What do you really care about in life? Do those things matter enough to give up something else? How hard are you willing to work for them?

Simply put, goal setting is figuring out the things you really want and really want to do, and then creating a roadmap on how to get them. This roadmap keeps you focused on what matters when all the random desires and enticements pop up along the way.

Life Is A Game of Candy Land

Think of the child’s game Candy Land. You make your way along the rainbow path heading for Candy Castle. Without a plan, it would be easy to stop at the first delicious location of Cupcake Commons. Those cupcakes look so good, and they are right in front of you. If you stop, that would end your game. You would get a couple of cupcakes, but give up the the chance to rule over the entire kingdom. Goal setting helps you stay focused on the big picture.

One Marshmallow or Two?

In the 1960’s and 70’s, a group of scientist at Standford University conducted a study on delayed gratification by putting a marshmallow in front of small children ages 4-6. The scientist told the children they had to leave the room for a little while, but if the child held off eating the marshmallow until they returned, they would get a second one.

The study followed these children into their adult life. As it turns out, the children who were able to resist eating the marshmallow until the scientist returned were more successful, made more money, and were generally happier in life. Those who immediately ate the marshmallow were generally less successful and tended to struggle in relationships and with addiction.

In the book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, the authors discuss that its not simply will-power that helps these children focus, but also the ability to distract themselves from the immediate temptation by not looking at it or counting lines on the ceiling.

Focus on big goals and distract yourself from temptation.

No “Yes”, either “Hell Yeah” or “No”

What goals are really important? How do you distinguish the important, life-changing ones from the simple desires and things that just waste your time? How do you know what to pursue if you don’t have any particular passions? By choosing either “Hell Yes” or “No”

This idea was created by Derek Sivers, the successful entrepreneur and Ted Talk speaker, and is the title of his new book.

When you make a decision on whether to start something or do something, you only say “yes”, if you REALLY want to do it. If not, then you say no. This also works for buying things. Do you really need another “As seen on TV” gadget?

Every time you say “Yes” to something that isn’t important to you, that thing takes some of your time stopping you from doing something more important. Saying “no” to those things allows you to work on the things that get you closer to your big goals.

You don’t have to say no to everything. If you don’t have a lot of time commitments, and don’t know what you want to do, then try lots of new things. Just don’t let those things stop you from pursuing something greater.

Set Specific Goals with Deadlines

We’ve all had non-committal goals. I’d like to learn Spanish someday. This year, I’m going to get in shape. A large number of people set these kinds of goals at the beginning of the year, and feel like failures when they don’t achieve them. There are two reasons.

The goals aren’t specific and they don’t have a deadline. What does learning Spanish mean? Being able to read a newspaper? Have a basic conversation? Speak fluently? What does it mean to be fluent?

How about getting into shape? Is that losing or gaining weight, being able to run a marathon, or fitting into a different size of clothes?

To accomplish something, you need to have a clear picture. This helps you create a clear path and makes it clear when you succeed.

A goal is a dream with a Deadline

Napoleon Hill

Without a deadline, you don’t have a goal, you have an idea, a dream, a wish. A deadline solidifies a wish into an obtainable goal. It forces you to create a plan with a timeline to achieve your dream.

When you set a deadline, you make it important. “I would do “x” but I’m too busy” is just a way of saying it’s not important enough. “I would find a better job, but I am just so busy.” If it was really important, you would make time.

The deadline is up to you. The shorter the deadline, the more time and work you will need to apply. It’s okay to be aggressive, even slightly unrealistic with your deadlines, but don’t go too crazy. Setting deadlines that are too unrealistic can set you up for failure.

Do you research and don’t let your goals and deadlines be set by someone else’s expectations. It should be based on you.


Objectives and Key Results” are used by Google, the Bill Gates Foundation, and a number of others. OKRs make sure your actions and results stay aligned with your goals and allow you to see your progress. Each objective needs to have at least a couple key results. Key results need to be measurable, quantitative, and difficult.

Objective: Learn basic conversational Spanish to be able to communicate completely in Spanish while on Vacation in three months.

Key Results:

  • Learn 1000 most common spoken words.
  • Learn 100 most common Spanish phrases and how to respond to them.
  • Speak with a native speaker for 10 minutes.

Notice that the objective is clear and has a deadline. Learning conversational Spanish in three months is ambitious, but not unrealistic. The key objectives are measurable, quantitative, and difficult (Depending on your language learning experience). These key results will allow me to precisely track my progress and know when I have completed my objective.

OKRs also force you to figure out what is important to obtain a goal. The objective is the “What” the key results are the “How”.

Have a Backup Plan

Things rarely go to plan. You set a goal to lose 10 lbs in 3 months and your first week of dieting and exercise is going awesome.

Then you get sick.

You feel like all of your work is wasted. You start feeling like your plan is hopeless. You decide it doesn’t matter anymore and dig into the junk food.

Then, you vow to make up for it and work twice as hard the next week. Now you are burnt out and starting to lose your motivation. This is harder than you thought.

Having a backup plan helps you get back on track when you derail. Things WILL go wrong, plan for them.

Realize that we aren’t perfect and our will isn’t impenetrable. Have a plan for when you are tired and consume a full bag of chips. Realize it will occasionally happen. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get back on your plan.


To achieve goals, no matter how incredible they are, you must have confidence that you can achieve them.

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right

Henry Ford

Knowing that you will succeed, that you have the ability to accomplish your goals, will make the difference between failure and success.

If you think you will fail, you will. When something goes wrong, you will tell yourself, “see, I knew I couldn’t do this” “I knew it was too hard”.

If you have confidence in yourself and achieving your goal, you will find a way to make it work. When something goes wrong, you will instead think, “this may have gone wrong, but I can make it work.” You will find a way to fix it or make it better.

It isn’t surprising that programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) have a step of believing in something greater. While several studies have shown no correlation between praying and results, they have shown that people are more likely to achieve something if they believe they can do it. Positive thinking really does make a difference.

Get Started Today

Not today, Right Now. Create a list of the things you want to do in your life. Where do you want to be in five years? In ten years? Why are these goals important to you?

Prioritize those goals. Which is the most important? What can you do to get started right now? What things will you need to stop doing?

What action can you take tomorrow?

Motivation is like a cup with a small hole in it. You must keep filling it with action and positive results. What seems important now will seem less so later if no action is taken. If you don’t take some kind of action, the cup will empty.

Books to Get Motivated and Organized