sir Edmund Hillary – stating that the adventurer didn’t just go for a random walk one day…and wham, he’s at the summit of Everest. Scaling the tallest mountain on earth and making it down alive does NOT happen by accident – it happens by planning.

  • charles stone

    Goal setting also gives the brain a sense of certainty. Certainty helps us maximize our brain’s thinking center (the pre-frontal cortex) and quiet our emotional center (limbic system). nice post.

    • TorConstantino

      I like that Charles – “…goal setting gives the brain a sense of certainty…” I’m going to steal that….um, er…I mean strategically share it with others :-)

      • charles stone

        I love “strategic sharing” :) you’ll probably like this article that encapsulates lots of brain science

        • TorConstantino

          Cool, thanks for the resource Charles! BTW, not only does your super-cool name “Chuck Stone” sound like an action movie hero it’s also a verb phrase that Henry David Thoreau might skip across Walden Pond ;-)

          • charles stone

            thx :)

  • Richard Thomas

    Thanks Michael, I have written my goals as a powerpoint which starts up every time I start my computer. (It is sometimes very annoying!). I will go over them and revise them after reading this.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Keeping them in front of you makes a big difference. What, specifically, are you planning to revise?

  • msanonymous222

    Thank you, Michael. This came at the perfect time. My goal for today: set my goals!

  • Alessio Bresciani

    Great post. I recently also blogged on the subject of Goal Setting and found this post from you valuable. In addition to SMART goals, I advise others to also consider HARD goals which I covered in my recent post. Thanks for continuing to write on interesting subjects. I return often for the read.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Care to explain HARD goals and/or a link?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’d live to read it. Could you share with us a link? Thanks.

  • JLynne

    About a year and a half ago I first read Michael’s life plan ebook, and it got me started on a journey towards being more intentional making written goals. A year and a half on, I’ve held two ‘quarterly retreats’, have a full life plan that I review and update, and although I’m not yet where I want to be in achieving many goals, I am so excited by what I actually have been able to accomplish in the past year. My biggest learning is this: When you mess up, or make a decision that’s not in line with set goals, don’t give up, just recommit to your goals – each day the sun comes up on a new opportunity to be disciplined in reaching your goals. That’s been huge. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, just as long as you pick yourself up at least one more time than you actually fall.

    • Kwin Peterson

      I also held my first “quarterly retreat” in March and, for the first time set goals that were a direct outgrowth of my life plan. Huge difference in performance on goals this time around!

    • Michele Cushatt

      Great point, JLynne. Failure only gets the last word if you stop speaking.

  • Jim Hamlett

    I raise my hand–again.

    It’s perseverance, isn’t it, Michael? That’s what I keep telling myself: Never, never, never give up.

    Excuse me now while I go write a few things down–again.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s absolutely what it is!

  • Alvin C. Miles

    Michael, Thanks for providing this important reminder of how to set goals. I also appreciate that you’ve kept it simple.

    Question: does it matter if the goal is physically written (longhand), or can typing my goals work just as well?

    • Michele Cushatt

      I’m not Michael, but I’ve heard him answer this question. Doesn’t matter if you write them longhand or digitally (or even on a napkin!). Just as long as they don’t stay in your head. :)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Some people argue that it’s better to physically write them down, but I have never been convinced. My life is all digital!

  • Dan Erickson

    I have written goals in the past, but have not updated them for some time. I found the part about not telling others your goals interesting. I think others who don’t understand or believe in what we do can quickly talk us out of believing in ourselves. So that makes sense. Good post, Michael.

    • Michele Cushatt

      I agree, Dan. I heard about this a year ago, and it’s changed how and when I talk about my goals, as well as book ideas, etc. The more I talk about the “big ideas” the more I lose steam for accomplishing them. I’ve had to be highly selective about who I talk to, until the right time.

  • Jowin

    Great article . :)

  • Laura Harris

    The more specific they are and the more visual they are…the more likely they are to come to life. Odds increase radically if I have another person with a similar goal as an accountablility partner.

