Goals That Actually Work

Jan 3, 2020

It’s the new year, so a lot of people are thinking about goals. Myself included.

A couple years ago I started treating my New Years Resolutions a bit differently.

For starters, I stopped calling them “resolutions”. That is a terrible label, and completely uninspiring. Instead, I set aside time to create my initial list of goals for the year.

I made two other changes that have also proved meaningful:

  1. I review my goals every few days. I set it up as a Google Sheets doc, break things down into monthly/weekly chunks, and keep it pinned in my browser. I look at it a few times a week. I live in it and use it.
  2. I treat it as a living document. I have no problem deleting goals and adding goals. If you initially pick goals you care about, you shouldn’t have to change it every day. But as life happens, things change, and your goals should shift as required.

But the real point of this article is this: Living in my yearly goals sheet has given me insight into which types of goals actually work, and which are pretty much useless.

I’ve watched in real time as I set goals that have the ability to illicit real and lasting change. And I’ve set goals (over and over again) that don’t move the needle.

Obviously, this is specific to me and my life. YMMV. But I also assume there is something universal going on here.

So, briefly:

Goals that haven’t worked

Anything I don’t have direct control over.

  • “Earn an extra $X from side projects.” I don’t have direct control over how much a project earns.

Goals I don’t put a daily or weekly plan behind.

  • “Launch 2 new side projects.” I never actually put a detailed plan in place. Didn’t happen.

Goals I don’t actually care about

  • “Remodel our vintage camper.” Sounds fun on paper, but not really my passion at this point in life. I was happier when we sold it than I was when I worked on it.

Goals that have worked

Things I commit to doing every day.

  • “Close the rings on my Apple Watch every day” and “Do 100 Pushups every day”. These worked for me, because they are every day. They became part of my normal routine pretty quickly.

Goals I can directly control.

  • “Mountain bike 400 miles”. This is under my control. I go for a ride, I get the miles. A 1-to-1 direct response.

Goals that I break down into daily/weekly/monthly plans, and I track religiously

  • “Mountain bike 400 miles”. Every month I’d set a mileage goal, and I would track and log each ride as soon as I was back home. I cared about it, made a plan, and tracked my progress.

How about you?

Take a look at your current goals…

  • What is actually within your control?
  • What can be turned into a sustainable daily commitment?
  • What needs a detailed daily/weekly/monthly plan, with progress closely tracked?

Good luck!

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© 2020 Mark Foster