Are You Setting the Right Goals? Here’s 3 Tips to Make Sure

At the start of a new year, it’s natural to consider what we want to achieve over the next 12 months. Perhaps you have business, personal finance or fitness milestones you’d like to achieve. Goal setting is the best way to get on the path to improvement.

But it’s important to evaluate whether your goals actually get you closer to what you want most.

I once believed I was great at goals. I would set and achieve several goals each year. However, because I wasn’t aligning these goals with purpose-driven long-term goals, I wasn’t moving in a meaningful or specific direction. I needed to change my approach.

Understand the purpose

A way to audit goals is to clearly understand the purpose for each. If you have an annual goal in mind for 2020, ask yourself — what long-term objective it’s helping you reach? Is the outcome you’re chasing something that will fulfill you, or is it just something that will impress others?

For example, do you want a lake house because it’s a typical hallmark of financial success? Or do you want it because it’s a place to spend quality time with family? If you want the house for your family, but none of them likes the water, or your pursuit of it ruins your relationship with your family, reaching it is not going to make you happier or more fulfilled.

Eventually, I came to understand my one-year goals needed to align with and emanate from, my five-year goals, my 10-year goals, and my lifetime goals. Quarterly and annual goals became small down payments on what I wanted most.

Set fewer goals

Another common instinct is to set as many goals as you can manage. Then, even if you fall short of some goals, you’ll still have the feeling of accomplishment that comes from hitting several marks in a given year.

But doing this can make us lose focus on what matters most. In most cases, it’s better to select a small number of goals that are most important, and to pursue those.

There is a story attributed to Warren Buffett that conveys the value of this approach. As the story goes, Buffett heard his personal airplane pilot, Mike Flint, talking about his long-term goals and priorities. After he was done, Buffett suggested to Flint that he do the following exercise:

  • Step 1: Write down your top 25 career goals on a single piece of paper.
  • Step 2: Circle only your top five options.
  • Step 3: Put the top five on one list and the remaining 20 on a second list.
“Align your goals to a clear purpose, focus only on your top goals and hold yourself accountable.” — Robert Glazer, CEO Acceleration Partners

When Flint commented that he would continue to work on the second list intermittently, Buffett interjected, saying, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your avoid-at-all-cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top five.

With this in mind, I suggest making that top five goal list in four dimensions of your life: personal, professional, family and community.

It’s also important not to obsess over hitting every single one you set. If you’re meeting all your goals, you probably aren’t aiming high enough. That said, you also don’t want to aim too high and feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything. It’s a delicate balance.

It can be helpful to set a minimum threshold — for example, saying you want to save at least USD1,000 each month. This way, even if you come up short of your stretch goal, you still end up accomplishing something.

Build habits and accountability

Often, achieving the personal growth we want requires us to build new habits. By building goals around setting new habits, you’ll commit to small improvements that will compound over time.

For example, instead of an annual goal for health, you might instead commit to working out three mornings a week or cutting your dessert intake to once a week. In this way, the input is the goal, and can lead you toward an outcome that previously seemed out of reach.

Accountability is key. Consider stepping out of your comfort zone and sharing your goals with friends, family, or even on social media.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Gail Mathews found that people who share their goals with friends and regularly report on their progress hit them 76% of the time. Even if you ask one person you trust to be your accountability partner, you’ll put yourself on a better path to achieve more.

If you align toward a clear purpose, focus only on your top goals and hold yourself accountable, you’ll be on your way to living a life that fulfills you.

Robert Glazer is a YPO member and the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a global performance marketing agency and the recipient of numerous industry and company culture awards, including Glassdoor's Employees' Choice Awards two years in a row. He is the author of the inspirational newsletter Friday Forward, author of the international bestselling book, Performance Partnerships, and of the new book, ElevateHe is a sought-after speaker by companies and organizations around the world and is the host of The Elevate Podcast.