Successful Goal Setting Using The 5 Cs

by Rob Bertman, CFA®, CFP® in Budgeting
June 18, 2022

Successful Goal Setting Using The 5 Cs

We’ve all done it at some point, set goals we never achieved.

I know I have…a lot.

In fact, I used to be a serial goal setter, but not a serial goal achiever.

But now, I’m reaching my goals more than ever.

What changed?

The way many talk about goal setting is flawed, so I came up with my own system.

I call it The 5 Cs of Successful Goal Setting.

This is how you go from SETTING goals to ACHIEVING your goals.

(I was recently featured on the Student Loan Planner Podcast talking about this. Here are the links to check it out on Spotify, Apple & Google Podcasts.)

Why goal setting fails

why goal setting fails

It’s definitely good to set goals. In fact, studies show that people who set goals and write them down are more likely to achieve them.

But surveys also say that most goals set don’t end up getting reached.

There are plenty of reasons for this. 

Here are the most common reasons I’ve seen both personally and professionally.

We focus on the result but not the process

We do it all the time. Our goal setting practice becomes about the outcome.

I want to lose 10 pounds. I want to save $1,000 a month.

These are good attainable goals for most people and fit right in with how we’re taught to set goals.

But what does it take in order to achieve that outcome?

Often, we don’t put that much thought into that.

We see all the time that people who are the best of the best in their profession or sport are all about the process.

The little consistent things add up over time.

We take on too much

If we’re trying to lose 10 pounds, we can really dive deep into planning.

The plan sounds great right? We know exactly what to do. In fact, we know EVERYTHING we need to do, and we create our action plan to get there.

Log what we eat, eliminate sweets, workout 5 times a week…at 5am.

The plan sounds great…until we get started during the first week.

It becomes too much, and the wheels fall off.

The same thing applies when we try to set too many goals.

Losing 10 pounds and getting that process going is attainable.  But not if you’re trying to reach 10 other goals at the same time.

A shorter list of goals and a shorter list of changes in order to achieve those goals often results in a higher degree of success.

No plan for mistakes and reversion

It’s going to happen. 

We are going to revert and make mistakes while reaching our goals.

But we are so hard on ourselves when it happens, aren’t we?

We’re no good. It will never work. What were we even thinking!?

Would we ever talk to a friend the way we talk to ourselves? No way!

Set your expectations that slip ups will happen and plan for what you can do to get back on track.

Progress beats perfection every day of the week.

We forget to ask why we want to achieve the goal

Sometimes we set a goal because we feel like we should try to reach it, but we often don’t really dive into why we want to achieve it.

Anytime we use “should” when setting goals, that requires looking a little deeper.

“I should save $1,000 a month,” may not inspire motivation..

We need a “because” in our goals.

“My goal is to save $1,000 a month BECAUSE I can’t wait to be credit card debt free this year!”

Taking it a step further, you can ask yourself “why” a couple more times. Why do you want to be credit card debt free?

The more you do that, the more you’ll understand if you really want to work on achieving your goal in the first place.

Don’t start working towards a goal until you know why you want to do it…or even if you want to do it at all.

We don’t keep our goals front of mind

I don’t know about you, but I can be very “out of sight, out of mind” sometimes.

It even got to the point a while back where I went through a whole goal setting process again because I forgot what they were, and I didn’t write them down in a place I could remember.

After you set a goal, come up with a plan to keep your eyes on it.

I learned a trick a couple years ago that has been really helpful. 

I set a recurring alarm on my phone that goes off everyday labeled with my 3 main goals.

There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of it.

You can take it a step further by having the goal and also the “why” or “because” attached to it.

(In fact, I’m going to do that right now!)

We’re not clear about what to do first

It’s great to have a goal for the next year, but not if we’re not sure where to start.

We can drive ourselves crazy thinking we have to do so many things to achieve the goal. 

That leads to overwhelm which leads to procrastination which leads to not reaching our goals.

Ask yourself, “What’s the very first thing I need to do to get this goal started?” 

If you’re trying to pay off debt, budgeting for it is a great place to start.

Once you get that answer, see if you can come up with 2 more after that.

Defining what you have to do first gets the ball rolling. 

That very first action is critical to achieve your goals.

The 5 Cs of effective goal setting

5 Cs of successful goal setting

If you’re going to take the time to set goals, you might as well get up for success.

These 5 Cs have helped me actually achieve the goals I set out. Here they are! 


What is the specific goal you are trying to achieve?

Think of this as the SMART goals portion of effective goal setting. 

SMART means they have to not only be specific goals but also measurable goals. They need to be attainable, realistic goals that are time-bound.

This is a great place to start when goal setting, but it’s not the be all, end all.

There’s more to successful goal setting like…


We need to understand why the goal is important to us. 

How will our life be better if we make this progress and what is the motivation behind it?

If we don’t have an answer to this, then it’s probably a goal not worth being set in the first place.

Ok, so now we have our why. Next we need


When you think about this goal, does it evoke an emotional or physiological response?

Does your heart start beating faster? Do you get an overwhelming feeling of excitement?

If you’re not sure, use a concept called future pacing. Pick yourself out of the circumstances of today and put yourself in that future after you complete the goal.

Focus on the specifics of that ideal future. What are you doing? What’s going on in your surroundings? Are there others with you?

Once you get to the picture where you actually FEEL your response to the goal, you know you’ve hit on it.

This will carry you through when you take action on a task that seems challenging or boring.

This is probably the most important part if you want to accomplish your goal.


Keep a small list.

Before I was a serial goal achiever, I was a serial goal setter. 

Each year, I would convince myself that I would reach all of my 20 professional and personal goals…but I never did. 

Having too many goals led to a lack of achievement in pretty much all of them because of a lack of focus.

The most effective goals are on a short list. It makes management of these goals so much easier over the short term and long term.


Often we can set goals that don’t create a sense of urgency so we don’t devote as much time to them as we should.

Plus we never build that positive momentum because we never get started.

If you want to achieve your goals, you need to figure out what you can do TODAY to help get you there. 

Ask yourself what is the first step to take to achieve the goal. Then figure out when you will take that first step, even if it’s a small one.

How to achieve your goals

If you’re reading this, chances are you have financial goals you’d like to reach.

Every goal can be traced back to getting better with budgeting.

BUT, it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

If you have financial goals you want to achieve, set up a free session with me to talk through how budgeting plays a role and how we can work through it together.