Why do some people achieve their goals, and others fall short? 

Financial planners, life coaches, and professional organizers ought to know. They earn their living by helping people reach important goals.

These experts know better than anyone how to set a goal—and how to keep moving forward until you achieve it. And many are living their own dream of self-employment because they set that goal for themselves.

Here is the best advice from the professional goal-setters we talked to.  

Your Goals Should Be All About You

Your goal may not be unique, but you are. Our experts explain why you can't succeed with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Everyone talks about SMART goals, and yes, they're superior to random dreams, but I believe that to really be successful, you have to level up and become a SMARTY.

The Y stands for Yours. Too many people get distracted or derailed because the goals they set aren't really theirs.

Anytime you set a goal that's designed to primarily satisfy someone else's vision for you, you're not going to stay inspired. You can’t be passionate about someone else’s values. Make sure your goals are your goals.

Julie Bestry, Certified Professional Organizer®, President, Best Results Organizing

Someone might say they want to buy a house because their parents see that as a sign of maturity. But, to them, it might just be a burden that they just aren’t ready for in their life. And that’s ok. We just have to be honest with ourselves and clearly define what it is that we want.

Eric Roberge, Financial Planner and Founder, Beyond Your Hammock

The biggest thing that derails people is that they set goals they don't really care about or have a lot of unexplored emotional baggage around.

When I work with entrepreneurs to dramatically increase their revenue, for example, the first thing I usually ask is: how can we make this easier and more fun for you?

Jennifer Gresham, Founder, Everyday Bright

There are two types of people when it comes to goals: Externally motivated and internally motivated. You can tell which you are by how much you care what other people think. If you care if your socks don't match, you are externally motivated—that is, you do things to generate a good response from people around you. If you are internally motivated you don't care if your socks don't match. And you don't care what other people think about what you do.

Externally motivated people need to tell people their goals and they need a cheerleading section. Internally motivated people need to make a plan because a plan feels good to them and they hit their goal because it feels good to do that, not because the response from other people feels good. So internally motivated people do not need to share their goals with other people.

Penelope Trunk, Author, Blogger, Entrepreneur, PenelopeTrunk.com

You’ll have trouble achieving goals that aren’t tied to your values. If there isn’t a “why” behind what you’re doing, you’ll be less likely to stick with it in the long run.

Philip Taylor, Founder and Attendee Champion of FinCon, PT Money

One of the biggest things that derail goals is that the person who sets them may not actually have control over them. You can say, "I want to make a $100,000 this year," but you don't actually have control over whether or not someone gives you that money.

What you do have control over is the actions you take that you think will help you achieve the goal—like learning a new skill or applying for higher paying jobs.

Earning money is just one example, though. You have more control over what exercise you do each day and how you eat than you do over "losing 20 lbs."

When your goal is connected to something you don't control, you can work really hard and be wildly successful and still end up disappointed.

Tyler Tervooren, Founder, Riskology

 

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No one wants to go on a diet, but everyone wants the lovely, slim figure. Much better to set a goal that gets you excited and, as a by product, gives you the end result you want.

If going to the gym feels you with dread, why not set a fun goal such as take private Argentine tango lessons and enter a ballroom dance competition, or raise money for charity by running in the New York Marathon.

The key is to set a goal that absolutely thrills you. When I hear my clients getting excited, then I know they are on the right path.

Talane Miedaner, author of the international bestseller Coach Yourself to Success, Founder of LifeCoach.com

Goals that move toward something (better health, for example) are better than ones that move away from something (stop eating salty foods).

Janine Adams, Certified Professional Organizer, Blogger, Founder, Peace of Mind Organizing® LLC

Don't Be Afraid To Set Challenging Goals

Our experts told us that if you set aggressive goals, you'll develop new skills and new-found confidence along the way. Even if you don't reach your goal, the experience will be valuable.

A goal is not just about what you accomplish. It’s about what you become.

Goals are about growing. A good goal causes us to grow and mature. That’s because every goal is about the journey as much as—even more than—the destination. And that’s exactly why setting goals outside the comfort zone is so important.

Michael Hyatt, Founder and CEO, Michael Hyatt & Company

I instruct people to use a 40% guideline for goal setting. That is, set goals that have a 40% likelihood of success (and 60% chance of failure).

Using this rule will help set more aggressive goals that require a targeted focus to achieve them.

