How to Set and Achieve Goals

A person writing in a journal.

It’s easy to start thinking about resolutions at this time of year, but for most people, it’s just as easy to forget about them as the year goes on. With that in mind, we spoke to two experts who specialize in helping people set good goals and achieve them, and to a few bartenders about their personal and professional 2017 goals.

Don’t start with a goal

Dr. Chris Friesen, author of “Achieve: Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How To Make It Happen,” is a psychologist working with high achievers. He recommends avoiding starting with a specific goal in mind. “To really set and achieve goals that are right for a person, the first step is to know who you are. A big part of knowing who you are is to know your personality,” he says. “One of the main personality dimensions I refer to is susceptibility to negative emotions and stress. It's a normal curve, so half of us are above and half are below, these are normally distributed traits within the population. Just knowing where you fall on that one trait can help predict types of goals and how to motivate yourself to reach those goals.”

People who tend to be more susceptible to negative emotions are more prone to prevention-focused goals, according to Friesen, while those who are less affected often choose promotion-focused goals. Both styles have challenges. When focusing on staying safe, it’s tough to achieve more ambitious goals, but setting goals without concern for risks or the difficult work involved can also easily end in failure.

If you’re aware that you tend to avoid negative feelings, you might find this strategy helpful. “Think of all the negative things that will happen if you don't reach a particular goal,” says Friesen “For example, how depressed you'll be if you're still in the same position years later.” Or, if you’re more likely to leap before counting the cost. “They need to sort of step back and go ‘okay, I really want this goal, I know I can’t underestimate all the risks or all of the hard work that's involved, so let me just sit down and realistically go through what do I need to do to get from A to B.’ Write it out, ask a friend, ask somebody who's already been there.”

It’s important to consider all aspects of your personality and tendencies in order to set goals that you’re likely to accomplish. Extroverts and introverts should set different goals, for example.

Beyond personality, Friesen recommends taking some time to figure out your values. “Getting in touch with what's really important to you is extremely important,” he says. “We often inherit our values from friends, family, culture, media, without really taking the time to step back and look at what's really important to me … Once you get to that point where the goals you're focusing on are really in line with your personality, values and passions, that's when you peak, that’s when you achieve,” he says. “If these things are not in line, you don't really achieve big goals.”

Choosing good goals

Once you have an idea of your personality and values, you have a higher likelihood of meeting your goals, but how do you tell if a goal is within reach? Friesen recommends the SMART method. “Your goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.” If your goal doesn’t meet this criteria, you’ll want to tweak it for best results.

Michelle Lewis became a holistic lifestyle coach after leaving the spirits industry in 2013. Now she works with clients to cultivate health in their daily lives, from their physical bodies to family life, career and beyond. When a client comes in with a particularly ambitious goal, like exercising every day for three months, she will often recommend beginning with a more manageable goal like twice a week. “Give yourself little things that maybe don't feel like a huge change in your life,” says Lewis. “Check in with yourself and whether or not it's actually working for your life. If it is, then try to continue to do it, if it's not then try to figure out something else.” Once you’ve been meeting a goal consistently for a while, it may be time to add something new. Small steps are important, not only because they are doable, but because they are part of a bigger picture, says Lewis.

Even when you’re setting achievable goals, you won’t always meet them. “I think we have so many things that we want to accomplish and we think that we have to accomplish them all at once and it has to happen within a month, otherwise if we don't do it then we fail,” says Lewis. “That is mentally abusive to yourself. I think a huge part of it is just being kinder to yourself and acknowledging that you're just human and if you don't accomplish something in a time frame that you've set for yourself then give yourself more time.”

Checking in on your goals is important for Friesen, as well. He recommends going through the whole process of determining your values each year and making sure your goals line up with it, as well as assessing your life weekly to make sure you’re on track to meet your goals and to plan steps you will take in the short term to achieve them.

Sticking to your goals

When you’re doing something that makes you feel better, it’s easier to continue. “Once you feel a difference, something that changes your life you begin to chase that feeling,” says Lewis. “It makes you more apt to want to do more, to include more self care or family time whatever it is that centers you, calms you, makes you feel good.”