    • Jonathan Harrison

      Laura – shared goals and accountability are so powerful – great comment!

  • Cody Wheeler

    Always nice to be reminded about the psychology behind goal setting. You hit the nail on the head Michael, especially with the whole not talking about your goals thing. I find all that does is open you up to ridicule. It’s easy to talk about things you’re working towards, but it’s much harder to actually accomplish those things.

    Do first, then talk.

    • TorConstantino

      “…Do First, Then Talk…” – love that!

  • Cody Burleson

    Sometimes, I question the one about “Realistic”. If you’re not careful about that one, you can shoot yourself in the foot and stifle your own true potential. Well, you actually said it (“You have to be careful here”). What I have found is that while goals should be realistic and obtainable, they should also be big enough to inspire. Goals that are too realistic and obtainable, to me, are just tasks. If they do not feel like they lie just on the edge of impossibility, they don’t excite me. Often, it is precisely because it’s huge and because it’s hard that I want to achieve it and endeavor to to do so. It’s that excitement and longing for the very difficult thing that gives me the energy and passion and focus that’s required to actually achieve it. Realistic things have a tendency to bore me and, strangely enough, I’m not very productive when I’m bored. It is precisely because Everest is huge and seemingly impossible to climb, that we inspire to her summit.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep, I agree. That’s why I make sure I set them outside my comfort zone.

    • Dallon Christensen

      I think what you can do is set your goals outside of your comfort zone. You can then set objectives and create projects which you can achieve. Here’s an example. I have a goal to earn $5,000/month in a side business by x date. Yes, that is a stretch goal. However, I can set additional objectives such as “secure first side client by y date” or “write two guest posts per month”. You can then develop projects and action steps around those.

      • Cody Burleson

        Just last night, I was watching a TED talk about some dude who made an impressive sci-fi film on a surprisingly low budget. Producers estimated that it cost over twenty-million to make; yet he spent only about 2 million. He said that it was mainly because he “didn’t know it couldn’t be done for that amount.” It got me to thinking. When we say “set goals that are realistic and obtainable,” how on earth can we possibly know what is truly realistic? Some of the greatest accomplishments in human history could have been laughed at – supposing their achievers admitted the goal beforehand. So, I like your approach. I like to let the goal be the dreamy thing. And then let objectives and projects be the realistic things (pointed in that direction). Or, in other words, aim for the stars, so that we might at least reach the moon.

        • Cody Burleson

          Of course, depending on your preference, I suppose you could use different labels in your conceptual hierarchy: Vision / Dream, Goal, Program, Project, Action Plan, Task / To-do. What I am calling a “goal”, maybe some people call a “vision” or a “dream”.

        • Michel821

          I really love that one: he didn’t know it couldn’t be done!

  • Heather C Button

    Wow, that’s a great reminder. I will be reviewing my goals this weekend as work has eased back to normal again. I’m glad I’m not crazy about the goal sharing. I found the more I talked about it, the less I did about it. Now I share only with people who will keep me accountable to those goals. Like “how’s the story?” I can say what point I’m at.

  • TorConstantino

    Outstanding advice – I particularly relate with point number three. I had an early mentor in my career tell me that, “…if you don’t write your goals down, they’re only wishes…”

    Thanks for consistently providing great insight, Michael – I’m convinced that you must be genetically programmed for “Wow” ;-)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Tor. I appreciate your encouragement.

  • Josh Collins

    This was the first year I actually wrote my goals down! After just reaching the half way mark on the year, I was surprised at how well I’ve done! Still several more steps to go, but I love being able to look in the rear view a bit and feel good about the progress I’ve made! Thanks for being a positive voice towards that Michael!

    • TorConstantino

      That’s a fantastic testimony Josh – I think it’s great to share those kind of “milestone” successes with others because they can help encourage those who might be struggling with their own goals OR inspire someone to start!

