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Goal Setting

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''It concerns us to know the purpose we seek in life, for then, like archers aiming at a definite mark, we shall be more likely to attain what we want.'' — Aristotle

Goal setting is the single most important aspect of your career. How you focus your time and how you organize what you do will largely determine whether you succeed or fail. When you look around at the world and see people who are at the tops of their games in sports, entertainment, business, and other pursuits, you will generally find that they have outstanding methods for setting goals. There are also many common characteristics of the ways the most successful people manage their goals.

Whether you are seeking to be President of the United States, a first-class parent, the fastest runner in the world, the head of your organization, or simply happy and fulfilled, there are certain scientific goal-setting principles that you can follow that will take you precisely where you want to go. I believe that the discipline of goal setting is so profoundly significant that in addition to the success of ourselves, the success of entire companies and countries comes down to how well organizations are setting their goals. Goal setting is that important.

At the end of this article, I have included several forms that I would recommend printing and using on an ongoing basis for your own goal-setting exercises.

You Need to Have an Overall Plan to Know Where You Are Going.

Once, when I was flying with an instructor between Oakland and Los Angeles during one of my first flights behind the controls of an airplane, the instructor basically spent most of his time reading a book. Every few minutes, he would look up from the book and shout, "Heading 17!" (we were supposed to be on this heading); then he would go back to reading. I would then proceed to pilot the airplane for a few more minutes before he would look up once again and shout out the heading.

The funny thing about this experience was that every time he looked up and shouted the heading to me, I actually was off course and not headed in the correct direction. For example, if you are flying between Oakland and Los Angeles and you are off by just a small amount, you could wind up in Las Vegas instead. Knowing exactly where you are going is exceptionally important. But very, very few people know exactly where they are going. They are, metaphorically speaking, flying their personal airplanes with no direction.

If pilots were allowed to start flying with no specific courses charted, they would be crashing into mountains and cities all over on an hourly basis. Accordingly, when people fly airplanes, they are required by the government and other authorities to know exactly how to chart courses. They are given multiple tests and trained for weeks before they are allowed to pilot airplanes alone.

No one demands such training from you, however, on how to navigate life. Most people are put on this earth and given very few maps and no courses to chart. With no course, you can end up in jobs and relationships that are completely unfulfilling. Personally, I find it very disappointing and difficult to believe that goal-setting principles are not taught by requirement in schools or by most parents. You absolutely must know where you are going if you are going to get there.

Whenever I meet people who I am impressed by on a personal and professional level, I like to ask numerous questions about how they manage their time and what they want for themselves. People who achieve phenomenal success in this life typically force themselves to set massive and audacious goals for themselves. Once they have their goals, they proceed to figure out how to achieve them.

State Your Goals and Commit Them to Paper.

You need to know precisely what you are after. For example, if you are looking to be fitter, you might say to yourself, "I am going to lose at least three pounds in the next two weeks." When you set a goal for yourself, it is important that you be as specific as possible. Being specific will enable you to know when you have achieved the goal you are after.

You absolutely, positively must know what your goals are, however. Everyone must have goals. Commit your goals to paper and make sure you are absolutely positive that you know what they are.

Aim High When Setting Goals for Yourself.

Many people have fears about failing, so they never set big goals for themselves. You need to understand that everyone has a "survival instinct" that motivates him or her to avoid pain. For many people, failing is painful; therefore, most people do not even try to compete at levels where failure is possible. You need to set big goals for yourself if you are going to achieve something magnificent in your life. The only possible limitations to what you are capable of achieving are those that you accept. If you accept that you are destined to attain only a certain level of achievement, that is precisely what you shall do.

"It Is the Man Who Thinks He Can"

If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don't.
If you'd like to win, but think you can't,
It's almost certain you won't.

If you think you'll lose, you've lost,
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow's will;
It's all in the state of mind.

If you think you're outclassed, you are:
You've got to think high to rise.
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late, the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.

~Author Unknown~

While the point of this exercise is not to be motivational, it is crucial that you understand that you must set high goals for yourself. Aim for the stars, and you will go far. The quality of the goals you set for yourself will determine the quality of your life.

Do Not Let Others Influence the Quality of Your Goals.

It is important that you take control over your life and do so through your own goals. Most people are so afraid of disappointing others and maintaining their relationships with others that they often spend their time doing for others and not for themselves. You need to worry about yourself and your goals, as well. Other people are who they are—and you are who you are. Allow yourself to dream big dreams and become the person you want to become.

