Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.

goalsFor my first book review of 2011, which will pop up on the site on Sunday and appear in subscriber’s mailboxes early in the morning of the first working Monday of the year, I thought I’d take a look at one of the best books out there about defining and setting goals, since so many people start out the year with goals and resolutions of all kinds (and I’m no exception to that).

Goals! is one of a pile of self-motivation and self-improvement books written by Brian Tracy. I’ve read several of them, but the only one that really clicked with me was this one because it offered so many good pieces of advice about setting personal goals and working towards them. It worked for me because so much of the advice was actionable – I could actually do the things in the book and apply them immediately to my own goal-setting habits.

As with most of my book reviews, the things I share with you below just scratch the surface of the content. Instead, I usually try to seek out a key highlight or two from each chapter that really had an impact on me.

1. Get Started: Unlock Your Potential
Everything you have accomplished in your life up to this point is mere preparation for what is to come. You now have a pile of skills, experiences, and motivations to draw upon that you’ve accumulated throughout your life, and you should use those as constant fuel for the fire to move towards whatever you want in life. Think of the biggest things you’ve accomplished in life. Are the things you want in the future really that out of reach compared to what you’ve already done, especially considering all of the things you have at your disposal now as compared to then?

2. Take Charge of Your Life
You are responsible for everything you do in your life. You make the choices of how to spend your time, how to spend your money, how to spend your energy, and what you spend your time thinking about. Those things are up to you. Don’t blame others or make excuses when you make choices related to how you spend your time, money, energy, and thoughts. Instead, focus on using your thoughts, money, energy, and time to achieve the goals you have in your life. When you spend an hour idling, you’re not just losing an hour of time. You’re losing an hour of energy. An hour of thought. An hour of forward progress on the things you really want.

3. Clarify Your Values
What do you really believe in? What do you truly care about? If you’re trying to work towards goals that aren’t fed by those beliefs and cares, you’re going to have a very hard road with regards to achieving them. Spend some time clarifying what you care about and believe in before you even begin to set goals for yourself.

4. Analyze Your Beliefs
What do you believe with regards to your own abilities? What do you believe about the world around you? Is it holding you back or is it a giant pile of opportunities? It is these beliefs that will drastically constrain – or leave wide open – the goals that are available to you. Most of what’s possible is defined within your own head.

5. Create Your Own Future
Imagine that you could progress towards the goals you have in life with no obstacles preventing you from doing so and you had all of the resources you needed. What would your life look like? I often call this a “five year sketch,” in which I draw a picture of what I would like my life to look like in five years or so.

6. Determine Your True Goals
What do you want to accomplish in every major part of your life? Your finances? Your professional life? Your relationships and family life? Your health and wellness? What about other areas of importance to you? Think about each one and figure out what you most want in that area. This builds upon a foundation of your beliefs.

7. Decide Upon Your Major Definite Purpose
Often, when you look at the main goals you have for your life, it will become clear that they actually all point to a singular goal that rules them all. For example, in my case, my singular goal is to be a great father – it really does overlay every other goal and mission I have in my life. All of my significant goals are at least in part connected directly to my desire to be the best possible parent.

8. Start at the Beginning
What is your starting point for each of these goals? Where are you at right now? The more honest you are about your current situation, the easier it will be to create goals that actually work for you instead of goals that are completely out of touch with your current state. The more in touch your goals are, the easier they’ll be to accomplish.

9. Set and Achieve All Your Financial Goals
Tracy spends this and the next few chapters focusing on goals people typically have in certain areas of their life. His financial suggestions are straightforward: in essence, he suggests making a net worth calculator in order to get a full view of your assets and debts, then look for specific ways to improve both areas (as foundations for goals).

10. Become an Expert in Your Field
You’re better off being the best around at a very specific area than being just one of the bunch in a larger pool. Focus on getting to the very top in a specific area so that you can gan reknown for that expertise rather than being just one of a hundred people that throw their resume towards yet another essentially identical job.

