#1 – How to Set Goals That Actually Work

#1 - How to Set Goals That Actually Work

This is a framework I take all my clients through and it has been inspiring to see how many of them have had powerful “Aha” moments.

The reason I created it was due to a problem I saw with traditional goal setting; there was not a strong enough focus on understanding cause and effect, particularly on the causes. Usually, when people set goals, they set them based on outcomes they want rather than the actions (causes) that create those outcomes. For example, when someone sets a new goal, it is usually to have a better body, better income, better relationship, etc. However, those “goals” are really effects of actions, and do not necessarily set someone up to actually achieve them.

While wanting the effect is great, and is required to get started, it is unlikely most people also want all of the causes necessary to achieve those effects. It can feel a lot like taking required electives in college. What you really want to study is often waiting on the other side of a bunch of subjects you do not want to study.

Imagine wanting to lose weight without also wanting to exercise or eat less, or wanting to earn an income of $250,000 per year without also wanting to develop your skills or work long hours. It is easy to see why most people do not achieve their goals when you look at it from that frame. So how do we know we are not falling for the same trap?

My Quantum Goal Setting framework flips traditional goal setting on its head to ensure you do not fall into that trap. Instead of only focusing on the effects you want, it also focuses on the causes you need. For example, instead of only setting a goal to make $250,000 per year (effect), you also set goals to achieve character traits, skills, and processes (causes) required for you to achieve that income. Let’s dive deeper.

How it Works

In Figure 1 above, you see outer rings surrounding an inner core. For the purpose of this framework, the outer rings represent the effects you want, and the inner core represents the causes that create those effects.

In Quantum Goal Setting, there are seven types of goals. Type 7 is represented by the outer rings, and Types 1 through 6 are represented as layers of the inner core. Type 1 represents the innermost layer, and it ripples outward from there. Let’s tackle each type of goal step-by-step.

Step 1 – Results Goals

Results goals are the outcomes you want to achieve. These should be tangible, measurable, and have a deadline. While results goals can vary in size and scope, I recommend using a deadline no smaller than 30 days and no larger than one year. I also recommend choosing only three results goals at a time, so you do not get distracted by too many conflicting priorities.

To help you get started, here are a few examples of results goals I have set in the past: 1) lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks; 2) have at least 30 coaching clients by the end of 2022; and 3) achieve a gross revenue of $500,000 at Next Level University (NLU) in 2023.

The important part about this is understanding you are not setting random results goals. Instead, the intention is to set goals that are deeply meaningful to you. For example, I did not set the goal to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks arbitrarily. It was a purposeful and publicly-announced challenge we did with the NLU community to show the power of public accountability. It kept me so accountable, I actually ended up doing a marathon at the end to make weight. Do not set goals just to set goals. Set goals for a deeply meaningful purpose and for the person you will have to become to achieve them.

Remember to always set results goals in such a way that they are measurable with a deadline. Most people do not set deadlines out of fear of failure, but without a deadline, there is not enough urgency to unlock your true potential. Imagine two people who want to do a marathon. The first tells no one, never picks a date, and only says it in their own mind. The second sets a date, posts it publicly on social media, and asks all of their friends and family to be there. Which person is more likely to train consistently? Which person is more likely to follow through and achieve the goal? We all know the answer – the person who set a deadline and had accountability. Action step: Choose three results goals that are tangible, measurable, and have a deadline.

Step 2 – Character Goals

Character goals are about the person you want to become. This is the innermost layer of Quantum Goal Setting, where all goal achievement starts. Prior to setting character goals, though, we must first discuss mindset.

Research shows the majority of people have what is known as a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset describes someone who believes their character traits are fixed and cannot be changed. On the contrary, a growth mindset describes someone who believes their character traits are transformable. A person with a fixed mindset says something like, “I’m bad at math and always will be,” whereas a person with a growth mindset is someone who would say, “I kind of suck at math right now, but I’m committed to mastering this.”

