4 Goal Setting Tricks and Techniques You Need to Know

Goals that spell out exactly what needs to be accomplished, and that set the bar for achievement high, result in far superior performance than goals that are vague or that set the bar too low.” - Heidi Grant Halvorson (from Succeed)

There's more to goals than writing down what you want.

Much more.

In this article/episode, you'll learn about four simple goal setting tricks and techniques that you can start using immediately to help you reach your goals. All four of these strategies come from Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson's research on effective goal-setting, as laid out in her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.

Tap the Play button below to start listening to the podcast version, or keep scrolling to read the article version.

4 goal setting tricks and techniques you need to know (backed by science)


Succeeding at making good goals starts with knowing your destination. Having a clear destination and a challenging path sets the stage for great goals. When you are specific about your destination you ensure you don’t settle for less, or give up before you reach your goal. Creating a challenging goal motivates you to work harder and longer on your goal.


There are times when it’s helpful to think about why you have a goal, and other times when it’s better to think about what you want from your goal. Thinking about why is more abstract, and connects your goal with big picture thinking. It also makes the goal more persuasive. Working late is more desirable when you are doing it to advance your career (why) than when you’re doing it to keep on typing for another hour (what).

Choosing what thinking is beneficial when something is “difficult, unfamiliar, complex, or just takes a lot of time to learn.” What thinking makes it easier to break the task down into manageable steps. It gives concrete terms that allow you to work through the task. Avoid big picture thinking for a difficult goal, and you’ll be better able to focus on the steps you need to complete it.

Use why thinking when you need motivation. It allows you to look at your desires, and see how that task works with what you really want.

Use what thinking when you have a difficult task. This causes you to look at what you are able to do, and how it will get done. It also leads to less procrastination, since you tend to find specific actions to take that lead towards your goal.


Studies have shown that those who believe in their success are more likely to be successful. The most successful people also believe that the journey to success will be hard—they don’t kid themselves about how difficult it’s going to be by repeating affirmations about “easily” achieving X goal by Y date—they know they need to work hard if they want to achieve their goals. This understanding of difficulty leads to more planning, effort, and action. “They expect to have to work hard, so that’s exactly what they do.” It’s important to be positive and realistic.


Mental contrasting is very helpful. You begin by visioning yourself achieving your goal, and then you think about everything that can get in the way of you and your goal. This helps predict potential obstacles that you may come across on your journey to achieving a given goal so you can make the most informed decisions to help you get where you want to go. It also helps you recognize when it’s time to move on from a goal. People who are optimistic about their goals, and are taught to use mental contrasting are consistently more successful than those who are only optimistic.


Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by 

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