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Looking to Achieve Your Goals But Don't Know Where to Start? Try These Proven Goal-Setting Strategies. Find a more effective way of creating – and achieving – your goals. Get clear on your vision, make your plan, take action, reassess and then revise.

By Deep Patel

Key Takeaways

  • How you brainstorm, plan steps and measure your goals will determine whether you reach them.
  • People who set goals have higher self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation than their non-goal-setting counterparts, according to research.
  • The steps you set to achieve your goals will dictate your day-to-day priorities, so it’s important to be deliberate about your objectives.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Cecilie_Arcurs | Getty Images

Setting goals is essential to living a life with purpose and meaning. They provide direction and focus, help you stay motivated and drive you to exceed perceived limits. Whether your goals relate to an exercise routine or running a small business, they help organize your life for the better.

In business, setting goals and benchmarks is how you move your company forward — growing a customer base, hiring employees or expanding your footprint. It pays dividends in your personal life, too. Research shows that people who set goals have higher self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation than their non-goal-setting counterparts.

Still, many goals end in failure, with distractions getting in the way. Think of the last big goal you set: How did you hold yourself accountable? Did you make a plan? Did you write it down? Did you end up accomplishing that goal?

Below, you'll find essential tips and insights to put you on a path of setting — and achieving — your most ambitious goals:

16 actions for setting achievable goals

Setting big, ambitious goals is great, but it takes time and discipline to actually achieve them. In fact, the process begins before you take any action at all: How you brainstorm, plan and measure your goals is just as important as how you execute them. Likewise, it's essential to check in and audit your own progress as you work toward your goals.

So what does it take to set a goal and see it become reality? Here are 16 steps to get you started:

1. Consider your overarching goals

Before you take on a new goal, ask yourself: What do you want your life or business to look like? Does your goal fit with that vision? Consider what excites you, what benchmarks you want to hit and what broader objectives your business has. Goal-setting should be relevant and meaningful to you and your company.

2. Get it down on paper

Writing your goals down forces you to crystalize what exactly you hope to accomplish. One small study found that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. This simple act can keep your goal top of mind – and for a business, it can remind employees of long-term company objectives.

3. Brainstorm what needs to happen

You know what you want to accomplish; now begin strategizing the actions needed to reach that vision. Identify the main steps and tasks you need to accomplish your goal. Are there certain steps to prioritize or time-sensitive tasks that must be done in a certain order? Start determining what needs to happen, and when.

4. Come up with an action plan

This is the road map you can follow to your goal. Think of this as creating mini-goals — breaking bigger objectives into smaller steps, until you have "bite-sized" chunks. This makes the larger goal seem less daunting, and it ensures you don't miss important steps in the process. Be specific about what you want to achieve each step of the way.

5. Consider your talents and expertise

Think hard about your strengths and weaknesses, and consider what it will take to accomplish the tasks en route to your larger goal. Do you have the necessary skills and expertise? Should you seek help with some tasks? Identify how to play to your talents, and build your goal-achieving plans accordingly.

6. Make it measurable

Along with your action plan, set benchmarks, so each step builds toward your larger vision. Whether it's for your personal life or business, make these mini goals measurable — e.g., sales numbers or days you visit the gym each week — to ensure you're staying on track. This means setting deadlines that are reasonable. What is your target timeframe? Work backwards and start setting target dates for benchmarks.

7. Take action

Your goals will never come to fruition if you don't act. It may seem scary to take that first leap, but if you wait until your fears dissipate and every detail is perfect, you'll never start in the first place. Jump in, let go of your fears (as best you can) and start figuring it out as you go.

8. Build a success-oriented mindset

This means you're confident in yourself, but you can also learn from mistakes. People with this mindset see failures as opportunities for growth and embrace challenges. It's easy to get fed up and feel discouraged. A positive mindset helps you visualize yourself achieving those dreams.

9. Share your goals with others

A great way to hold yourself accountable is being open and public about your goals. That way, you'll hold yourself accountable if you aren't making steady progress. The idea is to take ownership in what you're doing and keep yourself motivated to continue.

10. Find your inner motivation

The best goals are those that connect with your intrinsic motivation; in other words, the things you feel compelled to pursue, with no outside pressure. Keep your motivation high by setting goals that are attainable and relevant to you and your life.

11. Solidify positive habits

Success doesn't happen overnight. It's about doing the work, day in and day out. This demands good habits. Healthy habits (e.g., eating well and getting enough sleep) will give you the energy and stamina to keep on the path to achieving your goals.

12. Delegate less important tasks

Your most ambitious goals may take more than individual effort. It's important to build a complementary team and surround yourself with supportive people. For tasks too time-consuming or out of your area of expertise, consider handing off work to employees. If you don't have help internally, consider hiring a contractor or freelancer. By delegating tasks, you can stay focused on your strengths.

