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Goal Setting - A Beginner's Guide

Updated on April 25, 2017
Annie McMahon profile image

I'm a middle grade writer originally from Canada, now living in New Jersey. These are my tips for how to set and achieve your goals.

A World of Possibilities

This guide is a collection of tips, exercises, and advice I've come across throughout the years, along with some realizations of my own.

I encourage you to write your goals and work on actualizing them. Since everyone's set of goals is unique, there is no "one size fits all" method. Once you know the basic rules, you can try different existing methods, combine them, or come up with your own. The method you choose should fit your personality and your goals.

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chapter 1 - Know What You Want

"A problem well defined is a problem half solved." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do you have a vague idea that your life should be different, more enjoyable, or less demanding, but you're not sure how to improve your lifestyle?

Do you have a clear vision of where you want to be five or ten years from now, or do you live day by day, without even thinking about it?

The first step in setting goals is to identify what you want. Use one of the following methods, or develop your own. This first stage is only a brainstorming exercise. Don't worry if what you write is unclear or negative; the following lessons will help you clarify your goals and make them achievable.

Method # 1: Freewriting

Take a piece of paper or a notebook, and write down, "What's wrong?" at the top of the page.

Write quickly, without stopping, everything you would like to see different in your life. Don't worry about writing neatly or correctly. Just let it all out. You may want to start with these little voices you keep hearing in your mind every day, as you go about your daily life: "If only I had more money!" "I'm so tired of this job." "Am I ever going to lose weight, and keep it off?" "The kids are driving me nuts!"

Write for about fifteen minutes.

Why it works:

  • Once your thoughts are written down, they tend to stop bouncing around in your mind, allowing you to think more clearly.
  • You may notice some relations between different thoughts you wrote. Sometimes, you may feel like your whole life is falling apart, when in reality, there are only a few things that are wrong.
  • Writing down your thoughts helps see things more objectively and identify the source of your dissatisfaction.

Method # 2: The Aladdin Method

For a moment, pretend you have no physical or spiritual limitations. Write down 101 wishes you would like to see manifested in your life within the next year or so.

Why it works:

  • Some dreams you may have abandoned as unrealistic or impractical long ago may resurface - after you run out of the obvious, tangible, immediate ones.
  • Writing down 101 wishes forces you to go beyond the urgent, down-to-earth goals and tap into what it is you really want, deep down inside.
  • You may start with what you think you should wish for, based on your social status or community, but as you write more and more wishes, you will uncover your very own wishes. These wishes may have more potential to be realized, because you are doing it for yourself, not for someone else.

Method # 3: Plain and Simple

Maybe you are already quite happy with your life, but there are one or two things you would like to accomplish. You may already have several goals in mind, but you just don't know where to start.

Write down from five to ten goals on a piece of paper. Don't worry if they are a bit vague, or if they only mention the area of your life you want to work on.

Why it works:

  • Sometimes, even if you know what you want, you tend to forget what your goals are. Writing down your goals helps you remember what you've decided to manifest in your life, and keeps you focused.
  • The next exercise will help you become more specific about what you want. For example, "More money" may be one of your goals, but you will eventually have to define exactly what you mean by "more." We will do that in the next chapter.

Method # 4: Projection into the future

Describe your life as you see it ten years from now. Where will you live? What will you do for a living? What kind of person will you be?

Why it works:

  • Even if things don't happen as planned, and you may change your plan several times along the way, it helps to have a vision and some sort of guidelines.
  • Some goals, such as being a homeowner or starting a new career, take time and effort, and quite a lot of planning.
  • Deciding what to do with your life helps you see past the obstacles that may come along your way.
  • If you don't take charge now, you may end up in a completely different situation than what you had in mind.

Use the method you think is the most appropriate for your current situation, or combine them to fit your needs. The important thing is to start identifying what you would like to change in your life. The next chapter will help you decide on three goals from the list you have come up with.

Chapter 2 - Decide on Three Goals

"Be careful what you wish for, 'cause you just might get it all!" - Daughtry

Pick three goals that are important to you. They should be goals you are willing to invest time and energy in accomplishing. Read what you wrote in the previous exercises to help you decide. I would recommend starting with short-term goals to build your confidence. Once you have the assurance that you can reach your goals, you will be able to tackle more challenging goals.

The following rules will help you decide what goals to choose.

Rule # 1: Turn your problems into positive goals.

If your goal stems from a problem you have, such as "I can't stand my job!" you need to re-write it in the form of a positive goal, such as "Find a new job that brings me a sense of fulfillment."

As much as possible, use positive words instead of emphasizing on the negative. Replace "Be less impatient" by "Have more patience."