Obviously, having a fixed mindset would stop you dead in your tracks from setting character goals. So let’s check in. Do you have a fixed or growth mindset? To be effective at Quantum Goal Setting, if you find yourself with a fixed mindset, you will first need to shift into having a growth mindset. Once that shift has happened, and you are in a growth mindset, we can set character goals.

To set character goals properly, we first have to reverse engineer the character traits you will need to cultivate to maximize the probability of achieving the results goals you set. For example, when I set the goal of losing 10 pounds in 10 weeks, I asked myself, “What’s the one most important character trait I’ll need to achieve this goal?” My answer was self-discipline.

How did I know? I imagined someone trying to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks without any self-discipline. See how quickly results goals become impossible without having the proper character traits first? Just like prerequisites in college, self-discipline is a necessary prerequisite to achieving a goal like that, which is exactly why Quantum Goal Setting is so powerful.

Action step: Choose one most important character trait you will need to develop for each of the three results goals you set in Step 1. At this stage, you should have three results goals, with one character goal (trait) for each.

Step 3 – Inner Circle Goals

Inner circle goals are about the people with whom you surround yourself. Have you ever heard the saying, “You are the company you keep”? Or the famous Ben Franklin quote, “If you lay down with dogs, you’ll come up with fleas”? Inner circle goals are about the people you keep closest to you.

In my coaching, I refer to this as your 5-Pointed Star. It is a simple exercise where I draw a large star on a page and put my client’s name at the center. Then I ask, “Who are the five people you spend the most time with (virtually or in person)?” The idea here is simple. A star can only ever shine as brightly as the stars around it.

Once we have all five names, I ask the client to rate each person on how brightly they shine. In other words, from 0 to 10, how much are each of those people committed to maximizing their own unique potential and achieving their goals? Once all five ratings are complete, we add them up and divide by five. This gives us an average representing how bright that client can shine with their current inner circle.

For example, one client of mine rated three of her coaches as a 10 on her star. The problem was that her father and intimate partner were each only rated at five, which brought her score down to an eight. I told her she had three options; she could either leave, lead, or appease. Choosing to leave would mean cutting them out of her inner circle. Choosing to lead would mean being far more honest with them to help them grow. Choosing to appease would mean accepting her lower rating and being okay with only achieving level eight goals.

This is when she decided to set some inner circle goals. In this case, she chose to distance herself from her father and start being more honest with her intimate partner about his lack of growth. She also set the inner circle goal to have another 10 on her 5-Pointed Star by the end of the year. Since then, she has been flourishing at a level not possible before making these difficult changes to her inner circle.

Action step: Complete your own 5-Pointed Star to identify the pain points and set your inner circle goals. Then, review your 5-Pointed Star, and come up with at least one inner circle goal under each of your three original results goals. Remember, clarity is powerful. Be as specific as possible.

Step 4 – Mastery Goals

Mastery goals are about the skills you develop and the crafts you choose to master. This is a surprisingly overlooked part of traditional goal setting. It is hard to imagine earning millions of dollars without also wanting to master your finances, yet it happens every day.

The big idea here is that you cannot achieve a results goal without first developing the necessary skills required to achieve it. For example, imagine someone dreaming of being in the NBA without also wanting to work on their ball handling, or someone dreaming of becoming a movie star without wanting to memorize lines or practice acting.

One example of a mastery goal I have set is to master effective communication. At NLU, I am a Coach, Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Podcaster, and Writer. What do all of those have in common? They are all forms of communication. If we are going to achieve our results goal of $500,000 in gross revenue in 2023, I had better be consistently mastering, re-mastering, and re-re-mastering effective communication.

Action step: Look at your top three results goals, and ask yourself, “What is the one most important skill I will need to master to maximize the probability I achieve this goal?” As always, do not simply choose one and move on. Think deeply about it. Your answers might not come right away or be super clear at first. Keep digging as long as it takes.

Step 5 – Process Goals

Now that you have the results you want to achieve, the character traits you intend to develop, the inner circle you want to attract, and the skills you are going to master, it is time to set process goals. I think of process goals as the runway and the vehicle. For example, when my results goal was to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks, the process goal was to exercise for 30 minutes per day. The vehicle was exercise (we will get to which type later) and the runway was once per day for 70 days (10 weeks).

