How To Set Goals

Note: Since I originally wrote this post I’ve compiled an ebook on goal setting.

It’s free to my newsletter subscribers and way better than this post.

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How To Set Goals

I was pondering some goal setting stuff for ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’ this week when it dawned on me that I hadn’t really spent much time explaining goal setting here. Yes I demonstrated the structure of the SMARTER method of goal setting that I use with some clients, but not really tied in the stuff that goes round it.

If you would rather just watch the video explaining SMARTER goals, simply scroll to the bottom. However, I’d recommend you read the post first because there is some really cool stuff that I use when people come to me for Life Coaching.

Knowing how to write a goal without knowing how to set it up and implement it, is a bit like knowing how to make the worlds greatest hamburger without access to any utensils, a kitchen or even a cow. It may sound great in theory, but long-term culinary satisfaction is doubtful.

The approach I am going to take is a big goal. If you have a goal of losing 5lbs, gaining 100 blog subscribers or getting to the end of the week without punching  your boss, then this will be somewhat overkill because it is a long post of over 4,000 words.

My average is about 1,500, so if you haven’t got a good ten minutes spare you are wasting your time.

As well as speaking hypothetically, I am going to use one of my own goals. It’s a big mutha too and I suspect, or more accurately hope, some people will think I’m being unrealistic. And no, I’m not being flippant by saying that.

Quite honestly, I don’t want a major goal that doesn’t have some people believing I’ll fail miserably, others thinking “Aw bless ‘im he’s trying his best” and still others thinking I’m mental.

Obviously I know what my goals, or rather the ones I’m going to talk about here are, but that isn’t always the case with some people. I get clients that come to me with no idea of what they want out of life and that’s perfectly normal.

I’m not going to go into how you find your purpose for existence in this post (you’ll have to buy How To Be Rich and Happy for that!), but let me give you a quick pointer toward discovering what your true goals may be if you don’t already know.

Goal Clarification

If I told you that when you woke up tomorrow you could do anything, with anybody and be anywhere you wanted, what would you do? There are no constraints whatsoever.

This has nothing to do with being reasonable or sensible. If you want to play on Center Court at Wimbledon, prior to partying all night with Sarah Palin and watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon with the Spice Girls, you go for it, this is your dream day.

The idea is not to set this up as your goal, but it’s to clarify the kind of things you really want out of life. People are absolutely brilliant at compromising their hopes and dreams and trust me, it’s a crap thing to do so don’t be one of them.

So write down what you want, what you really really want. Remember you have 24 event filled hours to fill and you’ve even borrowed a time travel machine thingy off your mate Stephen Hawking that he knocked up in his garage last weekend. It will take you from one event to the next in less than a second, which is nice.

When you have that written down (or if you can’t be bothered to do that, thought of it), what does it tell you?

How close could you get to that lifestyle? Are your family involved? Are you in the limelight or relaxing? What do you look like? Are you moving toward any of that now, or do you tell yourself a life like that isn’t possible? How does it make you feel to think about a life similar that? Is it worth a bit of hassle and effort to achieve it?

Can you look at what you have and adapt it to set a goal that whilst being tough and stretching is actually physically possible to do? If so, what is holding you back, it is the fear of failure? If it is, remember this:

The surest way to fail is to adopt the belief that it isn’t ok to fail.

Failing is a fact of life so you may as well get used to it or find yourself a nice snugly warm cave to live in.

Let me tell you about my goal and then we can run through the process that will give you every opportunity to have what it is you want.

My goal is to sell 1,000,000 copies of the book I have co-authored and came out recently called you’ll not be amazed to know, ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’. I

also want to see the book go to #1 on the New York Times best seller list and appear on Jay Leno (don’t ask why Jay Leno, I have no idea, I never even watch his show).

Do you know how many new titles sell 1,000,000 copies? No, neither do I, but it isn’t many. And when you narrow it down to the self-development field, it’s a damn site less.

As I type this, and depending on how you view self development (for instance would the sickly sweet ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ books classify?), I can’t think of more than about ten that have sold that many. So this is a pretty big goal.

The average published book sells about 6,000 copies in its life time and I have yet to reach that figure, or even get close if I’m being honest, with ‘Don’t Ask Stupid Questions’.

The more startling figure however, is the average self-published book sells about 100 copies with a measly 3.4% of authors selling over 500!*

How To Be Rich and Happy is going to be self-published so I think you can see we are up against it, but fortunately both myself and John like a bit of a challenge.

