4 Steps to Setting Goals That Matter

Goals are scary.

Everyone talks about them at the beginning of a new year, a new quarter, a new month. 

You secretly desire to live a life full of purpose but each time you try to set a goal, it feels arbitrary, so out of reach. 

You know what you want but don't know how to get there.

Several years ago I felt the same way. I knew I wanted to live a life filled with significance centered around my passions. I just had no clue how to make that happen.

Then I learned how to discover my One Word for the year and centered my goals around that sweet spot.

My goals started to matter to me. In a big way.

And then big things started to happen.

I know that big things can happen for you, too.

Let me teach you four steps to developing goals that matter. 

Step One: Look Ahead

At the beginning of this blog series on goal setting I shared with you the importance of reflecting on your past year and gave you some thought provoking questions to do just that.

Now it is time to look to the future.

Ask yourself this question, "At the end of 2016 what will I have wished I would have accomplished?"

What will bring you the greatest joy and allow you to say "great job sister?" What keeps you up at night? Wow. This changes things doesn't it? Yep. That is the spot.

Step Two: Choose Three to Four Goals

Reach for your pen and paper. This is where the fun begins.

In an earlier post, I taught you how to discover the one word that will be your focus for this year. If you haven't chosen your word for the new year, I challenge you to stop and do that now. Spend some time following the process that I outlined and discover your One Word. This word comes from your soul, the place deep inside that craves something bigger than yourself. 

Now that you have your word for the year it is time to get down to the nitty gritty. Take some time to journal and brainstorm some things in the following categories that will force you to live out your word. 

  • Family
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Career
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Intellectual

For example, last year my word was Fearless. While going through this process I discovered that I had been letting fear hold me back in my running. I decided that the best way to be fearless as a runner was for me to set a hefty goal. That is what led me to setting the goal to run my fastest half marathon this year.

Follow these steps to help you determine your 3-4 goals for the new year:

  • Take some much needed time and brainstorm ways that you want to live out your word for each category above.
  • Pray and meditate over the list you have created. What stands out at you? What from the list scares you but excites you even more?
  • Narrow it down and choose 3-4 goals that light you on fire. I know it may be hard to scratch some off of your list now that you have made it this far into the process. But too many goals is overwhelming and spreads you too thin. It is okay to save some things for later. Choose your top 3 or 4 and focus there first.

Related Article: Check out this article by Dave Ramsey. He gives short but specific explanations of why these areas of life should be our focus of our goal setting.

Step Three: Put Your Goals in Writing Using the S.M.A.R.T. Method

I decided to set my sights on running my fastest half marathon this year, but I couldn't stop there. I needed to put my goals in writing.

Most people don't bother writing down their goals. Instead, they aimlessly drift through life, wondering why their life lacks purpose and significance. Committing your goals to writing isn't the end game. But it is the beginning.

Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor, discovered in a study of 267 participants that we are 42% more likely to achieve goals by writing them down.

So lets get to it.

In 1981 a man by the name of George T. Doran first wrote about S.M.A.R.T goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals bring structure and trackability into our goals.

Spend time writing out your goals using the following format:

  • Specific - What do you want to achieve? The more specific your description of your goal the bigger chance you will accomplish it.
  • Measurable - What concrete evidence will you have when you reach your goal? A measurable goal means that you can identify exactly what it is you will see, hear, and feel when you reach your goal.
  • Attainable - Definitely shoot for the starts but also make sure that your goal is realistic to you. If you haven't ran around the block yet then a full marathon might be too much at the start. Consider starting with a 5K and reaching that goal first. Not only will you feel the success of the goal reached but also you will have a foundation on which to set your next goal.
  • Relevant - Make your goal relevant to what you do and are working on accomplishing in your life already.
  • Timely - Break your goal down into a tentative plan. We all know that deadlines are what make most people switch to action. So give yourself deadlines and go after them.

Step Four: Find an accountability partner

I am going to challenge you to take this process a few steps farther. This is your year to reach these gigantic goals you are setting so let's do it right.

Dr. Matthews also discovered that when we write our goals down, create a timely, tentative plan and share our progress each week with an accountability partner we are 76% more likely to accomplish our goals. Wow! That is a huge difference. 

I knew if I wanted to accomplish my goal of running my fastest half marathon this year I would need an accountability partner. My friend, Beth and I have been running together for several years. I had myself a top notch accountability partner.

We signed up for the same race, adopted a similar running plan, and scheduled weekly long runs together. We checked in with one another throughout the week and did our absolute best to stay consistent so we would be prepared to run together on the weekends.

Because of this accountability, we both ran a very successful race. I hit a personal record and even did it in some pretty nasty weather conditions. I believe that I wouldn't have been able to accomplish this hefty goal had I not followed the four steps I have outlined here for you.

Related Post: Michael Hyatt shares five reasons why writing down our goals is so important.

I know setting goals can be intimidating. It can even feel like a waste of time when you don't seem to accomplish the goals you set each year.

But that is only when we don't choose goals that matter to us. 

I challenge you to choose your 3-4 goals, make them S.M.A.R.T and find just the right accountability partner. 

I know you can do it. I believe in you.

Here's to the clean slate of a brand new year.


Check out my other posts in this goal setting series:
Post One: 50 Thought Provoking Questions to Help You Reflect on Your Past Year
Post Two: Discover the One Word That Will Change Your Life