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A Guide on How to Set Personal Goals

John Braat

Jonathan Braat / October 31, 2022 โ‹… 7 min read

Personal goals are one of the fundamental requirements for any high achieving person. Here is my guide on how to set and achieve them.

Not many of my internet friends know I dropped out of high school shortly after turning 18. I wasn't even a bad student... my grades were fine... I simply didn't see why I should learn things I wasn't interested in anymore. Also, playing computer games was a lot more fun than sitting in a room staring at a blackboard ๐Ÿ˜…

I went on to join the army for 9 months as a medic. At the time, this was still mandatory in Germany.

While serving, I quickly realized this wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life but my future looked somewhat bleak without the high school diploma. It became clear to me I needed to think about where I want to end up and take control of the journey.

Why goal setting is important

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.

  • Earl Nightingale

Setting goals is important because it gives you something to work towards. Goals give you a long-term vision and short-term motivation. Without goals we often miss a sense of purpose.

Goals can also be beneficial to track your progress and see how far you've come looking back. They provide the target for you to focus on.

How I set personal goals and achieve them

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.

  • Les Brown

Decide what it is you want to achieve

I start with a vision for several different areas in my life:

  1. Health: Everything from nutrition and exercise to mental health. What kind of body do you want to have?
  2. Relationships: Life partner, family and friends. What kind of relationships do you want to have?
  3. Finances & Lifestyle: Money, daily life. What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead?
  4. Self: Everything around personal self. What kind of person do you want to be?
  5. Job: Work and career related things. What's the vision for your career?

Here are a few examples to each question (not all my own):

  1. Healthy body: Don't drink. Exercise every day. Don't eat out more than twice a week.
  2. Strong relationships: Contact friends and family regularly. Spend quality time with your partner every week.
  3. Optimal lifestyle: Have the choice when and what to work on. Be able to comfortably retire by 40. Experience other cultures regularly.
  4. Personal Aspirations: Inspire others. Help people to improve themselves. Bring humanity further by launching a rocket to Mars. Make a dent in the universe.
  5. Career: Build a million (billion?) dollar business. Build a company that truly values their employees.

At the end of the day it's on you to find out what it is you want.

Not every goal needs to be outrageous and it's ok to not reach for the 100 million dollar mansion. If you know you will be happy with a self sustained cottage in the mountains, or a simple life on an island, work towards that.

Once you have decided, I strongly believe you should visualize your long-term goals. The simplest way is to write them down, but you could also go further and make vision boards or similar things. Visualizing makes them much more real.

Break it down

After setting my vision for each of my life's areas I break down the life goals to mid-term goals and short-term objectives. In my opinion, a top down approach like this is much better than a bottom up approach.

Here are my guidelines to break down the big visions. I think in horizons:

  • Horizon 4: Life
  • Horizon 3: Long-term visions
  • Horizon 2: One- to two-year goals
  • Horizon 1: Current projects (objectives)
  • Ground: Current actions

An abstract example for my life vision to be my own boss:

  • H4: Decided to be own boss (life)
  • H3: Create a business for self (vision)
  • H2: Short term key objectives to make H3 happen. E.g. Make the first dollar or 10k MRR by year X (job goal)
  • H1: Projects to achieve the H2 objective (projects)
  • Ground: On each of these projects are tasks that need to be done as soon as I can (next actions)

Once you have done this for every vision you might notice some overlap between the different the horizons and tasks for the big visions. That's a good thing and shows your goals are aligned and work well together.

If you notice conflicting tasks on any of the horizons, this is a sign of conflicting goals. Should this happen, I advise to think about what you value most and set priorities accordingly.

My hot takes, dos and don'ts to reach goals

There is a ton of material on how to reach goals out there. I have read countless books and blog articles to find a way that works for me.

What you should do

Celebrate your wins. Whenever you achieve a milestone, or something that you worked for happens, celebrate it! This will generate a positive feedback loop and keep you motivated to keep going.

Share your successes with others. Whether you post about it on social media or simply tell your friends and family, sharing your accomplishments with those you care about will help you feel even more proud.

Keep a running list of your accomplishments. This is a great way to track your progress and look back on all that you've accomplished- no matter how small.

Take a moment to reflect on your successes. Whether you journal about it or simply take a few minutes to yourself, taking the time to reflect on what you've done right will help you stay focused and motivated.

Review your goals and the progress regularly. You must review where you are and whether the trajectory you are on is the right one. Without reviews it's easy to slip and work on things not beneficial or even detrimental to you goals. I personally review my progress every two weeks. I have a recurring task in Things 3, which I use to manage basically my whole life.

Don't let others make you feel bad about your aspirations. There will be many voices telling you "Why do you need to be a millionaire?" or "Why don't you just have one drink? You are boring!". Don't be afraid to be who you want to be.

Hot takes and don'ts

๐ŸŒถ๏ธ I don't think your visions should be SMART goals. Dream big. Screw "realistic"! Realistic is what you make it to be. You just have to put in the work.

๐ŸŒถ๏ธ There is a notion to "tell others" about your goals for accountability. This may work, but often leads to a false feeling of accomplishment when you haven't actually done anything yet. People actually must hold you accountable for this to be a valid strategy. Most people don't.

Don't give up! Big goals are hard to achieve. Embrace the challenge and don't let setbacks destroy your overall plan to achieve your vision. Plans will fail. Deadlines will be missed. Review, reflect and adapt. Get back up and go do it.

Closing thoughts

Dreams without goals are just that, dreams.

Learning how to set goals for myself helped me go from a high school dropout to catching up on my diploma, completing a Bachelor + Master of Science in Computer Science with exceptional results and travel the world.

You can do the same, but it will take a great amount of discipline, consistency and focus.

If you put in the work, you can make it happen ๐Ÿ’ช

If you liked this article and know a friend who could benefit from it as well, please consider sharing it ๐Ÿ™ If you want to get news and updates from me, subscribe to the newsletter below ๐Ÿ‘‡ or follow me on Twitter.

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