Skip to content

Well-Designed Actions

Goals are overrated.

When people think about life coaching and improving their life, often “goals” is the first word that comes to mind. In the ALC program, we think the sentence: “You need to make goals,” is said too often. On the one hand, having goals is great. But unfortunately, the word is overused. The concept of having “SMART” goals gets closer to being useful, but the whole process of setting goals and then trying really hard to achieve them (often doing the same actions just harder) usually leads to frustration.

The Virtue of a Well-Designed Action

Instead of creating goals, it is much more effective to think in terms of creating a system of actions that leads to an outcome. The well-designed part of a well-designed action refers to the characteristics of the end result that help focus the mind and attention in a way that boosts natural, intrinsic motivation. It will help you learn the valuable skill of moving forward when you most need to move.

The action part of a well-designed action refers to thinking in terms of systems, not simply in terms of effort and reward. Actions can happen naturally, sometimes with little or no effort. Goals always require effort. Actions are usually part of a system. If you can learn to create systems that work effectively, you will be astonished at how much you can achieve.

A well-designed action meets these criteria:

  • Stated in the positive
  • Getting started and the success (or failure) of the outcome depends entirely on you
  • Bite-sized action
  • Measurable


Goal: To get all A’s

Well-designed action: To study for all my tests for one hour or more, two days before the test date. 

Goal: To not get a bad grade

Well-designed action:  To write in my planner for each class, and if I don’t have any homework I will write “no homework.” 

Goal: To not get yelled at by my parents

Well-designed action: To ask my parents to do something fun this weekend

The biggest virtue of a well-designed action is that it empowers you with full control of the success or failure of the outcome. So much of our lives falls outside our control. Most goals involve a lot of elements that also fall outside our control. For example, it is impossible to control the grade that you may get on an essay, as it is ultimately up to the instructor. Of course, the goal is to get a good grade on that essay.

A well-designed action, on the other hand, will help you focus on the actual process of writing your paper effectively and in a way that produces your best work. It is important to learn to turn attention inward and focus on what you can control in your life and to follow through on that action. The concept of a well-designed action helps students learn and practice that crucial skill.

Achieving any of these well-designed actions doesn’t automatically mean that you will get all A’s or avoid bad grades or being yelled at by your parents. However, following through on the outcomes over time does make a big difference in your self-confidence, ability to create new habits, and eventually the results you’re getting.

I often see students who start to apply the concept of a well-designed action, take the outcome and incorporate it into their life so fully that they forget that they even set it as an outcome weeks ago. Once the well-designed action has become a habit, they are off to create the next outcome and system.

Throughout the Academic Life Coaching Program, you’ll create many well-designed actions with your coach, and being able to create and set them for yourself is a crucial skill to being fulfilled and effective.

Now it is time for you to write out some of your own well-designed actions with the help of your coach.

Outcome #1:  

What structure or system do you need that will help make this outcome easier to accomplish?     

How will you know that you have accomplished this outcome?      

Outcome #2:  

What structure or system do you need that will help make this outcome easier to accomplish?        

How will you know that you have accomplished this outcome?   

Outcome #3:  

What structure or system do you need that will help make this outcome easier to accomplish?        

How will you know that you have accomplished this outcome?


Schedule a Call