How to set goals and achieve them: 4 steps that actually work

Articulating your life purpose and having conscious goals to work towards, creates energy for change.

Often goals change and life circumstances get in the way. Every single one of us is certainly experiencing this with uncertainties we are facing at the moment.

However, clarifying your unique purpose in life and setting goals to achieve this purpose can be a powerful and liberating process.

This is more relevant than ever, with the roller coaster ride of a life we are going through.

I have coached many people throughout my career, both in a personal setting and in the workplace, as a teacher, career coach, and executive manager in the Education sector.

Through my work over the years, I have come to the realization that the coaching process can be very powerful in helping people make deep and lasting changes, developing their self-mastery and transforming all aspects of their lives, and subsequently impact positively those around them.

Several years ago, I created a model of change for people to learn to coach themselves and then published a guide to self-coaching on the internet.

Since then, many people have read this guide and followed the steps to help transform their lives.

My REACH model of change has not only helped people coach themselves to success, but also helped them to develop the skills to embed this model on an ongoing basis in their life.

My REACH model for goal setting and achieving

R Observe objectively your current reality and circumstances.

E Generate energy for change by creating a compelling vision for your life.

A Develop, implement and evaluate your action plan, setting your dynamic SMARTER goals aligned to your passions and vision.

CH Change ingrained behavior patterns and cultivate positive habits and in the process gain greater self-awareness and personal mastery.

Coaching services on the internet, both for the workplace and for personal development, are prolific.

What I have created goes beyond this and gives the individual full responsibility to take charge of their lives and future.

My REACH self-coaching model is a cyclical process that continues throughout your life. This model works extremely well and ultimately gives power back to the individual.

This is indeed a precursor to living a more fulfilling and meaningful life, in this increasingly interconnected and chaotic world we live in.

Clearly, an important part of coaching and self-development is in the setting and achieving of individual goals which align with your passions and personal vision.

However, what is significant in doing this, is the knowledge that it is not just about the achievement of those goals themselves.

It is also about the self-mastery you gain and the person you become as a result.

REACH Self-coaching Model

1. R – Observe objectively your current reality and circumstances.

Before you start on the self-coaching journey of setting goals and working towards them, you need to look very objectively at your current life.

I find this is a step that many people miss to their detriment. How do you know where you want to end up if you do not know where you are in the first place?

Some activities you can do that will help you observe where you are presently at and what your current circumstances are articulating your core values and doing a life satisfaction audit on all aspects of your life.

Until you have clarity about your current reality, it is hard to be able to articulate your personal vision and goals.

What you are doing here is a personal inventory of your life. You will learn more about the core values that guide you in your everyday living and your intrinsic motivation, all of which have helped you get through challenging times. This is in essence how you are true to yourself.

A life satisfaction audit is a very effective way of examining different facets of your life and where you are presently at with them. My self-coaching guide has a comprehensive life satisfaction audit that will help you define what parts of your life you want to enhance.

2. E – Generate energy for change by creating a compelling vision for your life.

Here you need to work on your inspirational personal vision for the future, for your successful and fulfilling life, incorporating all that is important to you.

There are many ways to develop your personal vision. It is a time to reflect on where you want to be in the future, whether it be in 12 months, 2 years or even 5 years.

It is also a time to reflect on what you are passionate about and what gives you energy. This is an opportunity to do some reflective writing in a personal journal.

After having done all that work on developing a greater understanding of yourself, on your values, and your current reality, it is now time to write freely and with imagination about your vision.

Writing can articulate your personal vision well. Forget about the obstacles and barriers you have and focus on what you really want your life to be like, what fulfills you and makes you happy.

Two exercises you can do to work on your vision will help articulate what you want in your

future life. The first exercise is a letter to yourself in the future and the second one is your eulogy.

The first exercise emphasizes more your external life circumstances such as your work, living environment, health and fitness, relationships, how you want to spend your time. The second technique focuses on your inner (emotional and spiritual) wellbeing, how you interact with others, your beliefs, and your values.

