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The Art of Goal Setting


Goal-setting might sound simple but a significant amount of research has gone into identifying the most effective ways to set goals in order to achieve the best outcomes. You can find an immense amount of literature outlining various goal-setting theories. Here we will focus on a popular, simple goal-setting concept that is widely used and accepted. Extensive research has shown that goal setting is highly effective when we adopt the S.M.A.R.T formula.

S.M.A.R.T stands for:


Goals need to be made clear, unambiguous and direct


The goal must be measurable so you can determine whether you are on track and so you can be sure of when you have achieved it


The goal must be achievable given the current skills and resources available of the person


The goal must be aligned with the overall objectives of the team/organisation so that it makes sense to achieve it. It needs to be appropriate to the person’s role and it must be realistically achievable.

Time Bound/Towards

Time-frames establish a sense of urgency and can propel someone forward. A commitment to a deadline helps an individual or a team to focus their efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date.

Additionally, language should always lean Towards what is wanted rather than Away From. For example rather than saying I don’t want to be overweight” you might say “I want to be slim”

The importance of stating goals using language of TOWARDS

The unconscious mind serves and follows instructions. Suppose I was to say to you: Don’t think of a purple elephant. It’s really important that you don’t think of a purple elephant right now. I can’t emphasise enough that you must not think of a purple elephant.

What inevitably ends up happening? You probably think of a purple elephant - because that is what my words drew your attention to. I mentioned the purple elephant.

Intriguingly our unconscious mind struggles to process negatives and moves us towards what we give our attention to. So even if you say “don’t look down” our unconscious mind hears “look down” irrespective of the fact that you prefaced it with “don’t.” Words really do matter.

Without realizing it, people often structure goals around what they DON’T want, rather than what they DO want. For example, they express goals using language such as “I don’t want to be in debt” or “I don’t want to fail”. Unfortunately this means that the thing you DON’T want is at the centre of your attention and you will unconsciously move towards it.


An important question about how we motivate ourselves to take action whether we are motivated by what we want (pleasure) or by what we want to avoid (pain).

At some level, if the reward (or potential pleasure) is big enough or the consequences (or potential pain) are bad enough everyone will move TOWARD or AWAY FROM.

There is a fundamental difference in the results you can achieve depending on whether you move AWAY FROM vs. TOWARDS,

People who move TOWARD what they want focus on the possibilities and visions of the future. They hold a picture of their desire and in doing so, they can take steps to achieve it. Whereas if you aim to just move AWAY FROM, you may remove yourself from the discomfort of where you are, but it won’t necessarily get you where you want to be.

An example is, “I want a house that doesn’t feel cramped or hot and is in an area with no pollution.

 vs "I want a house overlooking the ocean with huge open rooms and cool breezes.”

This could describe the same house.

If this person was to simply move AWAY FROM what they don’t want, they might find themselves in a larger house, somewhere in the bush. That is not necessarily what they WANT. This is just movement AWAY FROM what they DON’T WANT. If they had expressed their desire in terms of “I want a house overlooking the ocean etc…” they would have something to focus their attention on and move towards. (example sourced from NLPMentor)

When we reconfigure our language so that it is focused TOWARDS what we WANT, this gives us a direction, a finite goal with explicit detail that helps us move with clarity in the direction of our desires.

Present to Desired State

Another highly valuable goal setting tool that you can use is a model which originates from the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) called the Present to Desired State model.

The NLP model enables us to go beyond mere “goal setting” into the actual “programming” of our minds to drive us towards our desired goal. 

About the Model

According to NLP, the brain works primarily from our sensory system (pictures, sounds, feelings). The NLP goal setting model addresses this by getting our goal sensory specific. But it doesn’t stop there. For, the brain not only uses the sensory system, it also uses our word meanings that drive the sensory system. For this reason, the NLP Goal Setting Model is designed to make sure that we language ourselves in such a way as to drive our very neurology and physiology towards obtaining our desired goal. 

This is how it works:

1) State the goal in positive terms.

Describe the Present Situation and compare it with the desired future goal.

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • What do you want?
  • State it in the positive (what you want to achieve).
  • What are you going toward?

2) Specify the goal in sensory-based terms.

  • What will you see, hear, feel, etc., when you have it?
  • What steps or stages are involved in reaching this goal?
  • Engage all of your senses in this description process to employ more of your brain and nervous system.
  • Have you broken down your goal into small enough chunks so that each is do-able?
  • What are the sizes of the behavioral chunks? 
  • Could the size possibly overwhelm you?

3) Specify the goal in a way that you find compelling.

Is the goal compelling?  Does it pull on you?  Make it a compelling future representation that’s dissociated (When you see your goal make sure you see yourself having obtained your goal.).

Ask yourself this important question - What do you want that FOR?

4) Run a Quality Control check on your Goal to make sure it is for you in all areas of your life.

  • Is the desired goal right for you in all circumstances of your life?
  • Is your goal appropriate in all your personal relationships?
  • What will having your goal give you that you do not now have?
  • What will having your goal cause you to lose?
  • Is your goal achievable?
  • Does it respect your health, relationships, etc?

Run a quality check to make sure that your goal fits every part.  Ask, “Are there any parts of me that objects to actualizing this desired goal?”  If so, address those unconscious frames of mind.

Pay attention to how your whole self responds to the question in terms of images, sounds, words, and sensations within you.

5) Self-initiated and maintained.

Is the goal something that you can initiate yourself and maintain?

Test your goal by asking if it is something that you have within your power or ability to do.

  • Is it within your control?

Your goal must be something that you can initiate and maintain.  It must not be something dependent on other people.  Make sure that your goal reflects things that you can directly affect.

  • Is it self initiated and maintained?

6) State the Context of the goal.

  • Where, when, how, with whom, etc. will you get this goal?
  • Is the goal appropriately contextualized?

Test your goal by applying it to a context: when, where, with who, etc. to make sure that it is going to be fitting and appropriate.  Readjust your goal to make sure that it fits.

7) State the Resources needed to achieve the goal.

  • What resources will you need in order to get this goal?
  • Who will you have to become?
  • Who else has achieved this goal?
  • Have you ever had or done this before?
  • Do you know anyone who has?
  • What prevents you from moving toward it and attaining it now?

8) Evidence Procedure.

  • How will you know that your goal has been realized?
  • What will let you know that you have attained that desired state?


As you can see, the Present to Desired State model can greatly assist in mapping out a goal comprehensively and can also help by pre-empting any potential obstacles that may arise. It provokes thought and enables the person setting the goal to explore all aspects of the goal and it's potential impact on other areas of one's life. It is a very robust yet simple approach to goal setting that is very effective.

S3 has a host of coaches who can assist you to set goals and acheive them! They'd love to help you to flourish.

Contact us for more information.


James Tsakalos -

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