That said, there are three critical factors when setting a process goal. Notice how my process goal was very specific. Instead of something vague like, “I want to work out every day” or “I’m going to hit the gym more consistently,” it was an exact process. In other words, it included an exact amount of time (30 minutes), for an exact amount of days (70 days), in an exact way.

When creating my exact process, notice how I defined exactly what dictates a proverbial “checkmark” for when the process was complete. In other words, what exactly has to happen for your process to be achieved? In my case, I not only knew what I needed to do (exercise for 30 minutes per day for 70 days), I also knew exactly what I considered to be exercise.

For me personally, I did not count yoga or mobility work. I also did not count anything I did not specifically set aside time to do. Just because I walked around the grocery store for 30 minutes, did not mean I exercised that day. Instead, what I considered exercise were very specific activities like soccer, basketball, hill sprints, weight training, running, jogging, and walking. As arbitrary as those might sound, the important part is they were clearly defined. Remember, uncertainty is the enemy of consistency. These are your goals, and every aspect should be crystal clear.

Action step: Think about each of your results goals and ask yourself, “What is the simplest and most effective process that will maximize the probability I achieve this goal?” Remember, your process goals are useless if you cannot be consistent, so make sure you choose crystal clear and easily executable goals.

Step 6 – Contribution Goals

Contribution goals are about the value you intend to provide to achieve the results you want. I have always found it fascinating how some people believe life owes them something. Personally, I have never felt that way. I prefer the perspective of gratitude. Life does not owe me anything. Instead, I am grateful for my life, and I want to earn it every single day by contributing beyond myself in a deeply meaningful way. I believe we get out of life what we put into it, and that is exactly how contribution goals work.

One example of a contribution goal is how much holistic self-improvement value NLU provides to its listeners. Put another way, if our results goal is to gross $500,000 in 2023, what are we intending to contribute in return? As of now, NLU has 26 departments and 15 team members, all contributing toward our mission in their own unique way.

Another example is this blog. One of my contribution goals is to write every day to contribute valuable, holistic, self-improvement insights to you (the reader). Hopefully you are getting value, and in return, you are paying me with your time and attention. This is not guaranteed, but perhaps you will decide to coach with me one day, which would ultimately contribute to NLU’s gross revenue.

Prior to setting your own contribution goals, it is important to understand a few quick things. First, it is key to know your strengths and weaknesses. In other words, what are you great at? What are you not so great at? What is your unique focus in terms of adding value? What does the world need right now and how are you uniquely suited to offer it?

Let’s look at another example. It was important for Michael Jordan to understand his contribution in basketball was higher than his contribution in baseball. In basketball, he was one of the best and most inspiring players to ever play the game. In baseball, he was barely above average. I love to ask my clients, “How much would Michael Jordan have been paid to play basketball in the 1800s?” The answer is zero dollars. Why? Because there was no market for basketball back then.

My point is that when choosing your contribution goals, make sure you are honest with yourself about what the world actually needs and the value you can really provide. Trust me, there is a reason I am writing this blog instead of focusing on entering strong-man competitions. At a strong man competition, my potential is very low and I have very little value to provide. In this blog which is focused on critical thinking, my value is far greater, and that is okay. It is important to be very self-aware so you do not spend your life chasing pipe dreams you may never achieve and butterflies you will never catch.

Another important factor to consider when choosing your contribution goals is what we refer to as True North Questions. Figure 2 below shows a Venn diagram with five circles in the shape of a star. Each circle represents one of the five questions, and the center represents your purpose, which is where all of your answers converge.

Figure 2 – True North Questions

Take some time to answer all five questions and find where they connect. This will give you powerful insight into who you are and where you are best called to serve, which is exactly what contribution goals are about. Remember, this does not have to be perfect. I would rather you set a goal you are 80 percent sure about than wait until it is perfect and set no goals at all. Overthinking will accomplish nothing.

Action step: Take each of your three results goals and decide on a specific contribution goal that is a necessary prerequisite to achieving it. Ask yourself, “What specifically am I intending to contribute to the world to achieve this goal?” 

