The 3 Rules of ALL Goal Setting Techniques

The 3 Rules of ALL Goal Setting Techniques

There are so many different goal-setting theories and types of goal-setting techniques. In fact, there are over 14 different recognized methodologies for goal setting. And most of these have been introduced within the last two decades. That’s a lot!

Why are there so many? For one, there are lots of ways to measure goal achievement. Each of these methods has different ways of setting and measuring goal performance. But also, there are lots of different applications for goal setting. Financial goals, business goals, personal goals, performance goals are a few. And some of these methods are better than others depending on task complexity and time frame.

Regardless of your specific goals, all these methods have the same fundamental elements. This means that you could follow just a few guiding principles and still set effective goals. Here's everything you need to know about the three components of goal setting and the top goal setting techniques to try. 

3 Key Parts of Goal Setting Techniques

1 - Set a clear goal

No matter what technique (SMART goal setting, HARD goals, Locke & Latham) every single one of them focuses on clear goal-setting. This is the key to achievable goals.

A goal must be clearly stated and defined. Write it down, maybe in your journal. Regardless of the type of goal, every goal needs to be precise. This is the first step. And it’s the most effective way to start any goal-setting process.

It’s also important to know your desired outcome. This is part of what it means to be clear. Goal setting starts by determining what your goal looks like when it’s completed. What does it look like to successfully accomplish it? Make sure this is a part of your final goal.

2 - Make an action plan

This is the part of every goal setting technique that starts to look different. The way different approaches track progress towards your goal varies. But at the end of the day, you have to decide what works best for you.

An action plan is essentially a to-do list. It’s a breakdown of the steps you need to take to head in the right direction. This is what is going to help you stay motivated and focused. And this is what keeps you fully committed to the process of goal achievement.

Ultimately, your action plan is what you need before taking action. And regardless of the goal-setting theory you choose, this is a fundamental rule for setting effective goals.

3 - Set a deadline

This is where the rubber meets the road. Without goal deadlines, you lack important accountability to keep going. The deadline is the finish line.

Your goal may be losing weight and seeing that your hoped-for number on the scale. Your goal may be finishing a race and reaching the literal finish line. Your goal may be going a whole week making coffee at home and saving that little bit of money. It doesn't matter. You’ve put in hard work. And the deadline is when you reap the reward and the sense of accomplishment. You get the boost of confidence that you can work toward something. You can actually do it in a given time frame.

Even though it can be scary to set a deadline, it’s a fundamental part of every type of goal setting. As long as you have enough time to practically complete your goal and exercise good time management along the way, you should be set up for success.

Making Goal Setting Techniques Easy & Simple

We’ve distilled the most important parts of every goal-setting technique into these three parts. Because for most of us, we don’t need to dive into the psychology and process of goal setting in order to be successful.

In fact, most of the goals we want to set, we already know what they are. And we already know what it’s going to take to achieve it. Plus, we normally have a deadline or a natural timeline for completion. Whether it’s a long-term goal or a short-term goal, a big goal or a smaller goal, the basic tenets are the same.

14 Well-Known Goal Setting Techniques & Methods

If you’re someone who wants more information about the different approaches to goal setting, we’ve included those too. These techniques and principles each have their own specific terms and steps. Depending on what you’re actually trying to achieve, one of these techniques may help you work towards your goal in a more effective way.


Stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely. You probably heard of the SMART acronym or SMART goals. This goal setting technique is widely used in business and has been written about in psychology journals since the 1980s. This technique is really universal. It can be used to set both personal and business goals.


Stands for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. From the book, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by James Collins and Jerry Porras. As the name suggests, these goals are long-term, big goals that have the potential to change a business’ (or individual’s) future trajectory. In short, dream big, work big, and big results are possible.


Stands for Objectives and Key Results. A goal setting technique from John Doerr’s book “Measure What Matters”, that apparently was inspired by his mentor Andy Grove. It focuses on two elements: clear objectives and measurements for results. This technique became prominent when it was used by big companies like Intel and Apple as a management method. It could be adapted for personal use, but it works best for companies coordinating systems and teams to work together to achieve goals.


Stands for Heartfelt, Animated, Required and Difficult. Created by Mark Murphy in his book “Hundred Percenters” geared towards employees of companies. This is also a great method for setting personal goals and working towards continuous improvement.


Stands for Wish, Obstacle, Outcome, Plan. This is a goal setting method founded by a psychologist and author duo. They completed two decades of research on insecurity-based behaviors and commitment. This method works well for stopping negative habits and moving forward to start new healthy ones.

Backward Goals

As the name suggests, this technique makes you work backward. Backward planning or backward design is a broad goal-setting approach. It's not a step-by-step technique. Start by visualizing a big completed goal in the future. Then trace your steps backward. Break down your steps into smaller goals.

Growth Mindset Goal Setting

This technique focuses on establishing the correct mindset before setting goals. It is positive psychology applied to goal setting. Gaining popularity in education settings, this technique begins with positive thinking and self-assurance. This one starts by believing in yourself and your ability to achieve goals. There are lots of available resources for teachers to incorporate into their classrooms.

One Word Goal Setting

Based on the book "One Word That Will Change Your Life," Dan Britton, Jon Gordon and Jimmy Page, this technique keeps things simple. There are no processes or instructions except for choosing a word that embodies what you want to achieve. Then reflect on this word and how it applies to a specific area of what you’re doing over a set period of time. If you want to measure progress, this may not be the technique for you. But if you want to increase your mindfulness and take more of an intention-setting approach, this is a technique you may want to explore.

Locke and Latham’s 5 principles

The five principles are Clarity, Challenge, Commitment, Feedback, and Task Complexity. Edwin Locke and Gary Latham co-authored their book, “A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance” in 1990. It quickly became famous for its 5 principles based on self-regulation in order to achieve motivating and successful goals. It is a theory of motivation focused on task motivation and task complexity.

Golden Circle

Simon Sinek made headlines after his TED talk when he presented his concept of the Golden Circle, which was based on his book, “Start with Why”. This technique is visual. It is a target with expanding circles starting innermost with “Why”, moving to “How”, then to “What”. Essentially, start by answering the question for “why” you’re doing what you are doing. Then, your goals will align with your desired outcome and ultimately lead to better performance.


Stands for Think Big, Act Small, and Move Quickly. Developed by David Van Rooy and adapted from his book, “Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies to Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be”, this theory is 3 steps and focuses on not losing sight of what’s important and getting stuck in analysis paralysis. Instead, set a goal, then start to move in the right direction.


Stands for Objectives, Goals, Strategies & Measures. This is a strategic planning process as much as a goal-setting technique. It’s designed to help all team members in an organization map out and memorize the steps needed to achieve the collective goals.

Goal Pyramid

Goal pyramids are similar to “backward goals” in that they start big and work down to small goals. Your pyramid can be broken down into as many levels as you’d like. There are top-level, mid-level, and bottom-level goals. The levels build upon each other. But the basic idea is that you unpack your top-level goal into smaller, more achievable goals. Author Matthew Michaelwicz talks more about how to use these in his book, “Life in a Half Second”.

Zig Ziglar’s 7 Steps

A goal technique you may have heard of comes from motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. His 7 steps boil down to Identification, Benefits, Obstacles, Skills, People, Plan, and Timelines. He goes into more detail in his book, “Goals: How to Get the Most Out of Your Life.”  He even suggests taking time, up to 20 hours for big goals, to complete this process.

It can be easy to get analysis paralysis when identifying which one is best for your type of goal. But an important thing to remember is that all of these techniques share the same fundamental guiding principles - set clear goals, make an action plan, and set a deadline.

Let us know what type of goal setting technique sounds right for you. Leave a comment below!

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