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Three Life-Changing Lessons I Learned About Setting Goals

Three Life-Changing Lessons I Learned About Setting Goals
This is a guest blog post by Matthew Wilson

Years ago I went all out on setting my goals. I identified five categories of my life and set three goals for each one. Those numbers did not come out of any kind of research; they came from nowhere. You could say my OCD helped me. I can still remember staring down at my paper with two of my fitness goals in place, racking my brain to come up with a third simply because three sounded like a good number. After all, who sets just two goals?

By the time I was done, I had all 15 goals written out and my paper looked like a college-level essay assignment. But I had satisfied myself and was certain this would be my year. I even glued the goal sheet neatly in the back of my planner. I was all set.

It didn’t work. Within weeks, I was among the 80+ percent of folks who abandon their New Year’s Resolutions by February. And I spent the rest of the year feeling guilty every time I opened my planner.

What happened? Looking back, I have discovered a few lessons that can help you become much more proficient with how you set and achieve goals today.

1 – Avoid Multi-Focusing

First, avoid trying to “focus” on more than one target at the same time. If you don’t believe me, just ask an archer if that works.

Imagine a massive body of water. It just sits there, slowly seeping and oozing into the earth. You see zero movement, growth or progress. Now take that same body of water, carve out a narrow outlet and channel it all in one direction. The movement carves a canyon because focused water in motion can move mountains. Same body of water as the lake, but when you put all of your talent, effort and energy in a single direction, miracles can happen.

When it comes to goals, it’s the exact same thing. It’s been proven that  our brains crave multitasking. In fact, the world we live in teaches multitasking as a desirable characteristic. Those who can do many things at once are considered productivity experts. And (maybe worst of all) we feel guilty if we aren’t keeping up.

2 – Establish a Foundation

Second, do not move forward without a clearly defined foundation. It would be like starting with the two-by-fours when building a home. If you’re like most people, setting goals looks something like this:

  1. Sit down for a few minutes, pick some new goals that excite you.
  2. Write them down. Or not.
  3. Go enjoy a lovely dinner with your significant other to celebrate how you’re on your way because, after all, “well begun is half done.”

Or so we’ve been told.

You spent more time planning your last vacation. But have you taken the time to truly know yourself, what you want and where you are going? When was the last time you set aside some time to work on your foundation? This is the perfect time of year, so schedule a session for yourself on your calendar and create something I call a LifePlan Foundation document. It looks something like this:

  • Block off a couple of hours, let others know to give you some time, especially your spouse and children and remove all distractions, especially your phone
  • Open a blank document and get ready to start writing
  • Ask and answer some fundamental questions, such as:
    • What are my strengths? Assets? Talents?
    • What is my purpose, vision and key values?
    • What do I love doing most? What brings me joy?
    • What life do I want a year from now? Five?
    • What is my one main goal (OMG)?
  • Summarize your key points into a 1-2 minute LifePlan Statement and read/visualize it every morning as part of your daily routine.
  • Keep this living/breathing document handy and refine it as you go.

3 –  Focus on your goals rather than your habits.

Once you set a goal, shift your focus off it and get to work. The goal is nothing more than the finish line. It’s in the future. What you do today, in the present, is all that matters. In fact, it’s all you can control anyway. And if you master your daily habits, you will arrive at your goal.

Who’s more likely to achieve a goal: someone who sets a goal and has no daily habits or someone who has fantastic daily habits but no goal? Even an unmanned boat will eventually find it’s way out of the harbor as long as the motor stays engaged long enough. Granted, I’m not advocating that you flounder around- you’re much smarter than an unmanned boat. But it is more important to focus on consistent, forward motion than on the finish line. It’s the journey that matters most. Make yours count.

Once you have all this in place, make sure you write your goals down every day and take them with you everywhere you go. Use a planner, daily goal cards (like me) or the back of your hand. What matters is the habit. Your goals are that important.

I hope this gives you a great start but it’s up to you to carry through with it. Expect difficulties along your journey and don’t be surprised when you hit a speed bump. Setting and achieving goals can be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If ever you get off track, revisit your LifePlan document and reconnect with some of the fundamentals. If you discover you’ve changed, rewrite it as needed, pivot and, in the famous words of the Robinsons, “keep moving forward.”


The opinions, representations, and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and not of  Tierra Wilson, LLC as a whole. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. The company accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

Matthew Wilson

Matthew Wilson is an award-winning creative director, productivity geek, father of five and a partner and creative director at a Phoenix-based advertising agency.
He is also a consultant, speaker and creator/founder of 3x5Goals.com, the market’s simplest goal setting system, using daily goal cards to help achievers focus on what's most important.

More information can be found at www.3x5goals.com. To order a free 15-day set of cards, visit


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