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The Ultimate Guide to Setting Goals and Achieving Personal Growth

If you know in your heart that you have big dreams and are ready to take massive action to make them happen, this goal setting guide will walk you through exactly how to set goals the right way so that you will succeed every time.


Every year there are moments when I feel the urge to step outside of my normal routine and take a look at the big picture.

  • The beginning of a new year.
  • The start of a new season.
  • A milestone or a birthday.

In reality, it is just another day, but somehow it feels pivotal. It is a good time to take a pause and figure out if your life is heading in the right direction.

Honestly, this should be done regularly regardless of New Year’s Eves and Birthdays, but often the time to do it escapes us.

Related: Get 7 hours back in your week by adopting these 25 essential time management principles today!

We all have an innate desire for growth. 

It pushes us to set new goals and become better versions of ourselves. It makes life exciting and challenging and rewarding.

Depending on how effective you are at deciding your life’s direction and setting goals, one of two things will happen, either:

  1. You will continually set good goals and succeed at improving your life, fueling personal breakthroughs, or
  2. You will continually set goals but never reach them, becoming less and less motivated to improve your life with every attempt

The difference in the two scenarios above isn’t how hard you tried, but whether you set yourself up for success when setting that goal in the first place.

As a life coach, my specialty is helping people overcome perfectionism and procrastination so that they can build unbelievable lives exploding with joy.

This requires setting big goals, and setting them well.

Today I want to walk you through the exact process I use with my clients to get them from where they are, to where they want to go, faster than they thought was possible.

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ONE: Start with the end in mind

To set goals that will inspire you to follow through, you need to create a vision that is so powerful it captivates you every single day.

ANA MCRAE

We tend to underestimate how much work it’s going to take to accomplish a goal that we’ve set.

The discrepancy between what we think is required and what it actually requires is the biggest thing keeping us from creating a life we are so freaking excited about.

The only way to solve that is by tying your goals into a really big dream.

  • Losing 25 pounds this year is going to be freaking hard, but being healthy and strong enough to hike the most beautiful mountains in the country is going to be worth it.
  • Launching a blog this year is going to be scary, and time consuming, and completely outside of your comfort zone, but making more money than you think is possible from the comfort of your own home is going to be amazing.
  • Saving $5,000 this year is going to require sacrifices, and budgeting, and politely declining costly events, but not living month to month, or going on that big trip, or moving out of that tiny apartment is going to uplift you to a whole new level.

You can’t set goals without having a big vision, so before you even start thinking about goals you want to work on, take some time to get crystal clear on what your biggest dreams for life are.

Related post: Finding Your Purpose With 10 Questions

Spend a few minutes visualizing you want your life to look and feel in 5, 10, or 50 years, in all of the following areas:

  • Relationships (kids, significant other, family, friends)
  • Hobbies
  • Impact
  • Finances (earning and saving)
  • Health (physical and mental)
  • Learning & personal growth

Set a vision for each of these areas so that you live a well rounded life.

Related post: How To Determine The Perfect Career For You

If you have some idea, but are having a hard time deciding between options, use this decision matrix tool to make the right choice today.

If you are looking for a coach to help you design the life you want and get there faster, I would love to work with you in person, via video call, or via messaging to help you build a life exploding with joy.

Be honest with yourself about what you want out of life. There is no shame in taking the path less traveled.

ANA MCRAE
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TWO: Analyze your performance

You must know where you are starting in order to decide where to go.

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Before you decide exactly WHAT your goal is, take some time to reflect on how you’ve been showing up in each area of your life.

If you’re going for the quick and dirty approach, just ask yourself the following questions in each life category from above:

  • What has gone well in the past year?
  • What could be improved in the following year?

This should give you a solid list of achievements and further goals. 

Take a few minutes to celebrate the achievements and internalize the success you gained from the effort you put in.

People that are goal oriented tend to take very little time to stop and actually savor the accomplishments before they move on to the next thing, but this is so key to keeping your motivation levels sky high.

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THREE: Decide where you want to focus this year

After you’ve come up with a few ways in which you could improve your life, you need to decide where you want to focus.

Let me share with you a little secret that I dive into in our time management e course, it does not all need to get done!

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If you’re anything like me, you’ll set ALL OF THE GOALS to improve all of the areas of your life, and then you’ll get overwhelmed 3 weeks in, you’ll burn yourself out, and you’ll be right back to where you started…

The thing we tend to forget, or not realize, is that for every goal you set, there are so many micro changes that come along with it. 

If you’ve decided not to eat any carbs this month, you’re not just changing one thing.

  • You have to look up completely different recipes.
  • You have to shop at entirely different sections of the grocery store.
  • You need to shop more frequently because produce goes bad faster.

You are changing numerous different habits that you’ve established over many years. This takes time. In order to avoid overwhelm and burnout, set only a few goals at a time. Don’t try to overhaul your entire life.

Once you’ve achieved ‘automaticity’ — your change has because something you do on auto-pilot and not something you have to summon willpower to complete — you are ready to take on another change. 

Excellence … is not an act, but a habit.