Still, you won’t always want to rise to your goals, even if you know they are for your benefit. “The biggest differentiator between people who achieve goals and the people who don’t is this: the people who are successful don't make their decisions on what to do on a moment to moment or day-to-day basis, based on their moods, their energy levels, or their circumstances,” says Friesen. “Instead they make their decisions based on their values and goals.”

For those moments when your resolve is weak, it can be helpful to have a buddy. You might not be able to go to a health coach or a psychologist, but it’s still important to have help in making and meeting your goals. “It's helpful to have someone to support you and help you set goals that are achievable,” says Lewis. “It's hard to do it alone.”

Another scientific strategy Friesen likes is called WOOP. There are several stages, with the last being if-then thinking. Essentially, the idea is to think about what happens if an obstacle comes up as you’re working toward your goal and think of ways you would deal with it. Although the entire process is helpful, this piece is very helpful to success. “You are about 300% more likely to achieve a goal just by doing that last part on its own,” says Friesen. Unlike many other systems, this one seems to be effective over a wide variety of personalities.

Goal setting can be challenging in any career, but there are some big obstacles built into bartending. “Living in the liquor world is a lifestyle,” says Lewis. “It's a lifestyle of going out and drinking and entertaining other people and that's wearing and tearing on the body because it's not necessarily healthy. It’s important to understand that you can’t just completely shift your lifestyle to something different, so to have the life that you want to live in the liquor industry but then also be healthy, I think you just have to find that balance.”

With that in mind, Lewis recommends trying for 30 minutes of self care every day. “Spending a little quality time with a friend or family member or reading a book that you've been wanting to read, even if it's just watching a TV show, going outside, riding bikes, whatever it is I don't think people realize how much that can reduce their anxiety and stress of being in the unflexible, chaotic world that they've chosen,” says Lewis. “What they're doing is something that they love, but if they do little things to love themselves they will begin to appreciate what they're doing even more.”

A little inspiration from your peers

We asked a few bartenders for their personal and professional goals. Feel free to borrow them for your own.

“In 2017, I'd like to focus more on the flavors and attributes of spirits, as opposed to adding outside flavors to them. Maceration and infusion are great tools, but there are a lot of distillates out there that add their own unique qualities if embraced, not covered up. I'd like to work on designing new drinks that showcase the spirits in them, but are still playful and fun.” — Zach Rivera, Headquarters Beercade, Chicago, IL

“During 2017, I aspire to enter competitions that will utilize my skills and bring awareness to the community. One competition I really hope to participate in is Speed Rack.” — Alex Larochelle, W XYZ Bar at Aloft Boston Seaport, Boston, MA

“I would love to maximize efficiency behind the bar. This year we will be pushing education even more to our staff. Instead of rattling off a list of Scotch, I want to see our staff ask the necessary questions like single malt or blended, what area they like their scotch from, or taste profile they're looking for.

My personal goal for 2017 is to become more of an influential mixologist in the San Diego scene. I’ve been in the city for three years now and since having my baby I've been focused a lot on my growing family. I really want to get back in on the ground floor and see what some of the newcomers to the industry have up their sleeves. I've been bartending and running bars for the last 14 or so years and it's easy to get caught up in what you're personally doing while putting blinders on to your peers.” — Matt Hunter, booze enchanter, Rustic Root, San Diego, CA

“I walked into what seemed to me a ‘broken bar.’ There was a time when this particular establishment was much more respected and I want to rebuild its reputation. My goal is to breathe life into this bar, once again, in the thriving Midtown Atlanta neighborhood.

In order to do this I must first erase the negative perception left from the past bartenders. I will continue making great drinks and establish an inviting vibe for locals to once again feel welcome. We will increase the level of service, increase the level of enjoyment, and create what I call the ‘X factor.’ If the employees are having fun doing their jobs, so shall the guests.” — James Wampler, head mixologist, Edgar’s Proof and Provision, Atlanta, GA

“I don’t want to be known as a female bartender, I am a bartender who happens to be female. It’s time that we make females prevalent in the industry for talent and knowledge, and recognizing the women who are taking on bartending as a serious career. I want to spend 2017 as a mentor for San Diego’s female bartenders, passing on the creative aspects of creating craft cocktails. My ultimate goal is to is to compete in the 6th annual Speed Rack competition in NYC - no one from San Diego has ever cracked the top eight. I hope to be in that top eight next year on my way to NYC, to help promote only female bartenders but also my city as the next craft cocktail destination.” — Adele Stratton, general manager, Noble Experiment, San Diego, CA

“In 2017, I plan on pursuing a sommelier certification. This education will help me to create a well-rounded beverage program that has an equal emphasis on spirits and wine. To do this, I will go to tastings, participate in the court, work with and learn from other sommeliers in Chicago and beyond. I will also travel to different wineries to get first hand knowledge from winemakers and to learn from their approach to wine.

