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Effort Based Goals - May Be One the Easiest Ways To Set Goals This Year

This method of goal-setting may be one of the simplest ways to set goals and keep them. A method built on sustainable effort rather than our typical burnout early on.

A few years ago, I stopped writing New Year's Resolutions. I think I am in good company here. I am one of many who share the same feelings of, "I never reach my goals anyways, so why write them?" We can spare ourselves from the unnecessary feelings of failure. Why feel like a failure if we don't have to? "Let's just omit this goal-setting thing altogether."

Dream-self Vs. Real-self

I think some version of our dream-self makes goals and our real-self has to do all the executing, and our dream-self doesn't always take into consideration how tired, unmotivated, or discouraged we actually are. Honestly, I don't even think our dream-self are working with all the information. We may make a goal to weigh 140 pounds, but what does that even take? Working out 30 minutes, an hour? How many snacks will I have to cut? Will I need to remove gluten? This right here is especially where dream-world, goal-world, and reality can get really mismatched. How do we pursue a goal if we don't even confidently know the steps to take?

We may be actually very realistic people who know that we are working with limited resources of time, motivation, money, and energy, and take that into consideration when goal setting, but when we do not know what our real goal encompasses and will actually require of us, we can still feel disheartened when our attempt towards them falls much too short.

Enter a new kind of goal setting, called effort-based goals.

Traditional goal setting starts with the result in mind and determine the effort required based on the desired end result. Effort-based goal setting starts with the effort and vision in mind, and accepts the results based on the effort we are willing to put into it.

An example of traditional goal setting is what I said earlier—this year (timeline) I would like to weigh 140 pounds (end result) so I probably need to (effort). 👈🏻Here is where we would insert our best guesses as to how to achieve the desired result.

Effort-based goal setting in a similar context would be— this year (timeline) I would like to live a healthier lifestyle and obtain a healthier weight, so I am willing to work out 30 minutes three times a week (effort), and I will accept whatever my weight ends up being  with that amount of effort.

Benefits of Effort-Based Goals

I am not necessarily suggesting that we should throw out traditional goal setting, because in certain contexts, this is the only type of appropriate goal setting. In college, a paper is due when a paper is due no matter how much effort we want put into it. However, the benefits of effort-based goal setting is sustainability, peace, and making real strides toward important, larger visions.


Here is where traditional goal setting can be found lacking: we often don't know how much effort and the actual steps that will be required to reach our goals. What can happen is we find out that the effort is challenging to sustain in light of our real life responsibilities and energy and then we give up the goals altogether. We quit while we are ahead to prevent feeling like a failure. However, one of the downsides of quitting our goals is our confidence dwindles as we begin to see ourselves as someone who can't keep the goals they make.

Effort-based goal setting works with the knowledge we DO have, the knowledge of the present.

We sometimes don't know what steps or effort it will take to weigh the weight, improve the marriage, or read a certain amount of books. But what I do know is how much energy I have to work out tomorrow. I know my current bandwidth. I am intimately familiar with my resources of time, energy, knowledge, and money today.

Effort-based goal setting chooses the strides we will make towards a certain goal/vision in light of our resources. We may not go as fast, but we are not going to give up on getting there.


When we give up goals and vision altogether, we begin to live our life on repeat at the mercy of reactions to our life rather than choosing to intentionally build the life we want. Goals generally represent our hopes for a better future and when we give them up, oftentimes what we are really saying is we give up hope for things to get or be any better than they are now. We settle for accepting the life we are given, rather than being a co-designer with God with our one beautiful life.

I'm not recommending either that we should not be content when our life is overflowing with real blessing. But what I also know is that many of us accept coasting in our marriage, live in constant distraction on our phones, and inauthentically hide our opinions and voices for fear of judgment, and we have to hope for better than that.

So, while we are already in the mode of accepting, let's change what we are accepting. Rather than accepting our lives, as is, and feeling like victims and unable to make real change, let's exchange that for accepting a slower speed, our limitations, and maybe a result that misses the ideal, but is most of the way there.

We lose our real peace when we feel like victims in our life rather than influencers of it. We lose real peace when we hide our voices, desires, and longings somewhere deep inside, when they are begging for some air. We lose our peace when we coast through relationships that we know we should be fighting for. When we lose our hope in life, we stop showing up for it.

I have seen an example of this when companies do not reward or even recognize the effort of their top performers. The star employees lose their hope and motivation, and check out.

Peace is found in meaningful work with meaningful steps toward meaningful visions. We do not need everything to be perfect to obtain peace, we only need to feel we are on the path.

If you have gotten off the path, stopped trying, or given up hope and lost your peace in the process, I hope this method is a catalyst for you to give all those dreams, longings, and your voice a shot again. There is a lot of peace to be found in doing good work and showing up, and I think that gives more peace than the end result ever really does.

Real Strides Towards Important Visions

We have touched on this quite a bit, so I will be brief here. Effort-based goal setting gets you back into being a builder and influencer in the game of life.

