An Amateur’s Guide to Goal Setting

“A successful individual typically sets his next goal somewhat

but not too much above his last achievement.

In this way, he steadily raises his level of aspiration."

-Kurt Lewin

Everyone, from Martin Luther King to a common pauper, has a dream. This dream will merely remain a dream without a proper course of action. I am yet to come across someone who has absolutely no goals. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) says that even people who claim to have no goals have plans.

They may be lying at an unconscious level and it may be unknown to the conscious mind. Once again, I would like to say that I am yet to come across someone who has achieved all of their goals.

Every person is on the look-out for something new once he completes his last goal. We set new standards for ourselves every day. Our brain constantly works towards every single target we set for ourselves, as tiny as it may be. This proves that every individual does have specific goals. It could be anything - expanding a business, losing weight or even getting a total of eight hours of sleep every night. Every goal, no matter how small, requires a course of action without realising we have done so. It is the bigger goals that require our conscious attention.

Why do we need to set goals?

Goals are our map to success. Goals give us a purpose in life. Most graduate-level students have no idea of what they want to do in life. Setting goals can guide them and slowly push them towards what they want to be doing. Goals allow us to track and measure progress. They help us get from where we are to where we want to be.

All of us are on our way to the desired state from the present one. It can be anything from health to career to relationships. All of us have a current situation and a situation that we desire concerning our health, careers, etc. How do you know you have to work on something or be better at it? How do you know you are going the wrong way on your career path? Or how do you know that your relationship with your sibling could do better? How do you decide what you need to work on today? The answer is the symptoms. If you suddenly have a backache, don’t you go to a doctor for treatment?

Similarly, you know you have to work on something because of the symptoms. Find those symptoms which make you unhappy. Self-awareness goes a long way in making yourself better at something. Once you find the signs, find the cause. Ask yourself, “What causes my money to be over before the 15th?” or “What causes a fight between my mother and me?”. Your present state is thus a combination of the symptoms and the causes.

Once you answer these questions about your present state, ask what resources you have that can help you reach the desired stage. Maybe you will need a better communication model to interact with your wife. You might need to get a better job to earn more so that you don’t exhaust your money till the 15th. Maybe you will need the resources to calm down if you are facing anger issues. What resources do you have to change your present state? What resources do you have to change your symptoms? Once you do get the help, what would be the outcome? The outcome should be a peaceful life. It should be something so impactful that you feel it. The outcome would be a better relationship because you communicated better. The outcome would be that you don’t run out of money by the 15th. The outcome would be that you lead a healthy life. Lastly, what would be the effect of the outcome? The effect would be: You can now build up a better relationship. It would be you can now save money for more things if you earn more. The outcome often brings a change in the bigger picture. Your desired state will comprise the outcome and effects. While the outcome is temporary, the effect is motivational. It is like a domino effect. If your outcome doesn’t have any effect, you won’t work on the former. But so often, our effects and outcomes are wrongly connected. We attach those effects to our outcomes that don’t matter.

So the symptoms and the causes that you create out of available resources which act as a catalyst will give you the desired outcome and effect. You will find the resources by asking the ‘how’ questions. How to improve my communication skills? How to earn more money? However, if you don’t get the answer, take a long cut and think about who has already used these resources and how did they do it? Model the person who would know the answer to your ‘how’ questions. What is their behaviour in the present state? Would you be able to do that? So just stay grounded and collect your resources. If you don’t have specific resources, remember that you can’t get them from someone else. Be resourceful to go from the present to the desired state. Your model will help you be more resourceful. Once you become resourceful, you will attract all the resources. One might say that they don’t have the time or the money to do something. In such a case, they focus on the symptoms and not the resourcefulness, that is, they only focus on the problems and not the solution. If you think you could do something, but you don’t end up doing it, it sets up a formula for failure. That becomes the outcome. You become an obstruction then. The number of books on your shelf doesn’t matter. The number of books you read and learn and practice from is what matters—being resourceful means connecting to what you have in excess. It lets you preserve your essence, step back and breathe, anchor yourself and know that there is something more significant than you within you. You would then know that there is magic within you. Find that magic because maybe that magic must be seeking you as we all are well aware of the famous saying: “What you seek is seeking you.” Adjust your frame to see what you want to see.

When you are on your way to the desired state, remember that you will face hindrances borne by you. This is where you need to work on yourself and your beliefs.

Some of the things that hinder you from goal setting are:

  • Fear of rejection

  • Lack of ambition

  • Low self-esteem

  • Ignorance

You must overcome such issues to succeed truly. Try and see why they have originated and recognise how they act as barriers to so many potential opportunities that come your way.

