This post was authored by Charlotte Stark, a Dunham Marketing Communications Associate, as part of the Dunham Foundations Series. If you have questions concerning today's topic, please call us at (858) 964 - 0500. Hold us to a higher standard.

One of the worst feelings in the world is setting an ambitious but seemingly achievable goal only to fall short, right?

"I'm going to sell $5 million next quarter" - you know what you usually make, and though this number is a stretch, it's not so far off it seems impossible. If you put a lot of heart and soul into sales this month, you should be able to set this new personal best.

The final tally comes. You've worked hard this quarter and done well, but you didn't make your $5 million. For some, disappointment will set in. Others will feel confused - after all, if the target was reasonable, why didn't they make it?

The answer is all about control.

Setting a goal to sell a certain amount is only in your control as far as the work you put in. You can punch in early and punch out late, but whether customers come to the table with a certain amount of money is not in your control.

When setting goals, always focus on the elements you can control. By segmenting a lofty ambition into actionable steps, you not only have a better plan of action, but ultimately reduce your stumbling blocks down to whether or not you complete tasks even when motivation fades.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, further reduces the process of setting goals to two parts: your rudder and your oars.

Your larger goals, like increased sales or starting up a successful blog, are your rudder. They determine the direction in which your life should progress. As when using a rudder to steer a boat, it helps to consistently head in a single direction, rather than weaving back and forth between several destinations. Choose one concrete goal at a time and accomplish it before moving on to additional goals.

Your oars are what power your journey. For goal setting, these are the systems you put in place to accomplish your goal. Mapping out the series of small actions that would help build toward your larger goal is the first step. Try stepping backwards from your big goal until you get to a small, repeatable action whose success is entirely in your control. It may look something like this:

I want to run a successful blog

I should release lots of content so people will want to visit

I should publish at least 3 articles a week

I will spend 1 hour a day writing blog posts

The proposed goals get gradually less murky until I've targeted one thing I can consistently do to run a successful blog. Once I have completed this step in my blog process, I can add another small goal to my routine and build another step toward having that successful blog.

If you're having trouble breaking down your large goal into actions, consider Mark Manson's perspective:

What kind of pain will you tolerate to achieve your goal?

Instead of trying to break the lofty ambition of exponentially increasing sales, try asking yourself, "what would I be willing to do to potentially increase sales?"

Can you start work an hour earlier and finish an hour later? Offer a more flexible set of work hours to schedule more meetings when potential clients really want them?

Once you decide what you're willing (and unwilling) to do, you'll be better able to set your rudder on the right path and get your oars pushing forward.

Subscribe to the Dunham Blog