  • Susan Sims

    Love this post! I have been setting annual goals since I was thirteen. I’ve noticed my “action” goals are accomplished far more than my wishy-washy goals of “be”. I just reviewed my goals yesterday and put appointments in my calendar of how best to accomplish those I’ve not finished yet. Hope this post inspires many more to greatness and, ultimately, happiness.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Wow. Thirteen?! Nice!

  • Chris Crimmins

    I have recently been putting my goals on a vision board, and for me there is something about making them a visual reality. Like having a picture of an athletic person perhaps weighing 20 pounds less than me. A well dressed person.

    What I have learned from this post is to write a date on the pictures.

    • Jonathan Harrison

      Chris – that is an awesome application of this post! I really like the “vision Board” idea.

    • TorConstantino

      Best-selling author Jack Canfield SWEARS by the practice of using a vision board. Can I ask where you decided to place your board for maximum impact? Just curious….

      • Chris Crimmins

        My wife and I share a stand up desk and both of our vision boards are above it. It is been very effective.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I love your vision board idea, Chris. I want to do one myself!

  • writebrainrd

    In 2007, I attended a seminar, and at the end of it, we were asked to write ourselves a letter that listed our five year goals. The director of the seminar mailed the letters to us in 2012. I was amazed to discover that I had, indeed written and published my first novel. I am a firm believer in writing down your goals and setting dates to accomplish them. My big hang up of late has been choosing those goals, since I know whatever I write down will become reality.

  • Virgil Grant

    Michael, question for you! You are such a huge advocate of Evernote, right? It would make sense that readers could use Evernote to clip your posts to their Evernote account.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep, you can do this automatically with Evernote’s web clipper. Just install it in your browser. It’s awesome. I use it daily to save articles and posts I want to refer to later.

  • davidgrissen

    Thanks for all the good information and stimulation related to goal setting.

  • Justin Buck

    Great post, Michael. My favorite point is to review your goals often. It’s easy when the going gets tough to toss the list. I find it helpful to list probable outcomes alongside my goals. This way, I have two or three things to get excited about when the task just seems to big. Listing these outcomes also gives us a tangible idea of the fruits of our hard work.

  • Cynthia Herron

    I’ve always written down goals. At holidays, I rarely make “New Year resolutions” because I prefer to think of them as “goals” which are
    more likely to be met. And I post my goals where I can see them on a daily basis as added incentive.

    Great advice!

    • TorConstantino

      Great comment Cynthia, I especially like your point about physically positioning the goals in a highly-visible location to help you “practice” their fulfillment – nice!

  • Doug Smith

    I have written goals. I’ve been studying the subject for several years. I prefer Brian Tracy’s system for setting goals. He writes his top ten goals out every single day on a piece of paper to keep them in front of him. For me, keeping them in front of me is the most important thing. For years,I’d write them and check them quarterly. I didn’t make nearly as much progress as I do checking them daily.

    • mickholt

      I make a couple copies. One to post on my PC, one to carry in my wallet and one for my car. I do not ALWAYS look at them but this helps me keep them in front of me.

  • Tom Morrison


    Thank you so much for the meaningful reminder especially on the review part! I have noticed a pattern where I am writing them down but not systematically reviewing thru the year. Always enjoy seeing how much value you are able to squeeze into one post!

  • Steve Martin

    I have never been a goal setter.

    And look where I am now!

    (where am I?)

  • Susan Sage

    I am terrible at setting goals. I don’t know the questions to ask myself to spur my thoughts on to even setting them. I know what my far-reaching goal is. Sometimes I don’t know the steps needed in order to achieve them. I appreciate the reminder. Goal setting has been on my “to-do” list for several weeks. Hopefully this will push me to actually do it.

