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The Ultimate Guide to Setting Professional Goals in 2023

Liz Willits
Founder of Content Phenom
Feb 6, 2023
Table of contents

If you’ve already set professional development goals for 2023, great. This article will help you hone and improve them.

If you haven’t set professional goals yet, no problem. This article will guide you through creating challenging goals you’re more likely to accomplish.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • Why goal setting works
  • The psychology behind why goal setting works
  • How to use the latest science to achieve your goals
  • 2 goal-setting frameworks to create better goals
  • 5 examples of professional goals for 2023 (And copy and paste goal formulas you can steal!)
  • 5 goal-setting tips from famous, successful people
  • Goal-setting quotes from 9 successful people and 1 Chinese proverb that provide inspiration and guidance

Let’s jump in.

Does goal setting work? 

Setting professional goals is a practice many people follow and recommend. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean it's an effective practice.

Before we talk about how to set goals, we need to answer a question: Does goal setting actually increase your chances of accomplishing your ambitions and dreams? 

Thankfully, there are multiple studies on goal setting we can examine to answer this question. 

First, a 2006 study found that setting goals is linked with self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy (Locke & Lathan, 2006).

And a 2015 study found that people who write down their goals are 33% more likely to accomplish them compared to people who don’t write down their goals. 

While research shows that goal setting is effective, there is a risk to it as well.

A 2021 study discovered that people who set goals and failed to achieve them experienced a decrease in self-esteem and motivation, compared to participants who reached their goals. 

Considering this risk, is there a way to carefully set goals we’re more likely to achieve? That way, we can experience the benefits of goal setting and avoid any negative outcomes of unreached professional goals.

Yes. Psychology has answers for us.

The psychology of goal setting: How to set goals you’re more likely to achieve

It turns out, there are strategies you can follow when setting goals to increase your chances of success. Here’s what psychology tells us those strategies are:

Set emotional, meaningful goals.

Psychology tells us that your goals should be meaningful to you personally. You’ll feel like the goal is easier to achieve when they are.

A study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that highly emotional goals (meaning goals where individuals are highly motivated to succeed) cause people to feel the obstacles to achieving the goal are smaller.  

Set specific, challenging goals.

If your goals are vague and easy, your performance will likely be lower.

After reviewing multiple laboratory and field studies, researchers found that in 90% of studies, setting specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than easy goals, no goals, or goals where you attempt to “do your best.”

Get an accountability partner and send them weekly updates on your progress.

Having a friend or colleague who keeps you accountable to your goals increases your chances of reaching those goals.

The 2015 study we reference earlier examined and measured the goal success rate of 5 groups who set goals in different ways:

  • Group 1 — unwritten goals: Thought about their goals, but did not write them down.
  • Group 2 — written goals: Wrote down their goals.
  • Group 3 — action commitments: Wrote down their goals and formulated action commitments (actions they committed to take to reach their goals).
  • Group 4 — friend accountability: This group did everything group 3 did, but they also sent their goals and action commitments to a friend.
  • Group 5 — Progress reports: This group did what group 4 did and sent weekly progress reports to their accountability friend. 

Of all groups, groups 4 and 5 were the most successful at reaching their goals, with group 5 being the most successful group. 

Something to note here is that study participants didn’t use strangers as accountability partners. They used friends.

While many businesses out there will match you with an accountability partner who is a stranger, this study doesn’t prove this method to be effective. It may be.

But having an accountability partner who is a friend may be key. After all, a friend — compared to a stranger — may make you feel more accountable due to your relationship with them, further increasing your chances of success. 

Get feedback from your accountability partner or another person.

Finally, get feedback on your goals and progress. 

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology asked 80 families to set a goal to reduce their residential electricity consumption for a few weeks during the summer. 

Researchers asked half of the group to reduce consumption by 2% (an easy goal). They asked the other halt to reduce consumption by 20% (a more difficult goal).

Within each group, half of the participants were given feedback 3 times per week on their energy consumption.

The group most successful at reducing their energy consumption:

The group with the goal of reducing energy consumption by 20% who were also given feedback 3 times per week.

This supports our earlier point that more challenging goals can increase chances of success.

It also shows that feedback can increase your chances of reaching your goals.

Considering this, you could get regular feedback from your accountability partner. Or, you could ask another person to give you regular feedback on  your goal progress. 


5 Strategies to Reach Your Goals

According to psychology and science, these strategies increase your chances of goal success.

Select personally meaningful, emotional goals.

  1. Create specific, challenging goals.
  2. Send your goals to a friend.
  3. Give your friend regular goal progress reports.
  4. Ask your friend for feedback on your progress. 

2 frameworks, recommended by the experts, for formulating your goals

ABC of Goals

Frank L. Smoll, a Ph.D. and psychologist at the University of Washington, says there are 3 essentials to good goal setting. 

He calls this the ABC of Goals, which stands for:

  • A — achievable: Goals should be achievable.
  • B — Believable: Goals should be believable.
  • C — Committed: You should be committed to your goals.