Why it works:

Once you train yourself to think positive and let go of the negative, you will start attracting what you desire into your life. Your mind is like a spiritual magnet. You attract what you think about all the time. If you keep thinking about how poor you are, you attract poverty. Once you turn your problems into positive goals, your mind will start working in your favor.

Rule # 2: Make goals your mind can accept as true.

If your goal is to be a millionaire, make sure you can visualize yourself as such, and accept it as a truth. As for me, my mind would just go, "Yeah, right!" I would probably start with "Increase my salary by 20% in the next twelve months" and work my way up to a million - if it was my goal.

Why it works:

You are smart and can't easily be fooled. If you know for a fact that your manager is an egocentric, selfish, hard-hearted man, repeating to yourself that you have an ideal job won't help much, because your mind automatically rejects it as false. Instead, if you write, "My work environment is constantly improving," you have a better chance to believe it as true.

Rule # 3: You cannot make a goal for someone else.

As much as you would like your husband to be more caring and romantic, you cannot change him. The only thing you can change is your attitude toward him. You can still make a goal to assist him in his spiritual development, but it remains your goal. Whether he decides to change or not is beyond your control.

Let go of your desire to change others, and focus on changing yourself.

Why it works:

Focusing on goals you can accomplish is more rewarding than going on a campaign to change others against their will. Who knows? If you change for the better, it may inspire others to do the same.

Rule # 4: Break it down into smaller goals.

It's important to have a vision, but if your goal takes five years to become a reality, you may get discouraged along the way. Break down your long-term goals into smaller goals that can be accomplished within one to three months.

For example, if you want to buy a house within the next five years, you can make a goal to learn all about home buying, improve your credit score, start a savings account, etc.

Why it works:

Having short-term goals you can check-off as accomplished after a few months makes you feel in control of your life and boosts your confidence. If the task seems too big, you may start procrastinating and never get started in the first place, or give up along the way. Keep your vision in mind, but start small, one step at a time.

Rule # 5: Make sure your goals are compatible with your lifestyle.

If your goals are, for example, to spend more time with your kids, get involved in your community, and find a second job, you may become very frustrated along the way. Think carefully about how much time you can invest in each goal. Which one is a priority? Are they realistic? Do they fit in your lifestyle? If you have a partner, or children, make sure you include them in the big picture.

Why it works:

Although each of your goals may be realistic in itself, they may not all fit in your schedule or lifestyle. Choosing goals that fit together will ensure a smooth transition towards achieving them. Don't bite more than you can chew! It may help to write down your core values, and check your goals against them. You don't want to sacrifice precious, intangible things you already have for goals that are more material, for example.

Chapter 3 - Visualize Your Goals

"Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal." - Vince Lombardi

In order to actualize your goals, you need to have a clear idea of what you want. You also need to able to see it in your mind. Can you picture yourself in the process of achieving your goal? Are you able to visualize how your life will be once you've reached your goal? During this process, you may decide that you are not willing to put the amount of work needed, or you may realize that your goal is not really what you want. If this happens, start over with a new goal.

Step # 1: Write your first goal on a new page, and add as many details as you can.

Is your goal to have more money? How much would be enough? Do you want to increase your savings, have a bigger salary, or find an extra source of income? How would you use that extra money?

Some of your goals may be less tangible, like improving your memory. How will you measure your accomplishment? Do you want to be able to remember ten phone numbers by heart, remember names of new people you meet, or memorize lessons for a test? Maybe you can find a memory test in a book or online, and decide how much you want to improve within the next three months.

Why it works:

In order to build a house, you first need a detailed blueprint from an architect. Without a plan, the house may end up having major flaws. Writing down details about your goal helps you visualize it more clearly. Once you know exactly what you want, you can recognize opportunities more easily, even if they are in disguise.

Step # 2: Re-write your goal as an affirmation.

Now that you know exactly what you want, summarize your goal in one concise sentence. Instead of "Have more money," or "Have a better memory," write "Increase my total gross income by 10% by the end of the year," or "I can easily remember ten phone numbers."

Why it works:

By summarizing it into one sentence, you can easily keep your goal at the top of your mind, and recall a mental picture of it, with all the details, any time you feel a need for it. Keep your affirmation where you can easily access it: in your planner, on an index card, or on the refrigerator.

Step # 3: Visualize yourself having already reached your goal.

Can you picture yourself at the new job you're aiming for? How do you feel? What do you hear and see? Do you smell the new pot of coffee waiting for you in the break room? Can you hear your new manager praising you for a job well done? Do you feel the satisfaction of knowing you are using your skills for a good purpose?

Think about your goal as an order you placed at the General Abundance Superstore. When the time is right, your goal will manifest itself in your life as a new reality.