  • Michael Dean

    Michael, I’d like to get your take on an apparent contradiction between the insightful ideas that you presented here on goals, and what I just re-read Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer say about goals. After achieving extraordinary success with Veggie Tales (and then watch it all crash and burn in bankruptcy court), Phil concluded he had gotten ahead of God with his goals, and has since created a company named after a jellyfish to remind himself to move with the current of God’s leading in his life rather than try to dictate the outcomes (goals) to God. I respect you both greatly and so would appreciate your take. In short, is it better to focus on our calling and mission in life and then leave the “specific measurable results” to God?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’ve written something that might be helpful on this for you. It’s called, “Don’t Leave God Our of Your Plans.” I don’t think it’s either/or but both/and. (I’m sorry, you’ll have to search for the post. I don’t have Internet access as I write this.)

    • TorConstantino

      Michael D., here’s the link to the post mentioned by Michael H. –

      • Michael Hyatt

        Thanks, Tor. Sorry I missed that.

  • Kwin Peterson

    I recently heard a phrase from Tony Robbins that I have taken to heart in my weekly and monthly planning: never leave the scene of setting a goal without taking some action toward its attainment. This has been a reminder to me to at least do some small thing immediately.

    Setting goals is such an important accomplishment in itself and feels so good that it is easy in the moment to put it away and not act.

    • Jonathan Harrison

      Kwin, that is a really excellent tip!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’ve heard Tony say this too and totally agree.

  • Robert Jacobs

    This post is spot on. I usually write down my goals and frequently accomplish them. However, when I don’t write them down (which is rare), I don’t accomplish them, every time.

  • timothymoser

    Great article. For me, “realistic” has been key. I used to set unrealistic goals and ended up with a habit of failing. Now that my short-term goals are small and realistic, I’m in the habit of meeting them, which gives me extra drive to keep going toward the bigger goals.

  • Kix Blogger

    If you don’t write YOUR goals down, then you will be living to complete SOMEONE else’s goals.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Interesting point, Kix.

  • Mike Holmes

    I’ve had good experiences with them and bad experiences with them. When I followed them and was focused on them everything seemed to come together. When I got lazy and “did my own” thing they languished. So the problem was never really with the goal setting…it was always with me lol!

    Great post Mike!

  • mickholt

    I do this every year varied results – usually how invested I bcome. I used to make “wwway over the top goals” but for the most part I follow your suggestions. I wrote a post on my blog back in December called “No More Resolutions” it was all about this type of goal setting and there is NO better way than to start by writing them down.


    Awesome article. #1 is so key. When I first began writing down my goals I literally wrote down every goal of every area of my life and went to work on it. This caused lack of focus and ultimately me feeling down because I had not accomplished all of my goals. I now have a “master goal” list and I pull 5 off the master list and once those are completed I grab 5 more. Helps me keep focused while knowing I have a place I can put my goal thoughts!

  • Brad Vance

    I have dabble in the goal setting process over the past 15 years. I do find it brings clarity but consistency and execution seems to drift

  • Alex Barker

    I think a whole blog post could be dedicated to “How to Review your Goals”. This is the reason, I believe, so many don’t accomplish their goals.

  • Michele Cushatt

    I have an index card with five goals I’ve been carrying around in my purse for nearly four years. At the time of the writing, they seemed impossible. The last of those goals will be achieved this year. Then I’ll make a new index card. :)

    • John Tiller

      Congrats, Michelle! What a great accomplishment!

      That reminds me of the old saying that “We overestimate what we accomplish in a year, and we underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years.” (Or four years, in your case!)

      • Michele Cushatt

        Thank you, John. :)

  • Michael Hyatt

    Gail and I have been to numerous of his programs. We are big fans.

    • Eddy Hood

      I’m a huge fan too. It’s funny though… I’ve never heard that much swearing in my life. :)

      • Michael Hyatt

        I know. If there’s one thing I could change, that would be it.

        • Travis Dommert

          Thought the same thing as Tony addressed a powerful group of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Such great insight…washed over in #&!@-this and $(*@@#-that for no apparent reason. Made me long for some new (or perhaps older) authentic role models for our generation and country. I must be getting old or something…

          • Michael Hyatt

            If you attend Unleashing the Power Within, his entry level seminar, there is actually a disclaimer in the book. He says that the language is intentional and designed to “interrupt your pattern” of thinking. I think with a little creativity, he could find other ways to do it. Sadly, I think this probably alienates him from at least half of the American public who could really benefit from his teaching.

