Ever since I started setting goals back in 2001 my life has changed dramatically.

I first learnt how to set goals after reading Tony Robbins book Awaken the Giant Within when I was 21 back in 2001. Ever since then I’ve set hundreds of goals and achieved them. I’ve travelled the world. I’ve moved countries. I’ve changed careers. I’ve completed my bucket list and done almost everything I’ve ever wanted to do.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t good at setting and achieving goals. 83% of the population doesn’t have goals and of the 17% that do, 92% fail to achieve them. In addition, only 3% of adults have written goals but those who do are 10X more successful than everyone else.

In this article I’m going to show you everything you need to know about goal-setting:

  • Bucket list and life goals
  • Good goals vs bad goals
  • How to identify your goals
  • Backward planning
  • Pre-mortems
  • Murphy’s law
  • Peer review
  • Deadlines
  • …and much more!

Why goal setting is important

“Only 10% of Americans set goals every year. The same 3-10% control 90% of the resources of the world. So literally without goals you are directionless. You will be used. See people without goals get used by other people who have them. People who don’t have goals work for people who do.” – Jack Canfield  

Why do we need goals?

4 reasons:

  • Without goals your life has no direction or purpose
  • Goals get you focused on what you want instead of what you don’t
  • Without a goal to make something happen, it probably won’t happen
  • You won’t achieve any of your dreams unless you turn them into goals

The 12 golden rules of goal setting

OK, let’s begin…

1.  Make your bucket list your to do list

The most important goals are your bucket list goals.

Your bucket list is your life’s wish list, it’s a list of everything you want to do/see/achieve/experience before you die.

If you don’t have a bucket list it’s time to start creating one ASAP.

What’s on YOUR Bucket List?

Let’s find out… (Write down your answers as we go!)

Bucket List Questions:

  1. What do you want to do/see/experience before you die? Write down EVERYTHING. If it’s 500 things, list them all. Don’t leave anything out.
  2. If you could only do/have/achieve ONE thing before you died, what would it be?
  3. What would you do if you only had 6 months to live?
  4. What would you most regret NOT doing on your deathbed?
  5. What did you always dream of doing as a child?
  6. If God promised to answer ONE prayer or a Genie promised to grant one wish… What would you ask for?
  7. What are your top 5 dream travel destinations?
  8. If you could meet anyone in the world… Who would it be? Who would be your top 5 people?
  9. My ultimate dream in life is to…
  10. My ultimate goal in life is to…

I recommend making your bucket list your ‘to do’ list and highest priority. If it isn’t, you either don’t have the right things on your bucket list or you don’t have your priorities straight.

I completed my bucket list from 2013-2016 and it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I visited 100+ of the world’s greatest cities and towns and did everything from cage diving with great white sharks, to going on Safari in Africa, to meditating in India, to drinking Ayahuasca in the Amazon Jungle. You name it – I did it. How did I make it happen? I made it a goal to happen.

PS: You should review and update your bucket list every year with new goals as your values change

2. Good goals vs bad goals

Before we set our goals let me be very clear:

Goal setting is important, but it’s even more important to have the RIGHT goals in the first place!

There is no point in having goals you don’t care about such as:

  • Becoming a Doctor or a Lawyer
  • Learning to dance
  • Learning a foreign language

Because:

  • They won’t motivate you
  • It’ll go against the grain
  • Your heart won’t be in it
  • You want enjoy the process and have fun doing it
  • You won’t like the end result even if you get it

Looking at your goals should excite you! They should inspire and motivate you!

You don’t ever want to look at your goals and feel bored or uninterested. If wouldn’t LOVE to achieve your goals, if even the best case scenario where you achieve them isn’t that great, it’s a sign that you probably have the wrong goals.

Here’s how I define good goals vs bad goals…

Good Goals:

  • Are aligned to your values and life purpose
  • Interest and motivate you and are exciting and fun to think about
  • Improve your knowledge and skill set
  • Push you outside of your comfort zone
  • Will change your life for the better forever if you achieve them

Examples of Good Goals:

  • Improving your EQ
  • Improving your IQ
  • Learning critical thinking (learning how to think)
  • Learning cognitive biases/logical fallacies
  • Learning how to learn
  • Learning how to make decisions
  • Learning how to influence/persuade
  • Learning how to negotiate
  • Learning how to sell
  • Learning how to solve problems
  • Learning martial arts
  • Learning public speaking
  • Learning yoga
  • Traveling the world

Bad Goals:

  • Aren’t aligned to your values
  • Don’t interest or motivate you
  • What other people want you to do (parents, family and friends)
  • What you think will impress other people

So set goals – but make sure they’re the RIGHT goals to begin with!

