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Making Better Goals

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

A few weeks ago, I brought to Terry a thought. I had become bored with setting goals, and had even begun to maybe even despise them a bit. See, there never seemed to be any follow-through with my goals. What I would want one day would be completely gone from me just days later. I began to think, if I am just going to stop wanting the result of the goal in a couple days, why bother?

What I realized at the end of the conversation was that I wasn’t putting the goals together in a way that would be effective. I wasn’t making goals in a way that I was connected to, that made me want to follow through with them. My method was basically to do what seemed logically good to do. Ex, I know it would be good for me to exercise before work a few times a week, so let’s make that a goal. But it turns out there is more work to be done if you are looking to make goals that you will actually follow through on. Here are some ideas that will illuminate what separates a weak goal from a strong one that is bound to be fulfilled.

The Push and the Pull

Simply put, push is about willpower and effort; pull is about excitement and desire. Using these in tandem is key to accomplishing any goal. Let’s look at a real life example.

Here is something you probably don’t know about Terry. The guy is an avid gardener. He plants 500 pounds of watermelon a year! He says it is so fresh, like nothing you could get from any store. Of course, to actually be able to have it, he really has to make a commitment.

The Pull

The Sweet Taste Of Goals

What happens when you follow through with your goals?

Gardening takes him hours a day and he will have to do this for months before anything comes to harvest. There are definitely days he does not want to spend three hours (after already working a full day at his real job) working with the plants, but he still gets it done. Why? For one, he knows, knows, knows he will love the outcome. He knows how sweet it is to have piles of fresh fruits and vegetables around.

This is the pull. The thought of being stocked with fresh-off-the-vine produce is something he will naturally be drawn toward, and which will be the carrot on the stick that carries him toward his goal. He actually gets excited and happy thinking about the great rewards of the harvest. He feels proud about all the work he puts in, and what he accomplishes in the process, including the immense joy of sharing the produce with friends and family. All of these things are examples of the pull in effect. Having this connection to positive feelings associated with the goal pulls him into success.

The Push

Do Your Goals Push You?

Do Your Goals Push You?

It is not all flowers and lollipops, though. Success takes dedication. See, there is a window of opportunity Terry must capitalize on in order to reach his goal. If he gets a late jump on starting the garden each year, it will limit the amount he is able to grow. If he neglects his daily duties for even a few days, the plants will suffer, and perhaps die, making all his previous work essentially a waste of time. It is this potential pain of failure and loss that provides the push here.

The push is the part that is not always pleasurable. In fact, it can actually be a pain in the ass. Some days, Terry questions why he is even doing all the work, why he isn’t just saying “screw it” and using his time on something that will be more enjoyable in the moment. But time and time again, he will remember the pull. He knows the feeling of having the reward already and it is enough to keep him going through the difficult times when he must push himself to achieve his goals.

A Goal is a Placeholder

Are You Willing to Make a Change?

In making a goal, you are declaring that there is something in your life that you want to be different. This is not the same as making a wish—or worse yet, complaining about your situation. Everyone has things in their life that they want to be different, but what do they do about it? Are they just bitching to everyone, playing the victim? Or are they actually taking responsibility and putting together a plan to change this area of their life?

Here is one thing we should think about when we make goals. If there is something you want to change, are you actually willing to do something about it? Think for a second about the work it might take. Are you willing to do that? If not, let it go—because if you want something, but you are not willing to do anything about it, then what are you doing? I’ll tell you. You’re complaining.

The people who are willing to work for what they want come up with a plan of action and make goals. I think that, for a lot of people, a goal is just something you say. You say you are going to hit the gym five times this week. You say you are going to stop having four beers after work every day. But if it really is just something you say, it is not going to last.

Setting the Goal is Just the Beginning

It is easy to create a goal. It takes a matter of seconds to just state something that would be good for you to undertake. If we were to think about human transformation as a journey, the simple act of creating the goal is analogous to just pointing in a direction and saying “I’m going to go that way.” If you don’t have a vivid idea of where you are supposed to be arriving, how will you know if you are anywhere close? Will it not become incredibly easy to get lost? How far in that direction are you supposed to go? You have no idea.

Talk with me? Nothing

Is This What I Signed Up For?!