*Think about those figures, if you ever plan to launch your own e-book. And when I say think about them, I am not suggesting you throw the towel in because it seems like a mountain to climb. I mean don’t write it, turn it into a PDF and post it up on your website thinking it will be a best seller, like I have done in the past.

Research your market, plan your strategy and stack the deck in your favor.

I am going to run this through the SMARTER format shortly, but to begin with let’s follow a structured process where we can.

Not all of these steps need to be followed exactly in this order, but they do all need to be completed to give you the best chance.

Write It Down

I have seen lots of life coaches and supposed expert speakers talk about the importance of writing goals and anything else for that matter, down.

However, I have seldom seen anybody bother to explain the rationale behind the logic. And even when they have attempted to explain it they often make a half-assed attempt.

Telling people to do something is ok I suppose, but about 1.5% (made up life coach statistic) as effective as telling them why it will be helpful too.

Have you ever been to a workshop and taken no notes? Have you ever then been to a workshop where you did take notes?

Which is the one you remember most clearly, presuming all things are equal and you didn’t cop off with the trainer at the second event?

Even if you never referred back to your course notes you will still remember the latter event more easily.

The reason is that to write something down uses a different part of the brain than to listen to something. In other words you are doubling the chance of recalling the information at a later date.

Not only that, but some people are more auditory and others more auditory digital in their recall. So if you have gathered the information in a weaker representational system you will have more problems.

That is the reason why mind maps work so well for some people. If you are a visual person, you are way more likely to remember a mind map than a bunch of text. It is also the reason why auditory kids should be given books on audio to learn from, but that’s another matter.

The act of writing the goal down does a couple of important things. Firstly, it means you actually see your goal in front of you.

There’s lots of stuff floating around in your mind that will never happen and your unconscious can’t be expected to be working on all of it at the same time no matter how brilliant it is.

So by writing it down you are concentrating your focus and demonstrating the importance to your unconscious.

It is also setting up a disconnect between what you have and what you want. The disconnect will make your unconscious go to work on bridging the gap. This can manifest in all those subtle coincidences that start to crop up.

When we first decided we were going to move to the US and started to draw up a plan, it was amazing how many people I suddenly started to come across that could offer some form of help.

These people were there all the time, it’s just that now my unconscious was on the look out for them.

If you are in a room full of people talking and you are engrossed in a conversation, what do you think the odds are that you will hear your own name if somebody mentions it in another conversation ten feet away?

Even if there are several people talking between you and the person using your name, you are highly likely to pick it out. That is the unconscious mind that is constantly on the look out for stuff it thinks you need to know about.

Have A Goal Statement

There are three different approaches to this stage. The first two are very similar and only require a few minutes prep. The last one though is considerably more involved than that.

There is a process called the 3 P’s in goal setting and it stands for Personal, Present Tense & Positive.

Personal means it has to be your goal and can be achieved by you. In other words you can’t have a goal for your best friend to win the lottery and give you some of her cash.

As well as that, it has to be your goal in terms of something YOU want. Never ever have a goal because somebody else wants you to have it.

As you can imagine, I have many clients that hate their job. You would not believe on further investigation how many are doing whatever it is because their parents wanted them to do it.

It can even be worse than that, they can start down a career path because they THINK their parents want them to do that, only to find years later their parents didn’t care as long as they were happy.

Present Tense means the goal needs to be written as though it has already been achieved

Positive means it has to be something you want to achieve and not something you want to avoid.

“I am a best selling author that has a million selling book at number one and Jay Leno wants my love child” would probably hit the mark for me.

As we spoke about above, your unconscious doesn’t like to make a fool of you, so if you say “I’m a healthy weight with a body that Zeus/Apollo would kill for” and you really look like the fat kid on Kitchen Nightmares, your unconscious probably thinks ‘Holy shit I have some work to do, let’s put that 13th donut back”

The are two potential downsides to the above method. Firstly, if you are a long way from your goal and it is a huge one, it may feel ridiculous for you to say that.

Secondly, you may be the kind of person who’s conscious mind thinks “Oh if I have already got that I may as well have that extra slice of deep fried chocolate pizza and a gallon of beer then”

The second method it to do as above, but do not future base it. So the previous goal statement would be “I’m moving toward a healthy weight with a body that Zeus/Apollo would kill for”

Another tip here that I stole picked up from an idea by Jack Canfield, is to add the words or better, or more etc top the statement.