3. Identify your goals 

OK, let’s write down your goals.

As we go through the process let your imagination run wild.

I know that when I write down my goals it’s like I’ve made a certain unbreakable commitment to the universe about what I’m going to do.

Don’t:

  • Make assumptions about what’s ‘realistic’ or what you can or can’t have
  • Write down goals that don’t interest or motivate you
  • Write down what you think will impress other people

Do:

  • Write down your goals as we go. Don’t just think about your goals or imagine them. Writing down your goals makes them real. That’s when a commitment has been made. Until then, nothing is serious. Remember: Only 3% of the population writes down their goals but those that do are 10X more successful than those who don’t.
  • Write down stuff you think would be awesome to achieve even if no one else does! Remember these are your goals, not someone else’s!
  • Be specific. Have an exact target to aim for. None of your goals should be ambiguous, vague or unclear.

You don’t want a goal to “lose weight”. You want a goal to lose 15 pounds by December 31st 2017 to reach your ideal weight of 175 pounds.

You don’t want a goal to “save money”. You want a goal to save $500 per month for 10 months until you reach $5, 000 by June 2018.

You don’t want a goal to go on an “overseas holiday”. You want a goal to spend a month in Italy in July 2018 visiting Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice.

Write short, medium and long term goals  

As you write out your goals you should have long, medium and short term goals.

Long term goals

Long term goals are the kind of things you will have on your bucket list. They’re your life’s wish list. The kinds of things that you most want to achieve before you die.

Examples of long term goals might be: making $100 million dollars, getting married and having children, starting your own business, travelling the world or writing a book.

Medium term goals

Medium term goals are the things you want to achieve this year but probably can’t achieve today, tomorrow, or next week.

Examples of medium term goals might be doing a 200-hour Yoga teacher training course, running a marathon, or completing a first aid course.

Short term goals

Short term goals are easy to achieve and should be on your ‘to do’ list.

OK, it’s time to write our goals…

What are your career goals?

What is your dream job?

What kind of work do you want to do?

What kind of business/job/career do you want?

  • Would you like to start your own business? If so, what kind of business? An online business or a physical business? A social media networking site? A bar, coffee shop, gym, restaurant or yoga studio?
  • What kind of job would you like to do? Define it. Describe it.
    • Would you like to work in Radio, TV or Movies?
    • Would you like to work in Hollywood, NASA, Silicon Valley or on Wall Street?
    • Would you like to become an Actor, Athlete or Stand-up comedian?
    • Would you like to become a Doctor, Lawyer or Scientist?
    • Would you like to become a Firefighter, Pilot or Skydiving instructor?
  • Do you like your current job? Would you like a pay rise, a promotion or training? Is there anything you would like to change or improve about your current job?

What are your Learning and Study goals?

If you could learn anything, study anywhere with anyone, what would it be?

  • Would you like to get a Diploma, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, MBA or PhD?
  • What would you like to study: Business, Computer Science, Finance, Law, Mathematics, Medicine, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Religion or Science?
  • Would you like to study Acting, Art, Comedy, Drama, Film, Radio, TV or Writing?
  • Would you like to learn Acupuncture, Massage, Nutrition, Sport Science or Yoga?
  • Would you like to learn to Dance, Sing, Rap or play a musical instrument?
  • Would you like to study Computers: Networking, Programming, Robotics or AI?

What are your Body, Health and Fitness goals?

What are your body, health and fitness goals? What kind of body do you want? Would you like to join a gym? Try out a new sport? Compete professionally?

  • Would you like to lose 10lbs (or more)?
  • Would you like to get down to less than 12% body fat?
  • Would you like to get a 6-pack?
  • Would you like to run a marathon or complete a triathlon?
  • Would you like to start CrossFit, Martial Arts, Pilates or Yoga?
  • Would you like to learn to dance? (Maybe Hip Hop, Salsa or the Tango?)

