7 Golden Rules of Goal Setting

I am a big fan of goal setting and if I don't have a goal to work on, I can feel quite uneasy. Usually, I have multiple goals I work on. Throughout the years, I have tried many different approaches to them:

  • to set up a goal and work on it as crazy, without giving it a proper thought or creating a plan
  • to set up a goal and create a very detailed plan on how to achieve it
  • to set up multiple goals at the same time and don't start working on the next goal till the first one has been completed
  • to let it all go and just go for a beer

To save you some time - neither of the strategies mentioned above worked. When I applied the first one - well, you keep working and working only to realise a lot of time could have been saved if you just paused at the very start and thought it through. Work SMART not HARD.

The other extreme? To plan everything including every tiny detail? You know the deal - you plan the itinerary of your holiday and damn - it starts pouring rain the very first day. The whole plan needs to be changed.

If we have more goals, especially the long-term ones, sometimes life happens and not much can be done. For example, if I submit my assessment to the student coordinator, he might take his time to give me a feedback. That doesn't mean I will be just waiting. I can work on something else instead of being frustrated

The option number four (beer) comes handy when I feel like it's too much, when feeling overwhelmed, overworked or lost in details. Or if the goal seems to be too big to handle and I don't know where to start.

One of the assessment to complete during my Life Coaching course was to write a book critique on 'Coaching with NLP' by J. O'Connor & A. Lages and I liked their approach. I liked it that much, that I decided to apply it on my own goals. Moreover, I am applying their process on my own goal in THIS article.

Who will appreciate this article?

People who:

  • set up their goals, however would like to improve their process, e.g. they don't have results they would like to have or want to improve them
  • don't have experience with goal setting however they would like to start but don't know how

Tí z vás, ktorí si idete čistý flow a nechávate váš osud na vesmíre, rodičoch a frajerke, vás to asi baviť nebude.

Ok, let's go.

1. Express your goals using positive language

I feel like I can skip this point - everybody has heard about this, right? However, the other day I mentioned to someone that I'd been studying coaching (and everybody has heard about coaching, right). Their response? 'What is that?' So I guess I can't assume everybody knows everything. 

So, those of you who have read something about goal setting, you probably know this. Those of you who are just learning, here you go.

For example, I will tell you NOT to imagine a pink elephant. I assume, you've just pictured a pink elephant. It's like our mind can't respond to the 'not' despite the instruction is very clear. Regardless of the negation used, out mind visualise what we're talking about. 

When we think about the ways we can improve our lives, often (especially if we are beginners), we come up with the stuff we actually don't want.

  • I don't want to be in my current job in six months 
  • I don't want live paycheck to paycheck anymore
  • I don't want to be fat anymore

The same applies for resultions

  • I won't be eating sweets anymore
  • I won't be eating too much / overeating / binging
  • I won't be gossiping about other people 

Wher energy goes, that grows

The main point of goal setting is to improve your focus. If your goal is 'not to leave paycheck to paycheck', your focus is directed towards, well, survival. 

I am not going to talk about quantum physics, law of attraction or movies as The Secret. I am talking about neuroscience - our mind can focus only on one thing at the time. And the subject of your focus gets your time and energy. Regardless of your 'don'ts' or 'nos' (just think of the pink elephant example).

For example, if our goal is stop eating sweets, the only thing we're going to achieve is constant thinking about sweets or snacks. It makes much more sense to think about the stuff we want to eat, think about the healthy foods we would like to incorporate into our diet and what benefits these foods will have on our body.

Ak sa chceme v niečom zlepšiť, nepomôže nám odstraňovať svoje zlé vlastnosti a slabosti – týmto štýlom sa na ne budeme ešte viac sústrediť. Naopak, sústreďme sa na to, čo chceme zlepšiť. To isté platí ak premýšľame o iných ľuďoch. Čím viac sa sústredíme na ich chyby, tým frustrovanejší a otrávenejší budeme.

How can you express negative goals positively?

  • I don't want to be in my current job in six monthsI want to find a job that fulfils me within the next six months. / I want to start my own business.
  • I don't want live paycheck to paycheck anymore Build up savings in the amount of XY dollars. / Find a job with a better pay. / To improve my cashflow.
  • I don't want to be fat anymore I want to improve my fitness. / I want to build up muscles. / I want to get in shape.

The same applies for resultions

  • I won't be eating sweets anymore Find healthy snacks, that will satisfy my cravings.
  • I won't be eating too much / overeating / binging I want to find a way how to eat proper portion sizes of food. / I want to try intermitting fasting to compensate my big dinners. / I want add more vegetables into my portions.
  • I won't be gossiping about other people I want to focus on things that are relevant to me and are in the zone of my control. / I want to stand up for people in their absence.

Just sticking to this principle will increase your chances of achieving of your goal. 

Questions to ask yourself:

'What do I want?'

'What do I want instead of what I have at the moment?'

Application on my current goal: 

I would like to have my website not just in Slovak, but also in English language (spoiler alert - nearly there). 

2. Make your goal specific

This is easier to apply for some types of goals. Goals like a new phone, an exotic holiday, or a new house give you an opportunity to dream about details. You can talk about models, see the vision of the exotic destination or plan the architecture of your dream house.

It gets a bit more difficult with abstract goals - it is hard to measure how your relationship with your partner or your confidence have improved. In this case, you can determine, what the proof of the improvement would be. For example, in case you want to improve your confidence, it would be your ability to have a speech in front of 10 people and more. 

In long-term goals it is not possible to be very specific. The closer the goals, the ore specific you can be. 

Questions to ask yourself:

'What exactly do I want?'

'When do I want to achieve this goal?'

'How long will that take?'

Application on my current goal: 

The whole website except my blog will be translated to English. (spoiler alert again - I've decided to go bigger, translating my blog in April 2023).

I want to achieve this by the end of March 2023.

3. Decide how you will get evidence of your achievement

What type of goal are you setting?

For the outcome goals, it is important to set the evidence that will tell you that you have achieved it. E.g. 'I will be 10 kg lighter by July' rather than 'I will loose some weight by July.

For the process goals, it is important to watch out for feedback that will guide you. E.g. 'I will reach 10,000 steps a day', instead of 'I will move more every day'.

The feedback is important for both types of goals - if a plane is flying from Singapore to Vienna, the pilot sets up the direction, however he won't let the plane fly itself. The pilot constantly monitors the journey. It could be that our steps toward our goals are not sufficient to achieve it or, or simply life happens and we need to reevaluate our next action. 

Questions to ask yourself:

'How will I know that I have achieved my goal?'

'What milestones will I set up along the way?'

'How will I know that I am on track for my goal?'

'How often will I check that I am no track?'

Application on my current goal: 

Everything on my website except the blog will be translated into English by April 2023.


  1. Research regarding plug-ins that allow website translation and its installation.
  2. 6 pages translates = 6 milestones

The above gives me seven milestones / steps. 

If I am able to take the one step a week starting next week, I should be done by the end of March. If I add some additional time for unpredictable complications, time need for studying etc, I think I can still do it. 

By the end of January, I will have at least one page translated, by the end of February, most of the pages. 

Gather your resources

To achieve our goal, we need some resources, for example:

Things - books that we have read or books that could be helpful for us, tools, technology (computers, smoothie makers, drills), audiobooks, videos, subscriptions,... – knihy ktoré sme prečítali alebo nám môžu dať potrebné informácie, náradie a technológiu (od počítačov cez smoothie mejkre až po vŕtačky), audioknihy, videá, podcasty

People - our family, partner, friends, that can provide us support, our contacts, our mentor or coach naša rodina, partner, priatelia, ktorí nám môžu poskytnúť podporu, naše kontakty, skvelý mentor či kouč

Time - do you have enough time to work on your goal? If not, how are you going to create it? What are you going to do if there will be some delays in the process?

Role models - do you know anyone, who has already achieved what you would like to achieve?

Skills & traits - who do you need to become, what skills you need to achieve your goal? Do you already have them, or do you need to learn and gain them?

Questions to ask yourself:

'What sort of resources will I need to achieve my goal?'

'What resources do I have already?'

'Where will I find the resources I need?'

Application on my current goal:

I need a computer - I have one

I need internet - I have access to internet

I need time - approximately 1.5 - 3 hours a week - mornings before work if I don't need this time for my life coaching course, I can also use one evening a night when my partner is at work, or Saturday mornings if I get up a bit earlier than normally.

Skills / traits - I need to be patient with the technology. I am not patient with the technology, but will survive.

5. Be proactive

This applies to the journey towards your goal. 

Setting up a goal itself is proactive. If we don't set up our own goals, someone else will do that for us. For example - when they call me in to work during my day off, if I have a plan, I'll simply say 'no'. However, I am sitting on my couch, have nothing to do, it is much harder to refuse. If we don't have our own agenda, we give space to someone else to create it for us. Bez vlastného programu dávame priestor agende niekoho iného.

Setting up a goal is a start. To accept complete responsibility for the things that will happen and won't happen is a next level. Listen how you speak. Do you use active or passive language?

'The presentation went well.' vs 'I gave a great presentation.' 

'It got messed up.' vs. 'I did not manage it well. / I could have prepared better.'

'I'll try.' vs. 'I will find a way how to do it.' 

Questions to ask yourself:

'How far is this goal under my control?'

'What will I be doing to achieve this goal?'

'What can I offer others that will also make them want to help me?'

Application on my current goal:

To achieve my goal (to translate my website into English) is in my full control if there is a plug-in that allows it (plan A). In case there is no such a plug-in, I will have to contact my programmer (plan B), who will advise what to do. In this scenario, I partially lose control over the goal since I don't know how quickly he would respond or how long would it take him to fix the issue. 

Plan A - I will learn how to translate websites in a plug-in and I will do that weekly. 

Plan B - I will explain what I need and pay for the service. 

6. Pay attention to the wider consequences

Don't focus just on yourself. Everything we do has wider consequences, either positive or negative. 

If we start working out, we will have more energy to do our job and to be more present with our loved ones. However, we might need to get up early morning or push ourselves to work out after work.

If our goal is to build our own business, it might affect people around us too. May be we will have less of a free time at the beginning. May be will need to invest some money, money saved up for our family holiday. I don't want to discourage anyone from goal setting, I am just saying, that we need to go for it with our eyes wide open. 

If our goal is to save up a certain amount of money and we decide spend only on absolute necessities, what exactly that means? Am I going to stop going for coffees or drinks with my girl friends? How far do I want to go? Is this doable? Who am I going to become on the way to my goal? Is it worthwhile?

Few months ago, I saw a quote from Tony Robbins that went like this:

'It's not about the goal. It's about growing to become the person that can accomplish that goal.'

It hit me hard.

How often we focus on the result, on 'how it's gonna be once I am there?'

We think about what we will do, once we're 'done'.

For example, we want to have our own business. However, it shouldn't be just about getting to the point when we can say the business has been built and then we can go on holidays anytime we want. It's also about learning how to grow the business, learning new skills. That's the joy too. The ability to look back one day so we can see how much we have learnt int those years.

Questions to ask yourself:

'What are the consequences of achieving my goal for other people?'

'What is the cost in time, money and opportunity?'

'What might I need to give up?'

'How will the balance between the different aspect of my life (relationships, leisure, health, professional side) be affected when I achieve the outcome?'

'What is important in my present circumstances that I might have to leave behind?'

Application on my current goal:

Once I achieve my goal, English speaking people can visit my website and understand the text. That will assist me with the process of clientele building.

Plan A doesn't cost any money, just time. It doesn't cost any opportunities however the opposite, it will increase them in future. It will give me more freedom since this way I can built my English speaking clientele. 

Regarding the balance between the various aspects of my life, while I am working on the translation, I will need to balance between the work and life coaching course. However, I study usually during nights and weekends, so I can focus on translation in the mornings before work. 

7. Make an action plan

This is the part that turns our dreams into goals. Once you define the steps to your goal, it's like putting legs on your dream.

In order to take action, you need to feel motivated. Hence, your goal must be just perfectly challenging - it must be a challenge for you, however at the same time, it must be realistic.

If your goal is too big, you won't have enough confidence and won't be motivated enough. 

If your goal is too small, too easy, you will be bored. You will know that when you achieve this goal not much will change for you. Or, you will think that it's so easy to achieve it, that you can do it anytime. So you won't even start. 

A long-term goal can seem daunting - hence you need an action plan. The action plan will dissect the goal into smaller, more manageable steps. Or how Stana Stiborova (a Czech entrepreneur) says - you need to know 'how to eat an elephant'. – treba vedieť ako rozporcovať slona na malé stráviteľné kúsky. 

Application on my current goal:

My action plan consists all the steps named in the above points. I am going to make myself a cup of coffee, post this article (in Slovak) and I can start. 

Update - 29/01/2023 - goal achieved, except few issues with contact forms


Simona Šimková

Simona Šimková

Coach, traveller and blogger

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