If you fail to achieve the goalpost, you've still made significant strives toward your objective.

Craig, Founder, Retire Before Dad

Goals That Aren't Realistic (And What To Do About Them)

Any goal should be a challenge. But some people set the bar too high—and set themselves up for failure.

People sometimes set too many goals. It becomes a list of things you wish would happen, rather than an actual goal for self-improvement.

Miranda Marquit, Financial Journalist, Blogger, Planting Money Seeds

I love to do a financial plan for people.  If there are low odds of achieving goals, I show them the truth.  Once they see that, they seem very willing to be realistic.  This happens to me almost every week and it's a game changer for clients.

Neal Frankle, Certified Financial Planner, Wealth Pilgrim

When someone comes to me with a goal that's overly aggressive, I help them break down the actions that it would take to reach that goal and suggest they start with one of the actions at a time in order to build positive momentum working towards their ultimate goal.

I talk about the power of changing one thing at a time and creating habits and honing skills that they can sustain over time.

Molly Galbraith, Co-Founder and owner, GirlsGoneStrong.com

I've read that grit is just a combination of interest, practice, purpose, and hope—you need all of these to achieve your goals. But if you pick ambitious goals and you're not interested (or can't develop interest) in the nitty-gritty steps required to get you there, you'll fail.

Nate Tsang, Co-Founder, InvestmentZen

Starting On The Right Foot

The first few weeks are critical—and, if you set a challenging goal, they won't be easy.
One of the main reasons that people are derailed from achieving their goals is that they focus on the outcome and not on the work required to achieve it. They want to achieve a goal but either don't realize the work required to do it or are not willing to put in the work.

Understanding and committing to the work required is the first step in achieving your goals.

Lea Genders, Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach, Running With Ollie and Lea Genders Fitness

Sometimes small setbacks can lead to complete derailment, especially early on. You want to have a lot of quick wins in the beginning so that your confidence can snowball. You need to set up a plan where those quick wins come as often as potential setbacks so you don't give up.

Jim Wang, Founder, Wallet Hacks

Those who come up with a plan to reach specific goals are far more likely to achieve them. Instead of, "I want to lose weight," try "I want to lose 10 lbs by March, and I will do x, y and z to get there."

Kate Matsudaira, Entrepreneur and Creator, kate{mats}

People forget that to achieve something they have not yet achieved they have to develop a new set of skills. And when we set forth to develop a new skill it is hard. If we already had the skills, we probably would have already achieved it.

So, many people set a big goal, then try for a few days or a week then feel discouraged because they don't see results. But in reality, they are developing the necessary skills, mindsets, abilities, and knowledge to achieve the goal.

Izzy Arkin, Founder, The 30 Year Old Ninja

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The biggest reason I see people not achieve goals is getting distracted. It is easy to find yourself "too busy" to make your goals a priority. When you say, "I don't have time," that is really an excuse for not making it a priority.

Eric Rosenberg, Founder, Personal Profitability

Getting Support From Family And Friends

The people who love you want you to succeed. Usually, you can enlist them as part of your support team.

I recommend that people have an accountability partner. Someone you tell your goal to, and update them once a month or once a week. If you don't make your goal they can ask you what went wrong?

You're most motivated when you're on what I call "the burning platform"—when it starts burning you want to get off. You have to make the platform burn. An accountability partner helps you feel the heat of the burning platform and creates a sense of urgency.

Jordan Goodman, Author and Personal Finance Expert, MoneyAnswers.com

Don’t keep your goal a secret. Tell your loved ones. Then, they can turn into not only your cheering section but also an accountability partner too if you need it.

Hank Coleman, Entrepreneur and Freelance Writer Focusing on Personal Finance Topics, Money Q&A

When we tell others our goal intentions, we are more likely to reach those goals. Another benefit from having positive support is that it adds accountability into the equation.

Linda Samuels, Professional Organizer, Author and Blogger, Oh So Organized

There is a common saying that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you spend time with people who are doing what you want to do, you'll be more likely to get on track to do it. Support from my family gave me the extra push I needed to leave my job and double my income as an entrepreneur.

Eric Rosenberg, Founder, Personal Profitability

The positive power of the support of your partners, friends, and family is less essential than avoiding the negative impact of sabotage or subversion. If someone in your life tends to be critical, passive-aggressive, or otherwise actively unsupportive of your healthy, self-empowering strides, don't try to squeeze blood from a turnip. Look within, or seek support from those who have given it lovingly in the past.