What are your money and investment goals? 

What are you money, savings and investment goals?

  • How much money would you like to earn this year?
  • How much money would you like to save this year?
  • Would you like to add another stream of income this year?
  • Would you like to buy an investment property this year?
  • What kind of home do you want to live in? How many bedrooms? How many bathrooms? Would you like a swimming pool? How about a gym? Anything else?
  • Where do you want to live? In the city? In the country? On the beach?
  • How much money would you like to make in the next 10 years? $100 Thousand dollars? $1 Million dollars? $10 Million dollars? $100 Million or more?

What are your relationship goals?

What are your love and relationship goals?

  • How would you describe your ideal partner?
  • What kind of person would you like to be with?
  • Would you like to get married? Have children?
  • What would you like more or less of in your current relationship?

What are your Travel goals?

What are your travel goals? Where do you want to go? What do you want to see?

  • What are your top 5 dream travel destinations?
  • Where do you want to go more than anywhere else in the world?
  • Would you like to see the 7 wonders?
  • Would you like to go on Safari in Africa?
  • Would you like to visit the Pyramids of Egypt?
  • Would you like to go down under to visit Australia and New Zealand? 
  • Would you like to travel the world?

4. List your goals in order of importance

After you’ve finished writing your goals, start ranking them from most important to least important.

You want to have your most important goals at the top of your list so that they’re the first thing you see whenever you look at your list. It’s also a reminder of which goals are most important and what needs to be worked on first.

5. Break your big goals down into smaller goals

It’s fine to have BIG goals, but any goal that cannot be quickly and easily achieved needs to be broken down into smaller mini goals.

The problem with having goals that are TOO BIG, is that instead of inspiring and motivating you, they tend to do the opposite and demotivate you because they seem overwhelming and deep down you don’t really believe you can achieve them.

There is no point in having a goal to make fifty billion dollars if you’re currently bankrupt, broke and homeless living on the street. Even if you want it, if you don’t really believe you can achieve it, you won’t do anything to make it happen.

Benefits of breaking BIG goals down into smaller mini goals:

  • Smaller goals are faster and easier to achieve
  • Takes the pressure and stress off
  • Builds confidence and momentum quickly

So break your BIG/longer term goals down into smaller goals…

Instead of having a goal to read 50 books this year, have a goal to read one book per week, or one chapter per day. (You can also listen to audio books whilst you commute and do other things which takes no extra time).

Instead of having a goal to save $12, 000 this year, have a goal to save $1, 000 per month, or $250 per week.

Instead of having a goal to travel the world, have a goal to visit one new country this year.

6. Start with the end in mind 

If you want to achieve something you need to know your outcome.

Where do you want to end up?

What is the ultimate goal you wish to achieve?

Without a target you are lost.

7. Plan Backwards

Once you’ve identified your goal, instead of planning forwards from where you are now to where you want to be, I highly recommend doing the opposite and planning backwards from your end goal to where you are now.

Planning backwards has a number of advantages over planning forwards:

  • Planning backwards makes it easier to visually map out the quickest and most direct path from your end goal to where you are now
  • Planning backwards makes it obvious which checkpoints and milestones must be achieved along the way, and it makes it easy to see whether or not you are on the right track or not
  • Planning backwards helps you to avoid any pointless and unnecessary activities and distractions that might have come up and wasted your time if you had simply worked forward from where you are, and dealt with whatever came up in the moment

So start planning your goals backwards from your end goal to where you are now.

8. Do a pre-mortem to prevent a post-mortem 

“Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself. I happen to be very conservative in business. I always go into a deal anticipating the worst. If you plan for the worst, if you can live with the worst, the good will always take care of itself.” – Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal

The pre-mortem is by far my favorite project planning exercise.

Most of us have heard of the post-mortem, where doctors examine a dead body to try to discover the cause of death, or at the conclusion of a project to reflect upon what worked and what didn’t.

However, unlike the post-mortem where you reflect upon what went wrong after the fact, with the pre-mortem you’re proactively anticipating the worst before the project has even begun so you can prevent it from occurring in the first place.

