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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stern

Goals. Work. Repeat.

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way." - William Hutchinson Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

Define Goals.

Start with Why

Your goals must spark your intrinsic motivation. How many times have you tried to go on diet, or go to the gym, or wake up early, because you “know you should”? That level of inspiration won't get you very far. We need to move from Should to Want to Must (out of Love, not Obligation) - as in, “I can not NOT go to the gym because I love the way I feel after a workout.” You eventually develop a sense give myself that gift”.

It is too easy for us to get distracted, to be overwhelmed, and for what's really most important to get lost in the noise. We need clear boundaries to protect our top priorities and allocate appropriate time and energy to serve them well. Without a clear sense of intrinsic motivation - a felt sense of why a goal is important for you - it’s likely to become just another item on your to-do list that makes you cringe slightly every time you look at it.

Types of Goals

A goal is a desired outcome, the intended result of your behaviors. Goals can typically be categorized in one of two ways:

Measurable (Objective) Outcomes

  • Find a new job

  • Lose 10 pounds

  • Go on a date

Unanswered Questions

  • Decide on a career path

  • Choose where to live

  • Figure out whether I should break up with my boy/girlfriend

If you notice your goals seem like a fuzzy mix of both, additional clarity may be needed to distill what the specific desired outcome really is.

Domains of Life

A simple and useful way to approach goal setting is to divide your life into five areas:

  • Health - your physical, mental, and emotional sense of well-being

  • Love - authentic, supportive relationships with the important people in your life

  • Work - the ways you attempt to improve your life conditions, especially in terms of your career

  • Play - your personal interests, hobbies, and things you do just for fun

  • Spirit - your sense of meaning and purpose, and connection to something larger than yourself

The boundaries between different Types of Goals and Domains of Life are permeable, and all are deeply interrelated. This framework is only intended to increase clarity in the way you define your Goals.


Define goals for different points in future. Look for alignment and coherence between long, medium, and short-term goals. By starting with the big picture in mind your goals serve as milestones and guideposts along the way, and the actions you take today move your life forward in the right direction.

Setting Clear and Compelling Goals

Write your goals as Affirmations - in first-person and Present Tense:

  • Lose 10 pounds → "I weigh 165 pounds." (if you currently weigh 175 pounds)

  • Go on a date → "I have gone on at least one date."

  • What career should I pursue? → "I have a clear sense of direction in my career and I am taking concrete steps forward."

Wording your goals this way helps the subconscious mind relate to these outcomes as if they were already true, which harnesses and directs the energy of your intentions in a focused and powerful way. It will also help surface any doubt, fear, and resistance, which is important to bring forward so you can intentionally work with it rather than having it subconsciously sabotage your efforts.

To create clear and compelling goals, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How well defined are your goals? What does success look and feel like?

  • How will you track your progress? How will you know if/when you have reached them?

  • Are your short term goals aligned with your long term goals? Is there a clear progression in the direction you ultimately want your life to be heading?

  • How do you feel when you think about achieving your goals? Are you excited and inspired? Does the level of challenge motivate you and peak your interest? Do your goals authentically reflect your Core Values and your Unique Purpose?

Make Commitments.

Commitments are specific actions you will take to ensure consistent progress towards your goals. The commitment is really to yourself, but having external forms of support and accountability is important.

For Measurable Outcomes, commitments are based on the assumption of a logical cause-and-effect sequence of events.

  • Goal: Find a new job

  • Commitments:

  • Update my resume

  • Apply to 5 job openings

  • Schedule a conversation with a career counselor

For Unanswered Questions, commitments is to take action to gain clarity and/or seek resolution on something that otherwise might linger for years.

  • Goal: Figure out whether I should go back to school

  • Commitments:

  • Complete an Inquiry Journaling exercise to explore your current thoughts and feelings

  • Contact 3 professionals in your field to get their perspective on the benefits and drawbacks

  • Spend 5 hours doing research to learn about your options

Commitments invoke a higher degree of discipline and meant to override the fleeting experiences of whether you “feel like” doing something or not. You are building the muscle of keeping your word. You are establishing yourself as a trustworthy and dependable individual who can be relied on to do what you say you will do. You are building coherence and integrity between your thoughts, speech, and behaviors.