Let’s again use an example to provide context. Imagine you make a goal to stop drinking, and you decided on that goal because you found yourself in the habit of going to bars with your friends several nights a week. You have begun to notice that the drinking is affecting your mood, your health, and your physical appearance. You aim to cut this habit out of your life, but what happens when you find yourself sitting at home, bored senseless, on a night when you would normally be out drinking? How many times are you going to struggle through that before you finally give in and hit the bar with your friends?

When you decided to make a change in your life, was it really your intention to start spending more time bored and alone? All I am implying here is that you increase your chances of success if you have a really clear vision of the two realities on the opposite ends of the goal—the reality that exists when things stay the same, and the better reality that is possible if you make a change.

Connecting to the Future

What a goal should be is a placeholder. It should be like looking into the future, into this more attractive reality. You need to be able to see yourself at the moment of achievement, and not just see it but feel it. Really think of what this better reality will look like. Where do you see yourself at the moment of achievement? Is anyone with you? What is around you?

Having this awareness of what a better reality looks and feels like is going to be your best friend as you go about your journey. Instead of just pointing in a general direction, you are drawing a map and you are drawing a giant X on exactly where you want to go. In this way, the goal is no longer a thing you say. It becomes a feeling, a guiding force to help you all along the way—even when things become challenging.

Knowing What You Really Want

We now know that for a goal to really work, you have to make a connection to the reward (creating the pull). Once you have the connection, dedication will grow. You won’t need to keep pushing yourself forward constantly. It won’t feel like work. This is very helpful as nobody wants to commit themselves to anything they will fall out of love with in the near future. This was my problem. I could say I wanted this, that, and the other, but the goals would not get done. This is what happens when one isn’t really committed to changing their ways.

What do we do in that situation? Well, the easy answer seems to be figure out what you want!

Figure Out What You Want!

What is it that you Love about your Goals?

It’s Amazing What You Find Inside Yourself When You Look!

Take some time and write down everything that you love. The more you write down, the better. This will give you more data points to pull from. Once you have your list, the next task is to think about why you love those things. Apply this analysis to the list and you will soon see some patterns begin to develop. Look at the below (abbreviated) analysis of myself that Terry and I put together:

I love: Reading, Writing, Coffee, Basketball

Why I love these things:

  1. Reading: gets me into someone else’s head, trying on their ideas like hats

  2. Writing: helps me work through my own ideas and form concrete insights about the world around me

  3. Coffee: aside from the physical high, there is a culture around coffee that I really like. I like that coffee shops are places where people go to read The coffee culture presents me with a large group of like-minded people.

  4. Basketball: I love the creativity of it. There are very basic rules, yet each player brings something new to the game

What patterns do we see?

  1. Exploration and formation of ideas, as well as the creativity that comes in the process

  2. The enjoyment of communicating with like-minded people (from reading books and from being in coffee shops)

Narrow Your Focus

Becoming aware of what we are really after allows us to see what fulfills us. This is also the pull factor we talked about earlier. Based on the above, I am not going to enjoy having any part of a group whose culture is to always keep things the same and never differentiate from the rules. I need the intellectual freedom to explore new perspectives and insights. Having this kind of knowledge of ourselves is what we need to narrow our focus, which allows us to get better at identifying what we really want, and thus make better goals—goals that we will actually complete.


The goal is the placeholder, the reminder to yourself of what is to come. We must realize that in order for the goal to become a placeholder, and not just something we say, we have to really become emotionally aware of where we are trying to go (again, this is the pull).

Obstacles will come, but happily, we can rely on the desire, the why, and the emotional connection to a better outcome to provide us with the motivation we need to push ourselves when we don’t feel like doing the work.

You can clearly see this process is not all that simple. Figuring out what you want and putting together goals that work is difficult. That’s why so many people put it off. But those who do it carve out a future for themselves that they determined. Without the placeholder and the window into the future, where are you headed? You have no idea. Wouldn’t you rather spend a minute thinking about all of the things you love, and find a way do distill that into a view of a future where you get to have more of them?

Most people take the easy way out and let life direct their course. Terry and I encourage you to make your own map.


Make a list of 20 or more things that you absolutely love. When you are finished with your list, go through each item and write down why you love that thing. Identify two or three patterns in this list of why’s. Then, use this information to create a goal. Make yourself very aware of the ways your life will look if you implement this goal, versus how it will look if you just put it off. This will give you the direction you need to follow through.


Seth Wood is a former client of Terry Anthony, and the editor of Terry’s book, Mastering Relationships.


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