Setting Goals for Success

By Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC 

verified by Psychology Today

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” Zig Ziglar

Every one of us spends time thinking about where we’re at and where we want to go in our life.   Planning and executing goals will take you from envisioning your ideal future to living your ideal life.  When you set a goal you set a positive intention to change your life. You can take control and direct your future and improve your circumstances.

“A dream written down with a date becomes a GOAL. A Goal broken down into STEPS becomes a PLAN. A plan backed by ACTION makes your dreams come true.”  Taken from

Effective goal development

  • Maintaining a positive focus results in positive outcomes.
  • Focus on the opportunities around you to learn and grow in the direction of your goal.
  • Develop a positive vision of what you want to accomplish by surrounding yourself in an atmosphere of growth and opportunities.
  • Success happens with consistent action, focus, purpose, commitment, and courage.
  • Focus on goals that challenge AND bring joy and meaning.
  • Draw energy from what works best for you not only in defining your goals but also on the road to accomplishing your goal.

There is a direct correlation between effort and reward in goal achievement.  Successful people choose to excel, consistently persisting through obstacles.  Persistence involves embracing and working through challenges.  “Persistence is the ability to maintain actions regardless of your feelings.  You press on even when you feel like quitting.  When you work on any big goal your motivation will wax and wane like the waves hitting the shore.  Sometimes you’ll feel motivated, sometimes you won’t.  But it’s not your motivation that creates results – it’s your action” Zig Ziglar.

Goal achievement is about the journey rather than the destination.  The journey involves learning, growing, creating new skill sets, and empowering yourself and those around you. Setting out to achieve one goal may end up in the discovery of a completely different road previously unbeknownst to you.  Persistence and flexibility allow you to recognize and develop alternate routes to obstacles along the way.

Be flexible and readjust your focus as needed. Even with the best-laid plans, life hands us obstacles. Successful people continually reevaluate their goals to determine if they are still relevant.  Integrating new knowledge they accumulate along the way, goal achievers restructure their goals as needed. To maintain your focus, set a clearly defined purpose.  Be able to answer the question,  ‘why do I want to achieve this goal?’

Goals should not only challenge you but provide meaning and joy.

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” – Andrew Carnegie

Goal development starts with focusing on the good things you’ve already accomplished, your successes,  as well as, those things you would still like to improve upon.

  • How do you define success?
  • Where did you learn this?
  • Who are your models of success?

These questions are the beginning of envisioning yourself as a successful individual capable of reaching your highest potential.  Apply this definition of success to yourself by identifying a skill or talent you currently possess.  Write down the steps you took to get there. You are a successful person fully capable of achieving your goals when you believe in your ability to do so.  Because you attract what you focus on let’s start by identifying your “pie in the sky” dream goal.

“Goals are dreams with deadlines.” Diana Scharf Hunt

  • If you had a magic wand to remove all obstacles, what would you love to achieve?
  • Assuming you have all the necessary resources at your disposal, how would you make this goal happen?

Defining Success

Know yourself and what you want out of life. Success is a feeling state that is individually determined.


  1. getting to do what you really want to do
  2. feeling good about it
  3. being rewarded for doing it well

People who sabotage themselves are often unable to determine what would make them feel successful.  Their motivation becomes unclear and their goals too loosely defined.  Understanding what motivates you and what provides meaning in your life will bring you to your personal definition of success.

Goal Development

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act.  There is no other route to success.” Pablo Picasso

From this positive vision, select a target area for improvement.  What areas of your life do you need to change to get to your dream goal?  Plan around your strengths rather than your weaknesses.  What are you doing that you don’t want to do or failing to do that you would like to do more often? What do you want to change and why?  What do you expect to gain or lose? Given your present circumstances, what do you need to make this happen? Is your goal realistic based on present circumstances that can be accomplished with commitment and motivation?

Goals must be clearly defined, have measurable steps, a specific timeframe, and a strategy to identify and work around setbacks.  The most specific strategies come from clearly defined problems. Long term goals provide a big picture perspective that motivates and guides your decision making, providing a vision of what you want to achieve in your lifetime.  Once a long term goal is clearly identified, short term manageable goals will focus on assessing present circumstances and planning a step by step strategy to reach the long term goal.

Mistakes in setting goals include goals that are too big, not specific, not written down or they are too numerous to focus on. Make a plan and write it down – where, what, when, why, and how. Engage in a realistic assessment of your current level of skill, knowledge, and insight in this identified direction and a plan to “beef up” skills where needed.  Successful short term goals are simple, clear, and within your control.  It is important to set up positive reinforcements for achieving each small step.  Short term goals focus on actively doing something daily in the direction of achieving the bigger long term goal.  This can include planning, writing, talking, mental rehearsal, or positive imagery,  Commit to consistent action. Doing nothing never works.

