How to Set and Achieve Meaningful Goals

Reading Time: 13 minutes

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” – Benjamin Franklin

At a young age, my grandpa inspired me to set goals in school and on the golf course.

Since then, I have leveraged goal-setting to improve my life and overcome significant obstacles, including elevating myself out of poverty, graduating magna cum laude from Princeton, coping with the sudden deaths of my mentor and mom, and traveling to 30+ countries while building multiple businesses.

Along the way, I learned that what you achieve is not nearly as meaningful as the person you become in the process of achievement. Because once you reach a milestone, you start heading for the next one. While achievements provide only temporary joy and satisfaction, what you learn and how you grow endure and propel you forward.

Setting and achieving goals not only accelerates your ability to get what you want, but it also inches you closer to becoming the person you want people to remember when you’re gone.

Below, I outline a detailed goal-setting and achievement strategy with action items and templates that will help you get what you want across every area of your life. Whether you want to improve your relationship with your wife, accomplish more in your career, or find more joy and meaning, this goal-setting process will help you get there.

If you adopt the system and take it seriously, it will help you clarify what you want, determine how you will get there, create an accountability system, and overcome unforeseen challenges. Most importantly, it will empower you to start steering the ship of your life in the direction you consciously decide to go.

How to read and use this guide:

The below guide is an effective and powerful way to set and achieve goals across all areas of your life. There are four sections: Evaluate, Set Your Vision, Measure, and Execute. When you go through the process, use this goal-setting and achievement template.

To get the most out of this resource:

  1. Read the guide to understand the goal-setting philosophy and process.
  2. When you’re ready to set goals, block off an hour when you won’t be disturbed. In that session, review the article and summary action items at the end. Then, open the goal-setting and achievement template, and complete the initial evaluation of your life.
  3. Schedule another distraction-free hour. In that session, set your Objectives, Key Results, and action plans for the quarter.
  4. Execute on your goals, review your progress at the end of the quarter, and repeat the process.

Stage 1: Evaluate

Why set goals?

“Achieving goals by themselves will never make us happy in the long term; it’s who you become, as you overcome the obstacles necessary to achieve your goals, that can give the deepest and most long-lasting sense of fulfillment.” – Tony Robbins

Your time, energy, and resources are limited, and if you don’t chart where you are going and how you will get there, it’s easy to squander your finite years on this earth and look back on your deathbed wondering where the time went.

Setting goals can help you solve this problem. Goals allow you to clarify who you are, what you want, and how you will achieve what you set out to do. They help you navigate life’s endless distractions and prevent other people’s expectations and priorities from dictating your life.

Above all, goals allow you to move in the direction you consciously decide to go. It’s not about the goals themselves; it’s about the person you become in the pursuit of those goals.

Evaluate where you are

“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.” – Shannon Aldler

If you don’t know where you stand, you can’t determine where you’re going next. Before you set any goals, it’s essential to evaluate how you’re doing across every area of your life: your career, health, finances, learning, leisure, and relationships. To feel fulfilled, you need to find the right balance across each of these six areas.

ACTION ITEM 1: Using the “Life Evaluation” tab in the goal-setting and achievement template, rate each area of life on a scale of 0 (not at all where you want to be) to 10 (perfect). Then, write a few sentences about why you chose that rating. Be candid and specific. If you’re unhappy in your career or if your romantic life sucks, then write that honestly. You’re doing this for you, not anyone else.

Once you complete this step, you’ll have something that looks like this:

Stage 2: Set Your Vision

Choose three areas of focus

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” – Goethe

You can’t solve all of your problems at once, but you can solve some of them. Instead of falling into the trap of doing too many things, you need to identify the vital few areas that will yield the largest return for your happiness and fulfillment.

ACTION ITEM 2:Review how you rated the different areas of your life. Think about the areas causing you the most pain and the ones that have significant room for improvement. Then, pick three areas that you will improve over the next quarter. For example, you might choose your career, health, and learning.

Identify your Objectives and clarify your “why”

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Nietzsche

It’s time to identify how you will improve the three areas of life you chose. Instead of setting a simple goal for each area, you will leverage the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) goal-setting framework used by Google, Airbnb, LinkedIn, and [endless list of successful companies].

For each area of life, you will set an Objective.

An Objective is a short, inspirational, and achievable statement that describes what you want to achieve.

For example, if you realized in the evaluation phase that your health is suffering because you’ve been sleeping poorly and had low energy for years, you might set the following Objective:

“Feel energized and excited every morning.”

Don’t worry about how you will feel energized and excited every morning yet. The Objective is the vision of what you want your health to look like; the Key Results will describe how you will reach the Objective.

ACTION ITEM 3:In the “Objectives and Key Results” tab of your goal-setting and achievement template, write one objective for each of the three areas of life that you’re committed to improving.

