3 Goal Setting Methods That Will Keep You Motivated

I don’t quite remember it like it was yesterday, but the memory still sticks with me.

I was in seventh grade and I had just transferred to a new school. Not only did I have to acclimate to the new setting and make new friends, the curriculum at this particular school was much more challenging.

I was only a few months in and my grades were already beginning to slip. I couldn’t keep myself motivated to stay on top of what seemed to be an ever-growing pile of assignments.

Instead of slipping under as I had in previous years, I had a chance to reinvent myself. I didn’t have to be the mediocre student anymore. I had a chance to start off strong. But I had a problem: I couldn’t stay motivated to do it day after day.

After class one day, I sought out council from my history teacher Mr. Martin. I told him how I wanted to do well in school and how I wanted to bring home good grades, but that I couldn’t keep myself motivated to do it. He smiled and said: “Well, you’ve got to make goals for yourself.”

Looking back, this is one of the best little nuggets of advice I received in school that year. I should have asked follow up questions like: ‘How do you set a goal?’ or ‘What makes one goal better than another?’ It took me a while longer to figure these things out.

Hopefully, I can save you some of that grief right here. Whether you’re a small business owner, a student or just someone who’s trying to learn a new hobby, @@learning how to set goals is critical for your success.@@ Before you go out and buy a new self-help book, read the following and try it out.

Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

The SMART method is one of my favorites. It looks like this:

S - Specific

You want you goals to be definable. If you can’t define your goal, you won’t be able to tell what achieving that goal looks like. If you want to save more money, don’t make your goal: ‘save more money.’ Make it ‘Save $10,000.’ Once you define your goal with a specific objective, your target stops moving and you can finally reach it.

M - Measurable

You can’t tell how close you are to achieving your goals unless you have some way to measure your progress. Your goal to save $10,000 can easily be measured by opening a savings account where you deposit a bit of money at a time. Every time you look at your bank statement, you can see a measure of your accomplishment.

A - Achievable

One of the biggest mistakes we can make when setting goals for ourselves is setting the bar too high. Making your money saving goal ‘Save $10,000,000,000’ when you earn minimum wage will put you in the position to fail. Don't set yourself up for failure, you'll deter yourself from trying.

R - Realistic

This is very closely related to Achievable. The way they differ is this: Becoming President of the United States of America is achievable, but it’s not very realistic. Keep your goals realistic within the constraints of your particular situation, then use those goals as a stepping stone to your next big achievement. Set a goal to join your city council before setting a goal to become president.

T - Time-Related

Just like goals that aren’t specific, if you have no time constraints, you may find it hard to reach your goal. There’s a bit of folklore passed about called Parkinson’s Law. It states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, you have the rest of your life to save $10,000. You’ll never actually finish saving until you decide when the saving period ends.


Set C.L.E.A.R. Goals

Here’s another take on setting goals. It’s called the CLEAR method. It’s arguably a bit more focused on team and company goal setting, but there is still something to learn even if your goal has no collaborative pieces.

C - Collaborative

You want a goal that your team can take part in. Your goal will become much more easy to achieve when you divvy up tasks so that each member can focus energy on their own personal objective. If your goal is to write book, don’t try to do it all yourself. Pull together a team of beta readers, editors, cover designers, etc. to do the pieces you aren’t great at. Together, you’ll reach the goal you set out to achieve.

L - Limited

Limit your scope. This is like the ‘S’ ‘A’ ‘R’ and ‘T’ of the SMART method all rolled into one. You need to know where your target is and make sure it can be achieved realistically within the amount of time you’ve limited yourself to. If you want to write a book, set out to write one book in a genre you read. Look at how much time you have to write each day then set a due date for yourself. Set up some boundaries so that you know when you’ve grown enough to break free of them.

E - Emotional

It’s hard to lose motivation when you’re passionate about what you’re doing. That book you’re writing should have passion behind it. Instead of purely writing to the market, write something you actually feel good about writing. Put your heart into something and you’ll fight tooth and nail to accomplish it. Even if it’s hard, it’ll stop feeling like work.

A - Appreciable

Though you don’t want to aim too high and fail, you also don’t want to aim so low that your achievement isn’t notable. If you’ve written 40 short stories, perhaps try for a novel instead of another short story. Challenge yourself to do something extra-ordinary.

