How to Find Your Goals in Life

Before you can “go for your goals,” “do it now,” or “make it happen,” it is important to determine what it is you really want. As the title of Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra’s audiobook goes, How to Get What You Really, Really, Really, Really Want.

As our world becomes more progressive, and people become more educated and more sophisticated, we have many more choices than ever before. Our great grandparents had very few choices. Our grandparents had slightly more choices. Our parents had a few more choices. We have many more than they did.

First, you have to decide on a goal. That being said, you need to know that you have the right to change your mind at any time, modify your goal, or decide on a completely different goal. Changing goals and directions often have consequences, however. Usually, change requires a temporary setback.

However, most people do change over time, and as we get to know more about who we really are, our goals often change as well. This is a part of growing and evolving. It’s important to choose a goal and commit to it. At least commit to it for a specific time period. You can always change it later.

Many of us have what is called goal conflict. You may not even realize you have goal conflict – you are either trying to achieve too much at once, or you want too many different things and cannot start any one thing due to your confusion. Sometimes goal conflict arises out of our need for perfection. 

Many people have a need to do all things well, and complete lots of lofty goals in a short period of time. This is known as the “Type E” personality. This is a person who feels they need to be “everything” to “everybody.” The Type E personality is very similar to co-dependency. 

When you are trying to be too perfect, life will be a constant disappointment, because no one can ever be perfect. In fact, we cannot even get close. Trying to do too much is also known as “over-functioning.” When you are overdoing you will eventually get burned out. This will not serve you or anyone else. 

Therefore, I encourage you to choose your goals carefully and take the pressure off of yourself by only working on a few goals at a time. 

Next, you have to take action on your goals. If you state that you have a goal, but have not yet taken any action toward it, you need to figure out why.

Either you don’t really desire this goal enough or you have obstacles that are getting in your way.

Some of the biggest problems arise when we begin to believe that we should be perfect,

or that the world should be perfect. 

— Leo Buscaglia

Why Choosing the Right Goal is Your “Power Button”?

It is important first to “sift through the muck” and determine what it is you really want, and what it is you can actually do it this time toward attaining it. Goals are values-based. The best way to resolve goal conflict is to take time to study your personal value system. 

It is extremely important to choose the right goals for you, as the goal itself will serve as a “power button” to motivate you and propel you forward. When obstacles and challenges try to bring you down, focusing on your goal and seeing yourself at the finish line will carry you through.

Second, your goal may not be a healthy one. Healthy goals are those that take into your overall well-being in addition to the well-being of others. Sometimes our goals or desires are self-defeating. 

You may be motivated to pursue jobs or relationships, but the jobs or relationships that you pursue are destructive to your well-being and in the end, will hinder rather than further your

aims. You need to explore your underlying motives for the goal and discuss them with the people in your life who you trust in order to determine whether the goal is a healthy one that should be pursued.

We need to explore all areas of our lives and strive for health and balance in mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, interpersonal and professional areas. Realistic and healthy goals will complement the rest of an individual’s lifestyle, will mesh with the individual’s other goals, and will therefore serve to build self-esteem. Your goals must correlate with your interests, value system, and life- goals in order to be meaningful to you in the long run.

The third element to consider is whether or not your goals are realistic and attainable. To be optimally motivated, your goals should correspond to your level of expertise and be able to be completed in a manageable time frame.

Unlike a wish or fantasy, a goal must be attainable. Thus, for a person who began playing the violin at age 30, playing in a string quartet at a friend’s marriage is a more realistic goal than becoming concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. 

A person who wishes to run a marathon but has bad knees should consider that this activity may not only be unattainable but maybe self-destructive as well.

Fourth, I need to mention the influence of greed in determining your goals. There is a continuum between being overly giving and accommodating on one end, and overly greedy and self-centred on the other end. 

Neither end is a healthy place. If your goals are too self-focused and self-accumulating they will not be satisfying or meaningful in the long run. The person who acts to amass an empire will often destroy relationships or their own mental and/or physical health in the process. 

