Simple Goal Setting that Gets Results: Make 2011 Epic + Free Workbook (warning: hard work required)

Written by Scott January 5, 2011

Goal Setting Take Action

“What gets measured gets done.”

~John E. Jones

Update: Check out the updated 2014 Goal Setting and Action Workbook in this post!

Note from Scott: Check out my Free Goal Setting and Action Workbook at the end of this post.

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A million people write about goals this time of year. So why add to the mess?

Because goals get results. And I have a system that works.

In the past year I ran my first barefoot ultramarathon, swam across the San Francisco bay, grew my investment fund from $1m to $3m, worked out with Tim Ferriss, grew my following here at Reading For Your Success from 100 to just over 2,500 subscribers (thanks guys!) and most importantly got married.

I don’t rattle these accomplishments off to brag. I mention them because they were all huge goals of mine at the beginning of 2010 and as a result of some serious planning and ridiculously hard work, they are now a part of my reality. I want the same for you.

Goal Free Living Is a Myth

Lately I’ve heard buzz about goal free living. While I subscribe to the belief that life is not all about accomplishments and checking boxes, I also know that for 99% of people out there, if we don’t set goals and create a plan, we’ll never get off our asses and do something meaningful. I’m one of them. If you’re that 1% who is totally set and done being epic then you might want to stop reading here. You might even want to unsubscribe.

For the rest of us let’s go make some magic!

I freaking love the New Year. It’s a time for reflection and a time for making kick ass plans for the upcoming year. Something about the clock striking midnight on December 31st fills the world with passion and energy to make big plans. I love it.

The problem is that’s usually as far as people get.

Let’s start with some stats.

A now famous 10-year Harvard study* found that:

  • 3% of Harvard graduates set and write down clear goals
  • 84% didn’t give even a thought to goals or planning
  • Ten years later the people with any written goals at all earned twice as much as the 84% who did nothing
  • The top 3% earned 10x that of the other 97% (I know it’s not all about the money, but these results make a powerful point)

* Taken from the stellar book What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School

Last year FranklinCovey Co. found that:

  • 75% of people break New Year’s resolutions by the end of 3 months
  • 33% will break them by the end of January
  • 43% never even planned to follow through with them in the first place

Granted, there are arguments about the specific stats of the above studies, but the only important points to take away are:

  1. Hardly anyone sets and sticks to goals.
  2. Goals make a big f*?/ing difference.

We need a practical system that works.

I use the below process every year. The key is to keep it simple, actionable and exciting. Clear your calendar, get out your journal and let’s get to work.

Important tip: Print this post out or download and print out the accompanying workbook. Then take it to a coffee shop or park, WITHOUT an internet connection or a time limit, and let the awesomeness begin. I spent many hours (and days) writing this. I did not write it to simply be read. I created it to help you take action to make 2011 your best year yet. If you’re only going to read this and do nothing about it, you’re better off stopping here.

But since I know my readers take this stuff seriously, please read on…

A Simple Goal-Setting Process that Gets Massive Results.

1. Reflect – Review what made last year Awesome (and not so awesome).

This is the most important step. Any planning process–for the day, week, year or lifetime, begins with reflection. Take stock of what you’ve accomplished and what you’re proud of. Give yourself some time to bask in the glory. You deserve it. Also think through the low points of the year and what you don’t want to repeat. It’s crucial to nail the ups and the downs.

Use the below questions to guide you (These were borrowed from a good friend and San Francisco Career Coach, Suzannah Scully):

  1. What are you most proud of in the last year?
  2. If there were a newspaper headline describing this past year for you, what would it say?
  3. What unfinished business do you want to resolve before the year end and when will you do it? (i.e. lingering relationships, apologies, goals yet to achieve)
  4. When were you most excited about life in this past year? What were you doing? Who were you with?
  5. Looking back, what would you have done differently in 2010?
  6. What new dream for yourself did you achieve?
  7. Where did you let fear hold you back from a goal you had?
  8. What was boring to you this year that you hope to change for next year?

2. Define your Areas of Attention.

Breaking things down helps make them more manageable. Start by figuring out the core parts of your life where you want to get results. I call these Areas of Attention. For me they are: Health, Continued Learning, Helping Others, Marriage, Business (this site and my investment partnership), Exploring and Personal Organization.