Why it works:

Abundance is available to anyone who asks for it, just like electricity or sunlight. However, our fears, our insecurity, and our negative thoughts may block the flow and create a "short circuit." Replace your negative thoughts with an image of your goal as a reality, and you will start attracting it into your life.

Repeat the three steps with your other two goals. Read your affirmations often, and keep your eyes open for opportunities that may bring you closer to achieving each one of your three goals.

Chapter 4 - Work Toward Reaching Your Goals

"A goal is a dream with a deadline." - Napoleon Hill

Keep your goals at the top of your mind, be ready to grab opportunities, and follow your intuition.

I like to work on several goals at a time, because each goal has its own timeframe. For example, if you applied for college and are waiting for a response, you can work on the other two goals in the mean time.

Now that your goals are clear, you may already start seeing a possible plan of action to achieve each one of them, or you may have no idea what to do next. Following are four tips to help you in your quest.

Tip # 1: Make a plan of action.

Write down your first goal at the top of a new page. Start thinking about what would be the first step you could take to achieve it.

You may already have a general plan of action in mind. Write it down, then break down each step into smaller steps. For example, the first step may be to gather information. You can break it down further into smaller steps, such as "Go to the library and check out at least three books on the subject," "Search on the internet," "Call Robert," and so on. The smaller the step, the more likely you are to take it.

Sometimes, more than one plan may come to your mind. Write them all down, then decide what road to take. Your first step, in this case, would be something like "Choose between Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C," or "Analyze each scenario."

If you have no idea where to start, your first step may be "Brainstorm," "Meditate until I find an idea," or "Wait for an inspiration."

Whatever your first step is, take it. One method I've used in the past is to write each step on a sticky note, and place them on a blank page of my planner. Each time I took a step, I would move the sticky note to a different page. Once I had taken ten steps, I would reward myself. My rewards included a special drink from Dunkin' Donuts, a bubble bath, or a new book. Sometimes, the thought of my reward was enough to make me take one or two steps I was hesitating to take.

Tip # 2: Jot down your inspirations.

Carry a small notebook and be ready to write your inspirations at any time of the day or night. Be alert, and remember that sometimes, your goals may not be accomplished the usual, expected way. Be open-minded. Write down your thoughts, whatever they may be. You can decide later whether to use them or not.

Tip # 3: Get other people's help.

We all need each other in order to succeed. Don't hesitate to ask for help, and be ready to help someone else who may need your assistance. The power of networking is greater than you think.

In his book, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi includes a column next to his goals to write down who can help him achieve each goal.

One word of advice, though. Sometimes it's better to keep your goals for yourself. The most well-intentioned people may try to discourage you from reaching them.

Tip # 4: Don't give up!

Be assured that a greater power than yourself is in charge. Sometimes, the right moment hasn't come yet for your goal. Be patient and keep a positive spirit.

Chapter 5 - Fly on Your Own

I encourage you to keep reading other materials about making goals.

There are a lot of resources out there to help you keep learning. Take what fits you, and leave the rest. Find what works best for you and stick to it. No method will be perfect for you, so be flexible.

Before you go and fly on your own, I have a few more words of advice for you.

Advice # 1: Be grateful for what you already have.

Before you start writing more goals, stop and look back. Appreciate what you've already received. Be ready to share the bounty, no matter how small. Give something back. This "gratitude attitude" will open up the gate to allow you to receive even more.

Advice # 2: Don't be afraid to ask for what you need or desire.

Sometimes, we prevent ourselves from receiving, and we don't even dare asking for what we want. We feel unworthy to receive. This feeling may block the flow of abundance and prevent you from reaching your goals. Practice giving of yourself first, but don't be afraid to ask for what you need or desire - as long as your requests are not going against any universal laws, or undermining someone else.

Advice # 3: Develop your own method.

No two people are exactly alike, not even identical twins! Some of us are detailed and organized, others are spontaneous and artistic. What worked for my goals one year may not fit my new set of goals this year. Develop your own method, and adapt it to your goals. Now that you know the basic principles behind achieving your goals, you can experiment with different methods, and modify existing methods to fit your needs. Whether you have a list of thirty goals that are all equally important, or five areas of your life with each seven goals, or only one major goal, broken down into smaller goals, it's all up to you. Adapt the method to your goal, instead of trying to make your goals fit to one method.

Advice # 4: Celebrate your victories.

Reward yourself for every goal you reach, or for every number of steps you take. The process of reaching your goals should be enjoyable. I prefer to reward myself for the steps I take rather than for each goal accomplished, because what's important is to keep moving forward. For example, if your goal is to get your book published, you have control over how many times you submit, how many pages you write, how much networking you do. Whether the book gets published or not is out of my control, and ultimately depends on the publisher. Sometimes, reaching a goal is a slow process, but if there are rewards along the way, it's easier to keep going.

