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12 Goals: One Goal, Each Month, All Year (Introduction)

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Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at (or

The Idea

“What surprised me most were the ordinary methods successful people use to achieve all they achieve” – Malcolm Gladwell

Click for photo Setting goals is hard.  Achieving them is even harder.  Over the last decade, I’ve come to realize just how few people have any idea about what they want their life to be.  The majority of people take things day-by-day without a clear roadmap or direction.  Unfortunately this type of approach only works when you have an extreme amount of luck or an otherworldly amount of talent on your side.  Most people need a little more structure to their approach.

The big question: where do you start?  Some people jump right in after reading a personal development book and start thinking about their goals.  They work on this list for a few days, but without a blueprint for success, they eventually give up and fall back into their previous habits.  Habits that haven’t been able to generate the level of success they’re looking for.  The "ah-ha" moment for me came when thinking about what it is about the goals people set that has them giving up so quickly?

This led me to a simple conclusion.  Goals that are too big, too grand, simply don’t work.  Yet in order to qualify as a life goal, the goal by its very nature has to be big – otherwise it’s just a to-do item on a sticky note. So where does that leave us?  Well, right in the middle!  Goals that are scoped to approximately 30 days have an innate sense of urgency, yet there’s enough “runway” to achieve something pretty big.  When you break things down into 30 day milestones, you also have the benefit of being able to build on successes from month to month – you know that by April you will have achieved your January, February, and March goals, so you can make your April goal something that moves you that much further in the same direction.  Compounding success like this is quite powerful.

With this 30-day goal idea, I started searching through my research to see how I could group various concepts together to make Twelve Goals a more structured program.  The notion of 30-day goals is a start, but it certainly in and of itself isn’t enough to get people up off the couch.  That requires a little more.  After a few weeks of dissecting the data I’ve been collecting, I settled on a high-level structure that can serve as a basic template for people.  But more on that in a minute…

Why Set Goals At All?

Because they work.

Setting and working towards goals has many benefits.  In recent years, there have been studies linking goal-setting with an enhanced state of well-being; a feeling of purpose and happiness that’s unique to people who set and strive for something meaningful and important to them.  Goals that align with our needs, values, and identities are the types of goals that work best as they’re able to speak to who we really are.  People with this type of forward momentum exude positive energy and are able to better adjust to life’s ups and downs than those who are mindlessly wandering through their days.

It’s no secret that people who set goals are also more likely to achieve them.  Yet while people are diligent about setting goals at the workplace as part of standard practice, few take the time to focus on their lives outside of the office.  Naturally people who achieve their goals are more likely to be able to repeat the process with less mental overhead, reinforcing that positive state of well-being.  Researchers have referred to this as a happiness spiral.  Not a bad spiral to be stuck in, huh?

Goals are also refocusers.  Sure, it’s not a word that any dictionary recognizes, but it’s a very real concept as anyone who has ever been “off track” knows.  Goals have a very real ability to straighten us out during times of confusion or unhappiness by reminding us about who we are and what we need to do.  If you’re able to refer back to something tangible that describes to you what’s really important, chances are greater that you’ll saddle up, refocus, and make it so.

If you’re down on goal setting, you might want to stop here and check out Does Goal Setting Hold Us Back? before continuing.  If you’re back and you’re still down on goal setting, you still might want to read on and see if anything in the program resonates with you.

The Template

Twelve Goals is based on the following basic equation:

Achievement = Vision * (Monthly Goals * (Positive Habits + Specific Tasks + Daily Monitoring))

This formula is as simple as I could make it.  Any simpler and it would lose its punch.  What this says is that the combination of positive habits, specific tasks, and daily progress monitoring will really magnify your goals.  When combined with the right, appropriate vision for yourself, achievement is… well, achievable!  Here’s the primer (we’ll get deeper into each element over the next 60 days and I’ll come back and hyperlink each section).

Vision is what you use for inspiration and aspiration.  It’s the equivalent of the corporate mission statement.  The idea with a vision is to "begin with the end in mind".  For example, a trick we use at Microsoft is to write a press release before we begin developing the software so that when the time comes to make trade-offs, we know what our ultimate goal is.  Not much can be achieved without a vision, so it all starts here.  And of course, it’s not just thought about, it’s written down.

Monthly goals are your commitments for the year.  These monthly goals serve as the backbone for the entire Twelve Goals program.  Naturally it’s important that when deciding what your monthly goals should be, you look further than the traditional SMART model.  My recommendation is to use the list from 12 Ways to Make Your Goals Smarter when formulating your goals (holistic, value driven, personal, fresh, scoped, habit forming, present tense, positive, challenge/skill balanced, want-to, lasting, and shared).  Another aspect of goal setting that we’ll go into is the use of imagery, which when combined with words can help reinforce your goals.

Positive habits could be the most overlooked aspect of any goal-setting program, but it’s front and center in Twelve Goals.  For good reason too: without forming the appropriate habits, there’s no way to really achieve any level of sustained success.  Naturally the word sustained is the key word here.  There’s a big difference between the “one trick pony” kind of achievement that anyone could reach with a sprint of short-term activity, but what we’re looking to form is the basis for the achievement marathon.  Because similar to compounded interest in an investment account, the real fun comes from compounded success over time.  We’ll be using the 15-point list from 15 Ways to Get a New Habit to Stick Forever (by far the most popular post on Refocuser with thousands of views, dozens of tweets, and lots of discussion!)

Specific tasks are the constructs by which you break your goals into manageable, actionable, and concrete pieces.  With the 30-day window for each goal, we’ll be looking at each month as a milestone within the greater 12-month cycle, and before each month begins we’ll take some time to break that month’s goals into tasks.  If you’re aware of systems like Getting Things Done, this part of the program will likely be pretty familiar to you.  These are the micro-goals you’ll need in order to move forward, step-by-step.

Daily monitoring, the last piece of the puzzle, relates to the way we monitor progress and make ongoing adjustments as needed.  This is another oft-overlooked but important component, particularly when things haven’t become habitual yet.  There’s no quicker way than to tell when you’re off-track than to examine your progress on a day-to-day basis.  Of course, in order for this to work, monitoring has to be a habit in and of itself – and it can’t be something that you dread doing.  And of course, it can’t take more than 30 seconds to do it.  When we cover daily monitoring, a spreadsheet and PDF download will be made available for you to use.

What’s Next?

Continue to Create Your Vision (Step 1) ->

You can find all the Twelve Goals posts by clicking on the 12 Goals tag, subscribing to the RSS feed or email updates, or by following Refocuser on Twitter.

Written by Mike Torres

November 15th, 2009 at 2:20 pm

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  • Achievement = Vision * (Monthly Goals * (Positive Habits + Specific Tasks + Daily Monitoring)) One of the best formula I've seen and really useful in life.

  • Wow, this website is exactly what I need right now. I’m a chronic over-thinker and underachiever and don’t know how to get my life on track, but this information is everything I’m looking for in self -help. Thank you!!!!!!

  • Dave Macey

    I’ve read this thing through and it’s NOT simple. This seems very business style. I find that just keeping a journal, writing about my life and writing what I want on the opposite page to give me direct contact with myself as opposed to needing a computer or an “app”. I would even say this method could be dangerous for a chronic procrastinator.