A shocking 92% of people don’t achieve their New Year’s goals. Which is why you need a simple framework that’s designed to help you with how to achieve goals more effectively.
The problem is that most people focus on goal setting without giving much thought on how to ensure goal achievement. But it’s not enough to just set SMART goals. You need an effective process that helps you stay consistent, not get distracted and keeps you motivated throughout the year.
Especially when things don’t go as planned or the work is unexpectedly difficult (which WILL happen). Stick with me to learn a simple, 5-step goal achievement process designed to help you:
- stay motivated, focused and on-track (no matter how hard things get or how many distractions try to pull you off-course) and
- pivot when things don’t go as planned.
And if you’re serious about learning how to achieve goals effectively, be sure to download my ACHIEVE BIG Goal Setting and Planning Workbook. It will help you set purpose-based goals (that light you up) AND take consistent action so that you’ll achieve your goals.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
The Foundation for How to Achieve Goals
Goal-achievement is highly dependent on having goals that inspire you. How else will you stay motivated when things get hard (even tedious)? And why keep persevering through unexpected difficulties?
That means that the key for how to achieve goals is to set the right goals for yourself. But before we get to what that means (and how to do it), it’s important to think about how you define success.
Because your success definition matters (a lot!).
Why Your Success Definition Is Crucial for Goal-Achievement
Most people set goals based on what others want from them, how others will perceive them, and what they think they’re supposed to want (yet don’t).
I get it (I used to do this too). It’s often the result of thinking that it’s what is necessary to be successful.
But shouldn’t success lead to happiness? And if unhappy, are you really a success (no matter how much wealth you have, what you’ve achieved or how others perceive you)?
True success requires you to feel content in your own skin, feel at peace with your decisions and be satisfied with your actions. It’s more about how you view yourself than what others think or how you look from the outside looking in.
This is important to understand and accept because your definition of success affects the goals you set and how you go about achieving them. It directly impacts how motivated you are (and whether you’re inspired by your goals). And it even affects your confidence levels.
And you need to feel motivated and confident to do the work needed to achieve your goals. Otherwise, you’ll never achieve them (and even if you do, you won’t be happy with where you end up).
Get clear about how you define success and make sure that your definition is truly YOURS. For how to do this, read the article Want to Be Successful? Stop Working So Hard and Rethink How You Define Success.
Why Setting the Right Goals Matters
The right goals will:
- challenge you in ways that excite you,
- provide you with inspiration to keep going (even when things get tough), and
- make it less likely that you’ll get pulled away by bright, shiny objects.
In short, setting the right goals is a huge part for how to achieve goals effectively.
Let me be clear: setting the right goals doesn’t guarantee goal-achievement. There’s more to it than that. But you’re much less likely to achieve your goals if you don’t set the right ones for yourself. And even if you do, they won’t lead to real happiness.
Want to learn how to set the right goals so that you can increase the odds for achieving them (and increase your happiness too)? Be sure to read How to Set Personal Goals for Work and Life (That You’ll Actually Achieve), where you’ll learn how to set values-based goals that inspire you.
How to Achieve Goals: Your 5-Step Actionable Blueprint
So, you’ve worked hard to set purpose-based goals that inspire and motivate you. Your next step is to use a simple framework for how to achieve goals effectively.
Here is my simple, proven framework for how to achieve goals:
- Step 1: Limit your goals.
- Step 2: Focus on your habits.
- Step 3: Work on your mindset.
- Step 4: Break large goals into 90-day mini-goals.
- Step 5: Work in 2-week increments.
Before we go in-depth into each of these 5 steps, be sure to grab your copy of the ACHIEVE BIG Goal Achievement Workbook (so that you can easily set the right goals and achieve them).
Download your free copy of the Workbook here:
Step #1: Limit the Number of Goals You Have
In my experience, most professionals (especially high-achievers) have too many goals at once.
As an example, I had a client who came to me with 8 (pretty big) goals. His reasoning was that he wanted to have both personal and professional goals, and also that he loves being challenged.
Although I applaud his reasons, I convinced him to prioritize his goals and pair them down. Here’s why. . .
[Recommended Reading: Top Goal-Setting Mistakes to Avoid].
Why Less Is More When It Comes To How To Achieve Goals
Goals are challenging (they’re usually designed to stretch you at least a little bit). And there’s only so much time in the day, week, month and year. You can’t spend all of your time working towards your goals either (you have responsibilities and obligations that aren’t goal-related).
Moreover, life happens. Unexpected events will come up that will take you away from your goals.
The problem is that too many goals means not having enough time to spend on each one. This often leads to multitasking your goals.