You might say that you aim for something, but somewhere within you, you have this ingrained belief that you won’t achieve it. Your beliefs play a significant role in this. All of us have desires of our own, but there are hindrances too. Desire plays a substantial role in our goals. But with desire comes deservability. Do we deserve what we want? Your idea of what you deserve comes from self-image, i.e. how you see yourself. This is not based on whether what you desire is out there or not, but it is based on whether you believe you deserve it. Whenever you say that you want something, an inner voice will act as a litmus test that will tell whether you deserve it or not. It is your beliefs that matter. If you believe that you cannot, you will never be able to. This brings out and draws out every aspect of your life that you live. But the good news is that you can alter your beliefs.

You can always see the leaves moving on a tree, but you can never see the wind that blows it. But you know it is the wind that makes the leaves move. The wind is the implicit belief that all of us need to fulfil our goals. The belief and the faith that there is something more significant than you (like the wind) is what pushes you towards your dreams. That is the program that runs the program. Ask yourself: Are you in touch with the belief that you can do anything? So you might practice everything from the explicit, but if you lack the implicit, that is, the hierarchies, values and priorities, you miss out on the belief. As a result, you don’t end up anywhere.

Now think of a goal that you want in the future. Imagine that you have already achieved it and are living it. How do you feel? Are you at ease? Are there any changes in you or around you that have resulted because you achieved your goal? Does the behaviour or belief of people around you change? Has it opened doors to other destinations? Are you happy that you have accomplished that goal? Do you feel it in your body? If yes, where? Answer these, and you will realise if you are going the right way. And remember that unless you add feelings to these goals, it is not yours to accomplish. If you feel strongly about it, you won’t need anything explicit to go there.

Goals give us discipline and prepare us for unforeseen circumstances, keeping us focused. If your deadline to submit a report is 1:00 pm, you might send it in at the very last minute, but this deadline helps you work efficiently and keeps you undistracted. Setting deadlines in this format may also keep you from procrastinating. If your flight is scheduled to leave at 9 am, you will try to make it to the airport by at least 8 am to make it without any problems. Goals also motivate you to do more.

If you want to work as an engineer for a specific project, you may aspire to be the next project’s chief engineer. If you start setting goals, you will begin to achieve them, and this achievement will fuel tremendous motivation to set even higher goals the next time.

Goals allow us to maximise our resources and excel in every area of life. They are a must.

For every goal you set, there is a course of action you need to follow.

Following are the steps in order, which you should abide by all the time:

  • Formulation

  • Evaluation

  • Planning

  • Execution

  • Accountability

Formulation of goals

The “what”

While setting goals, it is important to address certain things. What is your goal? Be clear about it. Define it. Have a clear, calm mind and take time to think about it. Formulate a plan for yourself. People overlook the importance of such an approach. Oftentimes, we may quickly dismiss this process, moving right into planning and executing, causing inevitable failure.

While formulating a goal, having affirmative confidence about your idea and categorising your goal in a specific area plays a crucial role.

The idea

What is it that thrills you? Indulge in some quiet time, and think about it. Your idea could be very unconventional. Thinking outside the box brings extraordinary results. The authors of ‘Freakonomics’, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, believed that “economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions”. With this idea, they wrote the highly acclaimed book that dealt with ‘freak’ phenomena of economics, such as the sudden drop in crime in the US and its unsuspecting relationship with the abortion laws. They published The New York Times Bestseller, despite the book being dubbed as a sociology and criminology work rather than economics and an example of academic imperialism. It’s easy to criticise but hard to ideate. Don’t let others’ opinions of your goal bog you down. If you genuinely believe your goal is achievable, put in all the work you must do so. If we come to think of it, come what may, no dream is elusive.


Define the area within which your goal falls. Is it a financial goal, a health-related goal or a relationship-oriented goal? Is your goal a personal goal or a professional goal? Becoming a morning person, saving money, and travelling more could be classified as personal goals as they are relevant to your emotional well-being. Working on your dream job, promoting and expanding your business, and starting your own company would come under professional goals. Defining your goal in this manner helps you to pick an appropriate course of action.

To become a morning person, you may involve your family in execution and sleep early. On the other hand, starting your own company requires very different resources. It may include networking and gathering capital.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of life do I want to create for myself?

  • What do I want to be known for?

  • What areas of my life do I want to work on?

  • What areas of my life do I need to rid myself of?

