While setting goals is not always easy, it is a vital aspect of coaching and counseling. Doing so “reveals the clarity of your thinking, namely, your ability to conceptualize and understand the complex interplay between your client’s presenting problem, personal dynamics, relational dynamics, and manifest psychiatric symptoms” (Gehart, 2016, p. 24).
Having reviewed many of the best books on goal setting, as noted by Goodreads, Forbes, HBR, and LinkedIn, along with our own recommendations and research, we have chosen the following selection as a mixture of science-based and anecdotal learnings that offer insight into the goal-setting process and guidance to ensure success.
1. How to Begin: Start Doing Something That Matters – Michael Bungay Stanier
Bestselling author Michael Bungay Stanier has written an insightful, motivating, and humorous book for individuals and coaches supporting clients to get ready to work on the hard things in life.
It’s a practical guide to identify and set clearly defined goals and make commitments while developing the resources and building the momentum to reach them.
Ultimately, Stanier offers a helpful and guiding hand for those of us who need the support – or push – to reach big goals and transform our lives.
How to begin by Michael Bungay Stanier - Books in Blinks
This video summarizes most of the book’s content.
2. Fast Forward: 5 Power Principles to Create the Life You Want in Just One Year – Wendy Leshgold and Lisa McCarthy
With clients such as Amazon, TikTok, Meta, Google, and JPMorgan Chase, Wendy Leshgold and Lisa McCarthy are aware of the importance of goal setting and its ability to create a clear vision of the future.
The authors encourage readers to create a clear vision of their future in 12 months, overcome their limiting beliefs, and replace them with ones that are possible.
It’s a valuable book for gaining control of your time and making steady, visible progress toward big and bold goals.
4. Goals! How to Get Everything You Want Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible – Brian Tracy
Brian Tracy’s successful book remains a valuable addition to anyone’s goal-directed library despite having been around for decades.
As a consultant and trainer, Tracy has worked with countless organizations and individuals to create goal-directed action even in the most uncertain economic times. Ultimately, his advice is simple: Capture goals, plan how to achieve them, and work on them daily.
His book offers countless tried-and-tested methods and tools for practical goal setting and goal achieving and a roadmap for helping readers (or their clients) along their chosen journey.
5. All It Takes Is a Goal: The 3-Step Plan to Ditch Regret and Tap Into Your Massive Potential – Jon Acuff
Bestselling author Jon Acuff helps you take action and see results – quickly. If you want to change your life, this is an excellent book for creating and delivering powerful goals to transform your life.
Acuff’s three-step plan encourages the reader to escape their comfort zone, avoid the chaos zone, and live in the potential zone.
He begins by arguing that most of us only use 50% of our potential, then steps through what it takes to use the remaining 50% and create more fulfilling and flourishing lives.
Perhaps Acuff’s most significant power is presenting well-proven tools and approaches, freshly and practically, enabling readers to embrace goals they might otherwise avoid or ignore.
Michael Hyatt offers a research-driven system for setting and working toward your goals to reach your full potential.
The book begins with an assessment of where the reader currently is according to 10 life domains. Next, a five-step approach explores limiting beliefs, reviewing and learning from the past, defining SMARTER goals, understanding key motivators, and breaking big goals into manageable steps.
Hyatt practically explores and explains how to move from where we are now to where we want to get to through a series of logical and practical steps.
7. Never Finished: Unshackle Your Mind and Win the War – David Goggins
While better known for his memoir, Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins explores his strategies and actionable steps for using the power of the mind to reach what we may think is unachievable in this book.
Undoubtedly, much of the impact of this book comes from Goggins’s incredible story of overcoming a troubled childhood to become an elite US Navy Seal and record-breaking endurance athlete.
This inspiring book will connect with many who face challenges because of a complicated past and an uncertain future. Ultimately, it is a story of hope toward achieving life’s goals and optimism about better things to come.
Research suggests that goals should be specific, important to the individual, collaborative, and perhaps most importantly, realistic. They either support achieving a definite outcome, overcoming an obstacle, or enhancing particular skills for future wellness and performance (Knox & Cooper, 2015; Nelson-Jones, 2014).
The following books offer four very different guides for identifying, setting, and working toward goals, along with helpful questions and exercises throughout.
1. Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership – Sir John Whitmore
The 25th edition of this international bestselling classic remains as relevant and valuable as ever. While exploring the theory of effective coaching, it also provides a workbook for the practical results-driven coach.
Whitmore’s updated text targets coaches, leaders, and professionals, highlighting the incredible potential for goal-directed coaching to transform organizations and individuals.
The power of the GROW (goals, reality, options, and will) model resides in its insightful, far-reaching, and unambiguous questioning. As a framework, it remains flexible and ensures that the individual owns their life changes. And as a workbook, it encourages readers to set and revisit clearly defined goals as their understanding evolves and the environment changes.
