How to set your personal goals so you are more likely to achieve them

Setting personal goals is an important exercise for personal development that helps us define the blueprint of what we want to achieve. Studies show that when correctly defined, they will boost our motivation, discipline, perseverance and effort [1]. Not surprisingly, other studies suggest that setting goals can lead to unhealthy behaviours such as cheating and anxiety that do more harm than good to our lives [6]. Edwin A. Locke was one of the pioneers studying goal-setting theory and its effect on people’s behaviour. He argued that when we set ambitious goals, we create a personal cause and all the actions to make them real are much more likely to happen. In short, he said that if we have a purpose, action follows [1]. However, latest data shows that by the end of January, at most February, around 80% of the people will fail their new year’s resolution [2.3,4]. So, how do we set goals that fulfil our lives and inspire us to keep our commitment?

Traditional approach

Widespread methodologies for setting up goals are SMART and PRISM, especially in the business environment. They are also the most popular choice in coaching and recommended by setting goals experts [5]. I am pretty sure you know the meaning of at least a couple of letters of the SMART model: Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timelined. In a similar fashion, we find the PRISM model: Personal, Realistic, Interesting, Specific and Measurable [5]. This last one has a more intimate touch by tapping into the individual’s motivation with the inclusion of personal and interesting aspects.

Both techniques follow the same process for setting and validating goals. An example can be, “My goal is to write 50% of my new ebook in the next 6 months” or “My goal is to increase my online course sales by 30% in the next 12 months”.These traditional approaches work well for setting traditional goals, but that’s what you will get traditional goals. In my experience, following those models will lead to dull, boring and flat objectives that will not tap into your full potential.

To demonstrate this, let’s look at the 30% increased sales target mentioned above. The goal ticks all the boxes, but the engagement is very low, it is no more than meeting a number by the end of the year. To add more, if you meet your goal, your next one will probably be “to increase my online course sales by 35% in the next 6 months”. This may indeed excite you… but just initially! Chances are that in the long term you won’t feel engaged with it. After that, most likely you will fall in the status quo of living to meet yearly numbers and all of a sudden you will start missing “something” in your life. I mean, tell me the truth, are you living just to increase your sales by a certain amount each year? Is that your dream? So then, what are you living for?

Be courageous

When setting up goals we have to align our character and soul with them. Our goals need to uncork a burst of exhilaration mixed with fear and inspiration. They need to trigger our right brain and (e)xcite us! You can call them e-SMART or e-PRISM goals and have the traditional approach as a reference. But we need to be courageous, our goals need to follow our values and personal identity.

A good method to help you define your goals can be found here, including explanations and examples. As a very brief explanation, this method consists in structuring your goals like a pyramid, resembling the climbing of a mountain [7].

Adapted from [7]

At the summit, you define your dream goal and you walk down to the lower levels until you define your process goals, those are the immediate actions that you need to take right now to start your climbing [7]. In this way, all your actions share the same purpose and are connected. A truly exciting and inspirational dream goal can be “In 10 years I want to become the first female CEO of my company” or “By the end of next year, I want to write a bestselling book that sells in the entire world” and for example, you could end up with “looking for MBAs” as your process goals at the bottom. If done in this way, I assure you that your actions will be specific, measurable, personal, agreeable, interesting, realistic and most important, aligned with what truly matters to you.

Undoubtedly, setting up goals is a useful exercise from which we can benefit [7]. There are very helpful traditional approaches out there that can help to define and validate our ambitions. However, the degree at which you engage your true self with them will make the difference in your commitment and motivation. Think about it, your future success is asking you to give yourself goals to aim for, and once you do it, your strength will follow. How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?


[1] New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory Edwin A. Locke, Gary P. Latham

[2] Why Setting Goals Can Do More Harm Than Good. Forbes. Sean Silverthorne

[3] A Study of 800 Million Activities Predicts Most New Year’s Resolutions Will Be Abandoned on January 19: How to Create New Habits That Actually Stick  Inc. Jeff Haden.

[4] Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail. USN. Josep Luciani

[5] Challenging coaching: Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS. John Blakey, Ian day.

[6] 3 popular goal setting techniques managers should avoid. Dick Grote

[7] Coaching for performance. John Whitmore

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