While it is possible to “almost” reach your goal, it is not possible to “almost” keep your commitment. The question of whether you kept your commitment always generates a clear result - YES or NO.

If your goal is to lose 10 pounds in 30 days, and at the end of the month you have lost 8 pounds, you can still look back and feel good about your progress even though you didn’t reach your goal. But if your commitment for this goal was to cut out all sugar and alcohol and exercise a minimum of twice per week, you either did or did not do those specific things.

Whether or not you can honestly feel good about your progress (reaching 80% of your goal) largely depends on whether you kept your Commitments. If you stuck to your plan and di exactly what you said you would do, then it’s easier to feel proud and celebrate without letting the fact that you didn’t reach your ultimate goal cloud your experience of success. But if you failed to follow through on your commitments, then will feel the internal discomfort of having to take responsibility for your choices and their consequences.


At some point, you will inevitably fail to follow through on a commitment. So, then what? Do you feel ashamed and guilty? Do you “punish” yourself? Do you let yourself off the hook, and chalk it up to being too busy?

The key question is: how conscious was your choice not to follow through on your Commitment?

Maybe you determined that it wasn’t actually the most skillful action for you to take at this time. Maybe you discovered a better way to accomplish the same goal. Maybe you really did just have an abnormally busy week, and avoiding overwhelm and burnout became more important than forcing yourself to follow through on your original commitment.

But if you just let it slip through the cracks, if you procrastinated and avoided until it was too late, if you fudged it because you felt tired and hit the snooze button too many times - that’s another story. Here, you need to recognize that your choices become habits and habits create your future - they are the driving force of your life. When you let the “little things” slip too easily, you increase the risk of waking up 20 years later and asking yourself, “How did I get here?”

At the end of the day, the question of accountability and integrity must be resolved between you and you. Check with your gut and your heart. You know whether you are full of shit.

If you can non-judgmentally acknowledge that you are out of integrity, the question to ask yourself is: what do I need to do to restore my integrity?

Usually the answer to that question is one of two things:

Adjust your Behaviors to better align with your Commitments

  • Example: Your Commitment was to wake up at 7am to do your Morning Ritual every day, but you only did it 4 days because you slept late the other days.

  • Possible Adjustments: Go to sleep earlier. Set multiple alarm clocks, further away from your bed. Have a friend call you.

Adjust your Commitments to better align with Reality

  • Example: Your Commitment was to wake up at 7am to do your Morning Ritual every day, but you only did it 3 days because you had to stay up late finishing a project for work and your spouse asked you to take your kid in the morning so they could get some much-needed sleep

  • Possible Adjustments: Acknowledge that with the project deadline looming and a toddler who wakes up somewhere between 6:30-7:30am, doing your Morning Ritual 3 times a week is actually a more realistic expectation to set for yourself, and anything above that is a bonus.

Review, Reflect, Refine.

Schedule time on regular basis to review and reflect on your Goals and Commitments, and adjust them as needed.

  • Weekly: Did you follow through on your Commitments? If yes, what is the next step? If no, why not? Are you out of integrity? If yes, what do you need to do to restore integrity?

  • Monthly: Did you accomplish your One-Month Goals? What went well? Where did you get stuck? What have you learned? What can you do better/differently next time?

  • Quarterly: Are you on track for your One-Year Goals? Where do you want to be in 90 days? What kinds of shifts in your energy and patterns are being called for in this cycle?

  • Annual: What have you learned over the last year? Are you on track with your 3 and 5 year goals? What unexpected gifts or blessings showed up in your life? What unexpected challenges did you face and overcome? Where did you stumble or get stuck, and how did you respond? What is your intention for the next year?

Over time you will develop competency with setting effective goals and skillfully making and breaking commitments. This is not a static process, where you eventually “figure it out” and then coast for the rest of your life. This is a dynamic process, that requires paying attention, sensing the tensions in your life that need to be addressed, and responding skillfully to your environment and your life conditions as they change.

Honing these skills will help keep you in your "zone of proximal development" - the "Goldilocks" zone between comfort and overwhelm. This is your evolving edge.

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