How to Set Goals That Actually Work

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This is a framework I’ve recently started taking my clients through, and it’s been inspiring to see how many are having powerful “Aha” moments.

Here’s the problem with traditional goal setting. When people set goals, they’re usually setting them based on outcomes they want rather than the causes that create those outcomes. For example, when someone sets a new goal, it’s usually to have a better body, better income, better relationship, etc. However, those are all effects that don’t necessarily set someone up to actually achieve them.

While wanting effects is great and required to get started, it’s unlikely that person also wants 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 things you don’t want to do.

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’s easy to see why most people don’t achieve their goals when you look from that frame, but how do we know we’re not falling for the same trap?

My Quantum Goal Setting framework flips traditional goal setting on its head. Instead of focusing on the effects you want, it focuses on the causes you need. For example, instead of setting a goal to make $250,000 per year, it has you set goals for the character traits, skills, process and more that are actually required for you to achieve that.

How It Works

In the image above, you can see outer rings surrounded by 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 7 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 one by one.

Step 1 – Results Goals

As discussed previously, 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 1 year. I also recommend choosing only 3 results goals at a time so you don’t get distracted by too many conflicting priorities.

To help you get started, here are a few examples of results goals I’ve set this year. Several months back, I set a goal to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks. I also set a goal to have at least 30 coaching clients by the end of 2022. I achieved that faster than expected, so I’ve since upped the ante to 40, and we’ve also set a gross revenue goal of $500,000 at NLU this year.

The important part is not just about setting random results goals. The intention is to set goals that are deeply meaningful to you. For example, I didn’t 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 worked so well that I actually ended up doing a marathon to make weight, so don’t just set goals to set goals. Set goals for a deeply meaningful purpose and for who you’ll have to become to achieve them.

Lastly, remember to always have your results goals set in a way that’s measurable with a deadline. Most people don’t set deadlines out of fear of failure, but without a deadline, there’s not enough urgency to unlock your true potential. Imagine two people 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 please 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.

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. Before we start setting character goals though, we first have to discuss mindset.

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

Obviously, a fixed mindset would stop setting character goals dead in its tracks. So let’s check in. Do you have a fixed or growth mindset? To be effective at Quantum Goal Setting, you’ll first have to shift into a growth mindset.

Now we can set some character goals. To set character goals properly, we first have to reverse engineer the character traits you’ll need to cultivate to maximize the probability of achieving the results goals you’ve 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 just 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.

To finalize this section, please choose one most important character trait you’ll need to develop for each of the 3 results goals you set. At this stage, you should have 3 results goals with one character goal for each.

Step 3 – Inner Circle Goals

Inner circle goals are about the people you surround yourself with. 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’s a simple exercise where I draw a large star on the center of the page and put my client’s name at the center. Then I ask, “Who are the 5 people you spend the most time with (virtually or in person)?” The idea here is simple. A star can only ever shine as bright as the stars around it.

Once we have all 5 names, I have the client rate each person on how bright 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 5 ratings are complete, we add them up and divide by 5. This gives us an average representing how bright that client can shine with their current inner circle.

Before we continue, please take some time to complete your own 5-Pointed Star. After it’s complete, now we can identify the pain points and get to work. For example, I had a client once who had 3 of her coaches rated as 10’s on her star. The problem was that her father and intimate partner were only 5’s in comparison. This brought her score down to an 8.

I told her she had 3 options. She can either leave, lead or appease. Choosing to leave would mean she’d have to cut them out of her inner circle. Choosing to lead would mean she’d have to be far more honest with them to help them grow, and choosing to appease would mean she’d have to accept her lower rating and be okay with only achieving level 8 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’s been flourishing at a level not possible before making these difficult changes to her inner circle.

Now it’s time for you to do the same. To set your own inner circle goals, the process is simple. Review your 5-Pointed Star and create at least 1 inner circle goal under each of your 3 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’s 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 getting to the NBA without also wanting to work on their ball handling or someone wanting to be a movie star without wanting to memorize lines or practice acting.

One example of a mastery goal I’ve set is to master effective communication. At Next Level University, I’m a Coach, Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Podcaster and Writer. What do they all have in common? They’re all forms of communication. If we’re going to achieve our results goal of $500,000 in gross revenue this year, I’d better be consistently mastering, re-mastering and re-re-mastering effective communication.

Now it’s time to set your own mastery goals. The process is simple. Look at your top 3 results goals and ask yourself, “What is the one most important skill I’ll need to master to maximize the probability that I achieve this goal?” As always, don’t just 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’re going to master, it’s time to set some 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’ll get to which type later) and the runway was once per day for 70 days (10 weeks).

That said, there are 3 critical factors when setting a process goal. Notice how my process goal was very specific. Instead of something vague like, “I want to workout 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) and in an exact way (see next 2 paragraphs).

When creating my exact process, notice how I defined exactly what dictates a proverbial “check mark” 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), but I also knew exactly what I was considering exercise.