I have seen many extremely selfish people get what they want, only to be left with no one but their selves. The saying, “It’s lonely at the top,” is only true if you have been self-centred and selfish along the way. Ask yourself these questions: 

1) Will my goals, once achieved, contribute to the world in a meaningful way? 

2) Will the pursuit of my goals cause distress to others? 

3) Will the pursuit of my goals alienate me from friends and family? 

And 4) How will I feel once I’ve achieved my goals?

The penalty of a selfish attempt to make the world confer a living without contributing to the progress or happiness of mankind is generally a failure to the individual. The pity is that when he goes down, he inflicts heartache and misery also on others who are in no way responsible.

— John D. Rockefeller

The Optimal Challenge

Bandura’s tests demonstrated that if a person believes that he/she is capable of succeeding at something, he/she has a much greater chance of performing well at that activity or task. 

Moreover, a sense of self-efficacy can be fostered by setting attainable goals–ones that are neither too large nor too distant. In his study, Deci defined such goals as “optimally challenging.” Success on these small goals fosters a greater intrinsic motivation for related activities, and can thus eventually lead to the achievement of larger goals for which the smaller ones were stepping stones. 

Moreover, the more attractive the goal is to you, the better your performance is likely to be, so it is important that the goal you select is one you have some passion for.

The dilemma is exemplified in the case of top athletes who sacrifice everything to train in their sport. This single-minded focus pays off when they make it to the Olympics and perhaps even win a medal. However, the dangers of this narrow focus are revealed when the Olympics are over. Many athletes have attested to undergoing periods of severe depression after retiring from their sport. Because they have neglected academics, family, friends, and hobbies, they are suddenly confronted with a void and question their ability to pursue a new and unrelated goal of perhaps a less overwhelming nature. 

The other danger of pursuing one goal to the exclusion of all others is that one’s whole sense of self rests on this one success. Should one fail, or even perform only at a mediocre level, it is easy to internalize this assessment as one that reflects on one’s whole character rather than merely this one activity.

Our society tends to pedestalize “over-achievers” referring to them as “ambitious,” and “driven.” However, studies show that over-achievers are at just as much of a disadvantage as under-achievers. 

They score themselves as just as unhappy on happiness scales They are just as frustrated, just as lonely, and have about the same levels of self-esteem as underachievers. In Life’s Too Short!, Abraham Twerski writes, “The goal of changing the self-concept [of a narrowly-focused overachiever] to a positive one is not to convert an ambitious person into a beachcomber, but to allow the person to perform at the same level without jeopardizing his or her physical and emotional health.”

All things are difficult before they are easy.

—John Norley

The Simple 5-Step Decision-Making Process

When making decisions, it is generally more important to have clarity than it is to have certainty. Having to have certainty involves having to be right. However, typically with difficult decisions, there is no right answer, otherwise, it would be a simple decision. 

Having to have certainty involves having to be perfect (or at least looking perfect in the eyes of others). The quest for perfection is futile. You must be willing to take some risks. Clarity on the other hand, means following the steps below and making a decision based on information, knowledge, desire and instinct.

When you are making difficult decisions, there are often two sides to the anguish. One is your “passion or emotion.” The other is your “rational thinking.” Both are important considerations. Here is a strategy for making difficult decisions quicker and with less anguish. I call this “Values Decision Making.” It is a simple, five-step process:

1. Know what you value

Where you spend your resources: time, money and energy show what you CURRENTLY value. Then look at what you want more of. Brainstorm a list of all the things you value, i.e., health, safety, financial security, children, animals, husband, home, fitness, etc. Then prioritize your values as best you can, and make a list of your top 10 values, numbering them one to ten, one being your most prized value. 

This list may change over time, but do the best you can base on who you are right now. Be VERY HONEST with yourself here. Don’t just say you value “church” when you hardly ever attend church. 

Don’t just say you value things you think others would want you to value, or what others would approve of. Remember, this is about YOU, not in relation to others, but in relation to your core self.

2. State the problem in the form of an either/or

“Should I go to school full time or part-time?” “Would I be happiest taking lessons in golf, tennis, or guitar?”