We all need a certain level of security, safety, and comfort and there is nothing wrong with having material goals to work towards to improve your life circumstances. If that is all you have to aim for though, you may find it will not give you the happiness you thought it would.

Power and money seem to be something people want more and more of when they are on a materialistic path, accumulating more and more as well as needing more and more.

However, to live a truly successful life, we need another definition of success, one that includes our emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. It also includes our values, our resilience, our self-mastery, the way we interact with people, our ability to be present, what we can contribute, and finally, your regard for all life and for the planet itself.

Looking at success in this way is becoming more common. It adds a spiritual component to the term success that is missing in a materialist and individual world. It is based on the knowing that we are so much more than our minds and bodies. It does not matter what you call this, whether it be God, Buddha, universal energy, your wisdom or any other term.

We know that successful organisations have a vision, are clear about their purpose and have effective branding. How many of us have our own personal vision and brand? In this digital world, are we clear how we want to be perceived and known?

Writing a letter to yourself in the future and your eulogy will help you define your vision for the future. Make sure your vision is compelling and appealing. Ask yourself, how does it make you feel? How does it impact on others? Take your time to do these exercises.

Once you have completed them, you will then be closer to articulating what it is you want to change in your life. You cannot change all aspects of your life at once. Focusing on two to three areas can make a significant difference to your life.

We all have the capacity to be proactive. Dreaming of a better future, pursuing your goals and taking action can give you the momentum for change and personal growth.

In following this path, in making a conscious choice to improve some of your life circumstances and your wellbeing, you learn more about yourself, your patterns of behaviour and thoughts and take more responsibility for your life.

3. A – Develop, implement and evaluate your action plan, guided by your SMARTER goals aligned to your passions and vision.

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. Embracing change rather than resisting it is the way forward for all of us. Being able to develop a more open and can-do attitude, no

matter what our external circumstances are, increases our overall wellbeing.

In fact, being able to change ourselves when things are going badly or when we feel stagnant and stuck in old ways, boosts our immune systems.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, coined the phrase ‘learned helplessness’. There have been many studies to show that when we feel helpless, we are prone to illness.

This famous quote by Victor Frankl sums it up perfectly.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The goals you set need to be compelling and stretch you beyond your comfort zone.

They need to be SMART (S specific, M measurable, A achievable, R realistic and relevant, T time-framed).

John Lees, author of Secrets of Resilient People adds another dimension to this traditional view of SMART goals. He states goals need to be SMARTER (E stands for exciting and R stands for rewarding).

It is particularly important the goals you have chosen, resonate deeply with you, and you are enthused and energised by them, and where they will lead you.

The alternative definition of SMART comes from Deepak Chopra who is an Indian-American author and alternative medicine advocate and a well-known figure in the New Age movement.

S- Stretch more than you can reach. Get out of your comfort zone. Know that you are capable of achieving so much more. Really look at what you want to be. Yes, the goals need to be doable and realistic but they must also challenge you.

M- Make everything in your life measurable. Reflect on your life. Acknowledge any aspect you make changes to.

A- Make an agreement with your inner self to live in harmony, mutual support, and love. This is an agreement between the inner world of values and beliefs and the outer world of the complexity and vagaries of life, an alignment and personal connection to the universe.

R- Notice, acknowledge and register the inner growth that is taking place. By doing this consciously it affirms the changes you are making even if it is bit by bit.

T- Give yourself time limits. Do not allow procrastination to dominate your life. We all have times of not being motivated but know that time limits can galvanise you into action.

Once you have finalized your goals, take some time to work out your overall strategies, and then you can complete your personal action plan which includes details of your goals, strategies, and your weekly actions.

Your action plan needs to include a way of measuring your progress with your goals. This is very important as it helps you clarify how you are going.

For example, if you have a goal of running in a 10k fun run by the end of the year, your overall strategy would be to incorporate a regular schedule of running at least four times a week.

The next step will be then to develop your weekly action plan where you are more specific and note how far you will run each week and how often. You may include some other exercises you want to incorporate in your action plan.

Another example relates to integrating mindfulness into your day-to-day life. One of the strategies may be to investigate an online course on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or an App that has mindfulness meditations you can access.

Another strategy may be to learn more about mindfulness through reading and listening to podcasts. You can be more specific and give more detail in your weekly actions such as practise 15 mins of meditation a day.

CH – Change ingrained behaviour patterns and cultivate positive habits and in the process gain a greater self-awareness and personal mastery.

At the end of the day setting goals and taking effective action generally involves creative new habits which need to be embedded in your life. Changing ingrained habits takes courage and perseverance.

It is actually about building a positive system of habits, even if they are small behaviour changes that when combined deliver significant results.

There has been a lot of research on habits and evidence-based techniques, that by making small positive changes step by step, these are then a catalyst for major changes in your life.

What we do know is that you form habits with repetition and 21 days has been bandied about as the minimum time you need to turn a behavior into a habit. Clearly, habits need to be repetitious but without the motivation for the desired outcome, repetition alone will not cut it.

What is needed is the desire for change. What I have come to learn over many years is that you need to genuinely desire the outcome. Even the thought alone of reaching that goal makes you feel good about yourself.

What about the breaking of bad habits and addictions? I am sure every one of us has some bad habits we would love to get rid of.

An ingrained bad habit many of us have, is going down the rabbit hole of overthinking and obsessive worrying when we are anxious and under stress.

To learn more about the science behind habit change and the breaking of addictions, I went to and also read Dr Jud’s latest book Unwinding Anxiety. I highly recommend anyone with a tendency to anxiety read this book.

Dr Jud (Dr Judson Brewer) is an internationally recognised psychiatrist with 20 years’ experience at Yale, MIT and Brown University researching how our brains form negative behaviour patterns, bad habits and addiction and the specific techniques needed to create lasting change. was created by Dr. Jud Brewer (MD PhD) and the team at MindSciences, based on his work in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery. Dr Jud is passionate about understanding how our brains work so he can help people make deep, and lasting change in their lives.

You’re already awesome! Just get out of your own way. Judson Brewer, MD, PhD

Dr Jud discusses the neuroscience behind the bad habits that keep us stuck. We all know how hard it is to break bad habits, no matter how much effort we make, to try to stop them.

Dr Jud has worked with clients over many years to help them get rid of with their addictions. According to Dr Jud, the solution to breaking bad habits is in mindfulness.

In Unwinding Anxiety, he shows evidence that mindfulness training was five times better than the current leading treatment in helping people quit smoking. Smoking is regarded as the hardest chemical addiction to quit.

We are often on autopilot when we are engaging in a bad habit.

When you are curious and mindful of what you are actually being rewarded with, can be a catalyst breaking the habit.

Finding the cue or the trigger for the bad habit can be helpful. Again, you need to be mindful of when the behavior occurs.

Sometimes a small change to the ingrained habit can be enough to stop or reduce it. As an example, a team of psychologists led by David Neal of the University of Southern California did a test on people eating popcorn at a cinema.

People in the test ate the popcorn whether they were hungry or not. It was automatic to them. However, when they were asked to use their non-dominant hand (for example, a right-hander forced to eat with their left hand) the mindless eating stopped.

To finish off, we know that an important part of coaching and self-development is in setting and achieving individual goals. However, what is significant in doing this, is the knowledge that it is not just about the achievement of those goals!

Goals give you purpose, direction, and momentum but it is actually the journey that is more important than the outcome. In many cases, the goals may change as you work your way through them.

The real value of setting and pursuing your goals is not just in pursuing the goals themselves but in the person, you become as a result.

It is about stepping out of your comfort zone and growing, learning more about yourself, your strengths, your capacity for resilience, and your potential.

It is about consciously changing your entrenched habits and behaviors. In many ways, you are reflecting on what you need to change within yourself. In doing so, you are changing emotionally, leaning into those uncomfortable feelings that need to be addressed.

This is what leads to sustainable change and can enhance all facets of your life.



Jeanette Brown

I have been in Education as a teacher, career coach and executive manager over many years.
I'm also an experienced coach who is passionate about supporting people in finding real meaning and purpose in their lives, building a resilient, grounded inner self and achieving their desired goals.

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