For me, I didn’t count yoga or mobility work. I also didn’t count anything I didn’t specifically set aside time to do. Just because I walked around the grocery store for 30 minutes didn’t 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 that they were clearly defined. Remember, uncertainty is the enemy of consistency. These are your goals and every aspect should be crystal clear.

To set your own process goals, think about each of your results goals and ask yourself, “What is the simplest and most effective process that will maximize the probability that I achieve this goal?” Remember, your process goals are useless if you can’t be consistent, so make sure you choose ones that are crystal clear and easily executable.

Step 6 – Contribution Goals

Contribution goals are about the value you intend to provide to achieve the results you want. I’ve always found it fascinating how some people believe life owes them something. Personally, I’ve never felt that way. I prefer the perspective of gratitude. Life doesn’t 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 in, and that’s exactly how contribution goals work.

One example of a contribution goal is how much holistic self-improvement value Next Level University provides to its listeners. Put another way, if our results goal is to gross $500,000 this year, 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 article. One of my contribution goals is to write each day to contribute valuable holistic self-improvement insights to you (the reader). Hopefully you’re getting value, and in return you’re paying me with your time and attention. It’s not guaranteed, but maybe you’ll decide to coach with me one day, which would ultimately contribute to NLU’s gross revenue.

Before you set your own contribution goals, however, it’s important to understand a few quick things. First, it’s 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 what are you uniquely suited to do best?

Put another way, it was important for Michael Jordan to understand his contribution in basketball was higher than in baseball. In basketball, he was one of the best and most inspiring players to ever live. In baseball, he was barely above average. Also, I often ask my clients, “How much would Michael Jordan have been paid to play basketball in the 1800’s?” The answer is 0 dollars. Why? Because there was no market for basketball back then.

My point is that when choosing your contribution goals, make sure you’re honest with yourself about what the world actually needs and the value you really can provide. Trust me, there’s a reason I’m writing this 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 context of critical thinking my value is far greater, and that’s okay. It’s important to be very self-aware so that you don’t spend your life chasing pipe dreams and butterflies you’ll never catch.

Another important factor to consider when choosing your contribution goals are what we refer to as the True North Questions. The image below shows a Venn diagram with 5 circles in the shape of a star. Each circle represents one of the 5 questions and the center represents your purpose where all of your answers converge.

True North Questions

Once you have all 5 questions answered, try to see where they all connect. This will give you powerful insight into who you are and where you’re best called to serve, which is exactly what contribution goals are all about. Remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect. I would rather you set a goal that you’re 80% sure about than wait another several weeks over-thinking it and accomplishing nothing.

Now that you’ve considered the important factors discussed above and done your True North Questions, you’re ready to set contribution goals. Similar to previous sections, the next step is to simply take each of your 3 results goals and decide on a specific contribution goal that’s a necessary prerequisite to you 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 who and how often. For who, ask yourself, “Who would be the best person to have in my corner to help me achieve this goal?” As for how often, 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. All my life, I’ve had dozens of mentors and coaches. In high school, I had Mrs. Prior who was my favorite math teacher. During my masters 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’ve had more than a dozen since co-founding NLU. Some are famous multi-millionaires and even one billionaire. Others are people no one’s ever heard of and likely never will.

The point is that 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.

Firstly, make sure this person is way ahead of you and has higher awareness in the specific area you’re looking to grow in. Remember, awareness can be difficult to measure especially when you’re early in the journey. Also, awareness varies so drastically from topic to topic and industry to industry, so you have to be careful. For example, I had a mentor once who had level 10 awareness in business but level 2 awareness in people and social media influence. This was a problem since I was in the people business. His business acumen was incredible, but he never consumed a single piece of social media content, so this made it difficult to decipher what he did and didn’t 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. That’s totally fine. We all do, but it becomes a problem when they don’t want to fall from that pedestal. If this happens, you’ll notice them becoming increasingly reluctant to be fully transparent about their own weaknesses, struggles and shortcomings. Remember, putting on the student hat has to be earned and that’s 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’s a whole other article.

Now that you know all about mentors and coaches, it’s time to set some mentor goals. Similar to the other sections, simply take each of your 3 results goals and set at least one mentor goal for each. Remember, don’t aim too high or too low. Find the sweet spot. If you’re starting a brand new business, don’t shoot for Elon Musk, but it shouldn’t be just anyone either. Choose someone who’s available, yes, but who’s also of high value in the area you’re looking to grow in.

Time To Execute

Okay. The easy part is over. Hopefully by now you understand why most people never achieve their goals. It’s not that they’re inherently lazy, don’t believe in themselves or don’t want to achieve great things. Those are all surface level diagnoses that don’t fully encapsulate the entire systemic issue. The issue is deeper than that. 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’s the good news. Having read this article, you will never again fall victim to that trap. Quantum Goal Setting solves this issue forever, so don’t be afraid to come back to it again and again when you need to. For me, I intend to use this framework forever. Not just for my clients but also for myself.

So here we are at the end. You’re 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’s time to get to work, and that’s 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. Don’t let this be just another article you read. Take this article and put it into action. Let’s get to work.

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