If a smoker wants to quit smoking, he may have a hard time initially, but he’ll have a new incentive the minute he suffers a health issue. So having the right reasons behind your goal is crucial. The purpose of your goal gives it the requisite value and then gives you the nudge in the right direction.

You must also understand the consequences and repercussions of the goal you set.

1. What will I gain out of this goal? Is it monetary gain or mere fame gain?

2. Will the outcome make me happy?

3. In what way will my goal change my lifestyle?

4. What will my goal give me that I lack now?

5. What do I stand to lose by achieving this goal?

6. What effect will it have on my relationships with others?

Take time to think about each of these things. While ideating, it is crucial to write down everything.

As per Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the more you engage your neural senses with your goal, the more likely you will achieve it. Writing your goals down engages your visionary side (pun intended). When you can see what you want to do, you are more likely to act upon your goals.

Remember when appearing for Board Examinations, people told you to write down your desired percentage on a piece of paper and stick it up somewhere you can always see it?

Again, this may seem as cliché as it is make-believe, but it is valid to an extent. Such moves optimise you psychologically.


It’s essential to analyse your goal before putting it into action. Viability and achievability must always be placed in check.

SMART is an acronym often used to evaluate goals - Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timely. Here are specific questions to ask yourself while setting goals for yourself:

  • Is my goal specific?

The vaguer your goal, the more likely you are to slack off. Definitive goals help you realise the way you must work. If you are looking for a promotion, you must specify - “What position you want to be promoted to?”. This makes your goal more specific. If you are a journalist, perhaps you would want to make it as an editor one day. This is a specific goal. How important it is and who should be involved in attaining your goal, all fall under your goal.

  • Is my goal measurable?

A measurable goal helps in tracking progress, helping you achieve your goal promptly. Measuring goals considers two factors: To what extent the goal has been completed and when will I know I have completed my goal? If I want to lose weight, how much weight do I want to lose? Put a number to it. Maybe I am 70 kgs right now, and I want to get to 60 kgs. If you’re going to become fluent in French, you will know you have achieved it when you have completed the requisite courses and can speak the language flawlessly. In this way, you set a system for yourself, enabling you to evaluate goal achievement and progress.

  • Is my goal actionable?

Your goal should be achievable. It must strain you and push you to do your best, but it must also be realistic. If your goal is to travel more, but you have no money at the time, you cannot be backpacking through Europe the very next day.

Setting vague goals is something that you should avoid. The goal has to be concrete, attainable and reasonable. You should have the resources and workforce you need to complete your goal. Your goal must also be action-oriented. This means you cannot simply laze around, procrastinating. Learn to maximise your productivity. Make the best out of your resources and do the best you can.

  • Is my goal relevant?

How relevant is your goal to your life at the time? Does it bring about the necessary change? These are the things one may consider while setting goals. Your goal will tax you to your core, but it is irrelevant to you if it does not give you anything meaningful in return. The reasons for taking up goals should be correct. This goes to prove the importance of the “why” to your goal.

  • Is my goal time-bound?

If you were never to set a deadline for yourself, do your homework in time, or get your project and presentations done in a particular time frame, you would have procrastinated. More time and energy would be occupied than it is actually needed. Setting a deadline aids the planning process and urges you to use the resources at hand more efficiently.

Our vision and goal is a two-way street. There is a particular path that we can follow to move towards action. We form these visions by filtering our experiences and forming beliefs. When you align these beliefs with your vision, you define your roles. These roles should be completely aligned to the vision to be at ease. However, when these are not aligned, it leads to conflicts in relations and health and might hurt emotionally and physically. It might also lead to the crumbling down of life. To simply say, it might affect us in various ways if there is no alignment.

Roles are essential to fulfil the vision. It is vital to decide your multiple roles and values and know which roles will lead you to attain which goal. However, why are roles so important? It is significant because the more you learn about creating your roles, the more you can live the life you want. Roles play a crucial part in our belief systems. With every mission in our life, we unconsciously take on a new role. But now that you know about these roles, you can work on them. Your mission defines your role, and your roles define your goals. Hence, both are equally essential. We play a unique role in different segments of our life. You are connected to a certain role that is related to the goals. If you cannot connect the goal with the role, you miss the essence of your identity, that is, ‘I’ - your uniqueness and exclusivity. If you fail to understand that essence, you miss out on forming clear cut roles and goals. For instance, if you want to spend more time with your son or daughter, your role as a father or a mother comes into the picture. Each role has its own set of beliefs, attitudes and capabilities. An excellent way to know your roles would be to list them out and the limiting beliefs for each of them. You are a sum of all those roles and goals. You will realise that some roles have many strengths, while some are overweight on the weakness side. But honestly, ask yourself if there is any role that you are avoiding. This happens because individuals have a smaller self-belief and personal image associated with that role, so you escape from the conflicts associated with it. Hence, avoidance steps in to cope up with it. It comes in when there is no space, ease, time and growth (personal and revenue) in that role. Evaluate these roles. But where do you run to while you are avoiding that particular role? You end up running towards those roles where your strengths are high. It is contradictory to the roles you avoid because it provides you more space, ease, identity and growth. You are both roles.

