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How to Set and Achieve Goals, the Warren Buffett Way

How to Set and Achieve Goals, the Warren Buffett Way

The month of January has passed, and I’ve got to ask you: did you make New Year’s resolutions? How are they going so far? Approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. The influx of gym-goers has died down by now.* Before you beat yourself up any more, you failed to achieve your goals not because you’re weak, but because you didn’t set yourself up for success. Read on to find out how to set and achieve goals!

Who is Warren Buffett?

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If you asked yourself this question, and you’re reading this, a finance blog…beat your face! Kidding aside, Warren Buffett is the most succesful investors of all time. He ran a hedge fund before the name for such a thing existed, and his annual letters to his Berkshire Hathaway stockholders are revered and poured over by both professional and amateur investors worldwide. He’s also one of the richest people on the planet. So, he’s a big deal. If this guy has something to say to help me set and achieve goals, I listen.

Why Most Goals Fail

The two reasons most goals fail is because they lack specificity (they’re ambiguous) and because the cost of achieving those goals is rarely considered.

1. Lack of Specificity

A lot of New Year’s resolutions go something like this:

  1. Be more sociable
  2. Save more money
  3. Lose weight/get fit
  4. Do that one thing I’ve been meaning to do for years


There’s nothing wrong in spirit with the goals. The intent of self improvement is good. Who doesn’t want to have more friends, more money, be a physical specimen, and do kick-ass things?

I’ll show you some examples of what good goals look like once we get into this exercise.

2. Can You Pay the Cost to Be the Boss?

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Heeeaaaaay! Source:

Let’s look at the goal of fitness, since it’s such a cliched resolution.

Very few people would turn down six-pack abs. Very few people have them. Why?

People don’t want to deprive themselves of the treats that give them a quick dopamine hit, sugar rush, and go straight to their ass/midsection. They find excuses to skip the gym. Getting up early to go to the gym or going after work, when you’re already exhausted, takes a lot of willpower to do. It sucks.

But as long time readers of my blog go (hi, Mum), you have to embrace the suck! Rewire your brain to see adversity for what it is: a stimulus for growth. Hard times build character like Twinkies build diabetes.

What are you willing to give up for your goals? What kind of physical and/or mental pain can you endure, and for how long?

Time and attention are finite resources, as is money. What can you afford to focus these resources on? If you cannot possibly reallocate these resources in the amount required to achieve your goals, they are a pipedream. As Aristotle said (paraphrasing), you need a clear goal, the necessary means to achieve those ends, and the ability to adjust your means to meet those ends. 

Related: Embrace the Suck

Related: 5 Life Lessons from West Point: Knowledge Taught by a Boot Up the Ass

Related: A Summer with the Army Special Forces

The Buffett Two List Exercise

Now, let’s get to business.

  1. Write down your top 25 goals and/or tasks that you’d like to get accomplished. No vague, wishy-washy goals are allowed. Be specific and set challenging goals!
  2. Circle the five most important goals on your top 25 goals list. Look for the most personally rewarding, essential, and interesting goals.
  3. Look at the five goals you circled, one by one. Write down three things that will make it tough to accomplish this goal. What are the biggest obstacles? Are there things you’ll need to sacrifice, and are you willing to?
  4. Write a few sentences about how it’ll feel to accomplish each goal. If it makes you feel better in any way, keep it. If you feel discouraged, change the goal or trash it.
  5. Seperate the original 25 goals you wrote down into two lists. List A will be the top five goals, List B is everything else. 
  6. Work on everything in List A and do not go onto list B until everything in List A is complete! Repeat the process when you select your next top five goals.

It’s far more enjoyable to quickly knock out five goals than to have a list of half-finished goals. Sprint toward accomplishing your first five goals!


I’d like to give credit to Mike Matthews over at for teaching me these techniques in his excellent new book “The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation.” Even though Warren Buffett originated this goal-setting technique, I never heard of it until I read Mike’s book, so credit where credit is due.

Personally, I’m using this technique to work off some of the winter chonk I’ve built up, get stronger than I ever have for a powerlifting competition, grow my net worth, and grow this blog! Those aren’t the specifics of the goals but you get the idea.

I personally dislike the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I think life should prompt you to strive for goals, not an arbitrary date. While they’re better than nothing, this two list technique is better than your typical resolution.

Set goals, achieve them. Iterate!

How are you going to set and achieve your goals? Which goals do you have and which are most critical to you? What are you willing to sacrifice to make those goals a reality?

*I assume. I don’t know because I set up my own home gym! Bliss.

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Estée Janssens