If you want to be successful in life then learning to set goals effectively is essential. Because achieving your goals is determined in part by how well you set them. Whether you’re striving for a promotion in your chosen career path, or trying to navigate a career change, effective goal setting will ensure that you make progress and achieve more of your goals in your life and career.

But if goal setting is such a great way to make sure we achieve what we want, then how come so many of us get to the end of each year with our New Year’s resolution still on the “to do” list?

There are several reasons that most of us don’t stick to our resolutions, as highlighted in Psychology Today. According to Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, resolutions are a “form of cultural procrastination” and while people make resolutions as a way to motivate themselves, most aren’t ready to change their habits.

In addition to this according to Dr. Avya Sharma of the Canadian Obesity Network, people also tend to set unrealistic goals and expectations, something which most of us have been guilty of.

So, what can you do to make sure that you achieve your goals, and how can you ensure that your goal setting will be effective?

Here are 10 rules of goal setting, that will help you to achieve more of your goals going forwards.

1. Be Selective

There’s so much we want to do and so little time. Because of this, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to set too many goals. Give yourself the best chance of success by setting 1 to 3 big goals maximum and focusing on those. Whether you’re able to achieve 1 or 3 will depend on the size of the goals and what is involved in achieving them.

Focusing on 1 goal at a time gives you the greatest possible chance for success, since, according to Science Mag, our brains can’t effectively handle more than two complex, related activities at once. So if you have a big life-changing goal like starting a business or making a big career change, then you need to be focused on that and nothing else.

2. Be SMART about your goals

Specific and Stretching, Measurable, and Motivating.

When it comes to that New Years’ resolution, one of the most common resolutions people set is to lose weight. The problem with this is that it’s too vague. When setting goals, you need to make sure you’re as specific as possible, and you also need to be clear on how you will measure success. So in this case, I want to lose 10lbs by x date is a much better goal.

You also need to believe that you can achieve your goals, while still being stretched. If deep down you feel that a goal is unrealistic, you’ll be discouraged but also, you’re less likely to push yourself and take action if you don’t see the goal as a challenge or a stretch. Goals need to motivate us to push ourselves further.

Agreed By You

Any goal you set needs to be your own. You need to have ownership over it and it needs to be something that you want to achieve and not just something that someone else wants for you.

If you’re setting a goal because you think you “should” do it, it’s unlikely that you’ll be prepared to put in the work required to achieve it because it won’t be meaningful to you.

Realistic and Time-Bound

I love pushing myself as much as the next driven woman, but it’s unlikely that I’m going to be running a marathon in under an hour any time soon, especially since I’ve never run one!

Although your goal must be a stretch, it needs to be achievable. If you’re purposefully setting yourself goals that deep down you know you can’t achieve, you may need to question if, in fact, it is something you really want.

This doesn’t mean to say that you can’t achieve big things, but any big goal will need to be broken down further into a series of smaller, more manageable chunks.

Finally, when it comes to being SMART, make sure that any goal you set has an agreed completion date, otherwise, you’re likely to still be working on losing that 10 lbs 5 years from now.

3. Write down your goal

How many times have you had a great idea only to find that you can’t remember it later on? Maybe you were driving or in bed at night, maybe you were out shopping.  That’s why I keep a notepad by the bedside and in my bag at all times, it’s also why you need to make sure you write down your goals.

The best way to crystallize your goal is to commit pen to paper. And using good old-fashioned pen and paper will commit your goal to memory far better according to the Journal of Psychological Science. But of course, if you prefer to type, then by all means record your goal this way.

However, you choose to record your goal, just make sure you get it out of your head.

4. Frame it in the positive

When writing down your goal, use positive language “I will…”, “I have completed…. by x date”

While our conscious mind questions any information it receives, the subconscious mind doesn’t.  It readily accepts whatever you feed it! So, when you say you’ve done something, or that you are doing something the subconscious mind will accept it as a reality, and in doing so, you’re more likely to seek ways in which you can make the statement a truth.

By stating things in the positive, you’re also focusing on what you want, rather than what you don’t want (move towards goal), this is likely to put you in a better frame of mind because you’ll be spending your time thinking about and focusing on what you want rather than spending time thinking of what you don’t want, then using more energy to try and steer away from it.

Goal Setting Worksheet

5. Write a clear action plan

It’s not enough to just have a goal, after all, “A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Without a clear plan of the specific steps and actions, you need to take (and by when) to achieve your goal, you won’t have much chance of success and while you might start off on the right track, at some point you’re likely to become overwhelmed, frustrated and confused about what you’re supposed to be doing.

For everything you need to know about the best way to plan as well as how to prioritize your time, to make sure you achieve your goals, check out The Ultimate Guide To Time Management: 38 Time Management Techniques That Will Have You Using Your Time Wisely

6. Visualize working towards your goal

Visualizing the process of working towards your goal is a very powerful tool. One study highlighted in Psychology Today that looked at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.

In some cases, it has been proven that those who use this visualization technique in addition to training outperform those who use physical training alone.

Many high-performance athletes benefit from the results of this technique and so can you.

Take time to visualize yourself doing the specific tasks you will need to do to achieve your goal.

7. Visualise achieving your goal

As well as visualizing the process, visualizing the results can also be highly beneficial and motivating. Create a vision board and place it somewhere where you will see it regularly as a reminder of what you’re trying to achieve and why.


8. Share your goal with others

Have you ever told your friend you planned to do something only to find yourself wishing you never had? Every time you see them, it’s the first thing they bring up when you were only considering the idea.

Even though there are times we feel we could do without their constant reminder, your friend is only doing what any good accountability buddy would do. After all, you shouldn’t have said it if you weren’t going to do it, right?.

Use this annoying nosy behavior to your advantage and tell the people close to you, who cares if you succeed, about your goals and your plans. You’ll soon find yourself plowing through your actions so you can actually enjoy chatting the next time you’re out.

9. Review the goal and action plan regularly

When we don’t think about something for some time, we naturally start to redirect our focus onto something else. We’re busy people and some of us are easily distracted by the next shiny object (ahem).

Make sure you stay on track with your action plan by regularly reviewing where you are against your goal and target date.

10. Celebrate milestones

Whatever your career goals, whether it’s starting your own business, changing careers, or finally getting that promotion, the journey can be long, so make sure you take the time to notice when you hit milestones and celebrate the small successes along the way! That way you’ll feel even more motivated to get started working on that next big goal.