13. Seek feedback

Seek out constructive criticism and listen to what others are saying — the good and the bad. Feedback is the most powerful way to gauge how other people perceive your work, and it's an important tool to assess whether you're meeting your own standards.

14. Evaluate how the plan is working

As you begin moving forward with your goals, take time to track how things are going. Is the plan working? Are you able to meet the deadlines and milestones you've set for yourself? Periodically reevaluate your goals, and identify where you may lag behind.

15. Reset your goals if necessary

Change is a part of life, and that means you need to be flexible. You may require an alternative plan if things aren't going your way. Don't become so focused on your goals that you forget the larger vision. Is it time to make some sweeping changes and alter your course? If so, better to do it sooner rather than later.

16. Reward yourself

It's important to celebrate your successes each step of the way. Remember, this is about the journey as much as the end goal. Give yourself a pat on the back for all those wins — big and small. Celebrating your accomplishments will keep you motivated and focused, and it will give you a chance to recognize those who helped along the way.

How to brainstorm effective goals

The goals you set will dictate your day-to-day priorities, so it's important to be deliberate about your objectives. Your company's long-term outlook will also change along with your goals. Effective business leaders set goals that drive employee performance and push the company forward. Below, you'll find a few steps to brainstorming goals that will benefit you and your business:

Set a timer

Block off a short period of time — between three and five minutes — dedicated to brainstorming goals. This short time span forces you to focus on what matters, blocking out all the reasons those goals might be hard to achieve.

Write down your goals

Start noting all your goals, no matter how big or small; try to come up with eight to 10 objectives you hope to achieve by this time next year. Keep the paper in your office or close to where you work, and refer back to your list regularly. It should act as a reminder and occasional kick in the butt to keep pushing.

Find your "game-changer" goal

Next, circle one goal that has the potential to completely change the course of your life and serve as a domino effect for every other goal on the list. This is your "game-changer" goal. It should be an objective that, once reached, benefits all facets of your life. Maybe your "game-changer" goal is to pay off the last of your student-loan debt or to quit drinking. Write down all the things you need to do to achieve that major goal of yours, and add one or two tasks each day to your to-dos.

Different ways to frame your goals

Perceptions create reality, and how you think about a particular challenge can determine its difficulty. The same rule applies to setting goals: When you frame objectives in a positive light — something exciting to tackle, rather than a looming deadline — it makes the entire process more seamless.

Reframing requires mental strength and constant check-ins, but approaching your goals with the right mindset makes all the difference: You'll be more confident, clearer in your approach and more driven to continue through adversity. When setting your goals, business or personal, consider these framings:

M.E. goals

When setting your goals, think about what motivates and engages you (hence, M.E.). Ask the question, "Does this excite me?" You'll need that motivation, especially when nothing seems to be going your way. But reaching your goals requires more than motivation; find a deeper meaning in what you're working toward. Does the goal provide you with purpose and direction?

Q goals

To stay on track and committed, think of your goals as quantifiable tasks. For example, if your goal is to onboard 1,000 new customers this year, break it down into smaller goals. Shoot for 19 new customers per week or three new customers per day. By breaking it down, larger goals feel much more manageable, easier to plan for and not so overwhelming.

"I will" goals

Starting your goal with the statement "I will" puts yourself in a position of obligation to reach it. It keeps you responsible and accountable for the results, which in turn, keeps you committed. Write your "I will" goals down, and consult them whenever the task seems daunting. By framing your objective as a declaration, you can trick your brain into thinking of your goal as a given, not a far-off dream.

Setting SMART goals

For decades, another kind of goal-setting has dominated corporate boardrooms and small businesses alike: SMART goals. First proposed by George T. Doran in a 1981 issue of Management Review, SMART is an acronym for "Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound." There's a reason universities, CEOs, life coaches and Olympic athletes all tout SMART goals: By breaking your objectives down into specific, defined chunks, they become easier and help you build momentum.

Below are the five elements of a SMART goal:

Specific

When writing your SMART goals, be as clear as possible. For example, if you work in the marketing industry, your job likely centers around key performance indicators (KPIs). Choose a specific KPI or metric to improve, and write down the names of team members who can help you achieve this goal.

Measurable

You need to be able to track your progress to evaluate whether your plan is working, so include quantifiable elements. For example, instead of saying that you want to increase the traffic to your site by a certain date, be more specific. Set a goal of increasing traffic by 25% by that date. This way, you have a specific goal to measure your progress by.

Achievable

Your goal should be attainable and motivating, not a burden. If you've never run more than a mile, setting a goal of running a marathon within a month is probably not realistic. But "easy" is not the target; rather, your goal should feel like a challenge.

Relevant

Choose personal goals that fit into your life and business goals and help your professional development. These goals should be relevant to you, the individual, as well as the business you run.

Time-bound

Setting a time frame keeps you on track and allows you to easily measure progress toward your goal. Set deadlines and make calendar notes for benchmarks. At any given moment, you should be able to check your progress against your time frame. This way, you can adjust in real time if you're not meeting expectations.

