How to Achieve Your Goals in 5 Steps

Published 01/07/2021

By Juan Ros, CFP®, AEP®, CEPA, CVGA


The year 2020 certainly turned out much differently than any of us expected. No one could have foreseen the effects that a global pandemic would have on our economy and our ability to interact socially. For the many who were directly impacted by COVID-19, the loss and anguish of this year will not soon be forgotten.


Yet, in the midst of all the uncertainty and tragedy, there was cause to be optimistic about the future. According to the Wall Street Journal, by September, people were “starting new businesses at the fastest rate in more than a decade.”1 From a financial perspective, the stock market recovered from the March lows. There is reason to be hopeful that we can soon resume the plans we put on pause as more people are vaccinated.


A New Year Full of Possibility


Many people come up with New Year’s resolutions such as “I’m going to eat better” or “I’m going to save more money.” But resolutions rarely work. According to one source, 80% of resolutions fail.2


Resolutions are like goals, but they are not goals. A resolution is more like a statement of an intent to change something in your life, but there is no true commitment or accountability.


If you really want to achieve something, you need to set a goal. An example would be: “Increase my emergency savings to cover six months of expenses by December 31, 2021.”


A true goal has the qualities embodied by the acronym “SMART”:

·        Specific

·        Measurable

·        Achievable

·        Realistic

·        Time-bound


It is not enough to just come up with a goal. We can look to respected productivity experts for some direction.


David Allen, bestselling author on productivity for work and life, said: “The more you know why you are doing what you are doing, the more freedom you have to explore all kinds of ways to get there.”3


If Achieving a Goal Is Your Goal, You Need a Framework


Author and productivity guru Michael Hyatt has outlined a five-step process for making goal setting more effective, giving you a higher probability of success in accomplishing your goals.4


Step 1: Summarize Your Goal

The first step is to write your “SMART” goals. You might wish to use a journal for notes (paper or app) formally designated to document the process.


Hyatt recommends no more than 10 goals each year. Depending on the level of difficulty, you may wish to pursue less than five goals to increase your focus. Goals can be either achievement goals (you want to accomplish something) or habit goals (you want to stop a certain behavior or start a new behavior). Make sure each goal follows the “SMART” acronym.


Step 2: Categorize Your Goal

Your life consists of several areas in which you spend your time. Allen calls the categories of things for which you are responsible “areas of focus” and Hyatt refers to them as “domains.”


For each goal, identify to which of your domains the goal is related. It can be one or more of the following:

·        Spiritual

·        Intellectual

·        Emotional

·        Physical

·        Marital

·        Parental

·        Social

·        Vocational

·        Avocational

·        Financial


By knowing the domain(s) for each goal, you can assess whether your entire goal list covers a balanced cross-section of domains or is narrowly focused on one or two areas.


Step 3: Rank Your Key Motivations

Why is it that you want to achieve each goal? Knowing the reasons will help keep you motivated toward the accomplishment of each goal. Here again, you will benefit from writing everything down.


Three steps that will help you explore why this goal is important to you:

·        Identify at least three motivations for each goal

·        Rank the motivations by importance to that goal

·        Review all goals based on the rankings you have assigned


In the example about increasing emergency savings, a motivation could be “to have enough set aside to avoid using credit cards in the event of a major emergency.” Another might be “to sleep better at night knowing we have enough savings for almost any unexpected event.”


Step 4: Determine Your Next Steps

What are the first few actions you need to take to reach your goal? A goal can seem daunting until you break it down into smaller steps. Writing your next steps also gives you a sense of direction for each goal and a reference point.


Going back to our example of increasing emergency savings, the next steps might be:

·        Calculate how much needs to be set aside monthly to save that amount by the end of the year

·        Set up automatic transfers from checking to savings


Step 5: Decide on Your Reward

Another motivational technique in goal setting is to consider how you will celebrate once you accomplish your goal! This could be anything from taking the family out to a nice dinner (post-pandemic, of course) or upgrading your current phone to the latest iPhone you have been wanting. Once more, writing down your reward in advance is part of your goal-setting process and gives you something else to work toward, in addition to the goal itself. You will be working hard to see your goal go from notes to reality — treat yourself!



Coming up with goals and breaking them down using this framework takes time. That is what makes it effective but also why it requires time and effort! You need to spend time with your goals, think about them, break them down and add a dash of motivation.


Whether you focus on a specific domain for a new goal or commit to something that has been on your to-do list for a while, it is possible for you to achieve your goals in 2021.



1Gwynn Guilford and Charity L. Scott, “Is It Insane to Start a Business During Coronavirus? Millions of Americans Don’t Think So.” Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2020. 

2 Joseph Luciani, “Why 80 Percent of New Year's Resolutions Fail.” U.S. News and World Report, December 29, 2015 and Susan Weinschenk, “The Science of Why New Year's Resolutions Don't Work.” Psychology Today, December 19, 2016.

3 David Allen, Ready for Anything. Penguin Group, 2005 (Page 54).

4 Full Focus Planner. Designed by Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller,

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