How To Set Goals and Achieve Them

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You hear a lot about the importance of setting goals. If you enjoy reading about success and accomplishment as much as I do, you’ll find a common thread among successful people is that they all set goals (without exception), and they all work extremely hard to make them a reality.

Well that’s all well and good, but how exactly do you go about setting a goal? Contrary to popular belief, goal setting isn’t simply about imagining what you want to achieve. When applied properly, goal setting is actually a tool in itself that can greatly increase your chances of making your dreams a reality.

Here is a lesson on how to set goals from two men who have devoted their lives to unlocking the secrets to success and accomplishment.

Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich

Before “The Secret” convinced a generation that you could make your fat credit card bill disappear by sending positive vibes into the universe, there was “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill.

Think And Grow Rich is “The Secret” for hustlers, for people who want to go out and make things happen for themselves, but just need a push in the right direction. The fact that it is 70 years old and written during the great depression doesn’t make it any less relevant today. If anything, anyone reading it today will feel like it was tailored specifically for this point in history, archaic references notwithstanding.

But who was Napoleon Hill, and what exactly qualifies him to teach us about setting goals? Napoleon Hill spent a quarter decade interviewing the 500 richest men in America of his generation, distilling all of that wisdom into this seminal work. Some of these men included Henry Ford, Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, William Wrigley Jr., Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, John D Rockefeller, Charles Schwab, and many more.

In fact, it was Andrew Carnegie – one of the richest men of all time – who suggested that Hill write a book and share his accumulated wisdom with the world.

How does Think And Grow Rich address goal setting?

While I highly recommend reading the book, the process of goal setting taught in Think and Grow Rich can be distilled into the following points:

  1. Determine exactly how much money you desire – don’t be vague.
  2. Determine exactly what you intend to do in order to earn the money you desire. What value are you going to offer? Remember, there is no free lunch.
  3. Establish an exact date for when you plan to possess the amount of money you desire.
  4. Establish a definite plan for achieving your desire, and start right this moment, whether or not you feel you’re ready.
  5. Write out a clear statement of how much money you are going to acquire (the amount from step 1), what you intend to do in exchange for the money (the value from step 2), the date you’ll acquire it by (the date from step 3), and your specific, actionable plan for reaching the desired monetary goal (the plan from step 4).
  6. Twice daily, read your written statement out loud to yourself. Do it once in the morning, and once at night. While you read the statement, visualize yourself executing on your plan and visualize the money in your possession.

The goal setting principles above fit into a larger framework of what Hill calls creating “burning desire to win”, but it is essential to the framework presented in Think And Grow Rich. While Hill focuses on goal setting as it applies to financial success (the book is called Think and Grow Rich after all), the same principles can be applied to anything you want to achieve.

Tim Ferriss – 4 Hour Work Week

In the 4 Hour Work Week*, Tim Ferriss describes how he went from working 100+ hours a week on his online supplements business to turning it into a passive income business that funded his travels and hobbies. He accomplished this by creating what he calls a “dreamline” for his ideal lifestyle.

*Note: Don’t let the catchy title fool you, the 4 Hour Work Week isn’t about only working 4 hours a week – it’s about rejecting social norms regarding how we “should” live and work. It’s about using out-of-the box thinking to minimize the work we don’t want to do, so we can spend time doing what we really want.

What Ferris calls a “dreamline” is essentially a list of things you want to acquire and/or accomplish, without concern for how exactly you will accomplish it. The idea is to not limit yourself to your preconceived notions of what is or isn’t possible, but to design an ideal lifestyle for yourself, figure out how much money you’ll need to accomplish that lifestyle, and then aim to create income streams that will support that lifestyle. Its about setting fixed deadlines for creating our dream lifestyle, rather than using a vague notion of “the future” to indefinitely defer what we truly want from life.

Here is an excerpt from the 4 Hour Work Week where Tim talks about creating a dreamline.

Create a two timelines—six months and twelve months—and list up to five things you dream of having (including, but not limited to, material wants: house, car, clothing, etc.), being (be a great cook, be fluent in Chinese, etc.), and doing (visiting Thailand, tracing your roots overseas, racing ostriches, etc.), in that order.

For now, don’t concern yourself with how these things will be accomplished. That’s all covered later.

Consider the question: What would you do, day-to-day, if you had $100 million in the bank? If still blocked, fill in the five “doing” spots with the following:

  • 1 place to visit
  • 1 thing to do before you die (a memory of a lifetime)
  • 1 thing to do daily
  • 1 thing to do weekly
  • 1 thing you’ve always wanted to learn

Chances are that the ultimate TMI figure will be lower than expected, and it will decrease over time as you trade more and more “having” for once-in-a-lifetime “doing.” Mobility encourages this trend. Even if the total is intimidating, don’t fret. It is possible—case studies in the book prove it—to get to more than $10,000 per month in extra income within three months. This is usually 3 or 4 times more than is needed. Getting to an extra $2,000 or $3,000 is seldom a problem.

You can have it all—really.

Of course, learning how to set goals, or creating a “dreamline”, is only the first step in the process of success. To find out how Tim accomplished his dreamline and how you can as well, I highly recommend reading the 4 Hour Work Week.

The key takeaway from the 4 hour work week as far as goal setting goes, is not to let our preconceived notions of what is and what isn’t possible dictate our goals. Much too often, people set goals based on what they think is realistic.

The other takeaway is to set both a short term and long term goals. You can write down a specific goal with a specific deadline, but if the end goal is 5, 10 years down the line, how do we measure progress in the meantime? Its important to create short term goals that you can start working towards right now, and to always give yourself less time than you think you’ll need to accomplish any given goal.


So now that we’ve looked at goal setting from the perspective of two authorities on the subject, what common elements can we draw here? Whether we’re talking about the great depression, or the modern internet era of remote working and the digital nomad, it looks like there are certain elements that remain universal truths when it comes to setting goals:

  1. Don’t let your pre-conceived notions of what is and isn’t possible define your goals. Rather, describe what you want to achieve, and work backwards from that to create a plan to get from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to be).
  2. Part of your goal setting should involve a plan of action to achieving your goal, starting from today.
  3. Goals must be specific and exact in nature. They should state exactly what you want.
  4. Goals must have a specific timeframe for accomplishment.
  5. Goals should be written down so they’re concrete.
  6. Re-visit your goals daily.

Have you used these goal setting techniques to make big progress in your own life? Do you have your own process for setting and achieving your goals? Feel free to share in the comments below.

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