How to set BIG effective goals

When you want things to change in your life, and you know what you want, or you can picture it in your mind, that’s great!  However, problems can arise when your desire to change brings up negative thoughts – these then lead to other negative thoughts, and this blocks you from going any further. In this post I’ll explain how to get past that block and show you how to set big effective goals so that they become achievable.

I’ve been asked a question by a client:

“When thinking about how I want my life and career to progress I seem to think of all the hurdles and setbacks I could face and end up doing nothing. How can I change?”

Along with these negative thoughts, unpleasant emotions are activated and you could also feel physical discomfort, does that sound familiar? As human beings we’re motivated to remove or reduce that discomfort, and the way we do that, in this case, is to give up trying to achieve our desires.

The reason these negative thoughts link from one to another is because that’s the way information and memories are stored in the brain. They are stored by association. If you have ever daydreamed, you’ve started off with one particular thought and ended up somewhere else, visiting other thoughts along the way. All of these thoughts link together, as you follow a chain of associations.

You might have already tried dealing with your self-limiting thoughts and emotions by attending psychological therapy. Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, known as EMDR therapy, is very good, as is cognitive behaviour therapy. Whether or not you have gone down the therapy route, what I’m going to explain here applies equally to both situations. I will help you identify what you want, and how to keep yourself on track to get there.

To know how to set big effective goals, you need to start with your destination in mind. We have to know where we want to go in order to get there. Imagine a scenario, like in the old days, when I go up to the ticket desk at a railway station to buy a ticket. I’m saying to the official, “I’d like a ticket please”.

She asks, “Yes sir, where to?”

I reply, “I don’t know!”

Looking exasperated she grunts, “I’m sorry sir, I can’t sell you a ticket unless you know where you want to go to”.

You need to get your destination clear in your mind. That way it fools the subconscious part of your brain into accepting that you are already there. Because of this, the subconscious then doesn’t throw obstacles in your way.

You might have an image of what your desired goal would look like, you can enhance this, allow yourself to dream big. You can visualise what that end goal would be like. You can notice the sights, the sounds, the smells and the tastes. You can notice too, the pleasant emotions that go with it, and even the good feelings in your body.

This is your dream, whatever it might be. It may be rescuing starving children in a war-torn country, it may be academic achievement, it could be success in business, or owning the Rolex watch, the flashy car, or that dream home.

Another way to help focus on the end goal is to gather pictures of what it is you wish to achieve or obtain. Pin them on a dream board so these remain in your sight regularly. This way, it helps prime the subconscious to direct you towards these as you progress through life.

When you know what it is that you want to achieve, think about why you want to achieve it. This is your motivating factor, write it down. Then consider, “When do I want to be there? This adds focus to keep you on track. Remember, what why and when.

When you want to know how to set big effective goals, your desired goal is like the crock of gold at the end of a rainbow, or our destination at the end of a long drive. Let me show you how you can get there.

Set monthly goals

In the picture above you see the road ahead, stretching away to the distant horizon. Set your desired goal. See it, feel it, almost live it, make it real for you. When you have identified this, ask yourself, “What things do I need to do over the next month to move me towards my desired goal?” Write them down. When you have achieved your first monthly goals, you then identify what you need to do over the following month to move yourself towards that next goal. Repeat this pattern until you get there.

The thought of going straight for a monthly goal, several weeks away, might seem quite daunting. However, if you break this down into smaller steps it will make it much more achievable.

Knowing your monthly goals, decide on three things that you need to do over the next week to move you towards the monthly goals. Write them down. Make sure you do the three things during the course of the week. If you do, you will get to your monthly milestone.

Set weekly goals

This might seem like a lot to take in. So you can know how to set big effective goals, let me tie together the long term goals, the monthly goals, and the weekly goals.

Start with the end in mind, set your goal, and remember, what, why and when. Decide on what you need to achieve over the next month in order to move towards your goals. Then consider, “What do I need to do over the next week to meet my monthly goals?” By achieving small steps every week, you will get to that the first milestone. All you have to do is keep repeating that pattern until you arrive at your destination.

Set weekly and monthly goals

If you follow the steps I have described, you will have learned how to set big effective goals and how to achieve them. But I can guarantee, there probably will be times that you look for excuses not to do what you need to do.

Remember the negative thoughts? These will creep in from time to time. If you are the only one who knows about the goals, well it’s easy to make an excuse and drop out. There is a way around this – if you would like to know, I’ll tell you what to do.

Share with somebody you trust, the end goal you have set out to achieve. Even better, bring them in on what you are trying to achieve over the next week, and be accountable for what you have committed to. That way, you are adding pressure to stay focused.

If you choose the wrong person, the naysayer, he or she will come up with different reasons why you shouldn’t, or couldn’t, do something. It’s not your ability they’re doubting, it’s their own. They’re not saying, “You couldn’t do that!”, they’re saying, “I couldn’t do that!”.

So many people, once they achieve their goal, just accept, “Well that’s it, what next?” I would suggest that when you achieve your monthly goals, reward yourself with something you appreciate. It might be going out for a meal, it could be buying a new shirt or blouse, or going on a special trip. By rewarding yourself for achieving, you are reinforcing that positive behaviour and increasing the likelihood of even more positive behaviour in the future.

In deciding where you want to go in your life, I would certainly encourage you to dream big. Remember, the bigger the dream you have, the greater the number of challenges you will have on the way.  So be realistic in deciding when you want to be there. If you give yourself a tight time frame, then you have to ramp up the pace to get there.  If you focus solely on achieving a goal in a relatively short time, you can put your life out of balance. Remember there are many different things in your life that require your time. I have produced a separate post about keeping your life in balance. Hopefully you will read it too.

In summary:

  • Set your end goals, deciding what these are, why you want them, and when you want to be there.
  • Work out your first monthly goals and what you need to do over the next week to move you towards that.
  • Take it step by step, achieving goals each month, to arrive at your destination.
  • Share your goals with someone you trust and be accountable.
  • Reward yourself for achieving your monthly goals.
  • Keep your life in balance.

I do hope that I have been able to direct you to the right path to achieve your dreams.

Post by Dr Michael Paterson OBE, Motivational Speaker and Keynote Speaker

A video with animations of how to set big effective goals is available to view on YouTube.

Related post: How to keep your life in balance