How To Set And Achieve Your Monthly Goals

how to set and achieve monthly goals

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People do new monthly goal-setting everywhere in our world. Monthly goal examples are everywhere. We set goals for our careers, our health, and our lives in general. It seems modern society is always encouraging us to think about the next milestone. However, we don’t think about enough is the science and strategy of accomplishing your goals. That’s what this guide is here to do.

Do you know how to set monthly goals? How often do you achieve the large objectives that are really important to you? If you have trouble following through with your monthly goal planning, you may be tempted to stop trying. Instead, people say things like, “Maybe this is just it,” or “I should settle for what I have.” 

But frequently, what’s getting in the way of achievement is the actual goal. So, for example, if your goal is to “lose weight,” how will you know when that goal is complete? When you’ve lost one pound? Five? Forty?

Without a clear target, you’ll never hit your mark. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to set clear, measurable, and actionable monthly goals.

I. What is Goal Setting?

Experts define goal setting as the act of selecting a target or objective you wish to achieve. Fair enough. That definition makes sense, but I think there is a much more useful way to think about setting goals.

What is Goal Setting?

Effective goal setting is the fundamental key to success. Whether it’s increasing your intelligence, taking up a new hobby, or rekindling a relationship, setting goals lets us create our future. It also helps us grow and expand, pushing ourselves to transform in ways that we never imagined. To feel truly fulfilled, we need to know and feel like we’re working to achieve something. Tony Robbins says, “Progress equals happiness,” and setting goals is what gets us there.

If we are serious about achieving our goals, however, we should start with a much different question. Rather than considering what kind of success we want, we should ask, “What kind of pain do I want?”

This is a strategy I learned from Mark Manson. What Mark has realized is that having a monthly goal is the easy part. Who wouldn’t want to write a best-selling book or lose weight or earn more money? But, of course, everybody wants to achieve these goals.

The real challenge is not determining if you want the result but if you are willing to accept the sacrifices required to achieve your goal. For example, do you want the lifestyle that comes with your quest? Do you want the boring and ugly process that comes before the exciting and glamorous outcome?

It’s easy to sit around and think about what we could do or what we’d like to do. It is an entirely different thing to accept the tradeoffs that come with our monthly goals. Everybody wants a gold medal. Few people want to train like an Olympian.

This brings us to our first key insight. Goal setting is not only about choosing the rewards you want to enjoy but also the costs you are willing to pay.

Rudders and Oars

Imagine a small rowboat. Your goals are like the rudder on the boat. They set the direction and determine where you go. If you commit to one goal, then the rudder stays put, and you continue moving forward. However, if you flip-flop between goals, the rudder moves all around, and it is easy to find yourself rowing in circles.

However, another part of the boat is even more important than the rudder: The oars. If the rudder is your goal, then the oars are your process for achieving it. While the rudder determines your direction, it is the oars that determine your progress.

This metaphor of the rudder and the oars helps clarify the difference between systems and goals. It is an important distinction that shows up everywhere in life.

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

Goals are useful for setting the direction. Systems are great for actually making progress. In fact, the primary benefit of having a goal is that it tells you what sort of system you need to put in place. However, the system itself is what actually achieved the results.

This brings us to our second key insight. Goals determine your direction. Systems determine your progress. You’ll never get anywhere just by holding the rudder. You have to row.

Before we talk about how to get started, let’s pause for just a second. If you’re enjoying this article on goal setting, then you’ll probably find my other writing on performance and human behavior useful. Each week, I share self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research through my free email newsletter.

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II. How to Set Monthly Goals You’ll Actually Follow

Alright, now that we’ve discussed the tradeoffs and systems that come with goals, let’s talk about how to set goals you’ll actually follow.

There are three basic strategies I like to use when goal setting. Let’s talk about each one now.

Set monthly goal

1. Ruthlessly Eliminate Your Monthly Goals

Psychologists have a concept they refer to as “goal competition.”

Goal competition says that one of the greatest barriers to achieving your goals is the other goals. In other words, your goals are competing with one another for your time and attention. Therefore, whenever you chase a new goal, you have to pull focus and energy from your other pursuits.

Now, there is good news. One of the fastest ways to make progress on your monthly goals is to press pause on less important things and focus on one goal at a time. Sometimes you need to reorganize your priorities a little bit. Suddenly, progress comes much more quickly because you are now fully committed to a goal that was only getting moderate attention previously.

This is an important insight. Typically, when we fail to reach our goals, we think something is wrong with our goal or approach. Experts tell us, “You need to think bigger! Pick a dream that is so big it will motivate you every day.” Or we tell ourselves, “If only I had more hours in the day!”

Your Monthly Tracks

These excuses cloud the bigger issue. What often looks like a problem of goal setting is actually a problem of goal selection. What we really need is not bigger goals but better focus. You need to choose one thing and ruthlessly eliminate everything else. In the words of Seth Godin, “You don’t need more time; you just need to decide.”

Our lives are like rose bushes. As a rose bush grows, it creates more buds than it can sustain. If you talk to an experienced gardener, they will tell you that rose bushes need to be pruned to bring out the best in their appearance and performance. In other words, if you want a rose bush to thrive, then you need to cut away some of the good buds so the great ones can fully blossom.

Our goals are similar. They need to be consistently pruned and trimmed down. It’s natural for new goals to come into our lives and to get excited about new opportunities—like it’s natural for a rose bush to add new buds. If we can muster the courage to prune away a few of our goals, then we create the space we need for the remaining goals to blossom fully. Full growth and optimal living require pruning.