SMART goals are another, more-widely-used framework for setting and achieving goals. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

  • Specific: The goal should be clear and specific, answering the questions: what, why and how.
  • Measurable: The goal should be measurable so that progress can be tracked and success can be determined.
  • Achievable: The goal should be realistic and achievable, taking into account the resources and constraints.
  • Relevant: For business goals, the goal should be relevant to the organization and align with its overall mission and strategy. For personal goals, the goal should be relevant to you and align with your overall life mission.
  • Time-bound: The goal should have a clear deadline and time frame, with specific milestones to help track progress.

SMART goals 

  • Specific: The goal should be clear and specific.
  • Measurable: The goal should be measurable.
  • Achievable: The goal should be realistic and achievable.
  • Relevant: The goal should be relevant to you or your company.
  • Time-bound: The goal should have a clear deadline and milestones.

5 examples of professional goals for 2023 (And copy and paste goal formulas you can steal!)

Help your company reach a goal.

Helping your company reach a business goal can put you on a path for promotion or a raise.

Here’s a simple formula you can use to formulate a business goal: 

Goal formula 

[Insert relevant positive business outcome] by [insert specific number] within [insert goal deadline] by [specific strategy to accomplish goal].

Example goal

Imagine you're a salesperson. Here’s how you might use the above formula:

Increase sales by 15% within the next 6 months by implementing a targeted marketing campaign and offering promotions to current customers. 

Obtain a professional certification.

Acquiring a professional certification is another way you could get a promotion or raise, as well as further your skills and increase your job opportunities.

Goal formula 

Obtain [insert name of specific certification] by [insert date] by [insert what you must do to obtain this certification].

Example goal

Obtain Digital Marketer’s Email Marketing Certification by 9/1/23 by watching all of the course materials and passing the final exam.

Grow your network.

An expansive professional network can provide job and career opportunities and help you meet mentors and potential mentees. 

Goal formula 

Build a professional network of at least [insert number of contacts] in [insert your industry or area of expertise] by [insert specific, measurable actions you’ll take to grow your network] by [insert deadline].

Example goal

Build a professional network of at least 50 contacts in the digital, inbound marketing industry by attending 5 local networking events and building a list of contacts on Twitter and LinkedIn and messging them by Tuesday, April 15th, 2023.

Increase income or get a promotion.

Setting a goal to get a raise or promotion at your current company can be tricky, because it’s not entirely in your control. 

You could be a high achiever who meets or exceeds the expectations your manager sets. Yet, your manager or employer might still decide to pass you up for a promotion.

That’s why I recommend, when setting this goal, to consider multiple ways to achieve your goal, some that don’t force you to rely on your current company.

For example …

Goal formula 

Increase my income by [insert specific number] by [insert deadline] by [insert a few methods/strategies for increasing your income].

Example goal

Increase my income by 10% by 12/31/23 by either:

  • Meeting with my boss on 1/31/23 and asking for specific, measurable actions I must take to get a 10% promotion by 12/31/23 and then create a goal to accomplish this.
  • Starting a side hustle business that increases my income by 10%.
  • Interviewing for and getting hired at a new job that pays me 10% more. 

Gain or improve a professional (or personal) skill.

Gaining an in-demand, high-value skill can help you increase your income, launch a side hustle, or get a promotion/raise. Plus, learning new skills will give you a feeling of accomplishment.

Goal formula

Gain or improve [insert in-demand, high-value, or desirable skill] by [insert deadline] by [insert how you’ll gain/improve this skill].

Example goal

Improve public speaking skills by 6/15/23 by giving a presentation at least once a month in front of a team or at an industry conference.

Goal-setting quotes from 9 successful people and 1 Chinese proverb that provide inspiration and guidance

Let’s wrap this article up with inspiring, helpful quotes from people who have already achieved amazing goals and results.

Create a plan.

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Set goals.

"Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible."  - Tony Robbins

Make ambitious goals.

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." - Michelangelo

Find work you love.

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it." - Steve Jobs

Decide you won’t stay where you are.

"The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are." - J.P. Morgan

Don’t be afraid to take risks and action.

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." - Wayne Gretzky

Never doubt yourself.

"The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Goals give us something to aim for.

"A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at." - Bruce Lee

It’s never too late to set goals.

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." - C.S Lewis

Start now.

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now." - Chinese Proverb

That’s a wrap! (Plus, a tool to help you achieve your goals)

We covered a lot on goal setting in this article, but here are a few key takeaways:

  • Setting goals is a scientifically proven way to increase your chances of reaching your desired outcomes.
  • Write down your goals and share them with a friend.
  • Send your friend regular progress reports and ask for their feedback on your goals.
  • Use the SMART formula as a structure when you create goals.
  • The best time to start working on a goal is now. Prioritize action.

And if you want to create a detailed plan to start working towards your goals, get the Motion app.

Using AI and automation, Motion takes all of your tasks , projects, and goals and creates a plan to get them done by deadline. 

Plus, Motion encourages you to use the SMART formula for each goal and task. For every task, project, or goal, Motion allows you to document:

  • Details about your task/goal (Specific)
  • The results you’re seeking to achieve (Measurable)
  • The relevancy of the task to your business (Relevant)
  • A start date and deadline (Time bound)

And it ensures your goals are achievable by calculating when you won’t hit a deadline given all of your priorities and working hours. 

30,000+ professionals use Motion to achieve their goals and finish work faster. Try the Motion app free for 7 days.