And despite what you might think, multi-tasking is NOT your friend. It leads to task-switching (which is inefficient) and moving the ball forward only a little bit on each thing, if at all.
That means that you’ll be working hard yet won’t be getting far on anything! And that’s just plain disheartening.
But with a limited number of goals, you’ll have time to devote to them and will hence be more likely to accomplish them.
How Many Goals Is Too Many?
How many goals should you have? That depends on what your goals are.
My rule of thumb is to keep your goals to 5 or less at all times. And note: sometimes it might make sense to have only a few goals. Some goals are so challenging that it doesn’t make sense to add much more to your plate.
For example, one of my goals as a lawyer was to increase my business by 20%. That was a HUGE goal, with lots of different steps to achieve it. And so it was the only professional goal I set for that year.
I do think that it’s important to have at least one goal that’s related to your business and one that’s related to your own personal development. So, don’t forget to set life goals as well as professional/business goals.
Remember the client I mentioned above (who came to me with 8 goals)? He ended up paring his down to four total goals – 2 professional goals and 2 personal goals.
How to Prioritize Your Goals
When consulting with clients on goal-setting and achievement, I invariably get a question around what to do when they have more than 5 goals. They want to know how to choose which goals to move forward with and which ones to let go of.
Here’s the thing: this isn’t necessarily about letting go of goals. It’s about prioritizing which ones are most important so that you can accomplish them.
The others aren’t going anywhere and will either become new priorities at a later time or will be overtaken by something else (which means that they’re not priorities and then can be let go of).
When prioritizing goals, consider your overarching vision for your career and life and then choose your goals based on what you most want to accomplish in the year ahead to get you closer to your vision.
[Recommended: Learn how to prioritize like a pro in my Life & Law Podcast Episode about how to prioritize to do less, achieve more].
Step #2: Focus on Your Habits
Goal-achievement isn’t so much about the goals themselves, but about the habits that are needed to achieve them. Because your habits are ultimately what will determine your success rate.
How to Achieve Goals Through Your Habits
Habits Are Your Behavior
Your habits determine the actions you take in the long-term. And they directly affect how often you get distracted and how quickly you refocus after being distracted. Moreover, they determine the long-term sustainability of certain achievements.
For example, if you want to write a book then you need to first get into the habit of writing regularly. If you try to jump into writing a book without first developing a writing habit, you’ll easily get distracted, disheartened, and will probably give up.
And if you want to lose 100 pounds but haven’t worked out in years, you’ll need to get into the habit of showing up to work out before adding too many difficult workout routines to your regimen. Otherwise, you’re more likely to give up when your workouts start getting more difficult.
You probably know someone who lost a lot of weight, only to gain it all back. Their problem was that they didn’t successfully upgrade their habits for the long-term (and likely never changed their internal identity).
Habits Create Identity
Think about your current habits and their relationship to how you feel about yourself. Your habits have a direct relationship to your internal confidence levels.
Habits eventually become a part of who you are. They create your identity. And that has a direct affect on your long-term behavior (and hence your ability to achieve big goals).
What to Do With Your Habits
When planning for your goals, identify:
- The habits you currently have that might help,
- Which habits might get in your way or make your goal more difficult to achieve, and
- Any habits that you want (or need) for successful goal achievement and sustainability.
When considering good habits that you already have, think about how you can leverage them to help you adopt new, better ones (and replace the old ones).
It’s important to note that you don’t develop new habits overnight. And habit changes are really about upgrading your habits, instead of getting rid of all bad habits.
Here’s the thing: most bad habits don’t die completely. You’re a human being, not a robot. But you can work to create systems to help you upgrade your habits and be more consistent with them.
When working to upgrade habits, focus on your overall trajectory while keeping in mind that you’re a work-in-progress. Be proud of the fact that you’re headed in the right direction.
How to Achieve Goals by Upgrading Your Habits: 5 Keys to Success
There’s a lot of information out there around how to change habits for the long-term. And we can’t cover it all here. If you’d like to go deeper, then I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear (or anything on his blog).
That being said, you can get started without having to do too much research (or hard thinking). When upgrading your habits, here are 5 keys to keep in mind:
Key #1: Keep Things Small and Simple
People often fail at goal-achievement and in changing their habits because they go too big at once. Just look at most New Year’s resolutions for a ready-made example of what I’m talking about.
Instead, start small and keep your new habit easy to do. This is key, as you’re more likely to give up when still in the building process if you associate pain and difficulty with your new habit.
If you want to develop a habit of showing up at the gym, go for just 15 minutes and do something relatively easy to get started. And if you want to develop a new habit of writing every day, start with just 5 or 10 minutes of daily writing.