Monthly Goal setting

2. Stack Your Monthly Goals

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick to your goals if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study, scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were 2x to 3x more likely to exercise than a control group who did not make plans for their future behavior. Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior. This finding has been repeated across hundreds of studies and has increased the odds that people will start exercising, begin recycling, stick with studying, and even stop smoking.

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

Here are some monthly goal examples:
  • Meditation: After I brew my morning coffee, I will meditate for one minute.
  • Pushups: Before I take my morning shower, I will do 10 pushups.
  • Flossing: After I set my toothbrush down, I will floss my teeth.
  • Gratitude: Before I eat dinner, I will say one thing I am grateful for that day.
  • Networking: After returning from my lunch break, I will send one email to someone I want to meet.

Habit stacking works well because you create a specific plan for when and where you will implement your goals and link your new goals to something you are already doing each day. You can read more on how to stack habits and set triggers for your goals in my popular, Habits Of successful people.

I find this to be a helpful way to bridge the gap between goals and systems. Our goals tell us what we want to achieve, while our systems are the process we follow each day. Habit stacking and implementation intentions help us move from the goal in our heads to the specific process that will make it a reality.

monthly goal setting example
Monthly goal setting example

3. Set an Upper Bound

Whenever we set goals, we almost always focus on the lower bound. That is, we think about the minimum threshold we want to hit. But, then, the implicit assumption is, “Hey, if you can do more than the minimum, go for it.”

  • An individual might say, “I want to lose at least 5 pounds this month.”
  • An entrepreneur might say, “I want to make at least 10 sales calls today.”
  • An artist might say, “I want to write at least 500 words today.”
  • A basketball player might say, “I want to make at least 50 free throws today.”
But what would it look like if we added an upper bound to our goals and behaviors?
  • “I want to lose at least 5 pounds this month, but not more than 10.”
  • “I want to make at least 10 sales calls today, but not more than 20.”
  • “I want to write at least 500 words today, but not more than 1,500.”
  • “I want to make at least 50 free throws today, but not more than 100.”
sustain your habits and set an upper bound when goal setting
Monthly Goal Example

In many areas of life, there is a magical zone of long-term growth. You want to push hard enough to make progress, but not so much that it is unsustainable. This is where setting an upper limit can be useful. Upper limits make it easier for you to sustain your progress and continue showing up.

This is especially critical in the beginning. Whenever you set a new goal and begin working toward it, the single most important thing is showing up. In the beginning, showing up is even more important than succeeding because if you don’t build the habit of showing up, then you’ll never have anything to improve in the future.

new monthly goal example
Monthly Goal Setting example

III. How to Achieve Your Monthly Goals Consistently

Effective goal setting requires consideration of the system that surrounds you. Too often, we set the right goals inside the wrong system. If you’re fighting your system each day to make progress, then it’s going to be really hard to make consistent progress.

There are all kinds of hidden forces that make our goals easier or harder to achieve. You need to align your environment with your ambitions if you wish to make progress in the long run. Let’s discuss some practical strategies for doing just that.

Monthly goal example
Monthly goal example

How to Align Your Environment With Your Monthly Goals

Although most of us have the freedom to make a wide range of choices at any given moment, we often make decisions based on the environment we find ourselves in. For example, if I wanted to do so, I could drink a beer as I write this guide. However, I am currently sitting at my desk with a glass of water next to me. There are no beers in sight. Although I possess the capability to get up, walk to my car, drive to the store, and buy a beer, I probably won’t because I am surrounded by easier alternatives. In this case, taking a sip of water is the default decision, the easy decision.

Similarly, many of the decisions we make in our professional and personal lives are shaped by the options that surround us.

  • If you sleep with your phone next to your bed, then checking social media and email as soon as you wake up is likely to be the default decision.
  • When you walk into your living room and your couches and chairs all face the television, watching television is likely to be the default decision.
  • If you keep alcohol in your kitchen, drinking consistently is more likely to be the default decision.

Of course, defaults can be positive as well.

  • If you keep a dumbbell next to your desk at work, then pumping out some quick curls is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, drinking water rather than soda is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you place floss in a visible location (like next to your toothbrush), flossing is more likely to be the default decision.

Here are a few strategies I have found useful when trying to design better default decisions into my life:

Simplicity. It is hard to focus on the signal when you’re constantly surrounded by noise. More difficult to eat healthy when your kitchen is filled with junk food. It is more difficult to focus on reading a blog post when you have 10 tabs open in your browser. It is more difficult to accomplish your most important task when you fall into the myth of multitasking. When in doubt, eliminate options.

How to Measure Your Goals

Another key to making long-term progress on your monthly goals is measurement. The human mind loves to receive feedback. One of the most motivating things we can experience is evidence of our progress. This is why measurement is so critical for effective goal setting. By measuring your results, you get insight into whether or not you are making progress.

The things we measure are the things we improve. It is only through numbers and clear tracking that we have any idea if we are getting better or worse. Here are a few of the measurable goals I’ve implemented.

New monthly goal setting examples

  • When I measured how many pushups I did, I got stronger.
  • When I tracked my reading habit of 20 pages per day, I read more books.
  • After I recorded my values, I began living with more integrity.

The trick is to realize that counting, measuring, and tracking are not about the result. Measure to discover, to find out, to understand. To see if you are showing up. Measure to see if you’re actually spending time on the things that are important to you.

Why is goal setting important? Imagine yourself older and looking back. What’s the pain from not achieving, and what is the pleasure from having achieved your goals? Effective monthly goal setting example helps you stay focused, keeps you accountable, and is the single most important aspect of reaching your dreams.

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