Set Both Personal and Professional Goals.

Goal setting is a way of life; therefore, everything you do needs to involve measurable goals. You need to have both professional and personal goals. If you do not have personal goals as well as professional goals, then your personal-success engine will not run as it should.

It is important to keep in mind the old adage "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy." If you are focused on nothing but professional goals, your personal life will suffer. Once your personal life begins to suffer, you will begin having doubts about whether the pursuit of your professional goals is worth it. Then you may not follow through successfully.

Having both personal and professional goals is part of an overall and comprehensive system for managing your life and getting the most fulfillment out of everything you do. Once you reach this point, you will be very excited about everything you are doing, and everything will have a purpose.

The purpose of any goal-management system is to give you total and complete fulfillment. You deserve to be fulfilled in order to ensure that your life engine is running as smoothly as possible. It is my firm belief that the personal goals you set for yourself are just as important—if not more important—than your professional goals. Once you have balanced these goals, you will meet with more success and fulfillment in everything you do.

Make Sure Each Goal Has a Purpose.

Every goal you set for yourself needs to have a purpose. Without a purpose, you are simply spinning your wheels. This is the reason most people fail when they are setting their goals. They do not know why they want to achieve something in particular. When you have a reason behind why you want to accomplish each goal you write down, you are further empowered and more likely to achieve your goals.

Simply creating to-do lists does not require you to reflect on the reasons you want to achieve things. When there is a powerful "why" behind each of your goals, you are likely to accomplish far, far more with the same amount of time and effort. Your goals will also have meaning, which is crucial to your success.

You need to ask yourself the following sorts of questions about each goal you set:

  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?
  • Why is this goal important to me?
  • How will I feel once I achieve this goal?
  • How will my life be better once I achieve this goal?
  • What is the real reason I want to achieve this goal?
Giving each of your goals a reason and a real purpose will continually push you toward your outcome. For example, let's say your goal is to fly from Oakland to Los Angeles. Purposes for doing this might include "to get home" or "to see a friend." Having a purpose for a goal makes achieving it much more meaningful. Your goals need meaning.

Set Daily, Weekly, Quarterly, Yearly, Three-Year, and Five-Year Goals.

Review daily goals throughout the day, weekly goals each day, quarterly goals at the beginning of each week, yearly goals at the beginning of each week, three-year goals at the beginning of each week, and five-year goals at the beginning of each week.

Remember the example of the flight path at the beginning of this article. Your life is like an airplane—you must stay on course. If you do not plan your course and stay on course, you will never get to where you want to go.

In order to get to where you want to go, you need to be like the flight instructor I discussed at the beginning of this article. The flight instructor constantly looked up, looked at where we were going, and yelled out the proper course so that I would correct our flight path. One of the keys to being great at anything is constantly correcting your course and ensuring that you are going where you want to go.

It is required that you review the daily goals you have set for yourself throughout the day to remind yourself of what you are setting out to accomplish. It is also imperative that you review your weekly goals each day in order to be sure you will fulfill them and that you are on the right track.

In my goal setting, I generally follow the following course:

Annual Goal Setting

At the beginning of each year, I set yearly goals and goals for the first quarter. I also review my lifetime goals. I generally spend about two days (a Saturday and Sunday) thinking about these goals each year. I review what I have accomplished over the previous year and set new goals for the current year. I have found that these two days that I spend reviewing my goals each year have a profound impact on what happens to me throughout the rest of the year.

You deserve to set aside the time to do annual goal setting. Make it a reality in your life each year.

Quarterly Goal Setting

It is important to review where you are going each quarter. Every three months, you will want to set a plan for the next three months based on what you have accomplished over the past three months and on your annual and lifetime goals. This is very important, and it will pay major dividends for you throughout the year. It is best to schedule a time to do quarterly goal setting and make sure this time is always scheduled well in advance.

Weekly Goal Setting

Every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., I review my annual, lifetime, quarterly, and weekly goals from the prior week. I see what I have accomplished and what I have not accomplished and budget my time for the following week accordingly. I set goals for the following week.

This two-hour block of time is some of the most productive time I spend each week. This is the time when I set and calibrate my compass to make sure I am headed in the correct direction.