In summary:

  • The post-mortem is reactive and happens after the project has finished
  • The pre-mortem is proactive and happens before the project has even begun

Benefits of doing a pre-mortem:

  • Find hidden flaws and holes in your plans
  • Make your plans smarter and more realistic
  • Prevent problems from occurring in the first place

How to do a pre-mortem

  1. Imagine that 12 months from now your business/product/project has failed
  2. Try to think of EVERY single possible reason why it might have happened
  3. Choose the 10 biggest risks/threats/problems most likely to occur
  4. Start thinking of solutions to prevent each of those things from happening

In summary: Your job is to look at your plans as if you were the world’s biggest critic/hater/fault finder and try to think of every single reason why they might not work. You can be as critical, negative and pessimistic as you like. Tear it apart. The more faults you find the better. Don’t be kind to your plan – the world won’t be.

For example if I did a pre-mortem with my blog life lessons I could say:

Life Lessons.co failed because…

  • I didn’t have enough readers
  • I didn’t have enough subscribers
  • No one bought any of my books or products
  • The articles were boring and generic
  • There was nothing unique or interesting about it
  • The titles were not catchy or click-baity enough
  • The layout was all wrong and it was too difficult to read
  • The content was too one-dimensional and there wasn’t enough variety. It was just text without any infographics, images or videos
  • I didn’t get a grip on social media

If it was your business you could say:

My business failed because…

  • It didn’t have a unique enough USP. I didn’t have a competitive edge. There was nothing to differentiate me from my customers.
  • I didn’t have the right staff
  • I didn’t have the right partners
  • I wasn’t selling the right product
  • I didn’t market the product properly
  • Customers didn’t like the product
  • I wasn’t selling to the right customers
  • I wasn’t working in the right industry
  • I wasn’t in the right location
  • I worked IN the business instead of ON the business (the eMyth)
  • I tried to scale too soon (I hired too many people too fast, spent too much on advertising, opened up other branches before I had enough money etc.)
  • I didn’t have enough money
  • I lost focus/I focused on the wrong things
  • I was beaten by a better competitor
  • I got burnt out

Here are some questions to ask yourself for your next pre-mortem:

Pre-mortem questions

  • What could stop your business/product/plan from succeeding? Name everything.
  • If you were to fail, what would be the 10-15 most likely reasons?
  • What are the biggest insecurities, risks and weaknesses in your plan?
  • What would improve your plan? What would make it better?
  • Why isn’t it perfect? What would make it perfect?
  • What is missing from your plan?
  • How would YOU defeat your plan if you had to?

I highly recommend doing a pre-mortem before your next business, product or project launch. It will make your plans 1000% better, smarter and more realistic.

9. Murphy’s Law 

As a rule of thumb, you should also be factoring in Murphy’s Law to your plans:

  • If it can go wrong – it will go wrong
  • Everything always takes 5 times longer than you think it should
  • Opportunities always arise when you’re not ready for them
  • The only people who want to help you, are not those you want help from
  • The only time you can get money is when you don’t need it
  • The only clubs you want to join don’t want you as a member
  • As soon as you find a product you like they’ll stop making it
  • Everyone is held down by the weakest link
  • Whatever you’re looking for will probably be in the last place you look

This is not about being negative or pessimistic. It’s about being so incredibly prepared that you can deal with the absolute worst that life throws at you and still come out on top.

10. Ask others to attack your plan

Once you’ve attacked your plans, conducted a pre-mortem and factored in Murphy’s law, it’s time to take your plans to people smarter and more experienced than you, and ask them to critique it harshly.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important peer review is. Literally 20-30% of each article I write for life lessons is influenced by constructive criticisms I get behind the scenes from close friends who tear my articles to shreds and tell me what to change and improve upon.

There are so many benefits to peer review:

  • They will notice things you didn’t
  • They will think of things you hadn’t
  • They aren’t trapped in your perspective
  • They will make your plans smarter and more realistic
  • They will give you new ideas and insights to consider
  • They might show you a better, faster, smarter way to do something

So ask people you admire and respect to attack/criticize/review your plans. Believe me the more advice/criticism/feedback you get the better.

If no one else can find anything wrong with your plans either, they might be ready for action.

Evolve your plan

The perfect plan is not static or rigid but is constantly evolving and improving in real time as new information comes to hand. It’s a work in progress and never finished.

