3 Steps to Setting Goals You’ll Actually Stick To

UPDATED: September 22, 2017
PUBLISHED: September 22, 2017

Q: I have trouble setting goals and keeping them. I know goal-setting is important for high achievers, so do you have advice for how I can set better goals and stay motivated to achieve them?

A: Goals work because they help you filter out things that don’t matter and stay focused on the things that are important to you. They allow the right things to enter your mind, and hence, your life.

Related: Master the Art of Setting Goals in 4 Steps

There’s a part of your brain called the reticular activating system (RAS) that understands goals. Your RAS is a small group of cells at the base of your brain stem. Its function is to act like a sorting office, evaluating the incoming information from all senses and prioritizing what enters your brain, and eventually what gets your attention. Because your conscious brain can’t capture everything, the more serious you are about what you want in life, the more your subconscious will focus on achieving it. In fact, your conscious mind can only consume 50 bits of data per second, while your subconscious mind can consume 20 million bits of data per second. That’s powerful.

There are three components to making your goals work and leveraging your RAS:

  1. Write down with clarity what you really want.
  2. Visualize it.
  3. Employ congruent self-talk for achieving those goals. Goals should not just be about what you want to have, but also what you want to experience, share, give and become.

Actor Jim Carrey did an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1997 in which he shared that in 1992, he had written himself a check for $10 million for acting services rendered, and he gave himself three years to accomplish that goal. He dated it Thanksgiving 1995, put it in his wallet, and kept it there. Just before Thanksgiving 1995, he found out he was going to make $10 million on Dumb and Dumber. It was a pivotal lesson for him in setting personal goals.

Related: 4 Tips for Setting Powerful Goals

Similarly, as I was beginning my career at 19, I framed and signed a note to myself that stated I would be a millionaire by 25.

I hung it in my bedroom and looked at it daily. I set out to do this when I had barely finished high school. I knew I was willing to work as hard as it took to reach this goal. It was my first representation of a vision board, and I accomplished this goal in just three years.


Some people are ready to jump in and go to another level of goal setting, but most need to “weed their gardens.” They need to make some changes in their thinking so they actually believe goal-setting is effective.


Goals work because they allow you to get clear on where you are today and where you want to go, and in turn focus on the right things to help achieve your targets.


A powerful question here is: “Why don’t people set goals?” One reason is that it just isn’t on their radar as being important. Others don’t see the benefit of spending the time to set goals or believe that it leads to more accomplishments. Some people were not introduced to goal-setting when they were younger, and it is just not on their belief window.

A belief window can be described as a window or filter through which you view the world. On this window are principles, rules and truisms that were primarily established by your parents early in your life but have since been influenced by your education, friends, experiences and career. Sometimes, you find that something you had previously believed is no longer valid, so your principle changes. The example I often share is this: Many grew up with their parents telling them they should always clean their plate. Today people know that cleaning their plate often leads to overeating. It’s actually best to have your plate taken away once you start getting full. Yet some still feel guilty if they don’t finish their food. It’s an old and erroneous principle that many people still believe, and it needs to change within their windows. In the same light, perhaps you need to change what’s in your window related to goal-setting.

I have an exercise that will help you attain clarity so you can begin setting more effective goals.

Ask yourself this question: How could my life be 10 times better? Take some time and begin listing people and actions that will make a difference in your personal and professional effectiveness. It could be things you already know to do, but just haven’t set goals for yet. Continue to add things on an ongoing basis. If you’re stuck, try these prompts.

How can I…

Once you answer these questions, you will be able to set goals that are truly meaningful to you, and in turn, you will be motivated to achieve them.

Related: 9 Straightforward Ways to Achieve Big Things


This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Tony Jeary

Tony Jeary is an author, executive coach and presentation strategist. Jeary has published more than three dozen books about making presentations and strategic effectiveness. He coaches the world's top executives from companies such as Wal-Mart, Ford, New York Life and Texaco.