Once you develop this new habit, build onto it (but build small!). Add 5 minutes to your working and/or your writing. And then keep building until you get to where you want.
Key #2: Pay Attention to Your Environment
Your environment has a lot to do with the habits that you have, and it’s important to change your environment to help support wanted habits and minimize unwanted ones.
For example, you’re unlikely to start flossing daily unless the floss is readily available (and you’re able to see it). And if ice cream is the first thing you see when opening the freezer, you’re more likely to eat it than not.
Take a look at your environment and build it so that it’s easier to do the things you want and more difficult to do the things you’re trying to do less of.
Let’s go back to the example of building a habit of working out. Set your workout clothes out the night before and choose a gym that’s on your route to work (not out of the way – even by a block or two).
And if you’re trying to eat healthier, buy less junk food and more healthy options while keeping the healthy foods in places that are easy to see (and reach) and the unhealthy ones out of sight.
Key #3: Surround Yourself With People Who Have the Habits You Want
Human beings are social creatures. And we’re heavily influenced by the people around us. If you want to develop new habits, it’s important to surround yourself with people who already have the habits that you want.
Want to get in better shape? Join a gym. Trying to up-level your business or career? Join a mastermind.
And reduce the amount of time you’re spending with people who have the bad habits you’re trying to minimize.
Key #4: Stack Habits
When trying to upgrade your habits, stack new habits onto current ones.
For example, if you want to start meditating in the morning and you already have the habit of walking the dog every morning, then stack your new meditation habit to the end of your walk (or even add it to your walk).
By doing this, you’ll make your new habit seem more natural and hence easier to do.
Key #5: Automate Everything You Can
Automating your behavior is about taking a one-time action that makes the habit you want automatic (or as close to automatic as possible).
Here are a few examples:
- Control portion size by getting rid of large plates (and using only small ones).
- Get a dog that needs a nightly walk to get you moving more often.
- Remove all electronic devices and chargers from your bedroom to stop looking at social media at night and first thing in the morning.
[Recommended Reading: How To Be Confident Again After Failure (5 Strategies)].
Step #3: Work On Your Mindset (Constantly)
Your mentality is one of the biggest indicators of whether or not you’ll achieve your goals (it’s as important as your habits).
What Is Mindset?
How often do you refuse to delegate because you can do it better? Do you sometimes convince yourself that something must be done just right (meaning perfect)?
And do you often compare yourself and your results to others, which then makes you feel like a failure (and ultimately keeps you from making a change or going after something you really want)?
All of these behaviors result from your mindset. Your mindset is the mentality you have about who you are, what you’re capable of, the opportunities you have, and how the world (and the people in it) work. In its simplest form, mindset is how and what you think.
Why Your Mindset Matters For How to Achieve Goals Effectively
What you believe and how you think matters (a lot!). More than your goals themselves. And even more than your process for goal-achievement.
I’m not saying that all you have to do is believe in something for it to come true (that doesn’t work). What I’m saying is that your mentality is what determines:
- The goals you set,
- How hard you work to achieve your goals,
- Whether you keep going or give up when things get hard, and
- How you perceive your progress along the way to achievement.
How a Negative Mindset Keeps You From Your Goals
Your brain is pre-wired to think negatively. That’s why you so often have thoughts swirling in your head questioning whether you can do something, asking if you really want to go out on a limb, and warning you about potential risk and failure (and the shame that supposedly goes along with it).
Unfortunately, this negative bias can wreak havoc with goal-achievement. It allows your fears and doubts to take hold, making it less likely that you’ll go after your big goals and more likely to give up when things get tough.
Consider a big goal that you’d like to accomplish. How far do you need to get before you consider yourself close?
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t consider yourself close (at all) until you’re almost all the way there. You want to be able to see the finish line.
But that’s a dangerous way to think because it makes your first steps feel almost meaningless. Instead of seeing that your first step represents exponential growth, you perceive that you’re not getting far enough.
It’s time to change that.
How to Achieve Goals By Developing the Right Mindset
If you want to achieve your goals – especially meaningful ones – then you MUST work to cultivate a growth-oriented, mentally resilient mindset. I call this a success mindset.
A success mindset allows you to:
- Embrace, accept and learn from failure (so that you can pivot and keep going instead of giving up),
- Act despite your fears and doubts, and
- Feel confident in yourself and your decisions (even after you’ve failed).
Cultivating a success-oriented mindset isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Get started by adopting some simple daily practices upgrading your habits, and reconnecting to your core values (they help guide you to making the right decisions).