It doesn’t quite fit with the above example, but if you have an ambition to own a Lexus, you don’t want to exclude a change of mind or something better. So write the goal statement “I own (or want to own) a Lexus or better”

The third alternative is to write a goal contract. This involves a lot more detail, in fact as much as possible. It also requires you commit to it by signing in the blood of an 18 year old virgin. If you don’t know any 18 year old virgins that are happy for you to sacrifice them, ink will do at a push.

I would take the contract a stage further by posting it online for others to see.

That way you are utilizing leverage and you are probably more likely to push on during the times when you don’t really feel like it.

There is also a caveat to this too (I should rebrand this place, the caveat zone), because there is a danger if your goal is huge you may get ridiculed.

So decide whether that will demotivate you or that you may then lose enthusiasm because you have announced it to the world. If there is a potential that will happen, keep it to yourself.

I think the latter is the best option, but it really is your call on what works best for you, but whatever it is, I want you to look at it every day and keep reminding yourself what it is you are chasing.

Once you have the goal statement or goal contract, do this.

Sit in your favorite chair and take several deep breaths. Make sure the exhale is about 50% longer than the inhale and allow yourself to relax.

When you are well chilled, I want you to imagine having your goal. I mean really imagine with all your senses.

See what you would see, hear what you would hear and allow all those emotions and feelings that go with hitting your goal to arise. Really let them build and then build some more. Know that you can have this feeling if you really want to.

Spend some time watching yourself, or if you are looking through your own eyes, seeing yourself, and see how brilliant life is. You can even make the picture or movie bigger and brighter and see if that makes it even more appealing.

Once you are there I want you to see yourself dealing with any potential obstacles with aplomb. Think of sticking points that may arise and visualize yourself coping.

You can make them content free because you probably don’t know what they are likely to be at this stage. By that I mean, just see yourself looking confident and overcoming issues without necessarily knowing what they are.

The visualization is very powerful and I would recommend you do this as  often as is feasible and preferably on a daily basis. A great time is first thing as you wake up or last thing before you go to sleep.

Have you ever wondered why you get some of your best ideas arise whilst your conscious mind is occupied?

You could be working out, driving, taking a shower, asleep, unwell or even a bit worse for wear with drink. Your unconscious is where the real computing power lies and this is the time when it comes to the fore.

Not that I am condoning such behavior, but it explains why so many creative geniuses are a bit too fond of alcohol and/or herbs

Whatever You Do, Just Do Something!

You are exactly where you are now. It doesn’t matter what you have done prior to this moment because you can’t influence that. So right now is your starting point.

I’d like you to get to the end of the post, but I’d also like you to commit to doing something today that moves you toward your goal.

Momentum is key to hitting goals. I knew this post was going to be a long one and I’ve been thinking about it for 2 or 3 weeks. However, once I started writing it I got on a roll and now it doesn’t seem to daunting.

Commit to taking one action per day, EVERY day (even if it’s only for 5 minutes) that moves you toward a goal. If you can block out the same time every day that will be cool because it’ll help you develop a ritual.

Never under-estimate how that time will add up over a year and how happy you will be when you hit your target.

If necessary step into that feeling again and ask yourself the question “Do I really want to deny myself the chance to feel like this?”

Dealing With Overwhelm

If your goal is a huge one it may seem intimidating to begin with and you may feel overwhelmed. I really do get that. Emigrating took us over 2 years, about $100k and we had to wade through lots and lots of red tape.

If you have a big or long-term goal, chunk down! You can only do the next task and that is where you focus wants to be.

Bill Belichick doesn’t start the new season planning for the Superbowl. He starts by planning for the first game, because unless he wins that his chances of getting to the Superbowl are reduced.

If you want to know more about chunking down check out this post.

Set Sub-Goals

I’m sure as an astute reader you are almost bursting at the seems wanting to tell me my goal isn’t 100% personal. No matter what I do, I cannot guarantee I will sell 1,000,000 or even 1,000 copies, and you would be absolutely right.

We could end up with the kind of book that would have Eckart Tolle weeping into his strange beard and declaring all his work meaningless, but if nobody bought it, it would mean nothing.

If you set yourself a huge goal that can be snatched away from you through no fault of your own right at the end, what do you think is likely to happen?

Well, unless you have the kind of mental strength that would shame Nelson Mandela, you will be somewhere on a linear path between pissed off and devastated. And my guess is you would be nearer the latter than the former.

