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5x5x5: The Simple Way to Achieve Your Big Hairy Audacious Goals


I’ve had a tricky history with goals: I love making them, but I find it hard to see them through. I start off brimming with enthusiasm, but somewhere along the way, I get distracted by other shiny goals, lose interest and ultimately stop actively working towards the goal. I still have the goal in mind, and it’s still something I’d like to do, but I’m not actually doing anything to get myself there.

That scenario has changed for me this year. In January, I listened to Natalie Sisson and Natalie MacNeil talk about a concept called 5x5x5 on the Suitcase Entrepreneur podcast (big hat-tip to them for this idea). It sounded pretty neat, so I implemented it. So far, I not only have clearly defined goals for this year but (to my surprise) I’ve enjoyed slowly but surely working towards them.

This system is simple, no-nonsense and, best of all, it works. It addresses the hardest goals of all – the big meaty challenges that require persistence, those goals that aren’t going to happen overnight, and those goals that will push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and expand our concept of what we can do.

How it works

You start with five Big Hairy Audacious Goals (I think original credit goes to Seth Godin for this term, but correct me if I’m wrong) for the year. BHAGs are challenging, but not impossible. They fall into the “could do, if I really went for it” category; reading 125 books is one of my personal BHAGs for this year, becoming an astronaut is not.

Like any goal, you’re more likely to achieve a BHAG if it’s specific and measurable.  “Read 125 books” is specific and measurable, “Read more” is not. If in doubt, think “How will I know when I have achieved this goal?”

Next, you list out five milestones for each goal. These might be five steps you need to take in order to reach each goal, or intermediate goals to reach between now and the end of the year.

For example, if your goal was to visit Thailand, your intermediate goals might include costing the trip, booking flights, saving a certain amount of cash, and so on. If you wanted to save $2,000 by the end of the year, you might plot out how much you need to save by June, September and so on, to be on track for that goal.

Finally, you list out five strategies for achieving each goal. These are different to milestones; think of your strategies as the behind-the-scenes activities you’re going to be doing to give yourself the greatest chance of achieving your BHAGs.

Using the examples above, your five strategies for achieving your trip to Thailand might include asking your boss for a raise or taking on freelance work to boost your income, saving a certain amount each month, racking up as many frequent flier points as possible, etc. To save $2,000, your strategies might include quitting your Starbucks habit, taking home-cooked meals to work instead of buying lunch, adding $2 a day to a money jar, and so on.

So, in summary, the 5x5x5 plan consists of:

– 5 BHAGs
– 5 milestones involved in working towards each BHAG
– 5 strategies for achieving the BHAG

How to track your BHAGs

The beauty of this system is that it not only gets you thinking about what you really want to do with your time (and prevents the “ooh… shiny other goals” syndrome that I experience), but it helps you stay conscious of how close you are to achieving your goal by the end of the year.

I love lists and metrics, so I created a spreadsheet of my BHAGs and milestones. For number-based BHAGs, like the 125 books, I changed the game slightly and split my BHAGs into monthly goals. For each measurable BHAG, I record the monthly target, my actual tally and the positive or negative difference. This means I can review my BHAGs monthly and see at a glance how far ahead or behind I am.

A few tips and thoughts:

  • You are unlikely to achieve all your BHAGs, but that’s OK. The point is to aim high and if you achieve three or four out of five, that’s awesome. I can already tell which of my BHAGs I’m likely to achieve, and which will be more challenging, and part of the fun is working out what I can do to get as close as possible.
  • I set 5 work-related BHAGs and 5 personal BHAGs for myself this year. There are definitely pros and cons to doing this, and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. Sometimes it feels like way too much, but on the other hand it also helps me stay more conscious of my balance between work and play.
  • Like I mentioned above, I track monthly because I’m a metrics fiend and love recording most aspects of my life. The original idea is to set five milestones, so while I find it helpful to review my progress monthly, there’s no ‘right’ way to do this.

Finally, if you’re curious about my BHAGS…

My work-related BHAGs are around my monthly income, the number of people subscribed to Becoming Who You Are, the number of guests posts I write and interviews I conduct, public speaking, and contracting a VA to help with the necessary but time-consuming behind-the-scenes stuff.

My personal BHAGs are the reading goal I mentioned above, mastering specific yoga poses, speaking Spanish to a certain level, a savings goal, and a long-distance running goal.

Like I said… perhaps not the best idea to have 5 personal and 5 professional goals – but we’ll see!

This week, I challenge you to create your own 5x5x5. We’re only a quarter way through the year, so it’s not too late. For extra bravery points, leave a comment and let me know one or more of your 2013 BHAGs

Photo Credit: zen! via Compfight cc

  • Dawn Herring
    April 17, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I appreciate the plan you lay out here for goal setting. I like its structure in how it starts big and get smaller with each step. It’s easier to follow a plan where you can see what direction you want to take and the steps it literally takes to get there. That makes many a goal doable. Plus I appreciate your additional idea of breaking it down further by the month, which steps it up another notch. What you share here certainly falls in step with how journaling can help us create the life we desire.

    I have chosen your post, 5x5x5: The Simple Way to Achieve Your Big Hairy Audacious Goals, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 4/17/13 for all things journaling on Twitter; a link will be posted on the social networks, on my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in my weekly Refresh Journal: http://tinyurl.com/c7s9brh.

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: The Voice of Knowing.

    Here’s to great planning followed by great success!

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Your Refreshment Specialist
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter
    Author of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child

    • Hannah Braime
      April 23, 2013 at 7:01 pm

      Hi Dawn,

      Thank you so much! I’m honoured to have been chosen as #JournalChat Pick of the Day, and I appreciate you letting me know :)

  • Shelley Hoak Pierce
    January 12, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Good Afternoon! I happened across this article while clearing my email that has backed up considerably. As is want to happen on the regular, it was exactly what I needed to read today. I will work on identifying my BHAG’s, the milestones and the strategies this evening.