How to Make Better Goals


I love creating goals. I love the philosophies behind setting goals. Some would even dare say… I’m annoying about it.

That’s okay though, because it’s important enough to me that I’m willing to pester folks about the good word that is goal-making. This is a topic I’ve wanted to blog about for some time, but I was waiting to strike at the perfect moment – the beginning of the new year!

Yes, it’s every gym’s favorite time – attempting to achieve “beach-bod ready” season. Getting in shape, quitting a bad habit, being more financially responsible… you know what I’m talking about.

We’ve all made lists like these and have probably all fallen short on them at some point in our lives. But we shouldn’t entirely blame ourselves for our shortcomings, as it often involves a lack of necessary tools. While this article is far from everything you need, I hope it inspires you to dig deeper into the subject.

Two Common Pitfalls

If I’m speaking off the cuff (which is what I’m doing; this is a blog after all) then I would say the two most common problems with goal making are 1) treating goals as to-do items, and 2) misunderstanding their nature. Let’s start with the first one.

  1. Goals are NOT to-do items

To Do ListTo keep things simple, let’s stick to this “new year, new you” theme. When you think of someone making new year’s resolutions, what comes to mind? I imagine it’s exactly what I said earlier. Someone grabs a notebook (if they even get that far) and jots down a little something like this:

And so on. The thought is nice, but oh boy is the execution poor. Goals without purpose and action plans might as well be people wishing upon a star.

There are a lot of metaphors you can use here, but let’s again keep it simple. Goals reside at the top of a flight of stairs, and the only way to get to them is by taking steps.  They might twist and turn. It might be a big flight of stairs with large steps that are tough to climb or baby steps you can skip on occasion. Still, there’s no way to the top without them.

It’s important you recognize and label those steps. I love magic and mystery, but not when it comes to goals – they need to be precise and as laid out as necessary to allow you to see the path forward. Let’s do a mini version of this using that first listed item above – losing weight:

I. Goal: Lose 10 pounds of fat by the end of February
II. Reason: To be healthier and improve elements of self-esteem
III. Action Plan:

  1. Start a health-tracking notebook to keep myself accountable; review daily
  2. Research weight loss books/videos by Wednesday and buy my favorite
    1. List the ones I found and why I chose the one I did
    2. Research those “healthy food shipping” services
  3. Research exercising books/videos by Friday and buy my favorite
    1. List the ones I found and why I chose the one I did
    2. See how much a gym membership and trainer cost
  4. In the meantime, walk five blocks every other day. Time myself, and beat that time every time I walk the route on the following trips
    1. Record those times in that health-tracking notebook
  5. At the end of the week, I need to have (only!) lost essentially 1 pound. Evaluate my progress and share with friends and family.
    1. Make adjustments as needed

Although incomplete, do you see how much more empowering and helpful this approach is? It cuts the mystery out of starting and ending the goal. It provides deadlines to keep you honest. It lays out specific checkpoints that are necessary to hit the weight-loss (i.e., one pound a week). It’s flexible so you can ramp up certain elements of the action plan or cool others down if they are too difficult.
Treat yourself well

It recognizes other specialties (nutrition and fitness experts) that can improve your chances of success. For example, going to the gym and aimlessly wandering from machine to machine isn’t nearly as effective as a trainer or even an exercise program you read about online or in a book. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and then give yourself every knowledgeable advantage you can to succeed.

  1. The Nature of Goals

There are other mistakes I see people make when it comes to creating goals, and they generally seem to center around a fundamental misunderstanding of what they are.

  1. Who’s in charge: Here’s a prime example I’ve frequently seen in other law firms. I’ll illustrate a few; see if you can recognize the common issue threaded throughout each of them:
    • Settle this case by the end of the month
    • Get a 5-star Google review
    • Get this provider to send me a referral

one starHave you found the problem? They are all goals that can ultimately only be achieved by other people. These are flawed. 1 out of 5 stars – not recommended.

Sure, you can influence these outcomes – but you cannot make them happen. Those goals mean your success and to some degree, your self-esteem, are out of your control. These should be adjusted so you are sole factor determining their outcome. Although I’d take it one step further and reevaluate the goals to see if they even align with what you’re trying to accomplish in the first place.

You might have missed the mark from the beginning and consequently set the wrong goal post. Why did you want to settle that case by the end of the month? Did the client tell you to? Is it to look good to your boss? Is it to make money? If so, are there other areas to focus on instead?

  1. What role a goal plays: Another issue I find is people fail to understand the role that a goal plays in the big picture. A goal is a byproduct and NOT the aspiration. Looking at the second bullet point from the “bad” list up above, why would someone write “make more money” as a goal?

Whether it’s a business or individual making it, what’s the underlying point here? Do they want the general ability to buy more stuff? Do they want a bigger house or a newer car? Do they associate their income with their self-worth? Do they believe it’s a reflection of their work product?

I believe “make more money” fails to pinpoint what’s really at issue. All of those generic goals suffer from this.

A person needs to recognize the fundamental roles they play; parent, worker, partner, athlete, etc. and create goals that improve those facets of life. “Taking a fun vacation” doesn’t really make sense as a goal when you view yourself in this lens. That’s not to say you can’t do it, but then it becomes something like “take the kids to Disneyland” because you’re trying to make awesome memories for them and the family. That of course undersells the process, but you get the picture.


7 habits of highly effective peopleThis is such a small sample size of the subject. I could go on and on, but instead I encourage you to check out the many fantastic books on this topic. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is by far my favorite. I’m just some guy spouting off things I’ve seen, but this book is well organized and life-changing. The 30th anniversary edition just came out and I’m reading through it as part of my 2021 goals, and I encourage you to do the same. Seriously, go read it.

Also, please don’t be one of those people that think new year’s resolutions are stupid. These are often the same people who “don’t need Valentine’s Day to show affection” or “birthdays to give gifts.” Shift your paradigm and view these occasions as opportunities for self-improvement instead of excuses loosely veiled as attacks on commercialism.

With that preaching out of the way, allow me to thank you for reading through this blog and any other FWI Legal postings you’ve perused. We hope these articles give you some insight into who we are as a team, and what kind of attorneys and staff you’re hiring. As you can see, goals are deep, enriching activities we take seriously, and every case we manage is full of them. We use ideas like this and others like them all the time, and our hope is you notice a difference in your life as a result.

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