While following this path, also be aware of what kind of goal you have envisioned. There are two types of goals- Means Goals and End Goals. What are means goals and end goals? In simple terms, ‘means goals’ are your way to your ‘end goals’. For instance, if your goal is to earn money to provide for your family, making money is your ‘means goal’ and the latter, your ‘end goal’. Often, we think that earning money, getting a job, starting a company, etc. are goals but in reality, these are just the means to achieve your actual goal which is to be happy about what you do, contribute to society, or provide for your family. Often we are so stuck in checking off the means goals that we don’t realise that we are missing out on the end goals. You might say that doing both is impossible, but I would say that leave it to time and just set your end goals and not think of how you will do it. Over time, you will find a way to do it. The more you think of your target, the more things fall into perspective, and you would eventually find a way to it through the means goals. You will find the means goals that will fit your end goals. So make your goal list and then figure out how to go about it. How often have you set your goals according to what you have right now and what you see in the future? What if you first saw into the future and knew what you wanted and then come back and do what needs to be done to reach the end you wish to? That is when you will know the first step you need to take, irrespective of your present circumstances. Life unfolds, and opportunities will come. Set your goals according to yourself and not society. Give value to what you do. Look at the bigger picture. End goals are all about you and what your heart wants. They excite you and make you happy. When it is your end goal, that feeling is unique, and you look extremely forward to it without hesitation, which keeps you going.


You need to have a routine plan with you, which proves to be the pathway to achieving your goals. Tim Wiley has rightly said, “Where you end up is not the most important thing. It’s the road you take to get there. The road you take is what you will look back on and call your life.” Your planning, therefore, plays a significant role in goal attainment.

Strengths and weaknesses

Every person has certain strengths they must maximise on and weaknesses to work on. Let’s say you aspire to be a web designer and are more inclined towards the creative side than technical one. So you may want to take up courses on programming software and learn new things. Expand your horizon. Dwelling on your flaws doesn’t help. Instead, look for innovative ways to get better.

If creativity is your strength, be as creative as you can be, and even more. Push yourself to your limits. Remember, Sky’s The Limit!

Time frame

Setting a time frame is crucial. Working without a deadline, may cause you to procrastinate, and you won’t track the progress you make. Always set a start date and an end date.


Say you want to develop a social media app. You would be required to describe in detail the work you need each of your employees to do. For example, perform some research on your competitor apps’ pros and cons and use their ideas and your own to develop a real success.

Having a detailed plan of action helps you and your whole team to work better. Plan out an entire detailed schedule.

Opportunities and threats

You are bound to come across various opportunities and threats along the path of planning. For instance, you may have to recruit a team for your project. In your recruitment, every interviewee is an opportunity. They could bring something to your project that could get it to life. At the same time, someone you hire could also wreck it. In situations such as these, it’s always best to trust your gut. You might come across people who just want to bring you down. Remember that they are minor hurdles, and you can pass through them with minimal trouble.


Identify your resources in terms of money, human resources and material. Develop a detailed budget and a contingency fund. A well-defined plan in terms of resource utilisation or manpower control is a must. Your staff should be efficient and hard working. If you are a paper company, make sure you have a good sales team, accounting team, and all other intermediary employees that deliver efficient work. As a paper company, you will need printers, papers, computers, etc., in the form of material resources.


NLP urges you to identify certain milestones while framing goals. For example: If you want to lose 30 kgs of weight, every 10 kgs you lose could be a milestone.

When your goals are measurable, they can be given milestones in intervals. This mechanism helps you track progress and motivates you to do more. This way, you start slow but end up achieving your ultimate goal. Here’s a small exercise for you:

Break your goal down into three significant milestones:

  1. Short-term milestone (for example, the first 10 kgs lost)

  2. Mid-term milestone (for example, the next 10 kgs lost)

  3. Long-term milestone (for example, the total 30 kgs lost)


Define your expected outcome and the date of achievement of your goal. You also have to define how you would feel when you achieve your goal which gives you both motive and reason to work toward this goal.


