Setting Goals

Setting Goals


  • Goals are like lighthouses for our lives: they help guide us to our life destinations, even through the foggiest moments of our lives
  • Setting goals is the first step to achieving goals
  • Analyzing your goals will give you insights as to why they’re important to you
  • Identify and take baby steps towards achieving your goals… day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, stay true to your goals and you will achieve them
  • Review your goals regularly, prune outdated ones, let others grow depending on your current priorities and interests

Welcome to your goals.

Goals are like lighthouses for our life
Goals are like lighthouses for our lives: they help guide us to our life destinations. (photo credit: author)
Brainstorm Your Goals

Go for it. Let yourself go and identify goals of all sorts. You are unconstrained. Don’t limit yourself. Here are some ideas to help get your goal setting mood in order:

  • Educational goals: earn an MBA degree, learn how to write an iPhone app
  • Career goals: become a program manager, write a book, work abroad as an ex-patriot for a couple of years, win an Academy Award, win a Nobel Peace prize
  • Financial goals: pay off my student loan early, pay off my credit balance, buy my first home, pay off my mortgage
  • Financial/riches goals: save my first $100k, my first $1M… be financially independent, retire by age 50
  • New skills: learn SCUBA diving, learn downhill skiing, become a better photographer, learn how to sail
  • Experiential: go zip lining, go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, go sky diving, go off-roading in an ATV or 4×4 vehicle, watch a night-time rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, see a solar eclipse
  • Travel: visit Australia, walk on the Great Wall of China, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, see Machu Picchu, see all the U.S. National Parks
  • Material goals: own a Mercedes Benz SL roadster (fill in the blank with your dream car), own an ocean-front penthouse condo apartment in Miami’s South Beach
  • Family/relationship goals: I want to get married, I want to mend the relationship with my mom
  • Friendship goals: go to your high school 20-year reunion, take a “boys-only” vacation to Las Vegas
  • Spiritual: become a better Christian, volunteer for my church more, volunteer for mission work
  • Retirement goals: retire in Hawaii (fill in your dream destination), overland the world
Time Bounding Your Goals

Next step, put a time bound on the goal. For example:

  • achieve by the year 2025
  • achieve by age 40
  • achieve before you die

Then set these goals aside for a while. Take your mind off of them for a while… bookmark this page so you can return to it.

Understanding Your Goals

When you come back, try reviewing your goals and do the following:

  • Categorize them, perhaps as new skills, professional accomplishment, experiential, travel, material, financial, milestones, hobby, sport. See the categories associated with the first set of bullets above.
  • Define the exit criteria: What would it take for you to check the goal off as “accomplished”
  • Prioritize them: If that helps
  • Inspiration/motivation: Write a short description of what inspired/motivated you to set this goal. Was it something you always wanted since a child? Was it an idea from a TV/magazine ad, a movie, a song? Understanding this element of goal setting is an opportunity for self reflection on your priorities and interests.
Categorize your goals
Categorize your goals
Baby Steps to Goal Achievement

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
-famous Chinese proverb

So how do you begin the process of achieving your goals?

Identify the first few steps, and just do it. Then work on the next step after that. Rinse and repeat. There is no magic bullet. Planning and execution. Self discipline certainly helps.

Shall we go through some examples?

Example 1: Go Zip Lining, an Experiential Goal

Let’s start with this simple example: we would be organizing an zip lining activity for the family. In this case, we can use Evernote to create a checklist with numbering for the step-by-step list of things to do to achieve this experiential goal.

Zip line checklist
Scheduling a zip line activity for the family step-by-step

Putting the steps down helps you capture everything that is required to achieve the goal. Sometimes it takes a few passes of planning to identify all that needs to be done. The checkboxes serve to track your progress as you move closer to achieving your goal. Once you complete your goal, don’t forget to follow through – in this case, sharing the zip line activity video footage with your family. The follow through really completes the essence of the goal.

Example 2: Earn an MBA Degree, an Educational Goal

Let’s go through a more involved goal, earning an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) degree.

MBA checklist
Steps to achieving an MBA degree

As you make progress along each step, take a small victory lap and check off the checkbox. Seeing a few checkboxes crossed off can serve as encouragement in case you get discouraged along the way. And in the case of an MBA program, it is a grueling couple of years. There may be doubt and discouragement. Nothing worth achieving comes easy. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey. And don’t forget to thank your spouse or others who have supported you. Again, it is part of the follow through, an important of goal fulfillment and completion.

Example 3: Buy My First Home, a Financial Goal

Let’s go through another challenging goal, buying your first home.

buying house checklist
Steps to buying my first home

Buying a house is a huge goal. Sometimes goals have many steps and some of those steps have sub-steps, like steps #6 and #11 in the example above. You can use indenture and sub-step numbering to expand on the details, giving you a framework to capture the detailed plan without getting lost in the overall plan. Work off all the sub-steps before checking off complete on the parent step.

Buying a house is a big financial decision. And it comes with an equally daunting list of steps in order to achieve. Like we said earlier, nothing worth achieving comes easy. As part of the goal, remember to celebrate the accomplishment, in this case hosting a housewarming party.

What If You Can’t Figure Out How to Achieve Your Goals?

If you can’t figure out how to achieve your goals, study those who have achieved the same goal or similar goals. If you want to be financially independent or a billionaire, study from those who achieved the goal. Find role models and study them.

Pruning Your Goals

If you can’t begin the first step, ask yourself why? In most cases, completing the first step requires some resources: spousal support, money, or time.

Hopefully, you’re not counting on buying the winning Lotto ticket?

Or perhaps it’s time. If only you could gain back the last decade of your life (lost time)? Maybe it’s your health and you should have attempted this goal a decade ago?

Maybe you will realize that some goals were not that important after all. Some times you have to reset and re-evaluate your goals for realism, especially as your priorities and interests change over time. Set a calendar reminder to revisit your goals at least once every year, say on New Year’s Day. Do some goals “housekeeping” that night, before you begin your first day of work in the new year.

Goals – Shape them over time.
As you grow older,
and pursue them,
They will define you as a person.

As an analogy, goals are like a topiary or bonsai plant. Gardeners prune them and bend them over time into the desired shape. Over time, they grow full into the character (in the case of topiaries) or a beautiful table top bonsai plant.

Achieving a Goal, Now What?

Achieving a goal is a huge undertaking and accomplishment. Celebrate it. Record it with a photo/video. Post it on social media. Put a big check mark next to it on your list. Enjoy the self satisfaction of knowing you can achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.

When you’re done celebrating. See what this goal does in terms of enabling related/similar goals. Start planning out how you would achieve such goals, now that this initial goal has been achieved. Leverage your new found achievement and the momentum to realize your next goals.

Tools for Goals Setting

In the above screenshots, we used Evernote as a tool to capture checklists. It is application available on PC, MacOS and smartphones/tablets (Android, iOS), or web browser at We use it for note taking, to do lists, and reminders. It is among the essential set of tools we rely on a daily basis just like Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheets.


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