Step 7 — Mentor Goals

Mentor goals are about the mentors and coaches you intend to bring on to help you achieve your goals, and there are two important factors. I break mentor goals into 1) who and 2) how often. First, ask yourself, “Who would be the best person to have in my corner to help me achieve this goal?” Second, ask yourself, “How often should I meet with this person (virtually or in person) to maximize my probability of success?”

Mentors and coaches are often the last thing people think about, but they can make all the difference. Over the course of my life, I have had dozens of mentors and coaches. In high school, I had Mrs. Prior, my favorite math teacher. During my master’s program, I had my favorite business professor, Jerry Schaufeld, who was the CEO of Honeywell. I also had specific mentors at each of my corporate jobs, and I have had more than a dozen since founding NLU. Some are famous multi-millionaires and one is even a billionaire. Others are people nobody has ever heard of and likely never will.

The point is, whatever your goals are, mentors and coaches can help you achieve them faster. Are they required? No. Are they the quickest way to accelerate the learning curve? Yes. However, with every upside comes risk, so let me illuminate some of the traps to watch out for when choosing a mentor or coach.

First, make sure this person is way ahead of you and has higher awareness in the specific area in which you are looking to grow. Remember, awareness can be difficult to measure, especially when you are early in the journey. Also, awareness varies so drastically from topic to topic and industry to industry, so be careful. For example, I once had a mentor with level 10 awareness in business but only level two awareness in people and social media influence. This was a problem for me because I was in the people business. His business acumen was incredible, but he never consumed a single piece of social media content, so it was difficult to decipher what he did and did not know when it came to what I was trying to accomplish.

Another dangerous aspect of mentors and coaches is what I refer to as “The Cloak of Perception.” People love to be valued, admired, and looked up to, which is totally fine. Truthfully, we all want this to some degree. However, it becomes a problem when they do not want to fall from that pedestal. If this happens, you will notice them becoming increasingly reluctant to be fully transparent about their own weaknesses, struggles, and shortcomings. Remember, putting on the student hat needs to be earned, and that is an ongoing process. Be careful who you put it on for. This will be a challenge as you start to outgrow your mentors and coaches like I did, but that is a topic for another blog.

Action step: Take each of your three results goals and list at least one mentor goal for each. Remember, do not aim too high or too low. Find the sweet spot. If you are starting a brand new business, do not aim for Elon Musk, but do not aim for just anyone, either. Choose someone who is available, yes, but who is also of high value in the area in which you are looking to grow.

Time to Execute

Hopefully by now you understand why most people never achieve their goals. It is not that they are inherently lazy, do not believe in themselves, or do not want to achieve great things. Those are all surface-level diagnoses that do not fully encapsulate the entire systemic issue. The issue is deeper than that. Remember what we discovered at the beginning of this blog – the real problem is that people are taught to set goals based on the outcomes they want rather than the causes that actually create those outcomes.

Here is the good news. Having read this article, you will never again fall victim to that trap. Quantum Goal Setting solves this issue forever. I urge you to come back to this goal-setting process again and again any time you need. Personally, I intend to use this framework forever, not only for my clients, but also for myself.

So here we are at the end. You are ready. You have your results goals, character goals, inner circle goals, mastery goals, process goals, contribution goals, and mentor goals all in alignment. Now it is time to get to work – this is where the real magic happens. Remember, anyone can set goals, but it takes real grit, work ethic, self-discipline, skills, and persistence to actually achieve them. Do not let this be just another blog you read. Take this blog and put it into action. Let’s get to work.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for taking time to read this blog. If after reading this, you have any questions, I am here for you. Please reach out to ask your questions via email to alan@nextleveluniverse.com or by visiting the Contact section of our website at nextleveluniverse.com/contact/. Also, if you received value from this, I would like to recommend you check out our podcast, Next Level University, for a daily dose of holistic self-improvement. You can find it on any podcast platform, including YouTube, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

Thank you again. I am excited to hear from you!

– Alan

Share This Post

Sign up to get the latest blogs

More to Explore