The Secret to Setting Sticky Goals (how to turn your dreams into reality)

“A dream only becomes overrated when not pursued by the dreamer.” ~Courtney Hickman (Tweet)

Dreams are unborn opportunities waiting for the DNA of action to give them heart and soul.

They remain wishes and fantasies that fade into what-ifs and if-onlies until given the breath of life by the animating force of effort.

Goals, then, are the mechanism that harness effort and breathe life into dreams. They push hope down into feet. They turn the passivity of wishing into the inspiration of action.

To Goal or Not to Goal

And yet there seems to be some controversy over goals within the personal development industry.

Some rightfully complain that goals have often led to a bulldoze-mentality that focuses too much on the end over the process. Now is sacrificed at the altar of tomorrow.

Others warn that goal setters often beat themselves up when they fall short of the mark, thereby robbing themselves of the joy of the reach. They sacrifice peace and happiness at the altar of the dizzying pursuit of success.

Still others say goals are like tunnels. When we enter them, we lose sight of other opportunities life tends to scatter along the path. Goal setters thereby sacrifice spontaneity at the altar of an uncompromising single-mindedness.

But that’s a lot like blaming the hammer for smashing the thumb. The tool is only as good as the user’s mastery of it. And so it is with goals, even though only 8% of goal setters ever reach them.

When goals are inspired and wisdom is employed in their pursuit, goals can add meaning and direction and momentum to a wonderful life of measured Improvement. More dreams in the form of goals are realized, progress made and passion experienced than without them.

Sticky Goals

Have you ever stepped in gum, then tried to get the gum off the bottom of your shoe? The gum gets pushed into the tread and becomes near impossible to remove. When we set sticky goals, our goals get stuck in the tread of our lives as well.

Unlike stepping in gum, we want to reach our goals. But like gum, well-set goals become stuck to us and us to them.

Accomplishment begins to seem inevitable because our goals have become natural expressions of the road we’re on, as the only path we could imagine taking.

The two (the goal and the goal setter) become one. This way, the goal becomes less what we force ourselves to work at and more the natural expression of who we are and hunger to become. Like so much gum on shoes or sidewalks, the two become fused, gum and surface no longer separable.

How to Set Sticky Goals (5 tips)

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” ~Henry David Thoreau

1. Align your goals to your values

If goals are not in harmony with faith, beliefs and values, you may find yourself fighting an internal battle that can’t be won, a bit like arm wrestling yourself. No matter who wins, you lose.

You don’t want your subconscious working against the goals your feet are trying to get to. That generates a kind of internal friction, a moral dissonance that leaves your heart little choice but to go on strike against your brain’s best efforts.

Dedicated service to goals that have been closely aligned to our values adds conviction and passion to their pursuit. This helps us persevere as habits are being formed that support the target we are aiming our lives at. It’s a lot easier, after all, to get passionate about goals when they are consistent with the core principles that animate us.

Pursuing goals that don’t respect your values and that compromise your character is like trying to swim upstream. When we turn in the direction of our values, all the internal currents of conscience, desire, passion, faith and purpose align themselves behind our effort.

2. Set Result-Oriented Goals and Adjust the Process

Don’t set goals to run every morning, or go to the gym 3 days a week or golf every Thursday. That’s a process. The results-oriented goal should be something like losing 15 pounds or getting your cholesterol count down 5 points (or any other measurable personal development goal).

If my goal was to reduce my blood pressure 10 points, the process (the gym, eating more broccoli, running 5 miles) wouldn’t be rigidly set in stone. I wouldn’t feel bound to a particular process. In other words, on one day I might run. The next day, go on a hike. The day after that could be playing soccer with the kids at the park.

If the process is the goal (the gym 6 days a week), anytime there’s another opportunity (“Hey, let’s go mountain climbing!”), I might be tempted to turn down the offer, especially if I’ve missed a few days’ workout at the gym recently. We’re then more susceptible to burnout and abandon our ill-set goals.

Refusing to set process goals as end-goals allows us the flexibility life sometimes demands of us and makes the pursuit of our goals less onerous and rigid—another reason too many people find themselves among the 92 percent who never reach their goals.

3. Review your goals daily

You would never skip a day feeding your kids or the cat, so don’t skip days feeding your goals. (Tweet) Goals are like living things in that they also die when neglected. (Tweet)

It’s so easy to get buried under the minutia of daily living. Good intentions become disappointing regrets if we’re not careful.

So reconnecting with our goals by reevaluating them, updating them as needed, then reviewing them daily thereafter is a critical step the 92% tend to leave out of the process. You are giving birth to your dreams, after all, so be sure to give your goals the due respect they deserve by touching base with them regularly, updating them, planning the next step of your journey.

4. Set benchmark goals

When I first started driving to the ski slopes in my teen years, I would often get nervous when I felt I was on a particular road longer than it felt I should be (this was in the prehistoric days before GPS and Mapquest). In such moments, I didn’t know what to do. Should I turn back to look for the turn I thought I missed? How far back should I go before realizing I missed nothing at all? Or should I keep going and risk getting further down the wrong road? Grrr!

It was often in those moments of frustration and uncertainty, that I would suddenly spot a landmark (a dam, an oddly-shaped boulder, an iconic building) and would suddenly feel confident again.

Like recognizing landmarks on a long drive, setting shorter-ranged sub-goals as we move toward our longer-ranged goals also helps keep us motivated, on track, and staying the course as days turn to weeks into months on the long road toward the end of the year.

The Life Raft Analogy
Look at it this way: How long and hard would you paddle if you were lost in a life raft in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean with nothing on any horizon in any direction? All day? A week? Which way would you paddle? How confident would you be that you were paddling closer to land or further out to sea?

On the other hand, in what direction, how long and hard would you paddle if there was an identifiable dot of land on the horizon?

Answer: Toward the dot, as long and hard as it takes to get there!

That’s what benchmark goals do. By setting six, three and one month sub-goals, we keep land visible on the horizon as we paddle through the vast sea of the 92% toward the 8% shore line.

5. Take daily steps

Don’t let a day go by without reading something, learning something, preparing something, doing something that helps you step in the direction of your goals.

When you take daily steps, you build forward momentum and begin the process of creating positive habits that move you forward, often in spite of yourself.

Goals rarely get old and stale if you never leave them out overnight untended. (Tweet) So daily tend to your goals by taking action toward them every day. Then, perhaps, in another 5 or 6 months, you’ll be able to confidently report you have entered the ranks of the 8%.


When goals are properly set, reflecting what you truly want, free of internal obstructions, the nature of the goals change. They become self-perpetuating, internally motivating and self-sustaining. When that happens, attainment becomes something much closer to inevitable.

And that is the difference between the 92% who give up on their goals and the 8% who don’t.

Read Part I of this post on becoming an 8 percenter here.

3 Insightful Quotes about Setting Goals

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” ~Karen Lamb (Tweet)

So start. Today. Don’t put it off any longer. Take the first step right now. Set a goal. Then take a step toward it. Then another. Repeat. Have fun.

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” ~Bruce Lee (Tweet)

There are two ways to measure the success of a goal: 1) Completion. 2) Personal growth. Whether you reach your goal or experience the stretch of heart and soul in the process of the pursuit, you have, in my book, succeeded. In either event, you are no longer standing in the spot you started. You have moved. And movement is at the heart of happiness.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” ~Michelangelo Buonarroti

Think big. Reach high. Stretch long. Then, even if you fall backward, you’ll be further down the road than had you fallen forward with a lesser goal.

Your Turn …