Goal Setting for the New Year

This will be my last post of 2013. It has been a year of huge personal growth for the team at LLB, and I would like to share some of the insights we have picked up during the journey. Life-Life Balance is now nearly one year old and has over 100 posts, which add up to over 60,000 words. That’s about the length of a novel.

Now whilst I say that in part to boast, I also say it because we never set out to write that much. We just committed to the process of writing. You’ll see the concept of process appear in the steps below. Now, it’s time to get you ready for 2014. It’s time for The Goal Setting Post.

Here is my annual process for goal setting:


Without looking at your previous goals, think back on the year and just take a moment to reflect on what you have achieved, things for which you are grateful, and the moments you were happy. After all, that is why we set goals, isn’t it? Why we seek to build business empires and make scientific breakthroughs and to advance the human race? Ultimately, all the most noble reasons reduce down to the pursuit of happiness. So turn your phone off and reflect and relive those moments in which you were happy. There are two main reasons for this:

  • First, because the type of people who are extremely productivity focused, who set regular goals etc., are usually harder on themselves. They endlessly focus on ‘what could be improved’ and ‘pushing the envelope’. And it’s (very) important to do this. But it often means that they quickly skip over success, they don’t savor achievement, and they don’t feel gratitude for their circumstances. And that leads to a rather stale way of being.

  • Second, because, as John O’Nolan writes in this great post, so often we live obliviously through periods of time which in hindsight we come to idealize. If you focus your energy on recalling and remembering those moments you were happy, I believe you will increase the chances of recognizing happiness in the future, so that you are less likely to just breeze through opportunities and then think later ‘Wow, I wish I’d made more of my time there’ or ‘I was so happy doing that, why did I stop?’.


Take a long, hard look at your previous goals. Typically this would be for the previous year, but I know that different people prefer different timeframes. I like years. Set aside your ego and your emotions and go through your goals. Where did you make progress? Where did you fail? Make sure you understand the reasons why you failed – no need to beat yourself up – after all you’re not dead yet. You will just intelligently reframe the goal with your improved understanding, and then, like the motherfucking terminator, continue onwards. If you really tried something and really realized it wasn’t for you, then put it aside. However, don’t use this as an excuse to kid yourself. If your goal was to get in shape and you really tried hard at running but it made you profoundly miserable, then you should try a different sport, not abandon the goal of getting in shape.


Set your goals for this year. Don’t set too many, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. I usually set about 10. Of those, two or three are absolutely critical. I know that some people prefer to set just one – but make sure it’s not too vague. Take what is useful from your previous experience of goal setting, discard the rest. I usually put my goals into a spreadsheet with the following headings:

  1. The goal, put simply: Shouldn’t be longer than a single sentence.
  2. The goal priority. This is critical as often your goals will interfere with each other – you have finite time. You need to really understand which goals take precedence.
  3. The reason why the goal is important to me: You must align your goals with your own sense of purpose, your own motivations. This is perhaps the most important part of the goal-setting process, you should persevere and peel back multiple layers of your motivation. Don’t just say ‘because I want to be rich’ – why do you want to be rich? So you are free to pursue other things? What other things? Why do you want to pursue them? If you can delve down deeper into your motivations, you will set better goals.
  4. The process I will follow to achieve the goal – as this great article states, it is smart to commit to a process as this is less daunting, and doesn’t result in the same ‘empty’ feeling that achieving some goals can lead to.
  5. How I will measure my success/track my progress – Your goal should be measurable (remember SMART) – hold yourself accountable.
  6. The risks I must manage – Understand the key reasons why you might fail. How will you mitigate these risks? Also see point 6.


Now push yourself. Chances are your goals could be more ambitious. Rewrite them so they are harder. Remember, you shouldn’t achieve all your goals. If you do, they’re too easy. So set your sights high. My father always says: ‘If you want to hit the moon, aim for the stars.’

Now share your goals with someone you respect and trust. Sounds geeky and weird right? It is. Deal with it, and do it. Get their feedback, ask them if they think you have forgotten something. Then run the ‘post-mortem’ exercise with them – I’ll explain this presently.


Run the ‘postmortem’. This is a great technique I read about in Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahman (LLB review coming in 2014!). It is applicable to most situations where a particular end result is desired. The exercise involves imagining that the time-frame you gave yourself has elapsed (so let’s say a year in the future), and that in whatever you set out to do, you have completely failed. Now the question is: why? The exercise involves a brutally honest assessment of the key risks facing your endeavor. Ask your friends – ‘why will I fail’ in whatever goal. Do your answers match? Why not?


Taking into account all the feedback you have received, rewrite your goals one final time.


Now really, mentally, emotionally, and rationally commit to these goals (and/or their processes). If you find yourself struggling with this, perhaps you have not made the correct selection. I love this famous speech by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I often find myself recalling his maxims for success when faced with adversity. Our facebook also has a lot of good motivational stuff.


Put the spreadsheet somewhere you can see it – print it off, or keep in on your desktop.


Schedule goal progress reviews with yourself – or even better with a friend. This works well if you can both swap goal progress. I find that about once a quarter is ideal. If you’re moving ultra-fast, maybe monthly would work. At the very least, you should have a ‘mid-year’ review.

One of my favorite goal-related answers ever was the response a famous jiu-jitsu practitioner gave when asked ‘how do I get a blackbelt?’:

Keep training, and don’t die.

To be honest, all the structure I’ve just given you could be supplanted with this simple statement. Yeah, you might not work smart, and yeah it might take you longer. But with most things in life, if you ‘keep training’ (i.e. consistently working on it) and ‘don’t die’ (i.e. don’t give up), you’ll get there.

So keep training, and don’t die.

Happy New Year.


Here are the editor’s top five picks from the blog for 2013: