How to Set Goals and a Goal Setting Structure


Goal setting is all the buzz these days. Some people live and thrive by them, others live by a different ethos. If you are a goal-oriented person, you might find this article on how to set goals helpful to get better and be better.

At the time of this writing, the coronavirus and the world’s response to it are in full swing. It might feel odd to talk about goal setting in a time of crisis. But in every crisis, there’s an opportunity. An opportunity to re-commit to the things that are important. An opportunity to focus on what’s important now. An opportunity to stabilize ourselves with healthy habits and routines.

Whether you’re setting personal goals or professional goals, goal-setting can help you focus on what’s important to you right now, for the future. 

In this article, we’ll look at 2 different kinds of goals from a study, then I'll suggest a third to complete the goal setting structure.

From the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology in Feb 2006, Wilson, Hardy, and Harwood, wrote an article investigating the relationships between achievement goals and process goals1. There were 150 rugby participants age between 14-45 with a means of 9.17 years of experience ranging from the club level to the professional/national league level. They invited the participants to write down their goals and then measured their success in attaining their goals. They discovered 4 different orientations that highly influence the achievement of goals.

The 2 goal orientations are:

  1. Self-Directed Task Goals: Performers are task-oriented when they base their perceptions of competence on personal improvements.
  2. Self-Directed Ego Goals: Performers are ego-oriented when they formulate their perceptions of competence by comparing their own ability to other’s skills and talent.

While I’m oversimplifying the conclusion of the study, the study showed that self-directed task goals were the greatest indicators of goal achievement. It is not to say that the ego-related tasks or approval were not necessary or significant. It is to say that when a person is self-directed in their goal-setting, they typically use progress-based, self-directed task orientations to provide themselves a higher probability of goal achievement. While social approval is a strong motivator for performers in accomplishing goals, the long-term success that progress-based tasks bring is more of an indicator of goal achievement than ego-based (wanting/needing to win) orientations. 



Many people find the S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based) system of goal setting helpful. There’s no doubt it’s a great system. But there’s more to setting goals than simply making them SMART. Let's do a deep-dive into what kinds of goals we can set and how to achieve them. Before I dig deeper, I want to reveal 4 reasons why most high performers don’t achieve their goals:

  1. They set the wrong goals and get discouraged.
  2. They didn’t “connect” with their goals emotionally and intellectually.
  3. They are distracted from doing the things that help them achieve their goals.
  4. They confuse the process goals with achievement goals.



One of the easiest mistakes to make when setting goals is to focus on the achievement goal rather than the process goals and micro-goals. The achievement goal is the outcome that you’re looking for. However, focusing on the outcome only has a small part to play in the overall achievement of the goal. In other words, if we focus on the end without really focusing on the day-to-day habits that will get us there, we’ll lose passion and focus.

Process goals help us attain the achievement goal by using micro-goals. It might look something like this:

ACHIEVEMENT GOAL: The achievement goal is the outcome. In business, they call it the “lag measure”. It’s the desired result when the micro-goals and process goals get done. It’s the prize. But the achievement goal can only be accomplished if the process goals and micro-goals get are executed. Without this execution, the achievement goal doesn't get done.


PROCESS GOALS: The process goals are the smaller goals that need to be done to achieve the achievement goal. They are more of the daily or weekly tasks that need to be done to achieve the end goal. Process goals are the next step breakdown of your achievement goal. For example, if you want to lose 10lbs, you may have 3 process goals like exercise more, eat less, and sleep more.


MICRO GOALS: Micro-goals are designed to help you achieve the process goals. This type of goal is a very small but doable goal when you’re trying to accomplish a process goal. It is very granular. Very practical. Very doable. For example, you may have a micro-goal of “breaking a record” every day. You may go one inch, foot, or mile further. You may go one second or minute longer than the previous day. You may eat cleaner or remove something unhealthy from your diet today or this week.



Let’s say you want to lose some weight. Here’s how it would break down:

  1. Achievement Goal: Lose 10lbs
  2. Process Goals:
    1. Eat 1800 calories per day
    2. Exercise 30 minutes per day
    3. Sleep at least 7 hours per night
  3. Micro-Goals:
    1. Eat 1800 calories per day
      1. Remove ice cream and candy from my home today.
      2. Add 2 cups of fruit and vegetables to my diet this week.
      3. Close my eating window from 12pm to 6pm this week.
    2. Exercise 30 minutes per weekday.
      1. Get up immediately when my alarm goes off.
      2. Go one minute longer when I do cardio this week.
    3. Sleep at least 7 hours per night this week.
      1. "Unplug" from all electronics by 7pm.
      2. Be in bed by 9pm.


As you can see, when a high performer:

  • is self-oriented rather than ego-oriented
  • has smaller, process-based goals
  • focuses on accomplishing daily micro-goals

…they put themselves in a position to reach their overall achievement goals. When high performers can set their own achievement goals and when they can control the process to reach their achievement goal, they will “own” the process. 

The addition of another level of goals, micro-goals, allows the performer to stay focused and in control of their progress. Their progress is a more stable and inspirational measure of whether they will achieve their process and achievement goals. The micro-goals can be updated or changed daily, weekly, or monthly depending on the progress needed to reach the achievement goal.




As a high performance, elite mindset trainer, I’ve trained hundreds of performers at elite levels to be their very best. Want more tips on how to perform at an elite level every Monday morning? Sign-up to receive a free Monday Morning Elite Mindset text message. I’ll go into more detail about how to be at your best using tactics from the fields of sports psychology and leadership.

  1. Kylie M. Wilson, Lew Hardy & Chris G. Harwood(2006) Investigating the Relationship Between Achievement Goals and Process Goals in Rugby Union Players, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 18:4, 297-311, DOI: 1080/10413200600944074

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