Therefore, it is crucial to set yourself stage or sub-goals that are within your power.

It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between smaller goals and tasks, but my advice would be to think of a goal as something that will stand alone and give you satisfaction.

So for example, I could decide I am going to send our finished manuscript to 10 people we have chosen to get feedback prior to publication.

That is really a task. In and of itself that doesn’t really get me anywhere nearer my goal per se and I wont be lighting up a big cigar and pouring a glass of Remy Martin. I actually don’t smoke or like brandy, but you get my meaning.

However, finishing the book and having it online available for people to buy, is definitely a goal. Even if we don’t sell a million, it is still something I know I am going to be immensely proud of and pumped about.

Finishing the book is definitely something that is within my control. Even if John dropped dead today or decided he didn’t want to write with me, I’ve enough material written to finish the book. That is a sub-goal and it is within my control.


So let’s look at the SMARTER method and see where my goal fits. There is a YouTube demo of SMARTER goals here if you would rather check that out.


Is my goal specific? Could anybody read it and understand what it is I am trying to achieve? The answer is an emphatic yes.


It is also measurable. I know when we sell 100,000 copies we are 10% of the way there. It is important to be ale to measure goals and track your progress. Without the ability to do so you can easily lose heart and focus


Books do not sell themselves. Both myself and John will have to get off our arses and do something if we are to sell 10,000 copies never mind 1,000,000

Did you see Jonathan Fields when he launched the brilliant must-read,  ‘Career Renegade” at the beginning of 2009? More to the point, could you have missed Jonathan Fields if you were online at that time?

The guy was everywhere. In fact I thought at one stage he was God because he had simultaneous interviews going on all over the country!

That was a goal that required action and I hope he has been well remunerated for his work. Goals have to involve action otherwise they are just dreams and wishes.


The only thing I am concerned with here is, has anybody ever sold 1 million copies of a book before? The answer is of course they have.

Stephen Covey has sold more than 10,000,000 copies of the very average (in my opinion) ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

So it can be done and that is all the information I need to know. Everything else is superfluous to me.

On the other hand, if it hadn’t been done before that doesn’t mean it’s unrealistic. Everything was once done for the first time, so that isn’t a reason to quit.


This is a tough one because I am at the vagaries of the buying public . Therefore, I am going to work largely on timescales I can influence. I can influence the release date, I can influence the daily tasks I set myself.

I will use a nominal date to focus on of 1st January 2011, but I am prepared to adjust that as necessary.


This isn’t really a problem for me, but it could be for you and it trips a lot of people up so beware. A potential issue for me may be having to spend time away from home whilst promoting the book. It’s not a big thing, but for some people it may be a deal breaker.

When setting off after a goal think of the impact not just on yourself, but those around you. Also don’t forget stuff like your health, finances and sanity.


This is the big one for me. Why am I doing this? Is it for the cash, the fame, the adulation? Well yeh of course it is. I want to drop all the little people and go and live on a Caribbean Island with a gaggle of shallow playboy bunnies or better still, buy a Caribbean Island.

Ok maybe not, but a little extra cash would be nice. This is the part where I HAVE to know what my values are, and fortunately I do because I know a cool Life Coach that does that kind of thing.

I know what motivates me and drives me and although it sounds cliched, I really want to make a difference in peoples lives. I want people to buy this book and think “Holy shit, this is THE best book ever written on self-development. Stephen who?”

Another goal of mine is to write a personal check for $1m to United Way. Actually that isn’t true, because I have it already written and in my wallet.

The goal is to hand it over with no fear that I’ll get billed $35 for having insufficient funds when they try and cash it.

Finally – Have Fun Setting Your Goals

Whatever your goal is, make sure it is fun chasing it. In my opinion, five years of misery just aint worth it, no matter what you achieve.

We don’t have that long on this planet and we should be enjoying what we do have not sacrificing time now for something that may or may not happen in the future.

I love writing this blog and the feedback I get. I love my job and the fact that I also get time to spend with a wife and dogs I love.

I’m also loving the buzz I’m getting writing what I know in my own heart is a stunning book. Whether others will agree is in the lap of the Gods, but I’ll do my best to persuade them.

Let me know if I have missed anything out because I’m sure you have some cool tips of your own.

Whatever your goals are, best of luck with them, now go watch the video and embed this stuff.

Photo: ‘Dart Board’ Cortesy of Evan R Lew