Important first steps to goal setting involve deliberate planning based on what is important for you to accomplish in your life. Identifying and mapping goals begins with gathering information.  Get information through research; including, articles, professional journals, and seminars.  Start reaching out to others who have accomplished the same goals you’re considering. Ask them what steps they took, what obstacles they faced, as well as, how they worked through the roadblocks along the way.

Learning to ask for help is an important skill in moving to higher levels in our life.  Developing a relationship with a mentor will help you stay focused through the ups and downs of your goal journey.  The information you’ve gathered in the research phase becomes your roadmap to developing a personal plan. Don’t set a goal without having an idea of how to accomplish it.

Types of Goals

Goals fall into three areas of life: professional, relationships, and self-growth.  Use the corresponding goal development methods to assist you in first, identifying your target goal and second, mapping your goal.  Writing clear goals sets you up for success!

Step 1 – identify your big picture or long term goal.

Step 2 – break that goal into multiple short term goals that will take you to the long term goal.

Step 3 – break the short term goals into action statements with measurable outcomes.

Step 4 – have a plan for setbacks.

  1. “Column Method” –  To start, create a chart with three columns. In Column One write, “where I am” statements, which reflect your present circumstance. Skipping to Column Three, write “where I want to be” to reflect your desired future state. In the middle column, Column Two, identify the possible barriers creating the gap between Column One and Column Three.   What are the things that block you from getting where you want to be?  These can be people, circumstances, environment, personal setbacks, negative thoughts, or emotional challenges. These barriers can either be translated into goal statements or used in your plan to overcome obstacles.
  2. “Goal Ladder Method” – Draw a ladder with the Column One statement from above on the bottom rung of the ladder and the Column Three statement from above on the top rung of the ladder.  Fill in each rung of the ladder with steps that take you from the bottom rung to the top rung.  This becomes your roadmap with a big picture goal on the top and the corresponding short term steps to move from your present circumstances to accomplishing your long term goal.
  3. “Goal Diagrams/Mind Maps” are another useful strategy to map the steps toward the achievement of your goal. Create a diagram of your goal with the long term or big picture goal in the center and the corresponding short term goal or steps to attain the central goal as branches off the center circle. Use programs such as Mindmeister to help format your map.
  4. “SMART Goals” Goals should be written in clear, concise language.  Evaluate and analyze your goal using the SMART system.

S for Specific – Keep your goals specific and well defined.

M for Measurable – for example, how much, how many, how long. Know if your goal is attainable and when it has been achieved.

A for Achievable – the steps to accomplishing your goal should be within your control.

R for Realistic and Relevant. Realistic is within the availability of resources, knowledge and time and relevant to your overall objective. The goal should be meaningful and important to you.

T for Timely or Time-bound.  You must have enough time to achieve the goal.  You must have a deadline and hold yourself accountable. Each goal, whether short or long term must have a predetermined time frame. Commit to a deadline. With any of these methods, break your goal into time frames which include 5year, one year, one month, one week and daily achievements.

When your goal meets the SMART standards:

  1. Review the specific skills, information, resources, assistance, and collaboration you will need to reach completion.
  2. Review your identified obstacles and barriers and plan strategies to overcome these.
  3. Add anything additional which has come to your awareness.
  4. Commit specific time to do something each day that is within your control and in the direction of your goal.
  5. Evaluate your progress each day by noting things that did and did not work that day.

Now you have a long-term goal clearly defined, short-term measurable objectives delineated, a time frame established, and an awareness of potential setbacks.  Continue to focus on your personal reasons for wanting your goals. You define your success.  Know yourself and what you want out of life.  Focus on the small successes on the way to the bigger goal.  Success occurs one small step at a time. Believe in your ability to achieve your goals.

“Your goals are the road maps that guide you and show you what is possible in your life” – Les Brown

Worksheets for goal setting:

Focus Questions:

  • What do I need to change and why
  • What event precipitated the need to change your situation
  • What is at stake if the problem isn’t solved
  • In what situation does the problem occur
  • What have you contributed to the problem?
  • Is trying to fix the problem worth the necessary effort
  • What are the pros and cons?
  • What are your perceived barriers?
  • If I had unlimited resources, time what would I do
  • What do I need to make this happen?
  • What are my innate talents?
  • What gives you energy
  • What are you passionate about
  • What do I want
  • What am I doing to make it happen?
  • What will attaining this goal give me in my life
  • If I knew it was impossible to fail what would I do
  • What do you have already to fulfill your goals?

Positive Intention statement

My goal is to:

The steps I need to take:

Timeframes to accomplish each step:

What supports do I need?

Evaluate your goals

Are they clear, challenging, and directed at being your best?

Are you doing something every day that takes you a step closer to your goals?

Are you working on something every day to improve your performance?

Is your commitment positive and consistent?

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