How to set Goals (2019)

How to set Goals

How to set Goals in 2019?

Goals affect performance through four mechanisms. First, goals serve a directive function; they direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities. Second, goals have an energizing function. High-level goals lead to greater effort than do low-level goals.


Third, goals affect persistence. When participants are allowed to control the time they spend on a task, hard goals prolong effort. Fourth, goals affect action indirectly by leading to the arousal, discovery, and/or use of task-relevant knowledge and strategies.


“Happiness requires having clear-cut goals in life that give us a sense of purpose and direction”. Even better, when a client has success with one goal, it raises self-efficacy and increases the potential for success in other areas.

  • Remembering the best experiences one has had with health and wellness
  • Identifying the core values that govern one’s life
  • Noticing one’s energy in different environments
  • Thinking about and writing down the components of a wellness vision
  • Learning about things that improve health and wellness.
  • Weighing the pros and cons of change versus staying the same
  • Thinking about the importance of making a change
  • Imagining what it would feel like to be in perfect health


Intermediate Behavioral Goals:

Behavioral Goals

The First Step in the Vision Quest

After a compelling vision has been articulated by your client or deferred until later, encourage the client to set goals that bring the vision closer to reality.


The Wellcoaches training program encourages three-month goals as an intermediate step because it is long enough to make meaningful progress, establish some new habits, and experience the benefits, while short enough to stimulate a sense of urgency.


When working with clients to define their intermediate goals, the coach asks the client what they want to be doing consistently three (or one or two) months from now in each of the physical or mental wellness areas they included in their vision.


Specific, manageable behavioral goals should be linked directly to a client’s vision. For example, if clients want to be fit and trim, ask what behaviors they want to be doing consistently that will enable them to achieve that outcome.


It is important to prioritize the goal areas by importance to the client, asking what matters most and why. Then, the coach and client can brainstorm and commit to specific three-month behavioral goals in the priority areas that will help them realize the vision.


Before moving on to the action plan and experimental goals, clients should clearly state and summarize their goals as part of the process of verbal persuasion.


Examples of Three-Month Behavioral Goals That Support Desired Outcomes

Desired Outcome: Improve cardiovascular health so that I live a long, active life.



  • Explain the nature and value of setting three-month goals.
  • Brainstorm actions would lead to the achievement of the wellness vision.
  • Ask the client to choose three of the actions that are most important to pursue.
  • Confirm the connection between the actions to the wellness vision.


Assist the client in translating the actions into SMART behavioral goals.

Three-Month Behavioral Goal: I will do three 30-minute walking sessions each week, at 60%–70% of my maximal heart rate with my friend Jane.


Desired Outcome: I will increase bone density so that I am strong enough to hike the Appalachian Trail for my 70th birthday.


Three-Month Behavioral Goal: I will do two 20-minute strength-training sessions per week at the gym.


Desired Outcome: I will have peace of mind and stop taking blood pressure medicine.


Three-Month Behavioral Goal: I will write in my journal each evening three things that happened that day for which I am grateful and share them with my wife.


Designing Weekly Experiments

Start the discussion of the first action plan by focusing on the intermediate goals of highest priority, then work through other areas that are important to the client. For each area, the coach will ask clients what they want to do immediately, during the next week.


Weekly goals enable clients to take small manageable steps toward their longer-term goals. Achieving these stepping stones is often a breakthrough in building a client’s confidence.


When it comes to weekly goals, being specific about the details of how and when is crucial because it helps clients pin down the details needed to accomplish the goal. Having a mastery experience with one goal builds a sense of efficacy and helps clients be more ready, willing, and able to move forward with other goals.


Nothing hinders the change process more than setting unrealistic, unachievable goals. And “low goals,” as Locke and Latham call them, goals without enough challenge, produce low productivity and results.


Clients experience flow when their goals are challenging slightly beyond their skills and experience. That’s the zone for clients to enter as often as possible while working on their goals. This zone is that place which is neither too hard nor too easy but rather perfectly suited for client learning, growth, and success.


Because client potential is often greater than the client recognizes, don’t be afraid to consider goals to which clients may exclaim, “No way!” Clients appreciate being called to go beyond what they’re imagining. To assist clients with moving into this zone more frequently, the coach will encourage them to not use the words “try,” “may,” or “maybe.”


It’s better to get clients to speak confidently of what they will do, even to the point of framing behavioral goals in the present tense, as if they were already fully true. This can positively shape client self-image and goal accomplishment 


In addition to ensuring that goals are challenging, specific, measurable, and motivating, goals should:


Consider what is needed to support success. Address environmental factors, including the client’s support team and other systems that impact their successful implementation.