Next, you need to identify the “why” behind each of your Objectives. Why is achieving this Objective important to your life? What will you miss out on if you don’t accomplish it? When you have a clearly defined why, you’ll be more persistent, accountable, and better able to overcome the inevitable obstacles you will face.

ACTION ITEM 4: For each Objective, describe why achieving that objective is essential toward improving the quality of your life.

By the end of this process, your chart might look like this:

Identify your Key Results

Now that you have your Objectives defined, you need to identify the actions that will allow you to achieve the goal. You will use Key Results to do this.

Key Results are succinct, specific, and measurable actions that will collectively allow you to achieve your Objective.

Sticking to the health example, you have the Objective to “Feel energized and excited every morning.” You’ll want to brainstorm ideas about what you can do to achieve this goal.

In your brainstorm, you might recognize that drinking too much, exercising too little, eating unhealthy meals, and being ungrateful have been the biggest contributors to your low energy and poor quality of sleep. Armed with this knowledge, you might settle on the following Key Results:

  1. Go to yoga, run, or lift weights at least three times a week.
  2. Drink alcohol no more than once a week.
  3. Pack a healthy breakfast and lunch for every work day.
  4. Write down three things for which I’m grateful every morning.

Notice that these actions are specific, succinct, and measurable. At the end of the quarter, you’ll be able to confidently say whether or not you achieved the Key Result. You want to structure these so that if you achieve all of your Key Results, you accomplish your Objective.

ACTION ITEM 5: For each Objective, write down three to five Key Results in the “Objectives and Key Results” tab of the goal-setting and achievement template. Ensure that each key result is specific, succinct, and measurable. You want to be able to look back at the end of the quarter and say that you did or did not hit your Key Result.

Once you write your Key Results, your OKR chart will look like this:

Create a plan for how you will achieve your Key Results

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It’s not enough to identify your Objectives and Key Results. You need a plan of action that will allow you to successfully hit all of your targets.

For example, if you currently drink alcohol three times a week and want to hit your Key Result of drinking alcohol no more than once a week, you need to make changes in your life. Simply writing down a Key Result and relying on willpower is not a good strategy for success. You need a plan.

You might start by reflecting on why and with whom you typically drink. Perhaps you realize that one of your friends always convinces you to go out to bars on weeknights, and those weeknight drinks account for 80 percent of your booze consumption.

Once you consciously recognize this reality, you can build a system that allows you to stop drinking on weeknights. You might tell that friend about your goals and say that you’re adopting a strict no drinking on weeknights policy. When she inevitably asks you to go out on a weeknight, you can remind her of your policy and defer hanging out until the weekend.

The most important part is understanding yourself and developing a system that allows you to make the necessary changes in your life to achieve what you set out to do.

ACTION ITEM 6: For each Key Result, use the “Action Plans” tab of the goal-setting and achievement template to identify how you are going to set up your life to accomplish your Key Results.

Stage 3: Measure

Measure your results and set up accountability systems

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Peter Drucker

If you don’t measure your goals or create accountability mechanisms, you won’t be successful. It’s too easy to set thoughtful goals and then let the daily noise of life or unexpected challenges distract and demotivate you from what you set out to achieve.

It’s up to you to find the best way to measure your results and hold yourself accountable, but below are three tactics that have worked incredibly well for me:

Weekly Life Review

Every Sunday, I reflect on the prior week and write an email to a close group of friends that includes progress against my goals, victories, challenges, learnings, and the following week’s priorities. The review is a simple way to hold me accountable to my goals, celebrate wins, solve problems, and keep my friends up to date.

Daily Actions Tracker

When I’m building a new habit or have a goal related to doing some action a specific number of times per week, I track it in a simple spreadsheet that I update at the end of the day or in the morning. For example, this year I set a goal to meditate 365 days. Because of my tracking spreadsheet, I know that I’ve meditated 93% of days this year. If you have an exercise, meditation, journaling, or any daily goal, you can use the “Daily Actions” tab in the goal-setting and achievement template to easily track and understand how you’re doing.

Family and Friends

Tell your friends and family about your goals, and identify ways for them to help you stay accountable. I used this tactic when I committed to never complaining again. I started paying my best friend $1 every time I complained. As his bank account fattened, he was glad I chose him as an accountability partner, and I quickly stopped complaining.

ACTION ITEM 7: Once you have your Objectives, Key Results, and action plans, choose one or more of the above measurement and accountability systems to begin tracking progress on your vision. The Daily Actions Tracker and Quarterly Goal Review are in your goal-setting and achievement template.

Stage 4: Execute

Execute and conduct a quarterly review

“Knowledge isn’t power until it is applied.” – Dale Carnegie

With your plan in place, it’s time to execute. You’ll have good and bad days, but your mission is to ensure that you accomplish your Key Results in the quarter. No excuses. Take responsibility for improving your life.

Once you execute on your quarterly goals, you need to review your progress to see what went well, what didn’t go well, and what all of that means for your future goals.

