I am astonished by the number of people I meet who do not regularly set goals. With all that has been written over the past hundred years about the value of having written goals, it’s absurd that, according to all indications, only a very small percentage of the population make it a practice.

The fact that the people who make up this small percentage also tend to be the most successful is no big surprise. There’s a clue in there: if you want more success, become a goal setter. 

“Show me a stock clerk with goals and I’ll show you a man who can make history. Show me a man without goals and I’ll show you a stock clerk.” JC Penny

If there is one thing that has helped me realize my dreams in the past twenty-plus years, it’s my regular practice of setting goals in various areas of my life.

During the first week of January every year, I jot down what I would like to accomplish in the year ahead. I begin by rereading my life’s vision, a description of what my ideal life five years into the future looks like. This, of course, changes continually, since I always update it to reflect my current dreams and desires.

In my ideal life vision I include my spiritual ideals, my health and fitness goals, my business and career goals, my personal relationship goals, my social and material goals, and, of course, my financial goals.

From there I make a list of everything I can think of that I would like in the coming year. This list serves as the basis for my top goals — the one or two important goals for each of the key areas of my life.

A lot has been written about the importance of goals and goal setting.

“People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people who do not.” Brian Tracy, author

This idea was originally alluded to by Aristotle and was later developed by Edward A. Locke and published as the article “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives” in 1968.

Why is it important to set goals in the first place?

Setting goals for your life gives you a road map and a tool by which to gauge your progress. More important, it conveys your desire to your subconscious mind and to the Universe. You are declaring your intention to achieve the goal and, in many cases, by a particular date.

Personally, I treat goals as a guide to help me along the way. I do not obsess over whether or not I achieve a particular goal on the exact date I set but, more often than not, I manage to accomplish the goal on or before the date. If I don’t, I do not abandon the goal; I simply move the date and make necessary adjustments.

Even if you fall short of a goal, you will still be far better off than if you had not set the goal in the first place. One year I set a goal to deliver fifty live seminars and talks. That would have meant I’d be speaking an average of once a week, an ambitious undertaking for most professional speakers. In reality, I delivered only thirty-five talks that year. Did I fail? I think not. Without that goal, how many times would I have spoken?

If you set a goal to earn $200,000 in a year’s time and earn only $180,000, would you return the money, explaining that you missed your goal? Of course not. Even if all you do is write your goal on a sheet of paper and put it in a drawer, you’ll still have a better chance of achieving it than if you never wrote it down in the first place.

In my opinion, if you keep your dreams and goals in your head, as so many people do, that’s the only place they’re likely to manifest. Writing them out has power. I believe that this has to do with the fact that writing goals takes them out of your mind and concretizes them in the physical realm. The process of writing out your goals makes them more real and provides you with a method of holding yourself accountable.

My Goal-Setting Process

In the process I use for goal setting, first, as mentioned above, I create as complete a picture as possible of my ideal life in each area five years from now. Then my goals are extracted from that. In this way I am assured that my goals are in alignment with my life’s vision.

If you start with the goal first, you run the risk of ending up out of balance. Too many people set only money and achievement goals, ignoring areas such as health and family, and they wind up being unhappy. Enjoying the best life possible requires paying attention to several areas of your life simultaneously.

Once you have completed your vision you will have a picture of your ideal life in each key area. From there you can write one or two goals for each.

You will want to set some one-to-two-year goals based on your vision. In other words, for me to achieve my five-year career goals, what has to happen in the next one or two years? Later, we’ll break this down further with a specific action plan (see chapter 10).

Looking at your life vision, focus on your vision for your career. In order for you to be living your compelling vision for your work in five years, what needs to happen in the next twelve to twenty-four months?

For example, if in your vision you are a first-line manager at work, what goal could you accomplish during the coming year? Perhaps you’ll need more education. Maybe your company has a management succession program you can apply to attend.

If you are just starting out in or trying to break into a new career, you may be a long way from your ideal and worry that a better life is too far out of your reach. Keep in mind that, as has been written for centuries, a person can achieve anything he can conceive and believe.

As I mentioned earlier, if you have a strong desire for something, you already have within you the means to accomplish it. You would not have a true desire if the ability were not already there. God (however you may conceive of God) would not ignite a desire within you if realizing it were impossible. Your Creator does not tease.

Here are some specific guidelines for setting goals.

• Write your goals, either in your journal or on an electronic device. Personally, I write my goals in my journal, something I’ve been doing since 1987. Now that I use an iPad, I also store them electronically. That way they’re always available to me to read and reflect on.

• Always write your goals in the first person and in the present tense: “I now have…” or “I am now…” You do not want to write “I will have”; since your subconscious mind does not judge, if you write your goal in the future tense, it will keep your goal out there, in the future.

• Try starting your goal with the phrase “I am so happy and grateful now that I am [fill in the goal].” I do this because it keeps the goal personal and in the present tense, and, more important, conveys my gratitude for what I am receiving.

If you want to attract more good into your life, cultivate a sense of gratitude for all that you already have, however small it may be. We will delve further into the power of gratitude in chapter 50.

Jim Donovan speaks regularly to employees and executives at small businesses and large corporations. He is a frequent media guest and expert source on personal development, business success, and the spiritual laws that develop both. He lives in Bucks County, PA. 

From the book Happy @ Work. Copyright © 2014 by Jim Donovan. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com