Happiness Hack, #3: Goal Setting That Works: Six Key Steps to Setting and Achieving Any Goal in 2018

Goal Setting: Six Key Steps to Setting and Achieving Any Goal (Pic credit: Joshua Earle / Unsplash)

Goal setting is not something I’ve done enough of in the past. Or to put it more accurately, goal setting properly is not something I’ve done enough of.

I’ve definitely made the double mistake of (a) setting goals only about things I wanted – a new car used to be a common one for me – and (b) failing to set the goal properly: i.e. with a reason behind it and a plan in front of it.

A goal without a plan is just a wish

– Antoine De Saint-Exupery

So this month’s Happiness Hack is all about goal setting the right way – giving you the best possible chance of achieving it.

This approach to goal setting, which is a product and combination of lots of wisdom from too many places and teachers to mention (among them Hal Elrod, Jim Rohn, Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferriss, Mel Robbins, Lewis Howes, Anthony Robbins, Napoleon Hill and others) makes it much more likely that (a) I will set the right goal and (b) I have the best chance of making it happen.

1. List Your Categories

When it comes to goal setting, a spread of goals across a number of categories is important. Focus too narrowly – on money, for example – and you’ll leave out areas that are essential to keep you balanced. These are the six categories I’m currently focused on:

  • Health
  • Finance
  • Family
  • Work (you might have career, or business)
  • Personal
  • Happiness (equally you could have something like spiritual health, or peace of mind)

You might have one or two more, for example your hobbies, or a side-business, or a different set entirely, but it’s important to list out the categories which each goal will belong to. This will mean your goal setting exercise ticks as many parts of your life as possible, and ensure you’re progressing all the areas and leaving none behind.

2. Get Specific

Being as specific as possible with each goal is essential.

For example, if you are setting a finance goal, you might be tempted into a goal such as “clearing my debt” or “saving €10,000”. But these, I have found, are just not specific enough and can often stray into the territory of “wishful thinking”. And I know from experience that a wish is not a goal.

Lack of a specific goal will bring lack of clarity, which will bring lack of focus, and before you know it you’ll have completely forgotten what the goal was, never mind got anywhere close to achieving it. (Trust me, I’ve done exactly that…)

3. Finding The Why

Goals with a reason are much more likely to be realised.

Knowing why you have each goal adds greatly to the specificity of the previous step. If there is a compelling reason why you need to achieve this goal, rather than simply want to achieve it, then you’re already a part of the way there.

Add a “so that” to the goal. For example: “I want to save €8,500 [the specificity!] so that we can visit my brother and his family in Australia for three weeks in February 2019 [the reason!]”.

Knowing why you want to achieve something will give you a momentum that will keep you moving forward, every day and every week.

4. Chunk It Down

Now that you’ve set your goals, that’s the easy part done.

The hard part – the part that turns this from something intangible into a real, living goal – is what comes next. Failing to do this bit is where so many goals come apart.

Take that goal of saving €8,500 for a three-week trip to Australia.

If you’re anything like me and, I think, most people, that’s just too big for the mind to truly grasp. If we can’t grasp it, we can’t fully believe it. If we don’t believe it, the chances it’s going to happen are probably somewhere between slim and none.

Instead, though, consider this.

If we chunk that big goal down into the exact number of steps needed to make it happen, an interesting thing happens.

The smaller steps are much less daunting. Suddenly, they become totally believable. And if we fully believe something, it’s not only more likely to happen – it’s almost inevitable that it will.

What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

– Napoleon Hill

So this part is vital. It takes focused thought, but it could be the best couple of hours you spend this year.

That “save €8,500” could be broken down into something like:

  1. Open dedicated savings account for Australia trip
  2. Transfer €653 per month to that account for 13 months
  3. Set up standing order on __ day of the month so that the transfer is made automatically

If you can’t afford to transfer that amount per month, don’t fret just yet. You just need a few more chunks and actions to generate extra income or make extra savings. For example:

  • Generate income from unwanted items
    • Make a list of unwanted items from garage/attic/spare room
    • Take 5-10 good quality photos of each item
    • Write descriptions for each item
    • Upload each item to online selling platform (e.g. eBay, Done Deal, Adverts, Craigslist, etc.)
    • Deposit any income into savings account

You could add another series of steps for “Earn €200 per month extra on the side”, for instance, which might involve a small side business, or an extra part-time job for a couple of months, or hosting guests on Airbnb.

It’s important that each action single item is broken down so that it takes no more than an hour or two.

If it’s any bigger, it probably needs to be chunked down again!

5. Schedule Everything

Now that you have broken each goal into its smaller, easily manageable, 1-2 hour actions, an extra step is required: scheduling.

Having the big goal, and setting down the list of actions required to get you to that goal, is fantastic.

But life and everything that goes with it is likely to get in the way unless you take the time to schedule your action plan in every week and every month.

Whatever type of planner you use – a diary, an online tool, a whiteboard or just a notebook on your desk – take the time to enter all those tasks in, month by month, week by week, right down to hour by hour.

All of this might sound like overkill, but that €8,500 and that unforgettable trip Down Under, or whatever your goal, won’t just happen without a clear and well-defined plan.

6. Announce it

Here’s where The Fear can set in.

What? You mean, tell people?

Yes! It’s essential!

It could be a friend, a family member, a peer – but it must be someone who you value, respect and trust.

Because there’s a reason you’re telling them. The act of telling them is a major part of achieving the goal. It keeps you accountable. It’s proven that if we have people we need to be accountable to – who we feel we might in some way let down if we don’t deliver – then this greatly increases the urgency with which we approach the task.

And there’s little doubt that when things become urgent, they usually get done.

So don’t be afraid. Find someone who is willing to take on this great responsibility – the responsibility of knowing in detail what you’re aiming for, and who you can talk to during the journey when things get sticky. Because things always get sticky.


This goal setting exercise is the ultimate cure for procrastination.

Procrastination, after all, owes less to us dragging our feet and more to the fact that, if we’re honest, we’re not really clear on what, exactly, needs to happen next.

Get clear on that, and don’t be surprised to find those goals coming firmly into view before too long.

And there’s no doubt in my mind that making progress towards the things that matter to us is an essential part of happiness.

Try it, and let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below or messaging me on Twitter.