          • Travis Dommert

            10-20% less effective with 100-200% more people…hmm. :)

  • Michel821

    Hello, Great article. I will link it in a post on my blog
    I would add those 2 ideas:
    Measurable: make it measurable and without reference to another data. It just makes it confusing. So if you make $75,000 last year, and want $80,000, then the goal should read Make $80,000.

    Also important to write them in a positive sentence. The mind is not good at imagining the negative.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Great points. Thanks.

  • Arjan Zuidhof

    IMO, Derek’s case was nog *that* convincing. He bluntly stated that you should not share goals with anyone. Evidence of the opposite is overwhelming. Read Lyubomirsky’s “The How Of Happiness” where she makes an urgent plea to share for accountability reasons.
    I do agree with you though that one must be careful who to share with. But please do, it helps!

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s why I felt the need to qualify it. I think it can be helpful if selectively shared.

  • Adam Rico

    Michael, I find the secret sauce for me is the accountability portion. I need at least one other person involved who knows my goals and who I can update on my progress. If it’s just me I tend to get a little sloppy and not hold myself accountable as well as if I know there are others expecting me to hit my goals. Great post.

    • John Tiller

      Great point, Adam! Sharing goals and updates can be helpful.

      When doing so, it’s also important to give permission to the accountability partner to ask you about your progress if they don’t hear from you.

  • Danielle Dahye Yoo

    Dear Michael,

    I came across your Twitter a while ago and found your blog through it. I gotta tell you that your blog has been giving me so much insight and wisdom. I am also your podcast listener. Thank you for all the work you’re doing.

    God bless you!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Danielle. I appreciate that very much!

  • Sagar Rakshe

    Goals written!

    • Michael Hyatt


  • CharlesSanger

    Great post –– I liked that you defined “frequently” (point #4) as weekly –– I also liked that you brought out the purpose of the review is to move things to your daily task list –– I teach time management and this one of the biggest areas I see that keep even written goals from getting accomplished. (Evernote just announced an new feature Evernote Reminder that will make this easier).
    Oh, loved your examples of “SMART” goals.

    • Jim Martin

      Charles, thanks for pointing out these specifics regarding Michael’s post. As you highlighted these in your comment, I paid even more attention to the value of each one.

  • DefinitelyJon

    Great post, and just what I needed to hear too. I’ve been in the process of setting up my summer goals and getting everything planned (for the past month). Haven’t really made much happen, but now I know why and how I can do much better.
    -Thanks for all that you do!

  • Marcia Francois

    I’ve set and achieved goals for the last 14 years and so am a huge believer. I do write them out and review weekly too. My one downfall is I like to have many but I choose only some to work on at any given time, since I have a good mix of once-off goals (eg get a blog makeover) to semi-permanent goals (strengthening my core means I have to work out with my personal trainer at least twice a week). Love reading the principles that work for you.

  • Chris


    Thanks for your blog! I have been following closely for the past year. I have recently encountered an article that presents research with conflicting information: that thinking about goals can undermine the goal pursuit. Here is a link to the abstract.

    Also here is the article that summarizes it really well and this is how I discovered the reasearch –

    It would be great to hear your opinion on this as I have for a long time been a believer in goal setting.



  • PaulVandermill


    Thank you for breaking this down. I have never been particularly clear and specific about my goals. I am looking forward to the increased focus that I hope will lead to improved outcomes

  • J.Molina

    Can’t take action with out a proper strategy. Love it. Thanks Michael.

  • Janice Griswell

    In #5 above, you mention a TED talk by Derek Silvers that interested me. After some effort to locate it, I discovered his last name is Sivers, in case anyone else wanted to look it up.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Janice. I have corrected it in the post.