11. Have a deadline

“A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most kick-ass form. It’s a potent force that, when wielded with respect, will level any obstacle in its path. This is especially true when it comes to creative pursuits.” ― Chris Baty

Every goal needs a deadline. Until you put a deadline to your goal, it’s not serious.

By having a deadline and giving your goal a specific due by date, it forces you to focus and prioritize your time and energy on only the activities that matter.

Without a deadline you’re likely to focus on other stuff that doesn’t matter as much.

12. Don’t tell anyone about your goals

I strongly recommend keeping your goals a secret until they’re almost achieved.

There are simply no benefits to telling anyone your goals or what you’re ‘gonna’ do.

The only people you should tell your goals are people you need advice and help from. Otherwise keep it to yourself and don’t tell anyone what you’re ‘gonna’ do. Instead, tell them what you’ve done after the fact.

Why shouldn’t you tell anyone about your goals?

When you tell others about your goals it puts unnecessary attention and pressure on you, and others are likely to annoy you by asking questions:

“How’s it going?”

“What’s happening?”

“When’s it going to come out?”

Some people might even try to talk you out of your goals or tell you that you’re not ‘realistic’. Others might mock you if you don’t follow through.

However, people can laugh at your plans but they can’t do anything about your results.

Questions to ask when reviewing your goals

1. Do you have a clear target?

Look at your goals and see if any of your descriptions could be clarified in any way whatsoever. You want an exact target to hit. Super specific. Unmissable and unmistakable. None of your goals should be ambiguous, vague or unclear.

2. Why do you want what you want?

“People are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions.” – Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda

Most people have never really taken the time to question their desires or goals and don’t even know why they want what they want.

Most people want:

  • Whatever they’ve been brainwashed, conditioned and programmed to want
  • Whatever advertisers, celebrities, Hollywood and the media tell them to want
  • What parents, family and friends have told them to want
  • Whatever they think everyone else wants
  • Whatever they think others will respect them for having

Look at each of your goals and ask yourself:

  • Why do you want it?
  • Why is it so important to you?
  • Is it really worth having?
  • Could any of your goals be replaced by even better goals?

3. Will you like what you’re asking for if you get it?

Sometimes we ask for things we’re just not ready for.

Millions of people around the world want to be famous but how many people are ready to pay the price of fame:

  • Critics, haters and trolls
  • Paparazzi, stalkers and the permanent loss of privacy
  • Unending lies, gossip and rumors about you in every magazine, newspaper, TV show and website
  • The whole world believing a bunch of BS about you because someone spread a fake rumor

4. Do you believe you can have it?

Look at each of your goals:

  • Do you really believe you can achieve it?
  • Does any part of you feel you don’t deserve it or that you’re not worthy of it?

It’s important to ask yourself these questions because:

  • It’s one thing to want something – it’s another to believe you can have it
  • If you don’t believe you can have it – you won’t even try
  • If you don’t feel you deserve it – you’re likely to self-sabotage

As I said in my last article on decision making

Most people:

  • Don’t go for the job they want, they go for the job they think they can have
  • Don’t go for the girl they want, they go for the girl they think they can have
  • Don’t go for the life they want, they go for the life they think they can have

So start thinking about the kinds of beliefs you have about your goals:

  • What kinds of beliefs are required to achieve your goal?
  • What kinds of beliefs must you give up to achieve your goal?
  • What kinds of beliefs do people have that have already achieved this goal?

5. Are your goals and values in alignment?

Your goals need to be in alignment with your values because if they’re not – you’re highly likely to self-sabotage.

For example: If you have a goal to make ten million dollars but deep down you believe it’s wrong to be rich, you either won’t commit yourself or if you do you’ll start to self-sabotage as you start to get close to your goal.

6. Why don’t you have it now?

Why don’t you have your goal now?

What’s preventing or stopping you from getting it?

What are the biggest obstacles that stand between you and your goal?

7. What resources do you need?

What additional information, resources, skills or training do you need to achieve your goals?

Conclusion

In this article we’ve covered so many things:

  • Making your bucket list your to do list
  • Good goals vs bad goals
  • Identifying your goals
  • Breaking your larger goals down into smaller pieces
  • Planning backwards
  • Doing a pre-mortem to prevent a post-mortem
  • Factoring in Murphy’s law
  • Peer review
  • Constantly evolving our plans
  • Deadlines
  • Reviewing our goals

…and so much more!

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