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  • Writer's pictureJesse Thornton

How to Achieve Goals

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

Psychology teaches us that we are goal-oriented as human beings.  Unlike other creatures that mainly live to exist, humans have developed a drive to “master” our environment.  This drive has resulted in amazing structures, innovation, and achievements limited only by imagination.  For most people, goals are set at the individual or community level.  This includes earning a degree or a certification, developing a skill or hobby, or fostering a relationship.  Whatever goal you are working towards and whatever level of challenge, there are factors that can improve your success.  Here are some ideas on how to achieve goals:

Delayed Gratification:

The single greatest predictor of success in life is the ability to delay gratification.  The ability to delay a positive experience allows us to work through more challenging situations.  Inevitably, when setting a goal, problems arise that complicate or slow down progress.  Having the ability to sit with the frustration in order to have a reward at the end is an important skill to develop.  If you haven’t heard about the marshmallow test click here.  This test highlights the impact of delayed gratification.

If you struggle to delay gratification, practice structuring your life in this way: write down a task or challenge.  Then write down a reward comparable to the task.  Work to achieve the task, and then give yourself the reward in response to the achievement.  Start with small tasks and small rewards.  Then give yourself larger tasks and larger rewards over time.  This allows your mind and body to adjust to longer and more frustrating periods of tolerance before gaining a reward, which in effect is delayed gratification.


Research shows that a large part of motivation is influenced by competence.  An important way to achieve goals is to study the task ahead of time.  If it is earning a degree, study the requirements of the degree so that you know what you are facing.  Learn the challenging courses you will have to take and what it will take to pass them.  This goes for any goal.  If your goal is to raise well-behaved children, read information on child rearing.  If developing a business, read about it or join a club that provides more information.  This will inform you and also motivate you to achieve your task.

Obtainable yet Challenging:

When setting goals, make sure they are obtainable.  If you want to be a major league basketball player, and you are only 5’9” you will be at a disadvantage.  There are very few slots for this position, and this height does not meet an important qualification.  Instead, adjust your goals to fit your level of ability.  Perhaps strive to win in a community league, or be an award–winning coach at a local high school.  At the same time, set a challenge for yourself that will stretch your abilities and make you study more.  This will help keep you motivated and satisfied with the goals you set for yourself.  Setting the optimal level of challenge is an individual decision that plays an important role in achieving goals.


Breaking down goals into manageable parts is another important skill.  The goal to be an award-winning basketball coach for a division 1 high school may take many years.   Breaking this down may include starting off as a division 2 or 3 coach, learning how to develop a team and recruit effectively.  Ask other division 1 coaches what they did to achieve this goal, and break down the skills into manageable increments.  If you decide the effort is worth the sacrifices, then set aside the time and energy to develop the skills needed to achieve the goal.

Choose Carefully:

Finally, choose goals carefully.  Too many goals can overwhelm and lead to several unaccomplished goals.  Understand the sacrifices.  More challenging goals require more time and effort.  Aiming to be a division 1 basketball coach will require more time away from family and friends than a division 3 coach.  Be aware of this sacrifice and make sure you can accept the consequences of the investment of time and energy.   For some people the time and effort needed to be a division 1 coach would not be worth the achievement because they will feel lonely and disconnected from family members.

Achieving goals works best when set carefully and appropriately.  If you find you have a pattern of dropping goals before achieving them, consider taking time to set goals more systematically.  Follow the steps above and talk with a friend or counselor to help you develop a plan.

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