R - Refinable

Don’t be so inflexible as to not be able to adjust your goal based on new information. If you’ve hit 15k words and you realized you’re already halfway through your story, that doesn’t mean that you should give up, but rather you might need to change your goal from ‘write my first novel’ to ‘write my first novella.’


Set THEME Building Goals

The Theme method is something that I created back in 2011. I found myself without a real plan to move forward after my last project and needed to figure out how to focus my life. It’s not an acronym or a clever device to remember how to make goals. It’s exactly what it means – a Theme.

I hate new years resolutions because they feel like a game you do out of social norms without any real motivation behind it. Then you wake up one day in April and think: “Wow. Remember when I said I was going to lose 30 lbs?”

I realize that I’m not the first person to use this idea, but ever since I decided to try it, I’ve been able to feel good about what I’m able to accomplish in a year’s time.

Here’s how it works:

You identify an idea that you want to grow.

You package that idea into a word. 

You create a list of objectives that will pull you closer to that goal.

The big idea behind this is that it does not adhere to two of the pillars in the SMART method. You’re not creating a very specific or necessarily measurable goal.

@@You’re taking SMART and making it ART.@@

The method works best if you’re able to work towards more than one goal at a time that adds to the Theme. Each of these separate goals should adhere to a method like SMART or CLEAR, but the Theme itself doesn’t.

Here’s an example.

When I first started using the Theme method in 2012, I wanted to make more income for myself. I recognized that in order to accomplish some of my bigger goals, I needed to have more funds to accomplish them. I could only go so far before I needed to purchase something with what I wanted to do.

I then took that and packaged it into a word: Increase. Increase isn't specific. It's not exactly measurable. But I knew that this vague idea would help me create smaller goals that all contributed to that end.

I used this theme as a filter for all my decisions that year. I was able to create goals that directly contributed to my personal increase. One goal was to explore and take advantage side jobs. Another was to cut frivolous spending. 

What’s cool, is that once you spend a year using your theme as a guide for your actions, you’ll be able to carry that theme with you into the future. My theme for 2013 was Advancement, but I still kept sight of my Increase theme.

Subdividing Your Goals

@@The ability to subdivide your goals is a trick you'll need to learn if you ever want to accomplish anything Appreciable.@@

I remember learning to play piano and one of the biggest things my teachers taught me when reading music was the ability to subdivide the measures to chunks that made it more manageable rhythmically.

If you’re counting “1, 2, 3, 4” and the notes are faster than quarter notes, you might want to switch to “1, and, 2, and, 3, and, 4, and” or “1, e, and, a, 2, e, and, a, 3, e, and, a, 4. e, and, a.”

But, it doesn’t just work for music. Something as simple as going to the mailbox can also be subdivided this way.

Let's go back to the example of wanting to write a novel.

There are many much smaller steps that need to be taken that add up to the completion of a novel: story beats, scenes, characters, locations, revision cycles, artwork, formatting, etc. They all come together to be the door stop that is your favorite fantasy novel.

Learn how to identify the much smaller pieces of your Theme as Goals and the pieces of your Goals as Sub-Goals. Writing that novel is much easier if you don’t think of it as a whole novel, but rather you’re working on one small piece of the whole. Suddenly you don’t have to be motivated to finish your novel, you just have to be motivated to finish the next small piece.

If you need help dealing with your sub-goals and organizing the smaller tasks for your to-do list, you might want to check out my blog on that matter.

Making This Work for You

It’s now time to sit down and figure out how to make this work for you. You may already have goals you’re working towards, but it’s time to take them one step further by apply these methods. I’ve created a short list of action steps that you can use as a cheat sheet.

1. Identify what you want to accomplish and why.

2. Set an end date to when this is to be fulfilled.

3. Create a Theme to help filter your decisions.

4. Subdivide your Theme into Goals using SMART and/or CLEAR.

5. Further subdivide your Goals into Sub-goals that are manageable.

6. Create a metric to track your success.

7. Allow your Goals to be refined as you progress.

What About You?

I hope you found this helpful. If you did, please share this blog with someone who might need it!

Do you have your own method for setting goals and staying motivated? What’s your next big goal?

Let me know in the comments!