Once upon a time, I really wanted a better marriage. I wasn't sure what I needed to do, but we decided to do something. Being the overambitious individual that I can be sometimes, when it came to improving our marriage, I would be the type to gut the house, metaphorically speaking, and do a full-on renovation, but taken the season we were in (one with young children), I definitely would've quit shortly after I started. Additionally, I have only know of a few men who are willing to have one emotionally intense conversation after another emotionally intense conversation. It would not have been sustainable for him either. So, rather than upturning everything, we started someplace small. Call it, "that corner" or "dusting" in our marriage "house", but the point is, it was small and worked with the time and emotional resources we had at the time.

It was actually called our family meeting (here is a blog post that shares the questions we use to lead our family meeting).

It was underwhelming at first, but the impact has been profound. Now it feels like an anchor to me. When we miss it, I feel slightly afloat for a week.

It was a small step, but it made a real change.

Your small steps can too.

Your visions are important, and when we make peace with our real limits, resources, desires, and energy, you can actually make real steps. We don't need to judge the pace, we only need to make some steps.

When you can shed the self-judgment around pace or failure then you'll get momentum and may be able to take larger steps.

How To Set Effort-Based Goals

If you have read this far, and now you want to create a goal setting process that feels sustainable to you while ditching the guilt and the feelings of failure, I am excited to share how simple this is and I even included a free printable workbook for you.

Step One: Get a Clear(er) Vision

This really comes down to the question: What do you want?

Oftentimes we have a vague notion of what we want, but I honestly think that is the farthest most of us go, a vague notion.

So, what do you want?

What do you want for your family?

What do you want in your career?

How do you want to spend your free time?

What kind of experiences would you like to have?

How much money do you want to make?

What do you want to be remembered for?

If you want to go more in depth, grab that workbook.

Step Two: Prioritize

If you could only choose to work on two or three areas of your life, what would you choose?

Which one is most important to you?

What would you work on next?

"Less is more," is what I live my life by.

You can take on more when you are seeing real progress in one area or only a few. Taking on too much will definitely cause us to throw in the towel prematurely.

Step Three: Brainstorm Possible Action Steps to Move You in The Direction of Your Vision

For this step, I want you to lay aside the need for these answers to be "right". That will hinder you. I just want you to see all the ideas that you have before you. The options will not only give you clarity but also empower you. YOU HAVE OPTIONS. For me, that alone is encouraging. Feeling like we don't have options will fast track us towards a victim mentality.

So, what options do you have?

This helps us know WHERE to put our effort and know WHAT is most important.

Step Four: Break Down Your Steps as Small as Possible

If you decide working toward a deeper, more meaningful family life is a top priority then you could make having better communication an action step. Breaking that down even smaller is:

  • Asking one question a day (even smaller is choosing the questions ahead of time)

  • Starting a family meeting

  • Deciding on a family vision

  • Looking up family vision examples

We may not have an open calendar or even a weekly date night at our disposal when pursuing our vision of "meaningful family life" so using our small pockets of free time well is essential. Breaking down our goals into these micro-steps equips us to use even our smallest increments of free time in wise and lasting ways.

Like the saying goes, "A mountain is climbed one step at a time." The primary difference here is that it is easy to identify the next physical step when climbing a mountain. Breaking down emotional, mental, or spiritual goals into micro-steps aids us in seeing those next steps with the same clarity.

Step Five: Pick a Focus

Determine What Your Limits Are and Where You Will Place Your Effort.

I am not necessarily suggesting that you need to write down every limit you have, that alone may take too much effort. What I am saying is be aware of your limits as you choose where you are going to place your effort. Where do you typically get derailed? Is your energy your limit? Your ability to stay encouraged or focused? Work with your limits.

Now, write down the smallest, most specific action you can take in light of your limits.

Stick with this action for a while. The results may be slow but they will be cumulative.

Step Six: Choose Acceptance

This is the part where we make peace and choose acceptance. We choose to say our results are good enough. We ditch perfectionism and decide that living somewhere between ideal and nonideal is okay. Making an effort toward a larger vision will bring peace in and of itself because ignoring our desire and longings with inaction makes us feel totally disconnected from ourselves. However, the result probably will be somewhere in the middle of ideal and nonideal, so this part is a choice to accept the results, accept the middle, and live in peace.

Step Seven: Reevaluate

Previously, I mentioned that this is a goal setting method, not THE goal setting method. The primary focus is on sustainable steps, but if you are taking steps and you still feel you are a far-cry from what you want, that you simply cannot accept the result, this is where we reevaluate.

Here is what I find to be generally true, when we begin to take action on goals, our capacity grows. So maybe we can at this point take more action and more meaningful action.

If this is not the case, and your goals still feel important to you, then your whole life is up for reevaluation. Priorities may need to shift. We may need to ask for help in some areas of our life. We may need to make other tasks simpler and easier. We may need to declutter.

I think many of us live out of instinct and habit so much that we sometimes forget to ask, "Is this really working?"


I don't do well with huge goals. I do better with smaller, more manageable goals that feed into a larger vision.

I am not suggesting out-with-old and in-with-the-new. I am not trying to even propose that effort-based goal setting is necessarily better than traditional goal-setting. What I am suggesting is there are places in our lives where this kind of goal setting can help us make strides towards important and meaningful goals and visions we have for ourselves, that we would not attempt with the old goal-setting method. These values should not be ignored, unpursued, and given up on (before we even start) because we feel stuck in a box of the traditional goal-setting method. Most of us desire to go beyond merely coasting through life. We want to live meaningfully, and this gives us a new way forward.

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