ACTION ITEM 8: Conduct a quarterly review to measure your progress against your OKRs. In the “Quarterly Goal Review” tab of your goal-setting and achievement template, write down a percentage complete for each of your Key Results and a description of why you achieved that result. In all likelihood, you’ll have some areas where you did well and others where you didn’t perform. You’ll use your progress and learnings from the quarter to inform the goals you set for the next quarter.

Reward yourself

“People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.” – Dale Carnegie

You’re not setting goals so you can grind away, achieve results, and set the next batch of goals. Not only should you set goals that bring you closer to the person you want to become, but you should find ways to reward yourself for having the courage to set your vision and achieve it.

ACTION ITEM 9: Dream up an exciting reward for achieving your goals. Perhaps it’s a weekend vacation to the mountains with your wife or your first trip abroad. Pick a reward that will compensate you for your excellent work and provide a dose of motivation when you’re struggling.

Be flexible, iterate, and have some fun

“Do anything, but let it produce joy.” – Walt Whitman

Your goals aren’t set in stone. Life is full of constant surprises, and it’s normal for your circumstances or desires to change. When this happens, it’s important to be flexible and compassionate with yourself.

It’s common to realize that you set the wrong goals or to need to adapt to the inevitable curveballs of life. Don’t give up on a goal because it’s difficult, but don’t keep pursuing a goal when it isn’t improving the quality of your life.

ACTION ITEM 10: Get in the habit of checking in with yourself and your goals. If something isn’t working or your priorities change, reset your goals to align with your new situation.

You can’t connect the dots forward, but you can dream, plan, and execute

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs

You can’t predict your future. Throughout your life, you will encounter unexpected obstacles and opportunities. Instead of passively sitting around and hoping that these inevitable realities of life take you in the right direction, you can begin steering the ship.

While you may not be able to predict exactly where that ship goes, knowing your vision helps. When you know what you want to achieve and who you want to become, you can better navigate the inevitable stormy seas of life and capitalize on the fortuitous tailwinds.

The question of today is simple: Will you continue floating in the wind and hope you don’t get carried to a miserable life, or will you begin consciously steering the ship toward a joy-filled and fulling future?

The choice is yours.

Summary Action Items

Use this goal-setting and achievement template for all action items.

  1. Using the “Life Evaluation” tab in the goal-setting and achievement template, rate each area of life on a scale of 0 (not at all where you want to be) to 10 (perfect). Then, write a few sentences about why you chose that rating. Be candid and specific. If you’re unhappy in your career or if your romantic life sucks, then write that honestly. You’re doing this for you, not anyone else.
  2. Review how you rated the different areas of your life. Think about the areas causing you the most pain and the ones that have significant room for improvement. Then, pick three areas that you will improve over the next quarter. For example, you might choose your career, health, and learning.
  3. In the “Objectives and Key Results” tab of your goal-setting and achievement template, write one objective for each of the three areas of life that you’re committed to improving.
  4. For each Objective, describe why achieving that objective is essential toward improving the quality of your life.
  5. For each Objective, write down three to five Key Results in the “Objectives and Key Results” tab of the goal-setting and achievement template. Ensure that each key result is specific, succinct, and measurable. You want to be able to look back at the end of the quarter and say that you did or did not hit your Key Result.
  6. For each Key Result, use the “Action Plans” tab of the goal-setting and achievement template to identify how you are going to set up your life to accomplish your Key Results.
  7. Once you have your Objectives, Key Results, and action plans, choose one or more of the above measurement and accountability systems to begin tracking progress on your vision. The Daily Actions Tracker and Quarterly Goal Review are in your goal-setting and achievement template.
  8. Conduct a quarterly review to measure your progress against your OKRs. In the “Quarterly Goal Review” tab of your goal-setting and achievement template, write down a percentage complete for each of your Key Results and a description of why you achieved that result. In all likelihood, you’ll have some areas where you did well and others where you didn’t perform. You’ll use your progress and learnings from the quarter to inform the goals you set for the next quarter.
  9. Dream up an exciting reward for achieving your goals. Perhaps it’s a weekend vacation to the mountains with your wife or your first trip abroad. Pick a reward that will compensate you for your excellent work and provide a dose of motivation when you’re struggling.
  10. Get in the habit of checking in with yourself and your goals. If something isn’t working or your priorities change, reset your goals to align with your new situation.

Resources

  1. Goal-Setting and Achievement Template: This template has everything you need to evaluate your life, set quarterly Objectives and Key Results, create action plans, track daily progress, and review how you did on your goals during the quarter.
  2. Measure What Matters by John Doerr (affiliate): Legendary venture capitalist John Doerr describes how leading companies like Google have leveraged the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) goal-setting system to achieve extraordinary results. You can also learn more about OKRs in this beginner’s guide to OKRs.

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