  • Joel Boggess

    Excellent tips Mike. I especially like the part about sharing your goals selectively. Here’s a quick two-sentence piece I shared in a blog in 2010 which gives my take.

    “Stand guard over your vision. Sharing it with the wrong people can quickly transform the dance of creativity into a sparring match of defense.”

    • Michael Hyatt

      Amen to that!

  • Travis Dommert

    Great post, Michael. I sometimes take for granted that everyone knows essential skills like SMART goal setting. Monday I had the privilege of sharing it with a local small business as part of a workshop on developing recurring performance behaviors…not a single person had heard it. I was so excited knowing how it would impact their lives!

  • Ali Davies

    These are great tips. If I could add one to the list it would be to ensure your goals are based on your core values and your own defintion of success on the basis that values based goals are the key to feeling truly fulfilled in life and business and living and working on your own terms.

  • Japhethoo

    I totally agree with goal setting. Without goal is like not having a purpose. Thanks for sharing about setting one’s goal in a SMART way, it shall surely inform my goal setting!

  • Dallon Christensen

    I’ve been doing this for a while, but never in a systematic manner. This year, I finally decided to get more serious about my goal writing. My areas of responsibility are based on Zig Ziglar’s Wheel of Life. I only focus on 1 or MAYBE 2 goals in each area at a time (7 areas in the wheel, so I stay at 10 or fewer goals). I keep these goals in an Evernote.

    For each goal I’m reaching, I have a master goals sheet with links to the Master Project notes I have set up in Evernote. I also keep a log of what I’m doing to achieve those goals (usually done after I journal and release everything in my brain). This helps me document what I’m actually doing

    For each area, I also keep a Someday/Maybe list and tag it with the right AOR in Evernote. When I complete a goal, I just go to my Someday/Maybe list and pick the next goal. Once a month, I review all of my Someday/Maybe lists during a Weekly Review session.

  • Bruce

    Maybe I have too many things I’m doing. Just thinking of writing my goals makes my head ache and makes me want to run away. Fathering, Ministry, Husband, Hobbies, Church – and any of those have multiple sub-nightmares.

  • Brent Dumler

    I abosolutely have written goals. My mentor encouraged me to always have three current goals. Each time a goals is met, replace it with another. This keeps us constantly striving for something.

  • James

    Thanks for the post. Great advice.
    We have just put together a five year plan. Next week we will break it down into bite size achievable chunks and then plan our calendar accordingly.
    Having a goal to aim for give a light at the end of the tunnel to give you hope!

  • Harry @ GoalsOnTrack

    Great advice on goal setting. Also keeping a journal about your goals or just jotting down a few sentences each day about your goals, can be a great goal progress monitor and self-motivator. At least it will remind you about the goals you are trying to reach.

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  • Joshua J. Lutz

    Great article, Michael!

    Like you mentioned, just writing down goals helps me, but, it’s usually setting a deadline that on my calendar that does the trick. It’s not habit yet for me, but, I’m making progress!

    Thanks for laying it all out in a simple, to the point matter!

    I’m going to reassess my goals using these steps!

  • Layla


  • Vipin Mohan

    Came to your blog unexpectedly. I am a 26 year old engineer from India. A I am working in shifts I found it quite difficult to keep up with my personal-pro life balance. Here, in your blog, I find peace and wisdom. Even subscribed to your podcasts and also start using Nozbe (yup, after reading your review!) .Now seems everything will be under control. Thank you.

  • Kevin Donlin

    Great tips! Especially, Write them down and Review them frequently. I’ve found it very helpful to write my monthly goal on a 3×5 card and carry it *everywhere* so I can review it *anytime.* This turns waiting time (check out aisle, at the bank, etc.) into goal-reinforcement time.

    Also, for extra motivation, I write my goals down on the whiteboard in my office. It’s really helpful.

