How to Set Goals and Actually Achieve Them

Traditionally, New Year’s Day is a day for setting goals. Most people do this casually and hope for the best. I’ve learned there is a nugget of truth in the things that people articulate in their annual resolution exercise. Unfortunately, we all know the pattern associated with resolutions. Most know they need to stop and start doing certain things, but change is hard.

For most people, goal setting begins and ends with January 1. We set a goal to go to the gym every day, and slowly that time dwindles from every day to three times a week, to once a week, and then stops entirely. Statistics show that most goals stay as ideas, and do not come to fruition. This leads to frustration and eventually to the mindset of “I’ll just try again next year.”

According to a Harvard Business study, 83 percent of the population does not set goals. Of the small percentage of people who have goals, only 14 percent have a plan, and a mere 3 percent have them written down. I believe that for anyone aspiring to lead, and truly activate his or her divine design, goals are essential. A leader without goals or a clear vision of what is needed to achieve them is not really a leader. Nothing is more important to a leader than being able to inspire confidence, establish direction, and set priorities for those who are following. Developing your goal-setting skills and habits is perhaps the most important key to unlocking the leadership potential within you.

Karen Lamb once said, “A year from now you may wish you had started today.” You need goals, not a year from now, not a month from now—today. Otherwise, you’ll just drift along, waiting for “the right time,” which never arrives, all too often. If goals became how you organize your thinking and your life, you would stop wondering when the life you dream about is going to just happen and start actually building the life you want.

Here are three tips for setting goals and sticking to them:

1. Know where you’re going.

If you don’t know where you’re headed, it will be impossible to set the right goals. You can make setting goals complicated or simple. I prefer to keep things simple. My rule of thumb in leadership is that complex things must be simplified. That’s the only way to turn big ideas into actionable next steps.

2. Define what success means.

If you aren’t sure about the outcome you want to achieve, then you won’t have goals in place to move you towards a particular outcome. I hear a lot of people talk about making a change—in their life and the world. But lasting change doesn’t just happen by accident. It’s a daily decision to keep moving in a direction until your mission is accomplished. If you’re serious about wanting to live to your potential and fully activate your divine design, then you must become serious about setting and delivering on your goals.

3. Write down your goals and track your progress.

If you can’t track your progress over time, you won’t be able to make critical decisions in the moment or determine whether or not you are on track toward meeting your goals. The Harvard Business study went on to discover that the 14 percent who have written goals are 10 times more likely to reach them than those without. Take a moment to write down your goals, the “why” behind each one, and a reasonable timeline for meeting them.

If you don’t set goals, you’ll be subject to the ebb and flow of life, which can leave you feeling like a bouncing ball rather than a rocket ship. Goals are a built-in accountability system to ensure you end up where you intended, when you wanted to be there, and having accomplished what you set out to do in the first place. Life rarely gives you a map. Most of the time you are simply using a compass and your gut to move forward. Goals become the waypoints in your journey that keep pulling you forward and give you confirmation you’re headed in the right direction.