Advice # 5: Follow your rhythm.

Do you know your rhythm? Is there a time of the week, or a period during the year, you are super-productive, whereas other times you are more laid-back?

My most productive months for working towards my goals are from January to June, and in September and October. I plan my goals accordingly, keeping the load lighter during summertime and during the holidays.

I usually use the month of November to reflect on my current year's goals and appreciate what I have accomplished so far. In December, I try to wrap up my current goals as much as I can, and I start jotting down ideas for the year to come. I like to take it easy in the summer and accomplish what I can, when I can, without a strict schedule.

You're the boss! Plan your schedule according to your lifestyle and your personality.

The Joy of Giving

"Give away one dollar. Today. And notice how wonderful this simple act of unconditional giving feels!"

- Todd Silva, of giveawayadollaraday.com

(Thank you, Joan4, for letting me know about this!)

Books and Resources About Goal Setting: Help Me Complete a Top-Ten Book List

New books about making goals are being published every year. The resources that helped me the most in achieving my goals are:

How to Get What You Want, by Raymond Hull (1969)

The one that started it all, in my case. I still like to refer to it sometimes.

Manifest Your Destiny: The Nine Spiritual Principles for Getting Everything You Want, by Dr. Wayne Dyer (1997)

I bought the tapes recorded by Dr. Dyer many years ago. I don't have a tape player anymore, and I gave the tapes to someone else, but I still remember many of the lessons they taught me. I also read the book, but I definitely recommend the lectures, recorded live, on CDs. Dr. Dyer has pleasant voice, and he will make you laugh, as well as inspire you. He speaks about God openly, but in a general, accessible way, not specific to any particular religion. I found that almost everything he talked about was complementary to my current set of beliefs. The tapes were $45 at that time, and I "manifested" the money to pay for them. It works!

Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi (2005)

It's all about networking! From the time I read that book, I started integrating its principles into my lifestyle. I still eat lunch alone most of the time, but I gained a lot from Mr. Ferrazzi's words of wisdom. He made me see the value of networking and getting the help and support I need in order to reach my goals. In fact, now that I think of it, it may very well be due to his book that I am now on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other networking websites, although he doesn't talk much about internet networking in his book.

There are many other resources out there. If you have a Twitter account (or if you don't, you can sign up for free), you can follow inspirational speakers, such as Deepak Chopra and Anthony Robbins, and get their words of wisdom daily, as well as notices when they go on a tour or publish a new book. I'm just starting to discover Twitter, but I found it beneficial so far.

What is your favorite goal-setting book? Comment below!

Tell me what you think!

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    • profile image

      RedSportNiac 7 years ago

      Nice lens presentation. Looks like goal setting and visualization working hand in hand.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hi, Annie.

      I think this lens is 5*-worthy because you've provided sound information in a clearly laid out presentation that's easy to follow. I know this lens will prove helpful for many people.

    • profile image

      AntionetteTate 8 years ago

      This is an excellent lens! It is easy to read and easy to grab hold of the main points. Your writing style is straight to the point minus all of the not needed extras. I am rating you 5 stars and I am lens rolling your lens.

    • profile image

      Joan4 8 years ago

      Great lens and lensrolled to Goalsetting with Pictures! This is great advice and good reminders for all of us. Beautiful layout, too! Blessed by an angel!

    • EpicFarms profile image

      EpicFarms 8 years ago

      Excellent lens ~ very nicely done!

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 8 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      Hey Annie, you really are following me aren't you! LOL This is a fabulous lens. A great resource and nice to look at.

    • profile image

      Sojourn 8 years ago

      Annie, another nice lens. :) And how well this one could be used by all of us at Squidoo to help us set and accomplish our own goals. Great job!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens - blessed by a squidangel :)

    • nekoneko profile image

      nekoneko 8 years ago

      Love ur lens... just enuff of everything 5 *

    • nekoneko profile image

      nekoneko 8 years ago

      Love ur lens... just enuff of everything 5 *

    • Snozzle profile image

      Snozzle 8 years ago

      Without goals we'll never know when we get there - wherever 'there' is.

      Interesting lens.

      Mike.

    • Simeyc1 profile image

      Simeyc1 8 years ago

      NIce Lens - I like the variance of color...good job..and some nice tips.

    • profile image

      gridellas 8 years ago

      Love the lens! Nice touch of color with the tricks you used with the boxes. All these tips are very handy and I saved it as a reference. :)

    • vagabondista profile image

      vagabondista 8 years ago

      Great and inspiring lens :) I use methods #2 and #4 and it definitely works...