3 Types of Goal Setting

If you already read about creating your best moments list and how to uncover your potential zone, then you’re ready to dig into the three types of goals Acuff talks about in his most recent book, All It Takes Is a Goal.

The three types of goals are Easy, Middle, and Guaranteed Goals. Acuff says to “Think of it like a goal ladder with three rungs. One of the vertical rails is effort and the other is time. The higher you climb, from Easy to Middle to Guaranteed, the greater amounts of effort and time you need to accomplish the goal.”

The first rung is then the Easy Goal. These goals are a slight shift, that “move you outside the comfort zone”. It doesn’t take a lot of effort and time. Next are the Middle Goals. These “help you avoid the chaos zone”. And at the top of the goal ladder are Guaranteed Goals which are a large time and effort investment. These are the goals that “keep us in the potential zone”.

The 3 Types of Goals

Easy Goals

  • These have short time frames often within a week
  • They have obvious first steps
  • These don’t require a large $ investment
  • They match your current schedule
  • They feel like they’re “not enough”

Some easy goals may be picking determining what book you plan to read next, deciding to make dinner twice at home next week, choosing to work out three times during that upcoming week, write an email to someone you want to mentor you, spend 30 minutes cleaning up the laundry room, taking a pantry inventory, write the thank you care for the gift you received, do one nice thing for someone each day during the week. All of these items can feel small, like they’re not enough. But they are! Easy goals really are easy.

Middle Goals

  • They have timeframes of 30-90 days
  • They are flexible
  • They don’t fall apart if you miss a day
  • They encourage you to tweak your schedule
  • They have patience built in

Acuff shares, “If you can finish the goal in a long weekend it’s not a Middle Goal. If it takes you six months to finish it, it’s not a Middle Goal.” A few examples of middle goals include working out 12 times over the next 30 days (because 3x a week is a habit), run 7 miles each week during the next month, read 5 books over the next 90 days, declutter the downstairs of the house, launch a podcast, build your email list, make 10 new recipes, or journal each day for a month.

Guaranteed Goals

  • Guaranteed Goals are 100% in your control
  • They have extended time frames, usually 90 days to a year
  • Guaranteed goals are easy to measure
  • Guaranteed goals force you to be deliberate
  • Guaranteed goal sound impossible when you tell people about them

Some examples that I’ve had myself include creating training for and running a half marathon, grow 7 plants in my garden, save up for a wedding and honeymoon in Alaska, read 24 books, write 80 blog posts, read the Bible in 90 days, work out 153 times during the year, sending a card to someone each day for a year, have weekly check ins with a spouse in addition to a weekly date night, and take a trip at least once a quarter. Other examples may include creating a new product and launching it, go on a 3 month road trip, write the first draft of a novel, move to England, or start a photography business.

Acuff says, “A Guaranteed goal is going to stretch you, which means it’s also going to stretch some people’s belief that you can accomplish it. When you tell a friend an Easy Goal, they should say, “Is that all? When you tell a friend a Middle Goal, they should say, “Good for you!” When you tell a friend a Guaranteed Goal, they should say, “Are you sure?”

Where to Start

Acuff shares that he starts by planning easy goals first. This makes a lot of sense. You try out a goal before committing to it on a larger scale and in the long term. What’s interesting to me is that while that makes a lot of sense, that’s not what currently works best for me. I tend to work in the reverse.

I’d rather think about what bigger things matter to me in the long run and what I want to be known for, and break them down. I shared a few of the guaranteed goals I’ve had over the last few years. In 2023, I set goals to read the bible in a year, write 80 blog posts, read 24 books, save up and pay for for a wedding and honeymoon, have a weekly check in with Teddy in addition to a weekly date night, plan weekly, and go on at least one trip each quarter.

I took those guaranteed goals and turned them into Middle and Easy Goals. Middle goals included reading the bible each day during the month, planning my blog posts out quarterly and writing 7/month, reading 6 books per quarter or 2/month, coming up with a seasonal to do list so I could break down the items throughout the quarter, and planning and booking a trip each quarter.

Easy goals look like reading the bible each day, writing 2 blog posts/week, reading 1 chapter a day, having a weekly budget check in, a weekly marriage check in and a weekly date night. They also included easy goals like picking my 2 books for the month, creating a list of locations we’d like to visit, making a bank of date night ideas, having a recipe bank for crock pot meals and easy dinners, taking a picture of our marriage check in questions so they’re always on my phone, getting a library book on simple meals, or picking a night of the week to work on blog posts.

For me, I may have one or two Easy Goals that help me reach a Middle Goal. And then a few Middle Goals help me reach the Guaranteed Goal. If this isn’t your style, try it in reverse.

Think about a few small things you want to try out. See what sticks over a few weeks and then consider if it makes sense as a Middle Goal. Maybe you walk a mile a day 3x a week. Start with it and see how it goes one week. Then another. If it continues and makes sense for you, consider trying to keep the same rhythm but for a full quarter. Maybe you decide in the Middle Goal to mix in some running or biking. If that goes well, maybe you decide your guaranteed goal is to run a half or full marathon or go on a long distance bike ride that requires training.

This could also apply to building confidence. For your Easy Goals, start by making 2 promises to yourself during the week that are a little uncomfortable and do them (go on a solo hike, take your vitamins daily, read poetry 2x during the week, send an email to a potential client, sign up for a local glass blowing class). Continue doing this for a few weeks. If it goes well, pick something larger you want to stretch into (taking an 3 month improv class, book a weekly pottery workshop, hike once a week, joining a local cooking club, taking an online course) and commit to doing it a certain number of times or on some type of regular basis for 1-3 months. From there, you can decide if you want to make this a larger Guaranteed Goal. If you do, maybe focus on one area you want to lean on like hiking 300 miles during the year or creating a collection of pottery items to sell.

As you’re working on determining what area each of your goals fit into, you can use these timeframes as a reference.

  • Easy Goals – Require about 1 % of your week or about 2 hours
  • Middle Goals – Require 3% of your week or about 5 hours
  • Guaranteed Goals – Require 5% of your week or about 8 hours

Now What?

Reflect on any current goals you have or that you’d like to have and consider these questions-

  • Would you say the goal an Easy, Middle, or Guaranteed Goal?
  • Are you able to fully commit to the goal? If not, should it be downgraded to a lower rung on the ladder goal?
  • Will this goal get you into the Potential Zone or propel you into the Chaos zone? Is it focused on consistency or perfection?

After applying the to each of your goals, think about if they’re realistic to do in your current season of life. Do you need to adjust anything when looking at them all together?

And a few things to remember –

  1. Starting with an Easy Goal is a great beginning. It’s an opportunity to “try a goal on” before committing for the long term.
  2. Middle Goals may feel uncomfortable at first because they’re focused on consistency and not perfection. They keep you from the Chaos Zone.
  3. With Guaranteed Goals, the “efforts ensure the results”. Because you have control over the goal, your inputs determine the outputs.

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