It can dramatically help to name your Areas of Attention in a way that creates some emotion in your body. Something that gets you excited. For example mine are: Expand the Mind, Building the Snowball, Making Money While I Explore, Get Her Number, Give it Away, Making Ears Ring, Flying Out of the Gym and Never Stop Exploring. Can you guess which is which?

The point here is to nail the areas in your life that matter and have fun with it.

List your Areas of Attention.

3. Create a core goal in each area.

Now it’s time to think big. These don’t have to be massive, but that certainly makes it more fun. They just have to be meaningful to you. It’s not necessary to pick something for every category but I encourage you to doso or else we’re at the risk of sacrificing parts of our life that matter.

If you have only one goal and it’s to have your most profitable year in your business, then you might find yourself working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to make it happen, while losing sight of the family that means the world to you or the body you love to keep fit. You may achieve your goal but you’ve left the rest of your life in shambles, so does it really matter?

Always keep balance in mind.

List 1-3 goals per Area of Attention.

4. Get Specific – Define what you really want.

It’s not enough to say “I want to be healthier” or “I want to make more money” – Here’s a dollar now get lost. No, they must be quantifiable and measurable. Define what you want exactly. If you want to lose weight, then how much and by when? Or better yet, stick to things in your control and make a goal related to the number of workouts you’ll do and the food you’ll consume (since losing the actual weight is not in your control, but what is in control are the actions that generally lead to weight loss). If you want a bigger salary, then how much is enough? You want a girlfriend, then how many dates will you go on each month? You want to write a book, then how many words a day can you commit to?

If you don’t know the rules of the game, then how could you ever expect to win?

List the quantifiable outcomes and the specifics of each goal.

5. Get Leverage – Find a compelling and emotional reason why.

There was once a man who tried for years to quit smoking. His friends tried to help. His wife begged. But nothing worked. Then one day his 6-year old daughter came into his office, looked up at him with a scared look on her face and said “daddy I don’t want you to die before I’m 10”. He never smoked another cigarette. That’s leverage.

If I asked you to go out and get $1,000,000 by tomorrow night, could you do it? Most would laugh and say no. What about if there was a gun to your child’s head? Do you think you could get a little more creative? That’s what I thought.

What massive reason can you find for making your goal a must? It could be fitting into your wedding dress or being sure you’re alive to teach your grandson math. It’s your call. Just be sure there is major emotion behind it.

Leverage can come from one of two places. You can focus on the wonderful things you’ll experience if you complete your goal (i.e. happiness, personal freedom, finding the love of your life). Or you can focus on the awful things that might happen if you don’t (i.e. loneliness, a heart attack, or the death of a loved one). Positive or negative, discover what will make it an absolute must to accomplish your goal.

Nothing gets done until there is enough motivation to take action.

6. Fill in the details – Create baby steps.

Thinking of a long-term goal as a single item to accomplish can be massively overwhelming. But every goal has all kinds of 5-minute or one-hour tasks leading up to it. Take writing a book for example. If you haven’t yet written a word and you look at your goal one day that says “write a book”, the intimidation is going to make it almost impossible to begin. But what if you had, “write the first page” or “write a few chapter titles” as one of your tasks? That can be done in one sitting. All of a sudden you’re a step closer and you’ve got momentum.

Take each core goal and divide it into 4-8 Minor Steps. Then create 3-5 Baby Steps for each Minor Step. You may need more or fewer steps depending on the size of your goal. Feel it out.

The point is to make the steps so small and manageable that you can check them off relatively quickly and feel the accomplishment and motivation of making progress.

7. Get them on a calendar.

Everything we do takes up physical time in our lives. Without putting things on the calendar, it’s easy to plan way too much. Too much then leads to overwhelm which leads to the opposite of progress.

Get out a calendar where you can see all 12 months at once. Or just take a piece of paper and make 12 squares on it. Now look at the goals you’ve created. Begin to place each goal into various months. Be conscious of your life. If you know you’ll be traveling all of April then don’t expect huge results that month. If some of your goals will take the whole year to complete then fill in your Minor and Baby Steps in the months where you will take the action.

Laying things onto a calendar allows you to visually see what you plan to tackle each month. The visual makes it much more obvious when you’ve over planned. Your mind will not conceptualize this if you just write down your list of goals with dates next to them.

Bonus points: Once you have each month generally laid out, dig down into the weeks of the first few months and get really specific. Then pull out your calendar and schedule things.