Julie Bestry, Certified Professional Organizer®, President, Best Results Organizing

I’ve dealt with a few situations where one spouse wants to make a major career change. In one case, the other spouse was fully on board and was completely supportive. In another case, the other spouse did not agree with the move and it showed.

As you may guess, the client with the supportive spouse successfully transitioned to a new career, and the client with the unsupportive spouse ended up crawling back to their old job. It’s very clear to me that creating team in your life can help you achieve your goals!

Eric Roberge, Financial Planner and Founder, Beyond Your Hammock

Remember, any nay-saying from someone you love is usually due to them worrying about your wellbeing because you're taking risk, not because they don't believe in you or your goal.

Dan Pardi, CEO, Dan's Plan

Looking For Support (Or Finding It Within)

Family and friends aren't the only means of support. Some of your best support may come from people you never even meet.

If you feel like you don’t get the support you need from the people around you, there are a number of communities, online and offline, that are all about building you up, helping you with your goals and congratulating you when you’ve made it.

Jessica Moorhouse, Award-Winning Personal Finance Blogger and Podcaster, JessicaMoorhouse.com

Support comes in many forms—from encouragement to accountability and you should seek those different forms out. Basically, don't just look for a "Yes man" to put you on the back, but also look for someone who'll challenge you to do your best.

John Schmoll, Founder, Frugal Rules

Support never hurts, but I think some people are more independent and are driven by internal motivations rather than positive feedback or encouragement from others.

Beth Moncel, Founder, Budget Bytes

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What matters is that *you* are supportive of your own goals. If you expect the motivation to come from somewhere else you've already lost.

Scott Young, Writer and Entreprenuer, ScottHYoung.com

Staying Motivated And Reaching Your Goals

You've set your goal, it's something you believe in, you have support—how do you keep your momentum going?

You can't be "sort of" working towards better health or "sort of" trying to grow your business. You need to be 100% committed and dedicated. If you aren't all in you'll have less important competing commitments that end up distracting us and getting in the way.

Joseph Wilner, Life Coach, You Have A Calling

Goals may require someone to adopt radically new habits. Folks may be unwilling or unable to immediately change their habits in order to meet those goals.

If I've got a $500 payment on a car loan that will be retired next year and I could easily cut $500 more per month in spending, then saving and investing $12,000 per year may be realistic given a longer timeline.

But if cutting that $500 per month involves cooking more often and reducing restaurant meals, then I've got to adopt a new habit of cooking more. That's not always easy so I've got to be willing to make that effort.

Julie Rains, Personal Finance Writer, Investing to Thrive

People are often intimidated they won’t do things correctly or they lose the supercharge they feel when they first set the goal. In the end, consistency is what separates those who accomplish goals consistently and those that don’t.

Chad Smith, CFP®, Partner and Financial Advisor, Financial Symmetry

Create a habit of refreshing your goals throughout the year. This means you must review them regularly and rewrite them as necessary. The purpose of this step is to maintain your focus throughout the year as life’s clutter attempts to distract you from what’s important.

By reviewing your goals regularly, you’re counteracting all the forces outside of your control designed to sideline your plans.

Todd Tressider, Money Coach, FinancialMentor

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Have the right attitude about your goal. Don't beat yourself up if and when you fall short, but rather take pride in the progress you made toward the goal.

David Stein, host of the highly-ranked business and investing podcast Money For the Rest of Us

Take a moment to celebrate all that you have done! There is no more powerful motivator to keep on keeping on than to recognize and appreciate what an incredible Living Legend you already are. Be grateful for your accomplishments today and more will effortlessly flow into your life tomorrow!

Chelsea Dinsmore, Chief Inspiration Officer, Live Your Legend

Pursuing the achievement of your goals is like running a marathon—you need to stay focused and conserve your energy, go steady, be consistent, and be comfortable and confident of your abilities.

Harleena Singh, Founder, Aha!NOW

The 6 Key Steps to REaching Your Goals

So what does it take to meet your goals? We've pulled out six key takeaways to help you get started:

  1. Make sure your goals are really yours.
  2. Use the 40/60 rule to make sure your goals are challenging.
  3. Break your goals down into acheivable segments.
  4. Share your goals with your support system.
  5. Get support from people who share your goal.
  6. Celebrate your progress to stay motivated.