Personal Development

4 Powerful Goal Setting Rules

cyt goals success
Written by Arina Nikitina

When we set goals we usually consider them to be “realistic”. After all, it wouldn’t make any sense to strive after “unrealistic goals” and set yourself up for a failure right from the start.

Yet, for some unexplainable reason, 75% of people still consistently fail to meet their goals, objectives and New Year’s resolutions. These failures have very little to do with the lack of time, weak motivation, or our skills. It’s just that the concept of “realistic goals” is so vague that we end up with vague results.

cyt goals successBut that’s about to change! Here are the 4 Golden Rules of Realistic Goal Setting that I wish someone had taught me years ago.

Goal Setting Rule #1: Be in control of your goal

How can you tell that you are in control of your goal? Simple: if it’s positive outcome fully depends on your efforts, not outside circumstances or other people, then you’re in control.

“Winning the lottery” is an extreme example of an outcome you can hardly influence. Sure, you can buy lottery tickets, but other than that, there is not much you can do about it. It doesn’t look cool when people blame a bad economy, a stupid boss or corrupted politicians for their failures. You need to accept 100% of the responsibility for your successes and failures, so make sure that your goals are 100% within your control.

Goal Setting Rule #2: Know when you’ve achieved it

Seems pretty obvious. How can you not know when you’ve achieved your goal? You either have it or you don’t. True enough. But the vast majority of goals and New Year’s resolutions that I hear are unrealistic for one simple reason: they lack a measurable criteria.

“Getting in shape”, “exercising regularly”, “learning Spanish”, “making tons of money” are just some of the examples of goals that have no clear destination point in mind. How will you know if you are in shape? Does it mean that you should be able to run a 10K marathon, without stopping? Or that you should lose a few inches around your waist?

The same is true for learning Spanish. How can you tell if someone has learned Spanish? Does it mean memorizing 2,000 words? Learning basic grammar? Or being able to carry out a conversation with a native speaker in Spanish and they actually understand what you’re saying?

Apply “get what you set” rule to any goal that you chose for yourself. Make it super-specific and measurable, so that you know exactly when you’ve achieved it.

Goal Setting Rule #3: Work in gradual 10% improvements

Dream big, but take baby steps and you’ll get where you want to be much faster and with less effort. Instead of aiming to lose 20 pounds in 5 months, break this goal into smaller and easier-to-reach milestones: losing 2 pound in 2 weeks. It’s less overwhelming, and consequently, there is a lower chance that you will procrastinate on taking action.

In addition, focusing on gradual 10% improvements allows you to; track your progress better, keep your motivation higher and celebrate little achievements along the way. The rule of thumb is to take your probably ambitious goal, divide it by 10 and focus on a smaller milestone with a shorter deadline.

Goal Setting Rule #4: Be prepared to sacrifice something

Numerous Psychological studies show that we are prone to the so-called “planning fallacy” bias. When we need to think of a “realistic” scenario, we envision everything going exactly as planned. We tend to overestimate the benefits of doing a certain task and greatly underestimate the time and effort it will take you.

A great way to overcome planning fallacy is to think in terms of what we are ready to give up in order to get what we want.

When you change your perspective from getting to giving up and making sacrificed, you can immediately tell the difference between an objective that you really want and something that you wouldn’t mind having.

The higher your level of commitment is, the longer you will stick with your goals, the more you will be ready to invest in it. And investing doesn’t necessarily mean “money”. It may be about investing your time, forgoing some of your leisure activities, skipping a vacation, waking up an hour earlier or feeling sore after a workout.

Think about it.

Apply the 4 Golden Rules and take your goals from somewhat-realistic to realistically-infallible. Then pass this knowledge on and help your friends achieve their goals as well!

Some Amazing Comments


About the author

Arina Nikitina

Arina Nikitina is the author of Real Goal Getting guide and she is on a mission to help you achieve your goals and keep yourself focused and motivated. If you want to know her advanced tricks to laser-sharp focus and unlimited motivation, get her "4 Goal Setting Strategies" report for free at


  • The 10% increment rule is so true. Seeing a goal, or a step, completely paralyzes you. It’s a must to be breaking them down into smaller steps.

  • Hi Arina, I like what you have to say here but I kind of disagree with #2. Some goals should never be fully achieved but marked down as milestones (progressing you to the next level of that goal) I think setting goals should be broken up into two categories 1) The overarching ultimate goal (ex: Financial Freedom) 2) The baby step to take you to the next level of that overarching goal. Another example could be 1) Have Life-long healthy exercising habits 2) Lose 10 pounds.

    Most goals are never full achieved. They are baby steps to the greater, plan for what you want.

  • Hi Arina, those are really great points – thanks a lot. Especially point #3 is so important: Taking incremental baby steps towards the realization of one’s goals. We only can take one step after another and if we try to take shortcuts and leave out some of those steps, we will fall and our endeavors won’t be successful.

  • I’ve always found the best way to achieve my goals is to have them written down in a visible location. The best place for me is a magnetic whiteboard that attaches to my mirror. Every time I go by it I see my goals and have a fresh reminder of whether or not I have done anything that day to move forward at achieving that goal. If I have not done so, then I remedy that quickly and once again I am one step closer to where I want to be.

  • The hardest part for me is to keep in mind the smaller goals that make up the bigger goals. I tend to get to overwhelmed at the bigger goal, so it is very important for me to achieve and recognize the smaller accomplishments to stay motivated.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Janine. Breaking bigger goals into smaller ones takes time and mental effort. That’s why so many people skip this step. For me the rule of thumb is – if the thought of your goal makes you feel even slightly overwhelmed or stressed out, rather than excited, it has to be broken down into smaller steps.

  • Good post!
    Think number 1 is very important but how do you define what is within your control?
    I’ve come to think there is very little in our DIRECT control so it’s pointless setting goals like ‘Make $5,000 per month by the end of the year.’
    Instead, it’s better to say ‘Put in 45 hours of work a week on my project’ as this IS controllable and will give you the foundation for getting the external goal.

    • Great example of reframing your goals, ScrewtheSystemJoe. “Putting in 45 hours of work a week on your project” is definitely a solid base for reaching your external goal – “Increasing your income to $5,000 a month, so that you can do what you love”.

  • Good post!
    Think number 1 is very important but how do you define what is within your control?
    I’ve come to think there is very little in our DIRECT control so it’s pointless setting goals like ‘Make $5,000 per month by the end of the year.’
    Instead, it’s better to say ‘Put in 45 hours of work a week on my project’ as this IS controllable and will give you the foundation for getting the external goal.

  • I agree with all of this, Arina. But I’m going to be saying this over and over again…until you see yourself as successful and worthy, nothing else will matter. You will consistently find ways to sabotage the process, because it will be outside your personal NARRATIVE.

    • Hi Larry. Your self image and beliefs are a huge part of inner game of success. Ideally, addressing, challenging and overcoming our negative beliefs is a step that should precede Goal Setting. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Hi, I believe that people need to add in a consequence for not achieving their goals. It’s a great thing to set a goal but, it’s much better to achieve that goal. Without a real consequence, you can easily “forget” that you even set a goal. More and more unrealized dreams can’t be good for the psyche!

    • Hi Richard. Thanks for taking time to leave a comment. You’re right – unrealized dreams suck, because they dampen our self-confidence and drain too much of our mental energy.

      Adding a real consequence for not achieving goals is an effective strategy for people, who are driven by what psychologists call ‘away from motivation’. In other words, rather than being motivated by the positive outcomes (success), away from people focus on avoiding problems and outcomes they don’t want. It’s a great example of how negative motivation can bring positive results. :)

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