11. Improve Your Family Life and Relationships
A big part of your life consists of the people around you, and the better your relationships are with those people, the better your life will be. Put effort into patching up rough relationships, eliminating unfixable ones, and putting continued focus on the relationships most important to your life.

12. Optimize Your Health and Wellness
Having a high level of energy and fitness makes it possible to enjoy many avenues of life that are difficult to enjoy without these attributes. You can cultivate these attributes in your life if you so choose, and the best way to do that is to take a realistic assessment of your current fitness and health and chart some goals leading you to where you want to be so you can tackle anything in life.

13. Measure Your Progress
For any goal, define a goal that has a clear way to determine if you’ve achieved it or not as well as a clear way to mark your progress. Then set milestones along the way so that you can constantly check and make sure that you’re moving in a reasonable way towards your goal. “I want to lose weight” won’t cut it; try “I’m going to lose 25 pounds this year” and have milestones each month that include losing two pounds that month.

14. Remove the Roadblocks
What are the biggest obstacles you can see that will keep you from achieving the goal? What can you do to remove these roadblocks? Goals are much easier to achieve if you don’t have things working against you with regard to those goals. Seek out ways to remove the roadblocks, then actively remove as many as you can so that you’re open to achieving the things you wish to achieve.

15. Associate with the Right People
The people you most closely associate with often set the standard for what you want out of life. For example, three of my four closest friends in the world at this point are very frugal people, and their frugality often rubs off on me with regard to my personal choices. Surround yourself with people who embody what you want to achieve. Make an effort to build relationships with them.

16. Make a Plan of Action
What is your plan for achieving your goal? Write your goal down, then write a detailed plan for achieving it. The more detail, the better. Can you boil that plan down to daily steps or individual actions? The smaller the pieces, the easier it is to just grab ahold and pull yourself towards your goal, one bit at a time.

17. Manage Your Time Well
Time management is key – if you don’t have time for the things in your life right now, how will you have time to add the behavior changes that you’re suggesting? One route is to focus on your time management and implement a better system for you, like GTD. Another route is to simply identify time you spend inefficiently in your life and free up the time needed for your new goal, as I did for exercise in 2011.

18. Review Your Goals Daily
Take time every day to review the goals you’re working on, and do deeper reviews of it every week. I do this by writing in a journal and keeping tabs on a few key goals every single day in that journal. I literally have a daily section in my journal where I write “Goal #1:” followed by a sentence on my progress, then “Goal #2:” followed by a sentence and so on. It forces me to think about that goal every day, and I feel ashamed when I have to write “no progress.”

19. Visualize Your Goals Continually
When you find yourself daydreaming, daydream about what success in terms of your goal will look like. It’s actually great to fantasize about a world where you’ve found success with your chosen goal because it keeps that goal central in your mind throughout the day and the week.

20. Activate Your Superconscious Mind
Tracy uses the word “superconscious” to refer to flashes of inspiration or brilliance, when a great idea comes into your head seemingly out of nowhere and helps you solve a particular problem. I usually refer to this as being “in the zone,” and I find it very worthwhile to spend time cultivating periods where such flashes of brilliance happen on a regular basis, which is exactly what Tracy advocates here.

21. Persist Until You Succeed
You absolutely can’t give up on a goal because of one or two small failures. A step backwards isn’t a call to quit. It’s a call to keep marching forward, perhaps seeking out a slightly different path through the woods.

Is Goals! Worth Reading?
Goals! is perhaps the single best book I’ve yet read on goal setting and goal achievement. It offers an enormous collection of advice on how to figure out what you want, articulate it into a clear and achievable statement, then move toward that statement, improving your life along the way.

Yes, much of goal-setting is common sense, but it’s the type of common sense that many people have a great deal of difficulty with (hence the huge numbers of failed New Years resolutions). This book lays the entire process out as clearly as can be.

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