How to Successfully Set Goals and Measure Your Steps

by David Strege, CFP®, CFA, CKA®, Senior Financial Planner | December 28, 2021

The Harvard Business Study about writing down goals is often misquoted. The study found that 3% of graduates from their MBA had their goals written down. 

Students with written goals ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together just ten years after graduation. Even this result gets debated whether it is true.  

An often-cited study done by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University of California, states that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down. I know from my own personal experience that writing down goals and putting needed action steps on my calendar help to make good progress toward realizing goals. 

Establishing S.M.A.R.T. goals is the wise approach. S.M.A.R.T. goals were developed by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham in their 1981 article “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives.”

S.M.A.R.T. is an acrostic for:

S – Specific, defining in detail what outcome you would like

M – Measurable, so you will know when you’ve reached the goal

A – Attainable, you can realistically expect to reach the goal

R - Relevant, the goal is meaningful enough that you will strive to attain it

T – Timed, a realistic date you intend to reach the end point

I break my goals into categories of mind, body and spirit. Yes, I’m a Family Y Camp alumni! 

Mind is improving my thinking to better serve clients. This includes a goal to have at least 30 hours a year of professional continuing education. 

Body is keeping physically fit so I can participate in sports I love, like volleyball. I started playing volleyball in 1977. I’m trying to at least medal in a national or international tournament for every year I’ve played volleyball. I’m currently at 40 medals and am playing in four to five national or international competitions each year. Therefore, the goal is in reach.

Spirit is the heart of relationship with others and the soul of my relationship with God. I must be diligent to seek relationship building activities with Jen, my spouse, and our children along with other friends and family. It is not a natural strength of mine. On my calendar are tasks to schedule meals, dates, and trips together. Then I have quiet time scheduled for daily prayers and devotional time to help me grow in faith. Time with God allows me to follow the path laid out for me to better serve God by serving others with the gifts I’ve been granted.

Along with writing down the goals and setting tasks on my calendar, I then update my written goals list with the results. I can review decades of goals that were set and whether they were accomplished. It amazes me how almost all of them have been realized.

I don’t know the actual validity of the various studies about goal setting. But I do know in my sample of one, that writing down, acting upon, and tracking goals has produced more results than I could ever have imagined.