The P.R.I.M.E.R. Goal Setting Method by Damon Zahariades: Book Notes

book notes for the PRIMER goal setting method - featured image


Presents a new 6-point system for setting personal goals called P.R.I.M.E.R. This was created after exhaustive research on existing goal setting methods and how they could be improved.

Gives an overview of the existing top 10 existing goal settings systems (including SMART goals and BHAG), together with the pros and cons of each.

Includes a section on what to do if you do not meet your goals – a critical process that is missing from many other discussions on goal setting.

My Thoughts

The book is an easy read and relatively short – which I see as a positive. I dislike books with one big idea that’s padded out to fill 300 pages.

It has 4 main sections. Initially I was surprised that the author’s P.R.I.M.E.R. goal setting method is not introduced until section 3. However, it would be a mistake to simply jump ahead to that section.

The first 2 sections contain valuable information on how to get the most out of goal setting and also the 10 most popular goal setting systems available. In fact, critically reviewing these 2 sections could allow you to come up with your very own goal setting system (more on that later).

It was great that the author makes it clear that this book is aimed at people who want to set personal goals. Some well-known systems (such as BHAG) are more suited to organisational settings.

Useful Quotes

“The problem is, setting goals is the easy part. The hard part is consistently achieving them.”

Damon Zahariades

“Goals that are not written down are just wishes.”

Fitzhugh Dodson

“Be proactive. Rather than reacting to detrimental circumstances, you take the initiative by identifying environmental factors that might pose a problem. Then, you shape your environment to sidestep them.”

Damon Zahariades

“You must monitor your progress. Otherwise, you cannot know for certain whether you’re on track to accomplish what you set out to do by your chosen deadline.”

Damon Zahariades

“Goal failure is merely feedback. It doesn’t define your worth. It simply indicates that your plan isn’t working as you imagined, and provides the impetus to investigate the reasons.”

Damon Zahariades

Book Notes

Section 1: Why You’re Not Achieving Your Goals

#1: You’re Setting Too Many Goals For Yourself

This can result in one of 3 problems: you are spread too thinly; you lose focus on what really matters, or you get overwhelmed. The solution is to focus on fewer, achievable goals and have the remainder on a ‘wish list’.

#2: You’re Letting Fear Dominate Your Headspace

The human brain has various subconscious ways to sabotage your best intentions. This could include fear of failure, fear of the unknown or even fear of success. This can cause you to doubt your abilities.

To overcome this, you should seek the find the root cause of the fear and see if it is justified or can be overcome. You should also commit to taking action rather than dwelling on your feelings.

#3: You’re Surrounding Yourself with Negativity

Negativity can stem from ‘internal factors’, such as negative self-talk or ‘external factors’, for instance friends who put you down.

Coping strategies include reminding yourself of similar circumstances where you excelled at meeting your goals or overcoming challenges. You should also limit your contact with negative people and seek to increase your time with more positive people.

#4: Your Goals Are Unrealistic

Ambitious goals can be positive but if they are unachievable, it’s pointless. This only leads to disappointment and the feeling that it’s not worth trying.

We can overcome this by critically examining our goals and seeing if they still sound reasonable: write them out on paper, break them down into milestones and check the resources that you have for tackling the goal.

#5: You’re Trying to Impress Others

One of the big downsides of this is that you are less invested in the outcome because the goals don’t truly align with your own hopes, dreams and aspirations. This can make success much less likely.

To overcome this issue, connect each goal you make to a personal value that has real meaning to you.

#6: You Haven’t Given Yourself a Compelling “WHY”

If your goals lack a purpose, they are more likely to fail. Similar to the previous point, the way to avoid this is to have a personal connection between each goal and what you are striving for in life.

#7: You’re Not Taking Action

Simply setting goals is not enough, you need to take action. Start by making an action plan and execute it in a step-by-step manner.

Section 2: The 10 Most Popular Goal-Setting Systems

This section gives a description of popular goal setting systems and describes their pros and cons.

#1: S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Probably the most popular system. It outlines the attributes that a successful goal should have. The acronym stands for:

S = Specific M = Measurable A = Attainable R = Relevant T = Time-Specific

The system could be criticised because there is no evaluation of whether the goals are relevant to your wider plans.

#2: S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goals

This builds on SMART goals by adding 2 further aspects:

E = Evaluate

R = Revise

This introduces the steps of continually monitoring your progress towards your goals and to make changes or revisions if necessary.

#3: OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)

This system has its roots in business organisation management. Once a specific objective has been identified, a key metric is selected that can measure your progress towards that goal.

Although simple, this method has several shortcomings. One of the most important is the lack of a time-specific component, which means there is no urgency to complete the task.

#4: BSQ (Big, Small, Quick)

This method was introduced by David Van Rooy. the first step that it advocates is setting big, ambitious goals. The second step is to break it down into a series of small steps. the third is to impose a timeframe.

This is another simple system, which can be attractive. However, it lacks a system for evaluating your goals and ensuring they are still relevant. It should also be remembered that while setting ‘big’ goals can provide focus, it can also tie up significant time and resources.

#5: The Goal Buddy System

This system has a step-by-step process, a key part of which is to organise your goals into a 90-day plan and then meet with a goal buddy on a regular basis to review your progress towards those goals.

This system could be criticized for its 90-day goal window being too rigid. It may be too short or too long for certain goals. Also, the system falls down if you can’t find a goal buddy or just as importantly a good goal buddy.

#6: Locke and Latham’s Five Principles

Dr Locke and Dr Latham pioneered research into goalsetting and task performance in the late 1960’s. Their work highlighted the importance of Clarity, Challenge, Commitment, Feedback and Complexity when setting goals. It is worth noting that the last point refers to making goals (and the steps within them) as simple as possible.