8. Get Accountable – Tell at least 4 people about them.

We tend to keep our word much better with others than with ourselves. Pick at least four people close to you to tell about your goals. Walk them through your process. Explain why it’s so important to you and even give them a copy of your goals and plan. Ask for their help.

This could mean simply checking in with you each month or actually working with you on something they are especially good at. This will help get them and you more committed to your outcome.

Warning: Pick people you know will genuinely support you – not those who will be jealous of your dreams and try to put you down (there’s more of those people out there than you think, so be careful).

A huge part of my Personal Freedom Coaching is related to accountability and being in someone’s corner to help them get results. If you’re looking for more official one-on-one accountability, perhaps I could help. I’ll be taking a few new clients this year. Let me know if you’re interested.

9. Routinely review your progress – Weekly or monthly at the least.

For most people, goal setting ends just before this step. That’s why 75% or more will not see results.

But for those who want results, this is just the beginning. To see massive progress you must keep your plans front of mind. Create a routine that allows you to review the above on a weekly basis. Anything more infrequent than weekly, makes it too easy to keep the ideas and dreams just that – ideas and dreams. They become reality when we consistently address them and make small gradual progress. In a year that can become enormous.

“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, and drastically underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.”

~Tony Robbins

It’s so easy to get excited about goals and put a bunch of stuff on paper. Anyone can do that. The real work happens when it’s time to turn plans into actions. This requires a routine and accountability – on the part of yourself and others. I review mine every Monday morning, first thing. Because it’s the things you do each week that lead to the achievements of a lifetime.

10. Do something NOW – No matter how small.

Never leave the site of a planning session without taking some action to get you closer to victory. It could be the tiniest thing in the world. Maybe send a short email or make a quick list. Pick something that only takes 5 minutes or less. And do it. Let the momentum begin.

What one or two small things can you do right now to get you closer?

Follow a process, any process!

Congratulations. You now have a process that is guaranteed to work…unless it doesn’t. If you don’t see results, either you weren’t diligent with the steps, you didn’t want it bad enough or it wasn’t meant to be. You are in control of the first two and the third will sort itself out. You’ll know where you fall.

There are currently over 10 million results on Google for ‘Goal Setting’. To be honest, I bet just about any of them would get results. Whether you follow my steps or one of the other 10,000,000 I honestly don’t care. The key is to follow a process. Any process.

Do whatever you will consistently stick to. I want you to get results – for you to take action and experience an Epic Life. That’s my goal.

Prioritize Happiness

Remember, happiness not spent today does not equal more happiness tomorrow. You will never experience life’s great accomplishments if you don’t have fun along the way. There is no waiting.

Don’t confuse goal setting, planning and the process as some type of delayed gratification. It only works if you love and are deeply committed and aligned to the things you want to accomplish. You must be congruent. This will make the daily actions fun and exciting. If they aren’t then it’s not worth it. Don’t get caught up in the tasks for the sake of checking boxes. Always prioritize happiness. It’s possible to have both. Trust me.

Become Your Dreams – Just Add Hard Work

Dreams don’t become reality by dreaming. That is the very first and simplest step. The magic happens when a consistent process of dedicated action is applied to the things that matter most in your life. And make no mistake. Massive hard work is required. If you were hoping for more of a get results quick solution, you’ve come to the wrong place. But I doubt that’s you anyway ;).

When you get committed on such a level, the sky is literally the limit. That is what has turned the impossible into the possible and is what makes the difference between an Epic Life and an ordinary one.

Every life can be Epic in it’s own way.

All we have to do is want it badly enough. That part is up to you.

So how much do you care about making meaningful things happen in 2011? Share your goals and process in the comments below because together we can make magic.

Stay tuned next week for my full no-holds-barred 2011 plan. Big things to come this year!

A Free Goal Setting and Action WorkBook to Keep You on Track

Goal Setting and Action Workbook 2011After writing this I realized that it’s a lot to digest on your own. You can certainly be 100% successful following the above, but I know a little hand holding makes action more likely. So as a new years bonus I’ve created a Free Goal Setting and Action Workbook for stepping through the process described above and achieving moster things in the new year. I suggest you print it out and put pen to paper.

Download the good stuff here: Free Goal Setting and Action Workbook

Other Resources to Help You Get Results:

11 Steps to Insane Focus: Do More of What Matters

The Importance of Being a Beginner

The Most Dangerous Word in the World

Image courtesy of JD | Photography

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