2. Goal Setting: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Goals That Truly Excite You – Thibaut Meurisse
This is a popular, helpful, and easy-to-follow workbook for setting SMART goals that help maximize the reader’s potential through creating a clear vision for their future.
Whether making simple changes, such as healthy eating, or more extensive transformations, like embarking on a new career, Meurisse’s book makes goal setting and planning straightforward and manageable, and success ultimately achievable.
3. Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time – Brian Tracy
In the next book from training and development expert Brian Tracy, we learn how to stop procrastinating and get the important things done – on time and effectively.
Tracy labels negative emotions as “frogs,” stopping us from reaching our potential and achieving our goals. On the other hand, “princes” are positive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us on the right path and move us toward our desired destination.
With many valuable insights into successful time management techniques, the reader will learn to maintain their focus and determination and apply pressure on themselves to complete each critical task on time.
These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques for lasting behavior change.
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A Recommended Goal Book for Students
Educational psychologists recognize the potential of goal setting for motivating, energizing, and focusing the attention of learning in students. In fact, “goals motivate people to act in order to reduce the discrepancy between ‘where they are’ and ‘where they want to be’”(Woolfolk, 2021, p. 497).
The following book is recommended for students and educators.
Step Into Student Goal Setting: A Path to Growth, Motivation, and Agency – Chase Nordengren
While also aimed at educational professionals working with students of all ages, this is a powerful and vital guide for the college student, undergraduate, and postgraduate wishing to build and implement actionable strategies to drive their development and work toward academic goals.
Through vignettes, theory, and practical exercises, Chase Nordengren helps students and teachers learn the importance and the practice of effective goal setting inside and outside the classroom.
This is a vital read to help students achieve their potential through learning how to engage and enjoy the hard work of learning while practicing empowering educational habits and roles.
Goal Realization Using the WDEP System
In this exercise, clients define their wants and how to achieve them using the WDEP system.
Answer the following questions to dig deeper into transformation goals:
Wants – What do you want instead of the problem?
Doing – What are you doing? (acting, thinking, feeling)
Evaluate – Is what you are doing helping you get what you want?
Plan – What/How are you prepared to do/think differently?
Committing to goals is a vital aspect of personal transformation. A self-contract creates an explicit agreement to making plans and working toward expectations to ensure behavioral change happens.
Set a specific goal. Commit in writing to achieve a clearly stated goal by a definite date.
Explain your motive. Briefly note why this goal is crucial for your personal growth.
Sign the contract. Formalize your commitment with your signature.
Reward your success. Choose a celebration or reward for reaching your goal.
“Setting goals is the first step to accomplishing anything meaningful” (Duncan, 2023, para. 1). It is not always easy; it requires ownership, focus, and hard work.
Goal setting is a vital tool that bridges where we are with where we want to be and assures our personal and professional growth.
The collection of books in this article offers many helpful strategies, insights, and methodologies for setting and working toward our short-term and life goals.
From Michael Bungay Stanier’s practical guide to David Goggins’s inspiring and extraordinary life journey, a wealth of knowledge is available to energize and guide readers in goal setting and realization.
In addition, workbooks such as Coaching for Performance and Eat That Frog! also offer helpful approaches and tools to ingrain these principles into our clients’ daily lives.
Individually and taken together, the books are particularly valuable for coaches and counselors supporting clients in creating a meaningful, value-driven life.
When embraced by mental health professionals, such tools and strategies help clients dream, act, adapt, and achieve more out of life, creating solid pathways toward aspirations.
Ardito, R. B., & Rabellino, D. (2011). Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: Historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research. Frontiers in Psychology, 2.
Clough, P., Strycharczyk, D., & Perry, J. L. (2021). Developing mental toughness: Strategies to improve performance, resilience and wellbeing in individuals and organizations. Kogan Page.
DeAngelis, T. (2019). Better relationships with patients lead to better outcomes. Monitor on Psychology, 50(10), 38. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/11/ce-corner-relationships.
Duncan, R. D. (2023). Goal setting: Ambitious timeframes can boost your chances for success. Forbes. Retrieved October 25, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/rodgerdeanduncan/2023/10/03/goal-setting-ambitious-timeframes-can-boost-your-chances-for-success/
Gehart, D. R. (2016). Theory and treatment planning in counseling and psychotherapy. Cengage Learning.
Knox, R., & Cooper, M. (2015). The therapeutic relationship in counselling and psychotherapy. Sage.
Nelson-Jones, R. (2014). Practical counselling and helping skills. Sage.
Whyte, G. P. (2015). Achieve the impossible: How to overcome challenges and gain success in life, work and sport. Bantam Press.
Woolfolk, A. (2021). Educational psychology. Pearson.
About the author
Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.