Keys to Effective Goal Setting

These three keys to effective goal setting may surprise you. Writing your goals according to the SMART formula is a good place to start, but it is not enough for effective goal setting because the majority of goals are still not achieved!

Goals become expectations that we have for ourselves, and our energy is drained when they are not met. What I have observed, both through experiences with my own goals, and in coaching others, is that there are three personal (and/or organizational) characteristics that are key to the success of goals. These characteristics overcome many of the obstacles we face in taking action and achieving our goals.

These characteristics are Accountability, Commitment, and Tools (ACT), but we'll address them in a different order:


Commitment is the most important characteristic because it is necessary to determine WHAT you are going to do. If something is worth doing, you should have a desire and passion to do it. (View my selected quotes on Passion).

Ask yourself why you want to accomplish a certain goal. Is it something you WANT to do; is it something you think you SHOULD do; or is it something someone ELSE wants you to do? How much are you willing to sacrifice to achieve the goal? The answers to these questions will serve as a good gauge of your commitment to a goal.


Tools are anything you need to help you take action toward your goals. Tools may be money, people, information/knowledge, skills, or systems/processes. Surprisingly, many times we don't have the resources we need to achieve our goals. Using the SMART criteria to express your goals in sufficient detail will help to identify the tools you need. Include the acquisition of these tools as interim steps in achieving your goal.

Also visit our Goal Setting Tools for forms, worksheets and templates to help you.


After confirming your commitment and acquiring the tools you need, Accountability is the final characteristic essential to your success. Although well-formulated goals are time-based and have a deadline, often our most important activities are not urgent. As a result, we spend our time, effort, and resources to tend to the more pressing needs and day-to-day "emergencies" at the expense of our important, though less urgent, goals.

I'll use exercise as an example. Everyone knows the importance of exercise, but how many of us exercise on a regular basis? How many of us can almost always find something else "more important" to do? If you make plans to exercise with a friend or partner, you have built in accountability because the other person is expecting you to be there.

Accountability works so well, because it is much easier to let ourselves down than it is to let others down. Accountability methods can be: telling someone what you plan to do and/or sharing a deadline, working on the goal with a partner or group, or working regularly with a coach to support your steady progress on the goals you are pursuing.

When working toward your goals, always consider the A-C-T characteristics. If you have the Accountability, Commitment, and Tools in place, they will serve you well!

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