Setting Effective Goals Part 2 - The How

John Middleton
August 16, 2022

Goals don't have to be overly ambitious to be highly effective. But, in order for them to be useful, they need to be actionable and aligned with who we are...personal and important. Goals can be: waking up at a certain time, walking your dog and or reading a few pages in a book. They could include developing a skill or getting a degree, exercising a certain amount. Whatever goals you set, they should align with your intentions and help you make some progress. Importance and Significance are not the same. Importance is easier to define. It is easier to answer the question "is this important to me?" Where as: "Is this significant enough?" is much harder.

You may also need to re-evaluate what progress means in order to achieve this alignment. No matter how you choose to define it, something actionable needs to feel like progress. We need to be able to see and feel it. Our subconscious mind (and maybe even our soul) craves clarity and alignment with a deeper sense of purpose.

We started this series by defining our “what we want” and “why”. (if you missed Gabrielle's post on What-I-Want-To-Do go back and check it out.)

Often we don’t really take the time we need to investigate deeply in order to discover what we want to accomplish and why it is important to us.

If you have not taken some time to settle in and consider this question. It can be a critical factor in feelings of dissatisfaction with a goal or losing interest in a goal. If you are finding an area of resistance or procrastination, it might be an opportunity to dig a little deeper.

It could be we didn’t actually get down to our why, or it is still underneath some other goals that have somehow separated us from what our subconscious is trying to get us to and creating a tension. This tension is the felt sense of drifting from our purpose.  We might need to find assistance in re-connecting to this.

There are probably very specific reasons we have drifted and we might need to seek out a coach or spiritual director (the role of spiritual director will come into play in a later post). I bring up these options because often with a discovery of this type, solving the problem may take some additional steps. When we are facing a paradigm shift (or something that doesn’t fit into an existing category or role), we can just hit “apply for this job”. We may need something custom fitted (either a system, habit or job description) specifically for us. And for that it can help to enlist a coach or mentor with some specific training in the area we are trying to navigate.

Generally goals are driven by a desire to close a gap in our expectations but sometimes we don’t have enough knowledge about how we actually close that gap. It’s not always as simple as setting a goal and then putting in the work.

Filling those gaps becomes our first priority. Being flexible will help, but we need to design our flexibility too. Don’t get discouraged, just begin again and learn from what worked and didn’t work and ask yourself questions that can help you overcome your barriers.

Setting smaller and more habitual goals can be more effective and create more energy to tackle bigger goals. Getting and maintaining momentum is important. Larger goals can also help provide a sense of movement and we are able to feel as well as see the progress because we are focusing on things that keep us connected to the purpose or soul or our subconscious is drawn to.

If you don’t have a larger scale goal or if you can’t even sit down to think clearly without getting distracted, clarifying a goal can feel unattainable, that is when discouragement or distractions can sneak in. A more simple goal might be to clean up your space, or eliminate some distracting habilts that are easier and more entertaining like youtube, netflix, facebook or instagram. These things feel like progress in the moment and give us a sense of motion without connecting to us to our purpose. The point of elimination may be to find a place where these activities serve our purposes rather than driving distraction and serving as procrastination.

A helpful transition phase could be setting a timer for a few minutes to limit the time spent on unproductive tasks or restricting  them to a time of day when you are already less productive (like evening) can help you feel productive and energize you towards deeper progress. Setting a timer also helps you notice how you spend your time or maybe just notice when you become distracted so that you can shift your habits and possibly start seeing some progress on your goals.

Identifying a larger purpose provides a certain momentum. Seeing progress toward even a small part of what you set out to do allows you to build on habits based on how they were useful and which ones are distractions.

Recognizing what you are capable of can also be a helpful exercise. If we are able accept ourselves as we are, it gives us useful confidence. Confidence that reinforces habits and practices that allow us to build on our progress constructively. Recognizing limits can help us set new goals or more realistic goals that are within those limits. Then we can set stretch goals as we see the need.