The system has no way of providing feedback whether the goals are still meaningful (similar to systems mentioned above).

#7: Backward Planning

This system will appeal to anybody who likes the phrase “start with the end in mind”. You begin with outlining your big goal. Then identify the steps you need to take to achieve it. Next, produce milestones that allow you to monitor your progress. Finally, produce a list of tasks to accomplish each milestone.

This system benefits from being simple and straightforward. However, there is no formal way of reassessing your goals and ensuring they are still relevant.

#8: BHAG (Big, Hairy, and Audacious)

BHAG was developed by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in the 1990s. It was aimed at organisations although it has some merit for personal goal setting. It revolves around setting an awe-inspiring goal that provides a focal point for work and effort. This method has numerous drawbacks: it lacks a review process and there is no formal way of setting a plan for achieving your goal. It could also tie up considerable time and resources.

#9: The Golden Circle Method

Simon Sinek popularises this method in his book ‘Start with Why’. Whilst most people tackle their goals by jumping straight to an action plan, Sinek argues that you should begin by detailing your deep-seated reasons for wanting to achieve a goal (Why). You should then move on to the method you’ll use (How), and then your action plan (What).

As with other methods, there is no regular assessment of progress, or whether goals are still relevant.

#10: OGSM (Objectives, Goals, Strategies, Measure

This system encourages the setting of an overall large objective. The number of goals is then identified which will help you achieve the objective. An action plan is then drawn up and finally milestones are put in place to measure progress. The system gives a good overall view of the goal setting procedure but could be criticised of a lack of a review process.

Section 3: My P.R.I.M.E.R. Goal Setting Method

P – Pinpoint Your Highest-Priority Ambitions

Identify your High Priority Ambitions (HPA’s) in life e.g., ‘improving your health’. Include the reasons ‘Why?’ If you have a long list of objectives, rate the most important ones to focus on (you may not be able to work on all of them). Assess your objectives and identify if they are realistic in terms of cost, constraints and external factors over which you have little control.

R – Refine Your Desired Outcomes

The next step is to outline areas of attention (AOA’s) e.g., “eat healthier” and “take exercise”. Associate measurable outcomes with each of these areas. These outcomes should be quantitative and have a deadline.

I – Identify the Actions You’ll Need to Take

This step involves identifying all of the tasks you’ll need to complete. For example, the area of “take exercise”, may involve the tasks of “exercising four times per week”, “performing plank exercises” and “performing squats”. Establish milestones for your tasks e.g. performing an increasing number of squats each week.

M – Modify Your Environment to Complement Your Goals

Take proactive measures to prevent your goals from being derailed. For instance, if you love junk food snacks, replace them with healthy alternatives in the pantry, which will help maintain your healthy eating goals.

E – Evaluate your Progress

In this section you need to review your milestones and see if you are on track to achieve your goals.

It is recommended to have a periodic review, such as on a weekly basis. This should be at the same time each week e.g. Sunday evening at 7 PM. As well as seeing if you hit your milestones, you can also ask probing questions such as “what went well this week” and “what could I make improvements on”. This weekly review should take no more than 15 mins.

R – Revisit Your Goals

Look at your goals and decide if they’re still relevant and feasible. It should be done on a regular basis, but it would be natural to do it when you are carrying out your weekly review. There is no shame in abandoning or changing your goals.

Goals Versus Systems: Which Should You Focus On?

Recently there has been a minor backlash against goal setting. Detractors say that goals rely on “personal grit” and that is why so many people fail. Instead, they argue, you should establish routines which lead to habits e.g. forming a habit to go to the gym regularly.

However, this simplified view does not take into account the many reasons why goalsetting fails (we discussed these in section 1). In reality goalsetting can work extremely well alongside establishing routines and habits.

Section 4: What to Do If You Fail to Achieve a Goal

Perform A Goal Autopsy

Take a detached view to analysing goal failure.

Determine The Root Cause of The Failure

Rather than accepting failure at face value, search for the underlying cause. You may need to go several layers deep to find out the true reason e.g. reason you didn’t hit your exercise targets could be that you didn’t visit the gym enough. But the real underlying cause is that you felt too self-conscious when working out with other people around you.

Reassess The Goal’s Importance to You

Sometimes we lose motivation when the goal is no longer relevant to us. It is worth checking to see if your goal still aligns with your life objectives.

Revisit Your “WHY”

Having a strong “Why” can help as focus and effort and attention on goal achievement. Check that this is still relevant in your life and consider if it needs to be enhanced.

Do A Reset

If you decided that your goals are still relevant, it may be that you just need to make some adjustments. For instance, you may need to tone down your action plan and make your deadlines less aggressive.

How I’m Going to Use this Book

I thought I knew quite a lot already about goal setting but did learn about different systems and ideas from reading this book. The big question is, will I be using the P.R.I.M.E.R. goal setting method? Well, yes and no.

The SMART system of setting goals is just so ingrained in me, that it feels a little unnatural to try a new system of acronyms. However, I am going to be implementing some updates to my goal setting based on the book recommendations. My new system will be as follows:

  • Start with Why – Decide on values and objectives.
  • SMART goals – Set these based on resources available.
  • Milestones – Set quantitative progress markers.
  • Action plan – Develop a strategy which includes projects and tasks.
  • Hazards – Proactively identify any potential issues that could undermine success.
  • Weekly review – Monitor progress, plan the next week and ensure goal relevance.

This is definitely a book I recommend to anybody who is interested in increasing their personal productivity.

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