3. List the pros and cons for each

4. Write the number of the value

Next to each “pro” and “con” write the number of the value it correlates with (if it does) from your previous list of top 10 values. Make a decision based on your highest value score.

5. Ask yourself some soul-searching questions if the scores are the same

If the scores in each choice are basically the same, ask yourself, “What do I really, really, want?” Still not sure? Ask yourself which choice brings more fire to your belly. Which one feels most right according to your inner instincts, your highest self?

Now, remember, looking at opposites can stop you in your tracks. This is the danger of looking at the pros and cons of a situation. Sometimes, however, one “con” can overpower numerous “pros.” For example, if you are trying to decide whether to replace your carpet with new carpet, hardwood or tile, and “not being in debt” is high on your values list, and the “con” of hardwood and tile is that it will put you into debt, then that’s a no-brainer. 

Hardwood and tile are out. The new carpet might even be out, for now. But at least you have an answer, and you are not stuck in indecision.

At some point, you will need to make a decision one way or the other.

Remember, there is no perfect decision. Every decision has different outcomes. Unfortunately, we can never know the outcome ahead of time. Sometimes you just have to take a risk. Life is like a game, with challenges, risks and rules. It wouldn’t be fun if there were no challenges. In fact, the more challenges, the better it feels to have accomplished your goal. The game of life is worth playing because when you do win, it feels so good!

You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.

— Wayne Gretsky

Is It Okay to Change My Mind?

An important element of pursuing one’s goals is the ability to modify one’s behavior and adapt to changing circumstances. For example, a successful statistician who has written statistics texts throughout his adult life has now begun at age 80 to write a history of statistics. 

He feels that he is no longer able to stay on the cutting edge of research but that his many years in the field give him an advantage when he turns to the history of statistics. So remember your desires and goals are not “The Great Wall of China.” 

They can be adapted from time to time, and it is important to re-visit them periodically to assess whether or not they still work for you. Moreover, as you get to know yourself better you will necessarily change your goals and aspirations.

It is almost never too late to choose a new path. Do not define yourself by your past. You are who you are now. Just think of all the changes you’ve made in your life since you were a child. Some of your experiences were good, others were not so good, but you survived all of them. 

Each experience got you closer to who you are now. Each day of your life is as important as any other day. Don’t waste time doing things that don’t feel right to you. You can make a new plan for a new lifestyle any time you want!

When you are not sure who you are or what you really want, think back to when you were a child. Try to remember all the things you loved and loved doing as a child. Think about all the things you were interested in. Those things that we enjoyed learning about — our innate curiosity – often get put on the back burner in adulthood. 

By reflecting on how you were as a child, you will learn much more about your true personality. You will learn more about what excites you, what makes your heart sing, and what puts a fire in your belly. The following exercise is designed to assist you in getting to know what you really want, or if your current goals do not seem to work for you anymore.

Don’t settle for second best when choosing your road to success; make sure it’s the path that you believe in, and then give it your full attention.

— Barbara J. Hall

PPPP Principle that Will Propel You Beyond Belief

I’ve coined the “PPPP” principle, which is a powerful tool to assist you in determining what you really want and staying on your path. It stands for prophecy, passion, power, and propulsion. 

The first part is prophesy, which is essentially your “vision” of the dream you would like to create in your life.

Visualization involves picturing certain things in one’s mind. Try to visualize yourself actually doing your goal, living your goal, succeeding in your goal. 

Describe exactly what that looks like, from beginning to end. This could take you an hour, or even longer. Do not be tempted to skip this exercise. If you cannot visualize yourself actually achieving your goal, this will be a major obstacle to your success! 

On the other hand, if you can visualize yourself actually achieving the goal, this will provide the passion you need to continue to do the work involved. Passion then creates power, which propels you into full action.

Visualization involves picturing certain things in your mind. Actually, we are constantly visualizing. Visualization is a technique for bringing about healing and change. It works by bringing subconscious mental and emotional patterns into consciousness.