  • Andrew Hubbard

    Excellent point on “Sharing Selectively.” Sharing with a lot of people can take away from the time, resources and focus that could be actively spent on making progress towards the goal. Less talk, more action. It’s important to find the people to share your goal with that will give you a sense of balance as well as drive. You can be your own worst critic so it’s great if you can find someone that can share an objective viewpoint on the progress made as well as the distance still left to cover. And sharing too much also runs the risk of diminishing the impact of the goal. Some people will only lend a passive ear for the sake of polite conversation – no one should let the importance of their goal be depreciated by the lack of others regard for it.

  • Deborah MacDonald

    Your blog is very timely as our team goes into a 12 week business building blitz! I have always written down my goals, reviewed them and seen success because of it. But many of my team members have not, so giving them your blog post is ideal for getting them started in the right way. Thank you Michael.

  • Amada

    My question is: “What can I do to stop forgetting about my goals. I am absolutely able to write down clear goals but then, shortly after, I will forget about them for days, yes even for weeks. I am a paerson who is always focused on what is before their eyes. And if it is before my eyes for some days… well, then I don’t see it anymore. I really don’t know hwo to explain better. But for sure this problem mostly keeps me from going on and I am loosing a lot of time…

    • Ali Davies

      Hi Amada, I have found having what I call a goals planning cycle really helps with that. I have a cycle that runs like this – set goals then review then annually, quaterly, monthly, weekly and then have a specific action plan for each day. I schedule all of those things into my diary on set days and times just like an important appointment – that way they never get forgotten.

      • Amada

        Thank you for your input. I will sure try this out!!

  • Laura

    I started setting my goels about 5years ago… The first one I finished – Bachelor#s Studies. Now Im in Master.. But I am starting to have doubts about my next goals, because its left not enough time to earn a million :) Or I was just too much focused on actual,short term goals? Fun, my 10 years goals looked more realistic and achievable 10years ago :) Anyway,I just found this site and going to stay for a while and read.. Maybe I will get idea what to do next :)

  • Sherry Langland

    This year I had my grade 7, 8, and 9 students write down their goals for this school year and come up with one word that captured all their goals (from Jon Gordon). Every week we revisit these goals and journal about progress and next steps. I am seeing really good results from students and expect to see even more growth as we continue journaling.

  • Mark

    I would like to make a gift of my ebook Practical Goal Setting to you today. Please feel free to download a copy of it here:

  • Dun

    Yes! I learnt almost a decade ago that “telling someone your goals makes them less likely to happen”. But most important, these goals must be written… Just the process of writing them down is enough to draw one’s energies and focus on achieving.

  • Listen to this guy


    True S.M.A.R.T goals actually have the A as ‘Agreed upon’, this is primarily because commitment in itself is ‘deadly’ for organizational effectiveness but also because accountability, and primarily feedback are central to goal-setting, with feedback allowing difficult and specific goals to be more readily attained, among other things..

    Did you alter the A from the original formula for copyright and legality reasons? Presuming there is no response to this, I though I’d share this for the rest of those who are reading.



    • Michael Hyatt

      I have never heard “Agreed Upon” used as the meaning of the “A” in Smart Goals. I have heard many other variations. As this Wikipedia entry shows, there are dozens of variations on the acronym. There is not an ”official version.” No one has a trademark or copyright on it.
      Apparently, the first person to write about SMART goals was George T. Doran in a 1981 article in Management Review. He says the “A” stands for assignable.

      • Listen to this guy

        That’s very interesting.
        I did not know that that assignable was the precursor to Agreed upon in one of the original documentations of the theory.
        Did you also notice that in your example measurable and actionable have overlap in terms of their practical use?
        No worries, I used the SMART goal setting acronym in my organization for about five years – my entire organization did, substituting the original version of the ‘A’ for Actionable as well. For reasons that are now obvious to me.


        • Paul Smithson

          Whenever I speak about goals I tend to use ‘Actionable’ or ‘Achievable’ because it helps differentiate goals from fantasies.

          For example, a goal of being the captain of your national soccer team would not be ‘Achievable’ if you had two left feet and were seventy years old. It would just be a dream.

