How to Achieve Goals

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

Several weeks ago we looked at a practical way to define success. Now that you’ve defined it, let’s take the next step and make all your hard work count. Here’s how to achieve goals no matter what.


Step 1 asked you to define what is important about money and time to you. And step 2 helped you distill vague goals into something you can sink your teeth into. You need specific amounts, times and places so you can draw a picture of what success physically looks like for you. Now we’re ready to move the dream into reality.

Step 3. Identify Decisions and Actions That Stand In Your Way

The next question to ask yourself is whether or not your current decisions and actions get you closer to or further away from the success you want. For example you might tell me that money is important to you because it helps provide financial security for your family. But if you decide to pursue a career that has a limited financial future and you take action around that, it tells me one of two things. Either you really don’t define ultimate success as having financial security for your family (you have other priorities) or you don’t really understand how your decisions and actions are torpedoing your life.

Either way, take a moment to write down how some of your decisions and actions move you towards your goals and how others move you away from ultimate success as you’ve defined it. This might be a bit uncomfortable but please be brutally honest. You’ll thank me later.And don’t fret. Most people are both productive and counter-productive at times. Nobody is judging you and nobody is perfect.

Just in case, here are a few questions that might help you with this exercise:

  • Are you in debt? Why or why not?
  • Do you have enough life insurance? How do you know?
  • Are you saving enough? Again… do you know?
  • What do you worry about? Why? What are you doing to fix this problem? How are you ignoring this problem?
  • Do you know how much it will cost you to travel (or whatever your goal is) each year? Are you budgeting that amount and setting it aside? Why or why not?
  • Are you stuck at work because you don’t write proficiently or because you are challenged when it comes to public speaking (for example)? Are you taking courses to remedy these obstacles? Why or why not?

I know that this part of the exercise isn’t very fun. It can be unpleasant to see how we self-sabotage. Still, if you want progress you’re going to have to do things a little differently. And that means you have to understand the real consequences of the way you live your life now.

Step 4. What needs to change?how to achieve goals

In the previous step, you identified those decisions and actions that stand between you and success. In essence, you’ve created a “to do” list because you know exactly what needs to shift. The next step is about breaking that “to do” list into actionable tasks. Let’s use an example to illustrate.

Assume you want to travel more. You don’t travel as much as you’d like because you’re job doesn’t give you enough time off and you don’t have the money to go anywhere anyway. So there are two problems. Here are just a few possible actionable steps:

A. Start using budgeting software to create a travel fund.
B. Start a side-business. (This could provide additional income. And if it’s very successful, it might be an alternative to your current gig and provide a more flexible schedule allowing you time off.)
C. Look for opportunities for jobs that include travel.

The idea is to identify the tasks you need to get into action around and then…..get into action.

I don’t know about you but if I am in action around solving a problem, I feel pretty successful. This is true even if I haven’t yet achieved my ultimate goal. Just knowing that I am going in the right direction helps me feel effective.

I know plenty of people who are very wealthy and they are still miserable because they haven’t clearly identified what success means. And I know other people who feel completely successful even though they have modest resources. The difference is that successful people know what they want, identify what stands in their way and take action around busting through those obstacles.

Do you feel successful? Why or why not? How did you get to this point? What do you need to do differently? When are you going to start? What’s stopping you?


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