The “why”

The “why” plays a crucial role in your execution of the work required to achieve your goal.

1. What is the purpose of my goal?

2. Why is it important to me?

3. What is the value that I have attached to my goal?

4. How will it benefit me?

5. Does this goal motivate me?

Asking these questions will help you find the value of your goal. This acts as a litmus test for your goal. What makes each of us so unique is that we all have our own value set that gives us a reason to do things the way we do. Once we realise these values that live at the centre of our core, it becomes easier to create a map of our dreams and sail from one end to another.

The coarse path of decision making suddenly seems smooth when you attach a value to it. Wherever you stand in your life, remember to ask yourself - “What is the value behind doing this?” Ask away until there is a knock and click on the door because the value is the litmus test to your goal.

As Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but to be of value,” because value wraps the seeds for valuation. Once you know where your values align, things seem simple enough. Suddenly, decisions can be made, and you can confidently determine “what to keep” and “what to drop.” And for things that do not matter, I’ll say unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.

Suppose you saw someone reading a book and you buy the same book. However, you don’t read it while that person already has. Would it even matter that you purchased the book? He bought the book for himself, but you bought it for the shelf. That is where all the difference lies. Why are you doing what you are? So when you write your goal, ask yourself, “Is this goal mine? Is this goal really what I want in life? Did I pick this goal up because of someone else? Or for me?” Ask yourself, “ Is this serving my purpose?” When you get your answers and if you feel that it is not your purpose, drop it and take it up later when it serves your purpose. That goal should help you align yourself with your congruence, keep you flowing, calm and stable.

It is the value that makes Narayan Murthy keep moving when things are falling apart. I could name many more who have moved against the adversity and found something so important that they didn’t stop.

After having answered all your “whys”, it is time to take further steps towards achieving your goal. Mere drafts or notions of what you want to do are useless until you start executing and working on them.

While figuring out the value, also figure out what drives you. What makes you get up in the morning? What makes you take that first step of your goal? What drives you to make sure that you have completed your goal? What drives you to do what you do?

Probably, that job is significant to you because of some reason. It gives you a reason for your existence and importance in the world. It fulfils the need to be necessary, extraordinary. This is the reason why so many achievers in the world have reached where they are now. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, is one of the most well-known people in the world because he wanted to create something significant that stood out. And it does.

Maybe it is your artistic drive, the need to express through any kind of art that drives you to do whatever you do. This artistic drive even motivated Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Elvis Presley, Walt Whitman, etc. These artists are inspiring because they have something to express and give out to the world.

The third drive is the impact drive through which you want to bring about a transition in the world, someone else’s life, or your surroundings. This drive is for the ones who want to change the world with their words and actions. This drives Greta Thunberg, a teenager, to protest against and work for climate change. This drove Nelson Mandela to be the one to end the Apartheid regime in South Africa after so many struggles. This led Mother Teresa to do selfless work throughout her life.

The fourth drive is the contribution drive. This drives individuals to contribute to other people’s lives and help them. A man once told me he wanted to live his life because he had to manage the school where 750 children came and were taken care of by him, in a village. Those 750 children drove him to work harder, create more, build more, grow more resources so that these children could continue going to school. People motivated by the contribution drive often feel responsible for the surrounding people.

The fifth one is the spiritual drive. This makes one realise that that is what they are, and they don’t do it for the money. It includes a sense of belonging in this world. Many people have created a domino effect and movements in the world because they understand that God has asked them to do it. Nothing can barricade them, even if it sounds crazy.

The sixth drive is the thrive drive. It is what keeps you going on and on, and nothing can stop you. It is the passion and the love just to do something for the sake of it. As mentioned in the last chapter, Steven Spielberg was so keen on learning to direct that he occupied a room at Universal Studios, put his name on the door and did what he had to do. Bill Gates was a dropout student at Harvard. His business venture- Traf-O-Data, was one failure in his life, leading him to lose all the investment. However, his passion and fascination with computer programming led him to not stopping and eventually establishing Microsoft, the most widely used software in the world. It is the thrive drive that motivated them.

The last drive is the avenger drive. The meaning of your life is to correct what you have done wrong. Take, for instance, Krishna, Superman, Spiderman. They were out there to make things right. Matthew Perry (played Chandler Bing in F.R.I.E.N.D.S), as a kid, was told by a teacher that he wouldn’t amount to anything in life if he didn’t stop joking around. When he was on the People magazine cover, he sent the first copy to that teacher. Marvel’s The Avengers comprising Ironman, Hulk, Thor, etc., were literally and metaphorically motivated by the avenger drive.