Design First Experiment/Goals

Experiment Goals

  • Ask the client to choose a goal that is important.
  • Explore the structures (people, resources, systems, and environments) needed to ensure.
  • Assist the client in designing a SMART behavioral goal.
  • Use a confidence ruler to improve the client’s confidence in reaching the goal.
  • Ask the client to restate the goal.
  • Affirm the client’s ability to achieve the goal.


Have the client measure confidence. It is valuable to assess a client’s confidence in his or her ability to meet a goal by asking, “What is your confidence level on a scale of 0–10 for achieving this goal?”


Explore why the client did not pick a lower number or what it would take to generate a higher number. If confidence is not high enough to support success, reevaluate the goal, and make changes, and design strategies so that clients will feel confident in their ability to achieve it.


Measure goal importance. To assess if clients are ready, willing, and able to change, it is essential to determine how important a goal is to them. Ask “How would you rate the importance of this goal on a scale of 0–10?” Explore why they did not pick a lower number and what it would take to generate a higher number.


If clients are not ready for change, express empathy and acceptance, and explore the conditions that would generate readiness so that they recognize them when they arrive.


The Role of Brainstorming in Goal Setting


Brainstorming, the generation of possibilities with-out censor is an essential coaching skill and a fundamental part of generative moments in coaching. It is a time for coaches and clients to co-generate a wide variety of possible goals for consideration. For brainstorming sessions to be most effective, it’s important to:

  • Clarify the topic
  • Clarify the output (what’s being generated)
  • Defer judgment
  • Encourage bold, even wild ideas
  • Build on what others say
  • Be visual and specific
  • Go for quantity
  • Do it fast


Brainstorming enables clients to develop creative approaches and their best plans before implementation. After multiple possibilities are generated, clients can explore each one in order to determine which are the most inspirational and feasible.


Most importantly, the tone of the brainstorming conversation should be positive, demonstrating high-regard for the client’s creativity and capabilities, as positivity leads to enhanced problem solving and insight.


The Client Is in the Driver’s Seat

Be sure clients understand that they may turn away from any challenge or goal. It is always their choice. If they seem intrigued by a behavioral goal but intimidated by the challenge, encourage them to make a counterproposal that is more comfortable.


The job of the coach is to find the balance between challenging clients to do more than they think they can do while encouraging a scaling back of goals that are out of reach.


Perceptive listening is a great strategy to use in this situation and with goal setting in general. It will often promote pro-change talk, explore ambivalence, and set the groundwork to obtain a commitment.


Another way to unleash the client’s ability is to encourage him or her to have self-compassion through the process of goal setting. And, one path-way to self-compassion is changing perspectives about goals by thinking of them as “experiments.”


Using the design thinking premise of experimentation, viewing goals as experiments to be tested and adjusted as needed allows clients to be more likely to be resilient through the challenges of trying new behaviors and skills.


Tracking and Measuring Outcomes Progress

Self-regulation theory suggests that the ability to monitor oneself is a key factor in goal achievement, whereas the use of tools (such as assessments) support autonomy, a key component in self-determination theory.


Therefore, it is important not only to elicit qualitative feedback regarding client progress but also to track outcomes delivered by establishing new behaviors in an objective, measurable terms. When setting goals, a variety of baseline measurements and tracking techniques can be used to:


Assist clients in tracking progress over time on selected outcomes (e.g., reduced weight or inches lost, improved life balance, better peace of mind, increased fitness, etc.)


Help clients stay motivated toward achieving their goals

Provide important group outcomes for a coaching practice and for the field of coaching as a whole


A combination of several tracking approaches is best because, in a given period, one measure may change, whereas another may not. Clients will be more motivated if they see positive changes in at least one behavior area through behavioral tracking.


Over time, it is important to monitor which combination of tracking techniques will best assist the client in achieving success. During the initial sessions, ask the client which approaches they would prefer and discuss which measurements they would like to track. It is best to start out agreeing on a few effective measurements and adjust measurements over time as motivation increases.


Especially when clients have created mastery goals, or goals to develop or enhance success, they are more likely to take action to increase the chances of success, especially when supported by clear evidence.


Visualization Tool for Developing a Vision

Developing Vision

This visualization exercise takes only five–10 minutes, and it can make a significant contribution, as clients seek to develop their visions.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath from the lower stomach, and slowly breathe out. (Use this as a transition throughout the exercise.)