Setting smaller goals first like exercising every day or making dinner for your family can help you build up to the bigger goals. You may find that some goals may be too big for you to start. So as you go, set an expectation to allow yourself to make adjustments to the goal based on how much time and energy you actually have and what tweaks might help you sustain progress.

The big goals can seem daunting and intimidating but when you pace yourself, building up your strength and effectiveness, it provides momentum to work on more complex tasks.

Think and Document (It may take some time, but this work will lead to success):

First Ask some questions (Just some suggestions)

  • Is this goal achievable? Anything is generally possible if we have the perseverance. But to make progress we need to design a plan and be able to adjust it along the way.
  • What are some of the challenges that I will face and how might they impact my mood and energy?
  • What can I do today that will help me build up to this larger goal?

Then Set up some Systems

  • Talk through your goals, it can help to hear them out loud. And another person can help you decipher/process which are more important to you. (Talk with multiple people, a teacher, a coach, a therapist, a parent, a friend). This will give you a wide range of inputs. Talking about & sharing goals with someone else can be encouraging and possibly help you think of new tactics to keep you motivated.
  • Find an accountability/encouraging partner who can push you gently to do your best and help you focus on making changes can help you actually achieve the goals more easily. Someone who helps you clarify your goals and will not push you before you are ready.
  • Goals can be organized too. There are lots of ways to do that and there are good apps and sources out there for different types of thinkers. Find something that works and stick with it. Ex. Evernote... it is simple and you can organize notes and thoughts and then search for them.
  • Are there goals that if you finished first would help with completing other goals (ex. The “snowball effect” or the Domino effect from The One Thing)?
  • If so, take a look at your list of goals and move those to the top of the list.
  • Taking a look at the list can help decipher which goal can help kickstart the next and so on.

Once you set this pattern for yourself, Thinking and Documenting, you can see progress and your habits and working on your goals will become more automatic skills you can use for personal satisfaction and growth.

Doing the work of thinking up front allows you to move on with increasing success. Then you can spend your energy more effectively, on ways to improve your effectiveness. Here is a saying I learned in Chris Oatley's digital painting mentorship.

              "You can't render your way out of a bad sketch."

Which basically means if there is something bugging you about the painting, it is something fundamental or structural in the sketch and all the polish in the world won't cover it up.

Thinking and documenting skills become powerful tools and abilities like practicing (or fixing) your sketching. Sketching takes less time and you can see improvements. A sketch isn't so precious because it was done quickly. If you break up tasks into time blocks that you define ahead of time like spend x amount of time practicing your sketching. You gain more momentum toward your goal of better paintings.

This serves as a habit that grows muscle memory and confidence. Which becomes powerful tool towards a goal which feels more important. As you see improvement and you don't feel you are wasting time frustrated with "What is wrong with this picture I spent 3 hours on it and it still looks terrible". Like a snowball rolling downhill your efforts add to your goal but also they benefit you better because you are seeing your vision take shape in a satisfying way, your momentum gains power, size and speed with less effort which adds to the sense of progress.

Resources / Additional reading

More articles bout the role of the Subconscious Mind and the Link to a felt sense of progress (Blog Link)

Unlocking the subconscious through Doodling (Blog Link)

The "thinking" Benefits of Doodling (Harvard Health Blog)

Accountability and Time blocking
Virtual Coworking (My Work Hive Link)

Pomodoro focus timer (Link )

FocusMate Body Double (Blog Link)

Note Taking Tools and Mind Mapping

ToDoist (



Link to resources referenced in our Previous Blog Series in case you haven't read them:

Finding a support group that is specially designed around limitations that you know you have and with other people that you know are dealing with similar challenges can provide you with better feedback about setting realistic goals and how best to use your energy.

Here is a link to a form Gabrielle created for a group for people dealing with chronic health issues. If you might be interested in participating in the group, complete the form and tell us a little about yourself so we can get in touch.

John Middleton