What do you want to have happen? How do you spend your time? How do you meet your needs? How are you living your values? How do you act on your beliefs? What direction are you heading? Where do you want to go? What do you want from your life? Where will you end up? Are you happy and satisfied? What difference will you make? What will your memoirs say? What will be your legacy? We all aspire to achieve our goals.
- A desired outcome
- An endpoint
- Setting direction
- The future we pursue
Many English language words describe intent, direction, desire, or outcome. These include: aim, ambition, aspiration, desire, destination, dream, hope, intent, intention, mark, mission, objective, plan, purpose, target, and wish. They vary in the degree of commitment, time-frame, scope, difficulty, and realism they express.
The phrase goal commitment refers to the importance, level of effort, and motivation directed toward reaching your goals. Our goals establish a direction and our motivation moves us along in that direction.
Goals set direction for our actions in both the short term and longer term. Together they establish an important plan for living our lives.
The Roles of Goals, the Goals of Roles
Goals provide us short-term focus and longer-term perspective. We have needs that must be met for us to survive and thrive. We have values that express what we hold as important. We have beliefs that we hold to be true. We have aspirations, hopes, wishes, ambitions, dreams, and desires that may go beyond our needs. We have limited time, attention, ability, and energy. We are motivated to take action to achieve our goals. In choosing one goal, we are often abandoning several others. For example, choosing a particular career is often a choice to abandon or at least significantly delay goals for an alternative career. Delay in making a clear choice is often a choice to defer a specific goal. Choose goals carefully and establish a healthy balance across all the roles you fill. We choose goals to get the most out of our life, however we may choose to define it.
Most of us fill many different roles throughout the course of our lives. These might include: son or daughter, student or teacher, player or coach, master or apprentice, boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, parent or guardian, aunt or uncle, leader or follower, worker or boss, caregiver or care receiver, healer or healing, buyer or seller, speaker or listener, guest or host, giver or receiver, and friend or philosopher. We have particular goals for each of these roles. Revise your goals as the saliency of each role changes. It helps to keep each of these roles, and the goals for each, in a healthy balance.
Increase the congruence of your actions with your goals, beliefs, and values. Pay attention to how you spend your time. Do the activities you spend the most time on advance your most important goals? Do your goals reflect your values? Do your values reflect your authentic self? Is your life in balance? Reappraise your values, beliefs, goals, and actions to improve the congruence.
Without a goal at stake there is no potential for stress or emotion. Any particular event may advance your goals, thwart your goals, or be irrelevant to them. A single event may advance some goals while thwarting others. The impact on our goals determines the extent of the stress, the coping strategy, and the type and strength of emotions that are elicited.
We appraise events based on their impact on our goals. If an event advances our goals we are joyous and often proud. If an event thwarts our goals we become angry, sad, jealous, or envious. If the goal is important the impact on us of the progress or setback is great and the resulting emotions are intense. Emotions reveal goals. Obstacles to meeting our goals cause stress and require us to cope.
We order dessert despite our goal of losing weight. We go out with friends despite our goal to finish our homework and study for tomorrow's test. We spend money to buy something we don't need despite our goal to save enough money to buy a house. Often we yield to the immediacy of the moment and jeopardize long-term goals for some immediate satisfaction.
Impulse control is the ability to suppress an immediate temptation in favor of your longer-term goals. It is the often difficult deliberate choice to take responsibility for your actions. It is choosing an internal locus of control. It is the decision to recognize what you can change. It is the decision not to make excuses or blame others. It is the distinction between autonomy and irresponsibility. It is the true test of our goals commitment and values.
Even well-chosen goals can conflict with one another. The goal to finish college or advance a career can easily conflict with goals to spend more time with family or have more fun. Giving careful thought to your values, along with creative approaches to resolving conflict can help resolve these difficult and inevitable dilemmas. Failure to resolve these conflicts leads to ambivalence.
Short-term goals help us reach our long-term goals. Goals establish current plans to meet our needs. We revise our goals over time as we achieve, learn from, or abandon previous goals and as our values and beliefs evolve. Our values express what is important to us and help us choose the most meaningful goals from the unlimited number of possible goals. Below is an example high-level goals hierarchy, where long-term goals are broken down into more immediate and specific goals. Proceeding from a high level to a lower level in the hierarchy answers the question “How will you . . . ” The higher level goal answers the question “Why do you want to do . . . ” Use this example goals hierarchy to inspire your own personal goals.
- Survival—Meeting your physiological needs
- Breath, hydrate, eat, shelter
- Gather, hunt, fish, farm, trade, or shop for food and water.
- Find, borrow, build, rent, or buy shelter or housing.
- Establish and maintain security
- Maintain insurance coverage
- Learn self-defense
- Maintain or improve physical and mental health
- Eat healthier
- Get regular medical checkups
- Sleep soundly
- Maintain or improve fitness
- walk, hike, bike ride, run, skate, ski, swim, dance, yoga, tai chi, work out, exercise
- Understand, learn, experience, practice, explore, discover
- Education, observation, exploration, travel, participation, enrichment
- Continue formal education, get a degree or certification.
- Hike the grand canyon
- Master the familiar, explore and study the unfamiliar
- Enhance your Career
- Education, job-related experience, internships, workshops
- Seeking, finding, and accepting a good job.
