The 80-100-120 principle in setting and achieving goals

Setting goals is something that each of us does, albeit having our own way of doing this. Still, how do we track our progress and achievements and how do we transition to setting new goals as a follow-up? In the end, setting goals and achieving them should be a natural way of going through our lives, not a burden. Recently I experimented with an approach that I am calling the 80-100-120 rule. Basically, if you set a goal it's not necessarily a problem if you under or over-achieve it.

0101 Photo by Stéphane Fellay on Unsplash


SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. Project management experts use this method in setting up objectives for various projects. It is not a very complicated thing, it can be viewed as a checklist when setting up a goal. 

Of course, achievements depend on a series of factors, especially ensuring that the goal itself was rightly set and whether it is realistic. It always helps if we had similar experiences in the past or data to back us up when we set our targets.


In my case, the basic time unit for setting goals is the calendar year. Sometimes, I also set short-term, immediate goals to go through a day or a week faster - a 'to-do' list - but overall I am focused on following up on my yearly targets.

Let’s see one specific example. This year, I was set to run 550 kilometers and to run at least 100 times this year. For me, this seems neither too ambitious nor too low-bar of a goal. Why 550? Because last year I aimed to run 520 kilometers and managed to run 536 kilometers by the end of December.

How is this goal SMART? It is specific as it is about running and my running, nothing else. It is measurable, there are tons of apps for this. For me, it is achievable as it also assumes that I will be able to run just barely 5 per cent  more than last year. I also believe it is relevant as it takes into account how I feel, how I ran in the past and it does not require a huge effort. And, of course, it is time-bound - I have one year to achieve it.

THE 80-100-120 PRINCIPLE

When setting goals, I also assume that some of them might have not been rightly set - I might have not considered some aspects or I was just not aware of some developments which were not depending on me. So, I allow myself some flexibility when it comes to achieving them.

Let’s go back to the running example. I will be happy if I reach the 440-kilometer benchmark, but I will be most happy if I go beyond 550 and reach maybe 600 or even 660. For me, the initial goal is about a certain rhythm.

Of course, you can always say that I just run for the sake of running because it is about joy. I can completely agree with this. For me, this goal is just about keeping a certain rhythm in doing some running while also keeping an average of two runs every week, more or less. However…


…you can allow yourself to reset goals if you notice that time is only passing by and you're not making much progress on them. For me, adapting is about reality kicking in. It’s the critical brain kicking in and realizing that the initial goals were too ambitious or, the opposite, that the bar was set way low and it could be raised. This is not about failure but only about the capacity to adapt based on how you advance towards the goal. 

Going back to the running example, I already lost three weeks of running this year because of all the viral illnesses which have circulated in my surroundings. So, at this moment in March, I have options: either a.recover through more running, b.trying to extend distances or c. just accepting underperforming on this overall. However, I am still happy if I reach the 80 per cent threshold.


While I am a person who prefers not to push things to the very limit, I am also aware that in some situations, or some areas of life, one might want to achieve perfection. I believe that this is connected to what one wants from their own life. If an athlete wants to break a world record, that needs more perseverance and more ambitious goals. But I have accepted that I will never break a world record, at least not in running. 


For me, it all comes down to being happy with the goals that I set and making sure that I don't consider them burdens, things that take away my energy without giving something back. There is also a long-term goal attached to what I think I could achieve by running, but that is a matter for another article which addressed imagining the future.

What is your goal-setting routine or method?