If you set purpose-based goals (as discussed above), then you’ve already reconnected yourself to your core values. And if you’re following this 5-step goal-achievement blueprint, then you’re also working to upgrade your habits (remember, they affect your confidence levels and how you feel about yourself).
As for the daily practices, I recommend starting with a regular gratitude practice and building from there using cognitive re-framing. Although this may sound like simplistic advice, both practices work to retrain your mind to be more positive and mentally resilient while also increasing confidence levels.
Learn more about how to create a mentally resilient mindset in my article about How to Avoid Stress (5 Unusual Stress Management Strategies). This isn’t your typical stress management advice! Instead, it helps you to cultivate the right mentality for life.
Step #4: Work in 90 Day Increments
Most people set annual goals. The problem with this is that it’s impossible to plan for the entire year or even see how you’ll get there.
Circumstances will change. Life will happen. And it’s hard to figure out where to even get started when looking so far ahead.
This is where your mind will try to work against you. But there’s a way to get around it. . . break your annual goals (or any other large goal) into mini-goals that can be accomplished within 90 days.
Why Goal-Planning On A 90-Day Basis Increases Your Success Rate
Planning on a 90-day basis is much easier than on an annual basis. And you’ll feel less overwhelmed when working towards a 90-day plan, helping you to stay motivated and less likely to stray when bright, shiny objects come into view.
And remember: when working towards goals, the unexpected will occur. This will change how you view your goals and how you want to go about achieving them.
It’s much easier to reassess your opportunities, reconsider your actions, and re-prioritize your goals when working within a 90-day incremental plan. You’ll be more nimble.
If you have a goal that is completely achievable in 90 days or less, then you don’t need to do anything. The key is to ensure that you’re being realistic about what’s achievable during your current 90-day period.
But if you have an annual goal, it’s time to break it down into your first 90-day plan.
How to Split Big Goals Into 90-Day Increments
Every big goal can be broken into stages or pieces. And that’s what you need to do.
Review your annual goal and start breaking it into smaller, more actionable pieces. When doing this, think about:
- The big-picture steps that need to be achieved to accomplish your goal,
- Your habits and upgrade plan (this will be part of your action plan),
- Current resources (and where you may be lacking),
- Who and where you can get help from,
- Timing for each step or piece, and
- How to measure success for each step or piece.
The point is to break your annual goal into smaller mini-goals and then determine what to take on first (within your initial 90-day period).
This process will help you feel less stressed while also discounting your mind’s tendency to discount your actual progress (you’ll more readily acknowledge the progress you’re making because you’ll be working towards a finite achievement at the end of the 90-day period).
A quick warning: estimations will still be off (that’s the nature of estimating). But note that sometimes you’ll benefit from this, and other times you won’t. And you’ll get better at estimating time and effort as you go, so don’t stress over it.
Conduct Quarterly Reviews
At the end of each 90-day period, review where you are and reassess for your next 90 days (and then repeat this process again). Identify what worked and what didn’t, and what you learned from it all.
Then, use what you learned from this review as you move forward.
The goal of your quarterly review is to determine how much you achieved as compared to what was originally planned so that you can better create your next 90-day mini-goal and plan for it.
Step #5: Work In 2-Week Increments
Even when working within a 90-day period, you can’t know what will happen or plan everything for the entire period. The simple fact is that your plans will be imperfect, life will get in the way, and you’ll learn things as you go that will affect your plans.
That’s why it’s important to work in two-week increments. Every two weeks set aside time to review your progress, reassess, tweak your action steps, and schedule your next two-week period.
This simplifies your goal-planning process and allows for more flexibility. But it does mean that you MUST use your calendar!
How to Achieve Goals By Utilizing Your Calendar
You won’t achieve your goals if you don’t set aside time to do the work necessary to accomplish them. Use your calendar to block off dedicated time to take action on your goals (and then do it!)
Before you skip this part (thinking that you already do this), consider whether that’s really true. In my experience, most people don’t utilize their calendars well.
When it comes to scheduling time in your calendar, don’t go beyond 2 weeks. That’s likely to result in lots of reschedules and makes you more likely to ignore your calendar (the opposite of what you want).
When something ends up taking longer than expected, immediately schedule additional time into your calendar. Don’t forget that so long as you continue to move forward, you WILL get there eventually (even if it takes longer than anticipated).
The Secret for How to Achieve Your Goals Relates to Your Goal-Achievement Process
The steps set forth above outline a system for successful goal achievement, and can be used for both business goals and personal goals. This system will help you plan more effectively, streamline your process, and stay on course. It will also help to create early momentum while keeping you motivated (even excited) along the way.
For a step-by-step goal-setting and achievement guide, don’t forget to grab your copy of the ACHIEVE BIG Workbook: