How to Set Goals Like A Champ (A Mindful Guide to Ambitious Goal Setting)

Last year, I didn’t keep most of my new years resolutions. But this year is different, because I recognized something important.

The traditional approach to setting New Year’s Resolutions is flawed! (In a University of Scranton study, less than 50% of people who created a resolution kept it 6 months later.)

Creating meaningful change in your life isn’t a one-time declaration. Yet that’s how resolutions are treated.

The intent of New Year’s Resolutions is spot-on, but the execution is abysmal.

Here’s the key to keeping your resolutions: Stop calling it a resolution, and treat it like what it is, an ambitious goal! You need to plan accordingly.

Some of the best leaders, strategists, and planners in the business world don’t apply the same level of consideration to their personal life.

And that’s when resolutions go unfulfilled.

The Meta-skill to Build Your Best Life

Goal setting, planning, and execution are some of the most valuable skills you can develop. They’re the basic tools you need to create your best life.

But let’s take a step back…How do you define a “goal”? What are we really talking about here?

I think of goals as desirable visions of your life in the future (that are usually different than the current state.)

“Okay…but that’s just a vision. How do you make it real?”

There’s one reliable way to get from point A (where you are now) to point B (your future reality).

Take small steps, consistently over time.

It’s important note that Point B is in the future. You’ll get there eventually, but you aren’t there yet. And that’s okay!

Don’t let your desire to be at Point B cause suffering in the present.

Avoid that trap by understanding the following:

  • You are where you are right now. Accept this to be true. Don’t resist it.
  • You can be anywhere you’d like to be in the future (if you work at it.)
  • By working towards that future state, you’re doing what you can to make it happen. Find peace in the effort you put into it.


Take the time to set goals that work

Setting goals and following through on them is not easy. It takes time and deliberate effort!

Some people have their own preferred methods for goal setting.

But if that’s not you, have no fear!

You can use the structured process below to set yourself up for success.

The standard New Year’s Resolution leaves much of the work unclear. You make a simple resolution, and dive right in starting January 1st.

But that lack of intention and planning causes people to burn out. To abandon their new regimens, and fall back into old ways.

Doing a bit more upfront work will yield huge results down the road when you actually stick with your plan!

A 4-Step Structure to Create Effective Goals and Follow Through

All together, setting goals (and following through on them) looks like this:

  1. You know where you want to go (choosing the right goal(s))
  2. You know the right steps to get there (deconstructing what you need to do to reach that goal)
  3. You start taking steps towards your goal (taking action)
  4. You continue taking steps until you get there (staying committed, continuing to take action)

Each step in the process is equally important. They all depend on one another.

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A reliable formula to set goals that you'll actually follow through on!

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1. Know where you want to go

A. Choose a goal that’s a real priority

When picking what to focus on, ask yourself: “Is this a priority for me?”

Whatever goal you choose, be sure that it lines up with your priorities. Picking a goal because you “feel like you have to” will get you nowhere.

B. Take time to understand the deeper reason why this goal matters to you

You need to be intrinsically motivated to pursue this goal. You have to want it for your own reasons.

Do a bit of self-reflection to understand your motivators. Be curious about yourself and ask “Why?” multiple times to get to the deeper reasoning.

e.g. Let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds of body fat. “Why?” I want to look good. “Why?” I want to be more confident in my dating life. “Why?” I want to find a life partner. “Why?” I valued my family life growing up and want to have a family too.

It may feel strange to “connect the dots” in your life like this. You might even uncover some flawed logic. But you’ll probably unearth a new source of motivation that will help you later on your journey.

C. Define success in a measurable way

Without a clear way to measure progress towards your goal, it’s harder to feel motivated.

Example of an immeasurable goal: “Get healthy in 2017.”

This goal is problematic because “healthy” means something different to everyone. Is it losing 20 pounds? Is it being able to do a cartwheel? Is it quitting smoking?

Be clear with your definitions.

Example of a measurable goal: “Lose 20 pounds of body fat by June 1st.”

Whatever you pick, make sure it’s measurable. That way you can track your progress over time, and know when you’ve reached your initial goal.

2. Know the right steps to get there

A. Create sub-goals

Break your larger goal down into smaller sub-goals.

When you create an ambitious goal, it’s easy to get intimidated. You might feel like it’s impossible to get there.

Focus first on a closer-in goal to make it feel less daunting.

e.g. If your goal is to lose 100 pounds, just focus on losing the first 10 pounds. When you get that done, focus on the next 10. Small steps, consistently over time, get you where you need to be.

B. Isolate core behaviors

What does “putting in the work” towards your goal look like? What do you need to do on a daily and weekly basis?

Be specific with this. Not just the what, but the how you will do it.

If you’re trying to lose 20 pounds of fat, the what is to consume fewer calories than you burn each day.

That’s easy to understand, but the how is much more important.

For example, tracking the food you eat with an iPhone app. Eating more nutrient-dense foods. Exercising 3 times a week, etc.

Each of these should be defined specifically as well. (What foods are nutrient-dense? Make a list!)

Continue asking “How?” until you have all the details.

Consider doing some online research to learn from experts. This takes the weight off your shoulders to come up with everything on your own. You can rest easy knowing you’re following world-class advice.

Just don’t let your desire to research and learn prevent you from doing!

C. Rank order the behaviors by impact

There are countless ways to approach any goal.

So what behaviors will get you the most bang for your buck? Your research will come in handy here.

Do your best to focus your energy on the high-impact behaviors.

3. Take steps towards your goal

A. Create a routine

Without a routine, it’s very hard to be consistent. You’ll end up wasting time and energy debating what to do.

There’s no need to reinvent your approach every week.

Instead, focus on creating a solid habit of work towards your goal. It will eliminate decision fatigue in your day-to-day, saving your energy for doing the work!

Once you get a new routine up and running, all you have to do is follow through. You’ll know what to do, so it’s easier to go and do it!

The hardest part of building a new habit is the first handful of weeks. On average, it takes about two months to build a true habit.

Start by scheduling time into your calendar. Protect that time like you would protect an important meeting, or a commitment with a close friend.

Here’s the honest truth: If you can’t keep a commitment with yourself, you’ll never accomplish your goals.

B. Start small

Many people (especially ambitious overachievers) bite off more than they can chew with a new goal.

Don’t fall into that trap!

Avoid this by ramping up slowly. Instead of starting with 5 days of exercise a week, just do 2 or 3.

When you accomplish that, you’ll find it easier to ramp up to 5 days per week. It’s the difference between walking slowly up a set of stairs and trying to climb straight up a wall.

4. Continue taking steps

A. Focus on what you can control

It’s easy to get discouraged when chasing something new. It might take longer to reach your goal than you thought.

The tough reality is that you can’t always control the results of your work. But you can control the effort you put in!

Focus your energy on the process. Did you do what you told yourself you would do? Are you following the routine you set in place?

If so, you’re doing what you committed to. You should be proud of that fact!

B. Get an accountability buddy

Social pressure is a great motivator. Find a friend or family member to help you with your goal.

They could have the same goal as you, or they could be more of an observer/coach. Share your goal and plan with them. Get them to agree to hold you accountable for putting in the work towards your goal.

If you’d rather work with an objective third party, try an online service like

C. Shake hands with your failure

The positive reward of your goal is a great thing to focus on. But understanding the negative consequences of abandoning the goal can be a powerful motivator.

What will happen if you don’t follow through with this goal? Write it down.

Face the reality that you could fail to put in the work needed to meet your goal. How does it feel? Probably not good. Write that feeling down.

And work to make sure you don’t face that feeling for real. It’s in your control to continue taking steps towards your goal.

D. Set external stakes

Will-power alone isn’t always enough. Negative consequences can be an effective motivator!

Make a commitment to do something that you really don’t want to do if you fail to stay consistent with your routine. Get creative with this!

For example, you could give $100 to a close friend as you work towards your goal. Tell them that they need to donate that money to a group you dislike if you don’t continue working towards your goal.

Or, try out an online service like Stickk to help you set those stakes.

E. Accept your current state

Embrace the fact that growing and improving is a journey.

You might not be at your goal yet, but that’s okay. As long as you continue to put in consistent effort, you’re exactly where you need to be.

The sky’s the limit. (Unless your goal is to be an astronaut…)

Build the life you want to live

There’s never been a better time for you to start creating the life you want to live. It’s well within your power to do so.

It all starts with embracing your current self, and creating a vision of your future self.

Set clear, measurable goals to get you towards that vision.

Create sustainable routines that push you forward. Focus on putting in the work.

Small actions performed consistently over time create a massive impact.

So, what’ll it be? Let me know your ambitious goal in the comments below.

I look forward to hearing of your success.

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Download the step-by-step guide

A reliable formula to set goals that you'll actually follow through on!

You'll also be added to the Mindful Ambition email community. Powered by ConvertKit