A huge goal is to travel more. This not only feeds my soul, but inspires my work. I’m hoping to combine business and pleasure in each trip that I take this year, with it continuing to inspire me personally and professionally.

I'm planning to do a triathlon in 2017. I have always been a fan of the fitness lifestyle and it's very important in this industry when we are constantly eating food covered in butter and salt. I've done marathons in the past and now I would like to challenge myself to do a triathlon. I'll be joining a runner's club in my community, doing the Polar Bear Swim on St. Patrick's Day and organizing a group of colleagues to work out together before our shifts.” — Michael Fawthrop, beverage manager, Baptiste & Bottle, Chicago, IL

“In the coming year, on a personal level, I would like to continue to build more meaningful, well-rounded relationships with my wife, friends and family. The past year has been great, in this way, due, in large part to my focus on sobriety and maintaining a healthier work/ life balance. Even being sober, maintaining balance in life can be very difficult in this industry, and continuing to work on it in the coming year is definitely my main personal goal.” — Jim Kearns, head bartender and co-founder, Slowly Shirley, New York City

“I want to change the stereotype of female bartenders! We have to empower women in this industry that show talent and want to grow in the spirits world. Dispelling the myth and sexualization that’s imprinted upon female bartenders is a huge personal and professional initiative for me, and through my beverage programs at URBN and through various education and cocktail competitions, I hope to show the world a new face of what it means to be a woman in this industry. Focusing on the craft, not the person behind the bar, is what I want to concentrate on, and will work to advocate for more woman and protecting them in this industry that is so male dominated.” — Michele Willard, beverage director for URBN Restaurants, San Diego, CA

“Working in the cocktail business, it’s insanely difficult to keep the weight off. One of my personal goals for the new year is to drop some pounds after the holiday season so I can increase my energy levels and be more productive and efficient at work in 2017. Additionally, I am also hoping to buy a home in Charleston and look forward to locking that in soon.

My main professional goal for 2017 is to open a restaurant in Charleston, a gastro-tavern concept called Omnivore. Within six months I hope to complete my Charleston specific business plan to allocate money for investments and then open doors within 18 months.” — Allen Lancaster, bartender, The Bar at The Spectator, Charleston, SC

“I am excited that the cocktail scene has brought back the ability to educate our guests. We have more of an opportunity to share our craft with people who are willing and sometimes expecting to learn something about spirits that are a little out of their bubble from what they typically drink. Our team constantly uses each other’s knowledge to help increase their own. My goal for this year is to just promote that as much as possible. Learning something new everyday only helps us to educate each other but it creates an overall better experience for our guests.” — Josh Gagne, bartender and manager, The Haymaker, Raleigh, NC

“I'm looking forward to becoming more active in giving back. I would like to start volunteering and perhaps hosting ‘pop-up’ events where proceeds can be donated to various charities. Perhaps working with some brands to help sponsor guest bartending events, where fellow bartenders can pick a cause they feel passionately about and donate proceeds of their guest shift to their specific cause. Raising money while bartending is what we do, putting some of that money to work through donation, is what I'd like to do. Being able to take the time to come together in a safe and fun environment and give back to the community and world we live in, is a privilege and I want to make sure to take advantage of that privilege in 2017.

I have already outlined and started reaching out to liquor brand representatives, distributing companies and host bars to sponsor two different guest bartending events where proceeds will go towards two different causes. Every bartender I know has hidden talents that the world doesn't get to see. Using these various talents i.e. DJing, playing in a band, painting, sketching and so on can all be used to benefit causes. And, we can mix a mean cocktail too, or provide sponsored liquor, or provide a bar/space/venue to host fundraisers. My goal is to host/guest bartend at least two benefits a month.” — Natasha Torres, bar manager, Lantern’s Keep, New York City, NY