- Job success
- Career progression and advancement
- Career change
- Prepare for a different job
- Obtain a different job
- Career satisfaction
- Develop and apply skills, talents, interests
- Learning to sing, dance, act, or play a musical instrument. Practicing and applying these skills
- Learning, practicing, applying or enjoying art, photography, cooking, crafts, drama, design, innovation, invention, writing, creating, sports.
- Live in new places.
- Overcome limitations
- Abandon bad habits
- Stop overeating, smoking, drug abuse, drinking, gambling, shopping, abusing, deceiving, and dangerous sex.
- Increase your capacity
- Increase strength, endurance, and stamina.
- Increase knowledge, perspective, and emotional competency
- Increase self-reliance
- Increase self-confidence
- Improve appearance
- Improve grooming appearance
- Improve clothing appearance
- Get buff; improve muscle definition and fitness
- Overcome fears
- Skydive, bungee jump, give a speech, scuba dive, hang glide, speak up, speak candidly
- Enjoy Hobbies
- Home ownership and maintenance
- Getting ahead
- Integrity, stature, honor, achievement, prestige.
- Write a book, play, film, or song; build a house, win a contest or award
- Climb a mountain, visit special and exotic places.
- Meet interesting people. Really meet them.
- Establish relationships
- Become popular
- Seek friends, meet new people.
- Join or participate in organizations and events
- Strengthen relationships
- Getting Along
- Increase or restore trust.
- Show gratitude.
- Find, sustain, and enjoy friendships
- Networking, seeking and developing contacts
- Make new friends
- visit friends
- Enjoy family relationships
- Spending time with spouse, parents, siblings, children and other more distant relatives.
- Raise children
- Enjoy visiting grandchildren
- Renew relationships
- Contact, call, or visit old friends and acquaintances.
- Reconcile conflicts and re-establish constructive and trusting relationships with estranged family or friends.
- Express yourself authentically, increase your candor.
- Research your genealogy
- Transform or abandon destructive relationships
- Increase independence, good judgment, courage, confidence, self-knowledge, leadership
- Earn and save money to attain or increase financial security.
- Get a job.
- Buy only on sale.
- Choose wise investments
- Pay off debt
- Buy a car
- Have fun
- sports, music, dancing, parties, picnics, reading, relaxing, exercising, playing games, solving puzzles, exploring, observing, trying, exhilaration
- Escape boredom or needless worry
- Enjoy humor, laugh, play, flow
- Savor sensory pleasures
- wine, art, fashion, design, food, music, dance
- Savor awe
- Watch the sunrise.
- Watch the sunset.
- Cherish stillness.
- Gaze at the Andromeda galaxy.
- Enjoy activities
- Listen to music, experience or collect art; watch movies, TV or video; conversation, travel, gardening
- Learn to juggle, ski, play piano, paint
- Participate, fully participate
- Escape daily routine, stressors, problems, and worries.
- Enjoy comfort and even affordable luxury
- Sleep, daydream, relax
- Indulge your desires, dreams, and fantasies
- Passionate sex, spa treatments, massage, splurge, treat yourself, act silly, dance like no one is watching, take reasonable risks, abandon obsolete taboos, laugh out loud, imagine, dream . . . then do or just be.
- Spiritual Activities
- Study, explore, or practice spiritualism, faith, or religion
- Appreciate and enjoy aesthetics
- Participate in pro-social, citizenship activities
- Help save planet Earth
- Consume less energy
- Walk more, drive less
- Buy a hybrid car
- Install compact fluorescent bulbs to replace incandescent bulbs.
- Reduce waste.
- Increase Peace on earth
- Engage in community service, philanthropy
- Increase peace-of-mind, harmony, and congruence
- Practice yoga, meditation
- Mend fences, reconcile differences, forgive, apologize
- Seek tranquility, serenity, and contentment.
- Create your legacy.
- Assist your grandchildren
- Dream on
- Establish increasingly meaningful goals.
- Gain wisdom.
- Do what you care most about.
- Just be.
Goals are Achievable
While we all enjoy dreams, goals are limited to what we can reasonably expect to achieve. Short-term goals must be specific and actionable. Clear and effective short-term goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Goals that lack our personal commitment are not likely to be achieved.
Before I Die
People often write a list of goals they would like to accomplish before they die. These can be fun and inspiring to read. Example lists are readily available on the Internet, including this list published at the 2do before I die website. Perhaps you would enjoy writing your own list.
Another approach is to imagine yourself late in life, perhaps a few decades from now, reflecting on your entire life. Considering the life you imagine you have lived, what was most meaningful to you? Write your own memoir highlighting the most significant events you imagined experiencing in your life. Then choose these events as your goals and make them happen. For an added challenge, try writing your memoir in only six words!
- “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” ~
- “If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind.” ~ Seneca
- “When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing—then we truly live life.” ~ Greg Anderson
- “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” ~ Diana Scharf Hunt
- “Make your life a mission-not an intermission.” ~ Arnold H. Glasgow
- “Goals are simply tools to focus your energy in positive directions, these can be changed as your priorities change, new ones added, and others dropped.”
- “We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
- “. . . the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too . . .” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Confucius
- “Don't worry, be happy” ~ popular song by Bobby McFerrin, from a famous quote by Meher Baba
- “Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.”
- “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short but insetting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” ~ Michelangelo