When you set your goals for each week, you need to review the previous week's goals and see what you have achieved and not achieved. Review these goals closely and then set aside time to complete your goals during the next week.

Daily Goal Setting

You need to review your goals for the previous day each and every day at the end of the day. You need to see what you have accomplished throughout the day and then do goal setting for the next day. This is crucial time, and I generally do the following:

First, throughout the day, I will jot down notes about important things I need to accomplish the next day or over the next few weeks. I keep a list of "attention items" that I schedule for the next day and the following week.

Second, at the end of each day, I review the goals I set for myself for that day, and I review the goals I have set for the next day. I then think about what I need to do in order to achieve those goals. I spend around five minutes doing this before I go to sleep each night. I have found this is a very good time to review my goals due to the fact that I am relaxed and able to get perspective on what I want to do the following day.

Your Conscious and Subconscious Minds Will Go to Work on Your Behalf Once You Have Set Goals for Yourself.

Several months ago, I was at a seminar and was partnered with a man who was the most successful real estate investor in the country of Venezuela, I believe. This man told me that he had once been quite ordinary but that his life had changed dramatically after he attended a conference on programming the subconscious mind. While I had heard countless speakers and others talk about the power of the subconscious mind before, the following words spoken by this particular man struck me: "It is like there are two of you—there is another person inside you who tells you what you can and cannot do. You need to make that person do what you want them to do."

Every single influential motivational speaker I have ever heard of generally spends a lot of time speaking about the subconscious mind and the importance of programming it to do what you want it to do. This is the reason I believe many people sabotage their own success—they may want to do certain things, but they allow their subconscious minds to sabotage them. This is not something you want to allow to happen.

Consider the following statement from Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich:

Everything which man creates begins in the form of a thought impulse. Man can create nothing which he does not first conceive in thought. Through the aid of imagination, thought impulses may be assembled into plans. The imagination, when under control, may be used for the creation of plans or purposes that lead to success in one's chosen occupation.

All thought impulses, intended for transmutation into their physical equivalents, voluntarily planted in the subconscious mind, must pass through the imagination and be mixed with faith. The "mixing" of faith with a plan, or purpose, intended for submission to the subconscious mind may be done only through the imagination.

From these statements, you will readily observe that voluntary use of the subconscious mind calls for coordination and application of these principles.
When you are setting goals and determining a purpose for each goal, you are influencing your subconscious mind. I believe that you must work on your subconscious mind on a daily basis. Virtually every significant motivational and business speaker I have ever encountered has stressed the massive importance of daily work on the subconscious mind. Following the procedures outlined above will allow your subconscious mind to function as it should.


There is no limit to how many goals you can set for yourself. Simply taking this action will change who you are and who you will become. It is essential that you aggressively set goals for yourself, regardless of who you believe you can become. If you were to do this and nothing more, your life would change profoundly. However, very few people ever take this simple step.

Most of the people who read this article will not end up following this system. In fact, I believe less than 1% of the world even takes the important step of committing goals to paper in this way. When you take the time to commit your goals to paper and then reaffirm them on a daily basis, you will immediately notice major changes taking place in your life.

I have one final point, and it is a point that sticks with me because I believe it is a metaphor for how most of us live our lives. When an elephant is young and its keepers want to keep it in one place, a rope is tied around one of its legs, and then the other end of the rope is securely tied to a stake. When an elephant is young, it will pull its hardest to free itself from the rope, but no matter how hard the elephant pulls, it will not be able to free itself. After a week or two of pulling, the elephant begins to realize that any time a rope is fastened around its leg, it cannot free itself, and it never moves from the same place.

After the elephant is grown and so strong it could snap the rope with virtually no effort, its handlers continue to use a rope of the same size to tie it up. The reason for this is that the elephant continues to associate the small rope with the impossibility of escaping. The elephant, therefore, does not even try to move—even though it now has the ability to break free.

What if the elephant had set a goal when it was young of freeing itself from that rope? If it had, it never would have stopped trying and one day would have freed itself. The problem is that most people consider themselves bound by things that happened to them in the past or who they once were. You are not constrained by the past. Who you can and want to become is determined by the here and now.

Do not let the past influence your goals and who you will become tomorrow.

  • Goal Setting Forms

  • About Harrison Barnes
    Harrison Barnes is the founder of EmploymentCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in employment search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of employment placement. Harrison’s writings about careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. EmploymentCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
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