Aristotle

So, one of the most important steps you can take when you’re goal setting is to prioritize the areas you want to focus on this quarter. I use the 9 square to prioritize any long list of ideas, and this post outlines the step by step process for using it.

Just because one area of your life isn’t at 100% today, doesn’t mean it needs to be there tomorrow. You can save your goal for next year.

Think about what makes sense to focus on right now; it need not and CANNOT be everything.

Remember, good goals need to inspire you!

They need to make you excited to get out of bed in the morning and start working on them. Your goals should bring you closer to the life you want to live so pick the ones that set your soul on fire.

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FOUR: Dig deep for your WHY

The key to inspiring action is understanding why it is important to you. And I don’t mean the cliches like ‘I want to exercise so that I can be healthier.’ What does that even mean? 

Vague goals will not inspire action.

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  • Do you want to be able to play with your dog in the park longer?
  • Do you want to fit into that dress you feel amazing in? 
  • Do you want to be able to enjoy hiking on your vacation this year?

If you don’t know why you’re changing something, you will not follow through when things get hard.

The motivation to succeed comes from visualizing the end goal, and you need to know yours and care about it. 

So if you’ve chosen to focus on your health this year, WHY?

If you’ve chosen to save money this year, WHY?

This is your chance to tie your goals into the vision you created earlier, so that you are undefeatable.

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FIVE: Set SMART goals

I know you’ve heard about SMART goals a thousand times, and you’re about to skip over this section because you think you know what SMART means, but I’m going to say this differently so that it sticks.

If you want to achieve your goals, you need to set yourself up for success right from the start. This means being very intentional about the exact goal that you take on.

Your goals MUST be

  1. Within your control

    Good goals are something that you can work toward on a consistent basis and eventually achieve. If you set a goal that is outside of your control, you set yourself up for failure because only luck determines whether you reach it or not.

    For example, if your goal is to have your boss promote you to x position this year, it can meet all of the other criteria of a good goal but it may fail on account of the fact that you are not in control of the outcome.

    However, if you rephrase your goal by finding the critical actions that will increase the likelihood of the outcome you desire, then you will be successful.

    So in this instance, your goal could be to ask one insightful question at every meeting for 30 days, or take an online course in x this month.

    Good goals are ones that you have direct influence over.

  2. Practical

    We should certainly have crazy dreams, but goals need to be realistic.

    If you want to live in a tiny home, your first goal needs to be to declutter your closet this month, not to sell your house.

    Goals are realistic next steps that move us toward our wildest dreams.

    Dream big, but plan practically.
  3. Have a deadline

    The pressure of having to meet a goal by a certain date is part of what motivates us to get moving. Goals that drag on forever are the ones we give up on.
  4. Easy to track

    Goals usually take a while to complete (most often longer than you expect them to). When the initial motivation has worn off, and you’re not even close to the end yet, you need to keep track of small wins to fuel your desire to move forward.

    You HAVE TO get SO EXCITED about the tiny, incremental victories along the way!

    Find a measurable metric you can track as you work toward your goal. If you can witness your own improvement then you can inspire yourself to continue on.

    Related post: How To Measure Your Progress On Your Personal Growth Goals
  5. Super duper clear

    You must be able to envision exactly what success looks like. There cannot be any gray in your goal. You’re not “saving money” this month, you’re “putting 10$ a day into your travel jar for 31 days.”

    Get super duper specific, because clarity gets you to success. Vague goals do not.
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Six: Define your next step

Take something big and break it down into manageable chunks so that you can action it.

The single most important thing you can do to ensure success is to write down one thing you can do to move the needle in the right direction. It doesn’t need to be the perfect thing, you don’t have to know the next thing after that, you just need to decide one step that you can take, and figure the rest out later.

If you know what you need to do, you can keep moving. It’s when you’re unsure of the next step that you will pause, and “research” (aka compare yourself to others), and question your decision to do the thing. 

Clarity is the biggest motivator to keep working toward your goal. 

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Benjamin Hardy writes, “If you want to achieve big things, your path will be unclear and hazy. The emotional need for clarity and fear of the unknown leads people to abandon their dreams for more straightforward pursuits in less demanding environments. Having goal clarity is essential to high motivation.

Don’t give up on your dream because it’s challenging and you don’t know what you’re doing half the time.

Create a roadmap for success (you can use this template!). Write your first few steps into the ‘how’ column, and get on your way.

Rather than trying to motivate yourself, your goal should be to clarify the next few steps ahead of you.

BENJAMIN HARDY
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PS – When you join our email community, you get your very own goal setting template & success checklist! It’s a free, downloadable PDF that you can use over and over again to set goals effectively every single time!

Seven: Build in accountability

If you want to crush your goals, build accountability around them.

I learned a lot about this in Benjamin Hardy’s book Willpower Doesn’t Work. Here’s what I took away from it:

Make your goals public – the more people that know, the harder time you’ll have backing out of your dream.