  • Vanessa Leota

    I love this post Michael. I’ve set it as a bookmark to refer to.

    It even inspired my first blog post for the year and helped shape my personal Goal Setting Wall Planner for 2014. Here is the direct link to the PDF if anyone is interested in using it for their goal setting.

  • Glenn Daniels

    Do not forget to use your imagination in setting your goals. After all Albert Einstein states:
    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and
    understand.” Take five minutes each day and imagine your goals as achieved. I write about this in my book and name the process, “Stepping to the End.” You must see the results; you must imagine the results.

  • Sabriyé Dubrie

    This is so true! Thats why we made a 2014 goal poster that you can download for free at
    The poster will help you get crystal clear on what you want to achieve
    this year and by hanging it in your office, it will be a daily reminder
    of how you want the year to unfold. Enjoy!

  • A P

    Hi Michael, I was wondering where do you keep your Someday/Maybe list? In Scrivener? Evernote? MindManager? Right now I just keep one in Word document but wonder if it would be best to have it connected to my other stuff rather than as a separate document that is rarely opened… or… if its best to do it just that way, so that it remains out of sight most of the time to prevent feeling overwhelmed or starting new projects before finishing current ones? Advice?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I keep it in Nozbe.

  • Kara Durbin

    Great post, Michael! I joined Platform University a week ago and one of the past member make-overs led me to this article. I’m thankful for the timing of this goal training! I was starting to get overwhelmed with the amount of information I was learning. The idea of short and long term, specific and actionable goals has helped me take a deep breath and create a realistic plan!

    • John Tiller

      Awesome, Kara! So glad you joined!

  • Vincent Santiago

    Awesome tips on how to achieve any goal. Great! Author of “How to Set & Achieve Any Goal”

  • Bob Goss

    Thank you, you have motivated me to get with my wife and get goals written down, and move forward !!

  • TracyBrinkmann

    great reminder on a very important topic “goal setting” i would only offer one small adjustment…. don’t just go to the edge of your comfort zone.. push it a little… not to a point of being unable to take action but go to the edge of your comfort zone and one step pace.. grow!!

    Think Successfully & Take Action!

  • Blake Lea

    Great post!

  • Sound Reason

    This is simply an amazing tool and vantage point so looking at how we set goals. I just wrote my first blog on what it means to plan and what it means to set goals, and how the two should not be used interchangeably. I wrote this after thinking about my own life goals and why I have not accomplished much, and I realized that it was because I was planning (a mental process) and not writing down my goals and checking them frequently. But it’s never too late to make a change and Michael these tool are so valuable thank you for sharing this with us.

    -sound reason

  • Shawn

    Michael, yes I’ve been working on a personal growth plan for 2014. They are separated into 6 categories; leadership, management, spiritual,relational, ministry and community. Each category has 4 goals with timelines attached. I have shared my goal sheet with one other person for accountability purposes. I am currently ahead on a majority of my goals.

  • Vincent Cheong

    Hi Michael, Thank you for the useful tips. I am an avid goal setter and huge fan of Evernote. I used to have all my goals set up in Evernote, but being a designer, I longed for something more visual to motivate me towards achieving those goals. I have an app published on the app store called Jutsu that makes it simple to set & track your personal goals. Would be awesome to get your feedback.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It looks pretty cool. Thanks.

  • Kapta

    I think it is important to keep the number of goals low at first. Pick the core goals you want to target and focus on those. Having too many could be overwhelming and it cause a person to get stretched thin.

  • Clay Patterson

    I have a lot better chance of seeing my goals through if I keep them to myself. For some reason when I speak them to my friends it takes the wind out of my sails.

  • Robin A Adams

    Praise The Lord,
    My experience with setting goals has always been in my mind and not on paper. Truly I have not accomplished them either. Yesterday and today I’ve focused on how to get me line with setting and writing my goal plan. I’m so excited and I even envision the success. Thank you.