How to Write Goals that Get Accomplished


In the last post, titled A Simple But Powerful Goal Setting Tool that Rescued Me From a Personal Growth Rut, I explained one method, called the 50 Goals Whiteboard Challenge, that I used to meet and exceed many of my three-year goals.

When researching goal setting, I came across this piece of research experiment on New Year’s resolutions.

A comprehensive study commissioned by Australian comparison website in 2014 of more than 2,000 people found that 42% of participants set themselves a New Years’ Resolution however, most failed at their goals.

In fact, the study showed that almost two in three people (62%) didn’t succeed with their resolutions. Interestingly, out of those who did achieve their resolutions three in four participants (76%) believed that sharing their goals, for example on a social networking sites, helped reach them.

The most common reason for participants failing their New Years’ Resolutions was setting themselves unrealistic goals (35%), while 33% didn’t keep track of their progress and a further 23% forgot about it. About one in 10 respondents claimed they made too many resolutions.

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning.

Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying “lose weight”), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.

Now, do you see some of the problems with having a “New Year’s Resolution?” Every year people make New Year’s resolutions, and every year millions of people fail. Why? One reason is the foundation of how they are written. I want to get a little deeper into what I’ve discovered to be a better way to write goals.

As you can imagine, along with writing your goals in a specific way, your own internal psychological management is a big part of the goal making and achieving process. Here are some tools that will help.

1. Avoid the Big G
The big “G” are generalities. The first knee-jerk reaction you want to avoid is being extremely vague and general about your goals, by writing down objectives that are hard, or downright impossible, to measure (a.k.a. not quantifiable). Here are some examples of goals that are vague.

  • Be healthier
  • Be happier
  • More income
  • Make more friends
  • Date more
  • Spend more time with my spouse

2. Be Specific 
Avoid the “ier” and the word “more” when using modifiers for your goals. Use numbers or what I call merit milestones. What are merit milestones? These are non-quantifiable achievements that are recognized by yourself and others as reaching some sort of discerned effort and notable record of accomplishment. This is sort of it happened, or it didn’t. An example might be a college degree. It’s the college degree plan and academic board that decides how many credit hours it takes to get that degree. There is not much gray area. That’s merit milestones.

Here is a example of a goal gone wrong.

Goal: “Get good at tennis.”

If you use Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of mastery, 10,000 hours (often, ten years) is the definition of mastering a major skill. Just how “good” do you want to be at tennis? Good enough to win the US open, or just good enough to beat your best friend? If the latter, make the goal: “Beat ____ at tennis for ____ games in a row.”

What to Avoid During the Process

  1. Being all-or-nothing – erasing your list when you get frustrated or that one “special goal” isn’t being achieved fast enough. That’s why you have 50, to show progress to yourself for the ones that take less time!
  2. Making goals that are out of your control, depend on extreme odds, or based on one particular person’s acceptance (win the state lottery, marry Natalie Portman/Ryan Gosling).
  3. Using, or planning on using, this board for anything else other than its goal-setting purpose. Get a new board for other uses (like grocery lists) – they are less than $15 at Target.

Get my next post: The Six Goals of Writing Goals that Get Accomplished , where I’ll give you tools to help overcome some of the natural psychological hurdles to accomplishing goals by going here. Get more posts on
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– Neil