If you haven’t yet joined our private Goal Crushers community on Facebook, it’s the perfect place for you to share your intentions each week and make sure you stay focused on your path! We run 3 month sprints of accountability, so the group is never filled with thousands of people and isn’t a lifelong commitment. Request to join and you’ll be in at the start of the next sprint!

Set high expectations for customers and fans – who is depending on you? Who are you serving? Even if you don’t have an audience, you have people around you who are rooting for you. Tell those people what they can expect from you. People who see you in that positive light challenge you to show up as that person. Letting them down becomes not an option.

Invest up front on your projects and schedule them in advance – don’t let your deadline linger. Don’t leave yourself the option of pushing the due date a little further out, when you’re ‘more ready.’

  • If your dream is to get a Master’s degree, pay for tuition.
  • If your dream is to start a business, take out a loan.

Do the scary thing that makes it feel like you can’t back out now.

The fastest path to commitment is investing in yourself and your decision.

BENJAMIN HARDY

If you really truly want this, don’t give yourself a way out.

Find people who have higher personal standards than you – these people will challenge your way of thinking, elevate you to their level, and change the way you see yourself and your role in the world. If you want to be a part of a different game, you need to find a different team.

Compete with people who have a much higher skill level than you do – don’t set your bar at the amateur level, go for the home run! I’m not sure what’s up with all my sports analogies today, but we’ll roll with it…. Who you see, the people you surround yourself with, the media you consume – it all affects your decisions and actions. Make sure you are playing in the big leagues! Broaden your worldview.

Hire a mentor who is world-class at what you want to do – you can speed up your success by learning from the best. Don’t try to shuffle your way to a goal by learning all of the mistakes on your own. Get coaching from people that are living your dream! That is, if you truly want to succeed.

Join a mastermind group filled with role models — you are the product of your environment and the people around you. Change who you spend your time with and it’ll shatter your misconceptions about how the world works and what you are capable of achieving.

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Eight: Track your progress

If you aren’t looking at your goals regularly and tracking your progress, you won’t have the motivation to keep going.

Especially when we work toward really big dreams that take years to complete, we need those quick wins to fuel our desire to keep going.

I outline exactly how to track your goals right over here. You’ll get insight into the actual process I use to track my goals on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis using my bullet journal and minimalist journal approach.

NINE: Set up a goal setting routine

The biggest pitfall of people new to setting goals is to set them once and not look at them again.

In order to have massive success, you need to always be reminding yourself of what you’re chasing and why it matters.

Take time to set up a goal setting routine so that you can achieve massive results.

My routine looks like this:

  • Daily (5 mins) – I write down 3 big life dreams that I made happen, I review my goals for the month, and I ask myself what my focus is for today. Here is exactly how I incorporate it into my morning routine.
  • Weekly (15 mins) – In my journal I ask myself
    • Have I lived my week in alignment with my values? 
    • Did I accomplish the actions I had set out for the week? 
    • What went well and what could have gone better? 
    • How am I tracking against my goals/metrics?
    • What is my focus for next week?
  • Monthly (1 hour) – I review my successes from the month and analyze what needs to be readjusted; I set new goals for next month.
  • Annually (2 hours) – I dream big; I set a theme for the year (one word that encompasses how I want to show up. This year it was “intentionally”); I choose the life buckets I want to focus on this year; I think really really high level, and revisit where I want to be 10 years from now to make sure it still speaks to my heart.

Block some time off in your calendar to review the goals you set today.

TEN: Never give up

When you have big dreams, it’s going to take even more effort than you can imagine to accomplish them, but here’s the truth:

You are fully capable of building the life you crave to live.

ANA MCRAE

The only thing stopping you is you.

When you feel like you can’t keep going any further, just take one more step. Often, if you’re just about ready to give up, you’re on the edge of a breakthrough. 

The Universe is testing you to see how bad you want it. It’s a normal part of the process, and if you know that ahead of time, you can get through it.

The very real way I deal with this is by deciding when I’m going to quit ahead of time: when I’m in the process of setting my goal.

It seems counter-intuitive, but when you’re in the head space of dreaming big dreams, you won’t be thinking about quitting.

Getting very real with the only thing that will stop you allows you to have a benchmark for quitting, and most times you won’t be even close to reaching it.

That means whatever obstacle you’re facing is just an excuse, and you can work through it.

Don’t ever give up on yourself. The world needs you to show up as your best self so that you can light it up with your magic.

ANA MCRAE
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They say ‘the days are long but the years are short.’ This can ring very true when we aren’t being intentional with how we spend our time. 

You see, we all want the same things.

We are all striving for personal freedom – an opportunity to live authentically and make an impact on the world in a way that matters to us.

You can get there this year, or you can get there 50 years from now, it depends on how committed you are to yourself and your goal, and whether you take the time to set your goals properly, and pursue them with a vigor you didn’t know was inside of you.

Take control of your life and sculpt it into the exact life you want to live.

The key to your happiness is taking ownership over every day and using it as fuel to build an unbelievable life.

ANA MCRAE

Take small, actionable steps TODAY to work toward your big breakthrough.


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When do you make time to set your goals? Tell me in the comments below.

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