Am I Setting Goals Correctly?

I had a fascinating experience over the last two weeks. After speaking with my coach, I set a goal of writing every day for the two weeks between our calls. We agreed I would give it a shot and then we’d debrief. I’ll give you two guesses how much I wrote over the last two weeks…

If you guessed “once or more,” I admire your faith in me. Anyone who answered, “None,” wins the prize. Sure, I wrote my blog. But the goal was to write OUTSIDE of my blog, something to contribute to a larger work.

“But, Ryan, your blog could contribute to a larger work!”

Yes, you are correct, and I love these little side conversations that we have while I write. And thanks for giving me a way out, as it were. But really, I don’t want a way out. What I want right now is to build my self-discipline and give myself a path to writing longer-form work, and daily writing would help that tremendously.

Of course, there’s always a catch, right? This time, the catch was multifold.

  1. Daily writing would help me SO much that my current vision of myself couldn’t accommodate the change. Literally couldn’t process the enormity.
  2. I had no structure to achieve my goal.

Part of what has made my blog writing so successful (success in this instance = written every week without fail) is that I have a structure. Every Wednesday at roughly the same time, I sit to write. Originally, that time was immediately after getting off the phone with my coach. After several weeks, even after changing our meeting time, I maintained the habit. As I mentioned in my fifth post, even with a hiccup, the entry still got done. Hurray!

But that certainly wasn’t the case with daily writing. When it would pop into my head, I would simply feel overwhelmed and think, “Later. I’ll do it later,” and then forget about it, or remember an hour later and think, “Later,” or “Too late.” And this didn’t happen daily — I didn’t even have the structure to think about it daily…

When I reflected on the experience with my coach today, I realized something critical: I was operating from degrees of failure rather than degrees of success.

“Say what? I don’t get it.”

Yeah, sorry, I do that sometimes. Let me fill in some blanks.

  1. I had set up an all-or-nothing situation (Ewwww, binary thinking…).
  2. I had given myself no way to feel successful other than absolute victory.
  3. I hadn’t set up any explicit structure for myself.

I mean, I write “all the time,” randomly, in fits and spurts, and hardly remember that I did it until I check my notes later and go, “Oh wait, I did write that thought down.” How can I celebrate it if I can’t even remember that I did it? And if anything less than writing every day is a failure, what’s there to celebrate at all? Every additional day without writing was another degree of failure from the goal. Hardly a “WOOHOO!” moment.

In the coach training I went through**, we had a method for goal setting that was a little more nuanced. OK, a LOT more nuanced, but I hadn’t even thought to apply it. You’ve likely heard of “SMART goals,” where each letter of S.M.A.R.T. has a different purpose to help you set a clear goal. Go ahead and look it up if you’re not familiar. You’ll notice that different sites give slightly different versions of what each letter stands for. Typically, it looks something like

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Achievable
  • Reasonable
  • Timely

I personally prefer “Relevant,” as I have worked with too many students who pick seemingly arbitrary goals that they quickly forget. I want goals to be meaningful and lasting in their achievement.

Well, my program added what I consider to be a key component: AIM.

  • Acceptable
  • Ideal
  • Medium


I will write a minimum of two days per week for at least five minutes per day. Ideally, I will write for at least five minutes each day, though anything in between is awesome. I will record when I write, even if it’s just the timestamp on a doc, so that I can celebrate it later. This goal is achievable with my current schedule and relevant because it will set me up for long-term success with writing. There couldn’t be a better time for this goal as I have already successfully started a habit of weekly writing and I WANT MORE.


Whatever system you use, whether it’s AIM SMART or SMART or whatever, make sure you build in degrees of success. Like so much in life, achievement is not binary, win/lose, good/bad, right/wrong. Why not build some awesome directly into your goals?

Go kick some butt, and I’ll talk with you next week. Oh, and wish me luck with my new awesome goal!

– Ryan

** Shout out to Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). I put those guys through the ringer before I signed up for their program. I had to be absolutely certain that their pedagogy suited me. I was like Goldilocks: “This one is too hippy-dippy. This one is too cold and corporate. Does this one even have any practicum?!” I peppered them with questions and criticism and they responded with, “Well, this is why we do that,” and “Hmmmm, we’ll consider that,” and even got back to me about my critique! Humble, honest, responsive. “Ooooh, this one is juuuust right.” I highly recommend them. If you engage deeply in the process, don’t expect to be the same person when you’re done.

2 thoughts on “Am I Setting Goals Correctly?”

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