For example, a man loves baseball but suffers from arthritis in his hip. Before going to a baseball camp, the man visualizes himself playing baseball, feeling limber and free. In minute detail he fantasizes about his movement, his performance, his emotional experience, exactly as he wants it to be. He sees and feels himself a winner. The man proceeds to have a wonderful time at camp and experiences no pain while playing baseball.

Picture the fulfilment of your goals: see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it. Think about what your life will be like when the goals are completed; what will be different, how you will feel. 

Afterwards, describe the picture in writing. Passion is born out of our visions. True happiness and inner peace can only be found by pursuing our passion. We can have passion for many different things in our lives, from the enjoyment of an athletic sport to finding a cure for a specific disease. 

Passion can be about how we want to feel (loved, admired), how much we want to have (money, material things), how well we want to do (win, improve), how much fun we want to have (hobbies, entertainment), or any number of things. Perhaps you have many passions. If so, one might say you are a “passionate person.” Having passion simply means that you have been able to express your inner desires outwardly and have your desires manifested into action and emotion.

Your passion is your purpose and when you suppress (or allow others to suppress) your passion, you hurt yourself. The price you pay for not living your life purpose is huge. The price you pay for not pursuing your dreams is huge.

The price you pay for not achieving our goals is huge. You pay the price in self-esteem, personal satisfaction, self-actualization and fulfilment. That’s a price you can’t afford to pay.

You do not serve yourself or the world by playing small.

— Nelson Mandela

Exercise: Values Clarification

What are Values?

Values can be defined in a variety of ways. The dictionary gives the all-inclusive definition, “something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable.” Values involve personal choice, and when assessing your values it is important, to be honest with yourself. Values reflect human qualities and lifestyle qualities that are important to you.

Common Societal Values

Children, religion, ethics, good physical health, good mental health, family stability, close friends, independence, saving for the future, honesty, equality, justice, education, knowledge, maturity, loyalty, obedience, safety, peace of mind, beauty, originality, tradition, love, wealth, power, success, fame, respect for authority, freedom of choice, community service, world peace, the environment.

Think about which of these values (and what others) are important to you. Write them down, then try to put them in order of priority to you. The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.

— George Eliot

Exercise: Why Do I Want It? Assessing Personal Values!

  • What are your main values in life?
  • What past experience was the most painful for you?
  • What past experience brought you the most joy?
  • What pain do you not want yourself or others ever to feel?
  • What joy do you not want yourself or others to do without?
  • What comes naturally to you that gives you an unfair advantage?
  • When do you feel so immersed in something that you forget that the rest of the world exists?
  • If you could do anything in the world that you wanted to, what would it be?
  • When did you accomplish something that you feel very good about?
  • How would you like to see your world?

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Exercise: As a Child I

Sit quietly for 15 to 30 minutes and think back to when you were a child at different ages. Write everything you can remember about what you liked doing, who you liked being with, and what you would do with your day when no one told you what you had to do, should do, or needed to do.

After you have brainstormed everything you can think of, look over your list and see if there are any general themes. For example, my general themes were the outdoors and nature, animals, building and creating, playing with friends, sports, reading and writing. 

My personality themes were appreciative, shy, generous, serious, long attention span, self-conscious, competitive, easy-going, organized and mechanical.

  • Age 1 — 5 (Before school years):
  • Age 5 – 8 (Early childhood):
  • Age 9 – 12 (Late childhood):
  • Age 12 – 14 (Early adolescence):

I want to do it because I want to do it.

— Amelia Earhart

Exercise: What Do I Want? Steps to Decisions!

  • Define a particular problem, question, or choice with which you are struggling:
  • List your options for resolving the question or choice:
  • Write the possible outcomes for each option: (It may help at this stage to consult books and/or experts for more information)
  • Write the pros and cons for each option:
  • Talk with 3 supportive/trusted people about the options and write down useful suggestions: (It may be tempting to skip this step, but in fact, this is one of the most valuable steps).
  • Determine which option corresponds most closely with your overall values and goals:
  • Determine which option is the healthiest for all involved:
  • Make a decision that you can commit to for a specified period of time:

Make careful decisions and then pull the trigger.

— Dr. Phil McGraw

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