Examples of SMART goals

You can use SMART goals for anything from schoolwork to opening a business, and it's helpful to see this framing in action. Start with a challenge: What's not working? What could you improve? From there, it's time to put SMART goals to action. Below are two examples of how you can use this formula to reach goals in your personal and work life:

Problem: Mobile users are slowing down your company's website

  • Specific: Your site has too many mobile visitors, so you want to build an app.
  • Measurable: You want 60,000 users to download the app within six months of launch.
  • Achievable: All departments needed to create the app have signed on, and you've set up regular check-ins.
  • Relevant: Improving your site's mobile experience is the company's top goal next year.
  • Time-bound: To achieve 60,000 app installs within six months, the app needs to be launched by June and an aggressive marketing campaign put in place that continues until the end of the year.

Problem: You failed your math exam and must improve your grade

  • Specific: To raise your grade, you need to improve your work with fractions.
  • Measurable: You want to improve your grade from a D- to a C+ by completing homework assignments, smaller quizzes and the final exam in two months.
  • Achievable: You can hire a tutor and set time aside daily to work on fractions. You can also ask fellow students for help.
  • Relevant: Multiplying and dividing fractions is essential to passing the class.
  • Time-Bound: In two months, you should be able to multiply and divide fractions with minimal to no errors.

Taking the time to identify your goals and incorporate the steps above to create your own SMART action plan is key. By defining your goals, creating a step-by-step plan to achieve them and putting in the hard work, you'll change your life for the better.

Creating 10X goals

By setting a goal, you're in effect determining the finish line, but this can be a double-edged sword. Too often, leaders in risk-averse environments are conservative with their goals. They'd rather hit a modest goal and appear successful than fall short of a wildly ambitious one. However, when growing a company — or improving your personal life, for that matter — you need to think big. How big? Try 10 times big.

10X goals, a concept developed by Grant Cardone, are what many would consider "stretch goals." The idea is to set targets 10 times more ambitious than your perceived limits. This also takes 10 times the effort to accomplish them. Formidable? Sure. Unachievable? No way. This mindset of scalability promotes massive growth and will help you outperform your competition.

Below are some benefits of setting these 10X "stretch" goals for yourself:

Increased productivity

By challenging yourself to work 10 times harder than your competition, it's only natural for your productivity to skyrocket. Will your output actually increase tenfold? Maybe not, but conduct a before-and-after comparison with a measurable data point. You'll see marked improvements.

Ambitious new ideas

When you start exceeding goals and expectations, you raise the bar for what's possible. Challenges that once seemed intimidating now feel exciting; your pie-in-the-sky ideas are no longer unrealistic.

Heightened sense of accomplishment

Achieving your stretch goals is a major confidence-builder, which can keep you motivated to push forward in your next task. Ask any high achiever, and they'll tell you: Once you start knocking down the barriers, it's hard to stop that momentum.

Achieving your higher-level goals

Setting goals is a lifelong pursuit, and it doesn't stop once you accomplish one or two. No matter how far you make it, there will always be another obstacle to move past or challenge to conquer. The more your goals test you, the more you grow personally and professionally.

Your most ambitious goals may take years, not months, to achieve. Maybe it's turning your restaurant into a franchise operation or training to compete in an Ironman triathlon. To achieve the growth, success and change you desire, you need to start taking action. Consider these steps when thinking about your higher-level goals:

Phone a friend

Tap a mentor, trusted friend or business coach to keep you accountable. This gives you someone to answer to, and their objectivity can help you reprioritize your goals or rethink your strategies. A trusted ally also provides emotional support, a vital ingredient to any challenging endeavor.

Let it go

The waiting game can be one of the most frustrating aspects of goal setting. You set a goal and act, but results may not immediately follow. Once a goal takes off, learn to let go. Obsessing over things that are out of your control – for example, whether that potential client will sign a contract – only leads to frustration and anxiety.

Learn

Life is a constant cycle of failing and learning. Next time your goals don't go according to plan, search for the silver lining. What did you learn from the experience? Maybe your goal was misplaced or you didn't set up the right parameters. When you approach goals as learning opportunities, they provide valuable lessons regardless of outcome.

Start again

This can be the hardest step after a setback, but the only path is forward. Focus on the next goal, and heed the lessons from your last try. Failures provide you with blank slates; you can start anew and rediscover what really drives you. A fresh start isn't a result of past failures; it's an opportunity for future success.

Your goals are waiting

Nothing in life usually goes according to plan, and goal-setting requires patience, accountability and flexibility. By following proven goal-setting strategies, you'll position yourself for long-term success — in both your personal and professional life.

Deep Patel

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Serial Entrepreneur

Deep Patel is a serial entrepreneur, investor and marketer. Patel founded Blu Atlas, the fastest-growing men’s personal care brand, and sold it for eight figures in 2023, less than 18 months after its launch.

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