In your mind, go to a quiet place where you feel comfortable, peaceful, strong, and confident. You feel relaxed. What does your quiet place look like? How do you feel about being there? Notice what’s around you.


Picture yourself (one year, five years, etc.) from now. What does your health, fitness, or wellness look like? How do you look physically? What are you wearing? How does your body move? Notice any other changes in your life. Describe what you are doing, feeling, and thinking regarding your wellness.


Imagine that it is five years from now, and you have accomplished your goals. What does it feel like? What are you doing differently? What is the same? What did you do to get there? Who’s around you? What activities are you doing? Describe your health now. Who has helped you along the way?


Think of one keyword to summarize this experience and/or your commitment to health, fitness, and wellness.

Open your eyes, and let’s discuss what you learned from the exercise. Debrief with a measure of confidence and an exploration of the strengths and resources clients can call on to make it so.

  • What do you think is the best possible outcome of our coaching together?
  • What do you think is the likely outcome of our coaching together?
  • What would you like the outcome of our coaching to be?


Examples of Visions

Visions are best written in the present tense as if they are already happening and in the client’s voice. A complete vision statement might sound something like this: “I am strong, lean, and 20-pounds lighter, shopping for cute, attractive new clothes for my attractive body.


I am happy with lots of energy to do whatever I feel like doing. My health is better, and I am open, more patient, and social. My motivators are feeling and looking great with bountiful energy.


I also want to be around a long time for my parents, nieces, and nephews. When I face challenges, such as getting too busy, discouraged, overwhelmed, or stressed out, I pause, collect myself, and take doable steps to get back on track.


Healthy eating, exercise, and handling stress well are important to me and within my grasp. Through ongoing, intentional, and realistic planning, I achieve my goals and realize my wellness vision.”


Or: “My wellness vision is that I have healthy eating habits and set a good example for my children. I exercise regularly so that I am delaying aging and preserving my ability to function well in my older years. I look better and feel youthful.”


Or: “I have plenty of strength and stamina so that I can play energetically with my grandchildren. I am in charge of my health and feel greater well-being and contentment. I am a non-smoker (for good) and enjoy life to the fullest.”


Making Visions Real:

Making Visions

Designing Behavioral Goals

Compelling visions incorporate not only the desired outcomes but also the behaviors needed to achieve that outcome. When clients begin a coaching relationship, they typically know more about what they want (the outcomes) than about how they are going to get there (the behaviors).


For example, they may say their goals are to maintain a healthy weight, increase their sense of calm, or exercise with gusto.


These are outcome goals and they have their place, especially in the context of the vision statements. They reflect feelings, needs, values, and desires that can motivate and sustain behavior change. In and of themselves, however, outcome goals lead to behavior change when supported by a clear and compelling plan.


Without a clear plan, motivation alone does not propel clients into action, and it often withers in the face of adversity. With a clear plan, however, clients know what to do in order to achieve their desired outcomes and to make their visions a reality. What clients need are both willpower and waypower.


Clear plans include behavioral goals which:

Encourage the client to take on a challenge that stretches them while meeting their potential skills and abilities.

Enable clients to think about and identify the specific actions and behaviors they want to do next in working toward their vision, answering the question, “Now what?”


Encourage clients to measure progress against their initial baseline behaviors, adjusting and redesigning along the way. Trial and correction, not trial and error, represents the coaching framework for action planning.

Are grounded in the client’s motivation, rooted in his or her values, strengths, and desires


Support self-efficacy and self-determination, providing opportunities to build competence and create a connection.

Enable coaches to measure success. Having evidence-based data is critical for establishing efficacy as well as credibility, not only in one’s coaching practice but also in the consumer and healthcare communities.




One formula to ensure that experiments are behavioral goals is the SMART acronym (Doran, 1981):

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-based
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound


Assisting clients with being specific about the actions and behaviors in which they will engage to reach their visions will increase their levels of success. Being specific about the details of how and when is crucial because it gives clients a time frame in which to accomplish the goal.


(It is the difference between putting something on your schedule now versus “getting around to it” when there is time.) Creating measurable goals identifies when success is attained.


Break down the vision into actions or behaviors that clients want to be doing on a consistent basis in three months. Each week with the client, co-construct new incremental experiment steps that will assist him or her with moving closer and closer to the three-month goals. Remind clients early and often that gradual change leads to permanent change.


Realistic goal setting is essential to client success. If the goal is realistic, success will follow. Quick wins and victories are important. Being successful at achieving one goal helps clients move forward with other goals.


Success builds self-efficacy and self-esteem. Nothing hinders the change process more than setting unrealistic and unachievable goals.