Goal Setting

Bekki Hill

10 Rules for Goal Setting 

The way we set goals can make a huge difference to how hard or easy our journey to achieving them is and even to whether we accomplish them or not. Using the following ten goal setting rules can help make your journey smoother and increase your chances of success. 

One: Define your target. 

Define your target by asking yourself what you want to achieve. For example you might want to finish a first draft, get an agent or draw for two hours each day. Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish allows you to: 

  • Identify the best steps to take to achieve it. 
  • Focus fully and accurately on accomplishing it. 
  • Recognise when you have achieved your goal. 

Two: Phrase your goals using the four Ps. 

The way goals are phrased is very important. 

‘I have completed the first draft of my novel Stardust by December 31st 2014.’ Is a well phrased goal, because it is: 

Personal - The goal belongs to the person who is achieving it. 

Precise - The goal states exactly what will be achieved and when it will be achieved. 

Present Tense - Writing a goal in the present tense allows our subconscious to see the goal as ‘happening’ now. This motivates us to work on it immediately and not put it off until later. 

Positive - Goals that state we will lose or not do something are unattractive to our subconscious and therefore we will be less highly motivated to achieve them. 

‘I will not procrastinate when I should be writing.’ is a poorly phrased goal, because:

  • It is negative – it says what you don’t want to do. 
  • There is no timeframe telling you when you will achieve your goal. 
  • It is ill-defined, because it does not tell you what you will be doing when you are not procrastinating or when the times are that you will be writing. 
This goal would be much better rephrased as: 

‘I write for two hours from 7- 9 pm every weekday evening by October 31st 2014.’ 

Three: Take control of your goal. 

Goals such as writing 500 words a day, completing a first draft of a novel in six months or spending three hours illustrating each day are fully within your control. However, goals like finding an agent or signing a book deal depend on other peoples’ choices and actions. Since you cannot take full control of the goals like these, set appropriate goals that should bring you to have what you want. For example, if you want an agent, you could set a goal to make a certain number of submissions each month and/or to attend appropriate networking events. 

Four: Break big goals into smaller chunks. 

It’s easy to put off working towards a goal or lose focus on a goal if we see it as something we won’t achieve for a very long time. Long-term goals may also seem so big that accomplishing them feels impossible or highly unlikely so we don’t even start working towards them. Always break big goals into smaller goals that build to achieve the bigger goal. 

Five: Create an action plan. 

Identify exactly what actions you are going to take to achieve your goal and when you are going to take them. 

Six: Be realistic about what you can achieve. 

Beware of creating plans that don’t make the most of your time and abilities as well as ones that are so hard or time consuming they’re doomed to failure from the start. 

Seven: Write down your goals.

Writing goals down helps you to remember to work on them and to focus on them more clearly. It is also good to write down your action plans for exactly the same reasons. 

Eight: Don’t be afraid to move the goal posts. 

Once you start working on a goal, you may discover the parameters you originally identified need to be changed. This is fine, as long as you are honest with yourself about why they need changing. 

Nine: Remember everything is a learning experience. 

Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “I have not failed 700 times. I’ve succeeded in proving 700 ways how not to build a light bulb.”* Whether you ‘succeed’ or ‘fail’ to achieve a goal you set, always identify what you have learned on the journey and how you will use this learning in the future. 

Ten: Create a positive experience. 

When you achieve a goal, celebrate your success. If you ‘fail’ to achieve it, don’t be too hard on yourself if there are good reasons you didn’t succeed. However, don’t be too kind to yourself if you haven’t got good reasons. 

 *Edison originated this idea in an interview for the New York Times, however the exact words he used are disputed.

Bekki Hill is a Writing and Creativity Coach and the author of NLP for Writers, Coach Yourself to Writing Success and The Bullet Guide to Life Coaching. Bekki also wrote a coaching column in Mslexia for eight years and has published short stories and features in popular magazines. She also delivers workshops based on her experience as a coach and a writer. Find Bekki at www.thewritecoach.co.uk and @bekkiwritecoach.


  1. This is brilliant, Bex. I'm printing it out now! Thank you!! xxx

  2. Excellent advice, Bekki, thank you. A writer friend suggested a visual goal-achieving aide which I've come to love as a deadline approaches. It's a drawing of an empty flask divided into horizontal sections with word count targets marked on one side, and target dates on the other. (My sections are for 2,500 words per week.) You colour each ascending section in when you reach your word count goal, i.e. 15,000, 27,500 etc. A bit Blue Peter I admit, but surprisingly satisfying to see it fill up.

  3. Thanks for some great advice. Target setting really works for me but I think after reading your tips I’m going to try changing the way I write them. I’ve not come across the idea of writing targets in the present tense before. Sounds like a good idea!


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