Goal Setting 101: 10 Strategies Successful People Use

Goal Setting 101: 10 Strategies Successful People Use

If your goals in life often elude you, you’re in good company. The experience of failing to reach a goal is a rite of passage not even the best of us can avoid. And yet, we all encounter individuals who bask in success while the rest of us look on enviously.

What sets these individuals apart? Is it talent? Many people certainly think so. Some people believe it’s a matter of perseverance. Others would insist that it’s all about circumstance, and perhaps these people were born into advantageous conditions or are lucky in some other way. Who has the right of it?

The Skill of Setting Goals

When we look closely at the way those seemingly gifted individuals meet their goals, we can see that there is a common attribute among them. More often than not, these people have a high level of skill in setting their goals. They have learned to pick and plan goals with a methodology that maximizes their chances of success.

For the rest of us, this is fantastic news. It means our goals in life don’t need to be so elusive, as long as we learn and develop our skills in goal setting. This guide will help you do just that by walking you through the strategies that many successful people habitually use. So, without further adieu, welcome to goal setting 101.

Goal Setting 101: 10 Strategies for Success

Frame your goals around measurable terms.

Here’s the first lesson of goal setting 101: treat it like a science. Phrase your goal in a way that makes it possible to objectively track your progress. If your goal is to lose weight, you’re likely to get lost along the way or reach the end and not even realize it. If your goal is to lose 40 pounds and get your body fat percentage down to 20 percent, however, you have reliable metrics to work with.

Establish reasons that will hold up down the road.

Knowing your reasons for pursuing a goal is important, but it isn’t enough. Evaluate your reasons. Ask yourself, “Will this reason seem as important to me in five months as it does today?” If your reason isn’t steadfast, it isn’t likely to weather the process. And if your reason crumbles, so will your chances of reaching your goal. So, before you start running headlong toward your objective, pick the reasons that will help you muster motivation during turbulent times.

Break every goal down into intermediary ones.

Conceptualize your goal as part of a sequence rather than a destination. There’s a lot of space between you and your destination, so do yourself a favor. Fill that space with plenty of intermediary goals, or checkpoints, so you can focus on one small goal at a time. However, grant yourself some flexibility. Along the way, you’re likely to have revelations about your goals and your methods. If you are thoughtful in how you go about it, deviating from your initial plan can increase your chances of success.

Set deadlines – yes, more than one.

Align your checkpoints along a timeline with concrete deadlines. Space them out in a way that maximizes your chances of meeting them. For the initial stages, give yourself ample time to complete your tasks. Prioritize success, not speed. Successfully meeting your deadlines will build your momentum, even if you’re taking a comfortable pace. Missing a deadline, however, is likely to kill that momentum.

Plan a vacation (or two).

Smart goal setting takes into account one’s limits. You aren’t a machine, so don’t treat yourself like one. Set a date for a vacation. Better yet, set more than one. Arrange regular breaks, and during this time, forbid yourself from doing any work related to your goal. Give yourself the chance to think about and do other things. Don’t wait until you burn out to start planning a break. Be preemptive. Plan these vacations right away.

Humans struggle to break habits. Use this to your advantage.

Assign yourself tasks you can complete on a regular, ideally daily, basis. Plan ways to make the pursuit of your goal a habit. Pick a reward for the initial stages. Every time you complete the task in question, immediately treat yourself. Reinforce that behavior by developing an association with something pleasant. Avoid rewards that you would enjoy on a regular basis either way. Don’t be afraid to spoil yourself.

Identify the conditions under which you do your best. Replicate them.

When do you produce the best results? In the morning? Late at night? On the weekends?

In what state of mind do you generally do your best? When you’re calm? When you’re pressed for time? When you’re pumped up?

What activities produce your ideal state of mind? Taking a walk? Listening to heavy metal music? Getting your errands out of the way?

Think about your greatest successes and the conditions that have enhanced your performance. Plan ways to reproduce those conditions.

Prioritize one goal at a time.

Don’t try to master impressionist art, lose 50 pounds, learn Fantasie Impromptu on the piano, and read a book all at once. Decide for yourself which goals are most important. Set your focus on those and take them on one at a time. Burnout is a very real threat and can set you back by entire months, so play it safe. The pursuit of success should be an invigorating venture in personal development, not a harrowing experience. Acknowledge your limits.

Chart yourself a guilt-free path.

A key element in smart goal setting is anticipating the emotions that would lead you astray. Guilt is one of the most common culprits. Identify the situations that would cause you to feel guilty, and adjust your plan to minimize the risk of those situations arising. For example, would you feel guilty for spending too much time away from your family? Then incorporate family time into your plan. Commit yourself to a standard that will satisfy both you and your family. Don’t set yourself up to encounter internal conflicts every week.

Allow yourself a set number of sick days.

You get a certain number of sick days at work (or you should). Give yourself the same level of leniency in pursuing your goal. You will encounter some days when you simply cannot summon the necessary motivation. That’s perfectly natural and nothing you should feel guilty over. Allow yourself the option to call in sick. Just keep in mind that it generally isn’t a good idea to give yourself unlimited sick days. Pick a number, design a system, and commit to it.


Our goals in life are often more achievable than we think. When we become accustomed to failure, many of us begin to overestimate the forces outside our control. These forces certainly exist, but we are not powerless against them. Yet we can’t overcome them through sheer power of will. We need the skill of setting goals in ways that maximize our chances of success. And this, thankfully, is a skill we can all develop.

So try using these 10 strategies in your own pursuits. And if you want to learn more or need a helping hand, contact YesGurus to be matched with a coach.

Author: Jason Kim

Jason Kim is a multidisciplinary writer living in Los Angeles, California. He earned his bearings in Psychology at the University of California – Berkeley, where he studied under forerunners in the field and conducted research on various topics, including sleep and mood disorders and social dynamics. There is nothing he enjoys more than writing pieces that improve the lives of his readers.

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