How To Set Goals for Life and Happiness

The real power of goals

There’s no question of the value of goal setting. In fact, just about everyone who’s ever accomplished anything is adamant about the supreme importance of having goals. And this is common knowledge.

But I rather think that the main value and power of goals is not what we suppose it to be.

Most conventional wisdom you’ll find on goal achievement describes making plans of action. You’ll be encouraged to break it into small, manageable steps, set time frames, think about your resource allocation etcetera, etcetera.

And this is all well and good for your run of the mill project. It’s really not where it’s at. Because any goal worth having will require you to look beyond your present resources and competencies. It will require you to stretch your thinking.

By far the greater power of having a goal is not the in how but the why.  A goal serves to focus your attention. It forces you to discover greater clarity about what it is that you want. It causes you to become intentional. And that’s what really compels you to move towards your end.

The planning—the action steps: these are just details; and they are largely mechanical. The real changes happen before you get to them.

When goals go bad

The problem with goals is that they usually miss the point. Seriously. Goals are typically expressed as a form of external validation. They’re requirements or criteria you set as permission to feel successful. A goal says “when this condition exists, then I will be successful; when I am successful, then I can feel fulfilled”. Totally backwards.

Goals start out with the best of intentions, but without staying anchored in your true values, it’s easy for them to get carried away into the land of abstract ideals and arbitrary targets.

It’s easy to get seduced into choosing goals because they sound impressive or prestigious rather than goals that call to your heart.

Four years ago I had a goal to earn a distinction on my masters degree. I figured that would make me excellent or something. Got the degree and the distinction. Did not care one iota. (Though, on the plus side, my grandparents are proud as punch).

Here’s the bottom line:

Without a compelling emotional reality to them, goals are just tasks. And tasks suck. I don’t want to be doing tasks. I want to be living my life.

Reinventing goals

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
Zig Ziglar

A conventional goal setting method

  1. Think of something you would like to change or achieve in your life.
  2. Think of a tangible, measurable outcome to validate the successful completion of that goal.
  3. Work out what metrics you’re going to use to gauge your progress toward that goal.
  4. Work out action you’re going to take ensure you hit those targets.

That’s all well and good. Action plans are often useful and necessary. But action plans are for reasonable goals. They’re for goals you already believe you can achieve. Unreasonable goals require you to stretch a little further. They require you to reevaluate your basic beliefs about yourself. They require you to exercise your power of intention, not just your power of intellect. Unreasonable goals are the goals that will change you.

How to reach an unreasonable goal

The focus for the unreasonable goal is first inward:

  1. Think of something you would like to experience.
  2. Think of all the reasons why you would like to experience it.
  3. Work out what that means in terms of your personal identity and emotions—how success feels; Make that picture as vivid and visceral as you can.
  4. Work at moving your identity and your emotions towards that place on a daily basis; and then go with the flow of life. Practice the habits of thought until they become more dominant than your old patterns.

Ask yourself:

“Who will I be once I achieve this?”

And then focus on becoming that person. The plans will present themselves to you.

A New Year’s Resolution You Can Stick To

Resolution is another word for ‘decision’. So, what’s the most important decision you can make for this coming year? Here’s my suggestion:

“Decide to be happy.”

And how do you do that?


You make being happy a priority. You make being happy the most important thing in your life. Because, let’s face it… isn’t it?

That means whenever you’re faced with a decision (which is in every single moment of your life), you don’t choose the path of righteousness, or obligation, or approval, or even of growth. You choose the path of happiness; and you let the universe figure out the rest of it.

Say it:

“This year, my number one goal is to be as happy as I can be as often as I can be.”

My Goals for this year

  • Have more fun
  • Make fewer excuses
  • Trust more
  • Doubt less
  • Dream bigger
  • Make now the most important time

Sure, it’s hard to measure these things which makes them poor goals by some standards; but it also makes it more likely that they’re actually important. Because the easier it is to quantize something, the further removed it is from what actually matters: how you feel.

May this new year bring you:

  • Greater clarity
  • Greater purpose
  • Greater fulfillment
  • Greater inspiration; and
  • Greater abundance

And as the song says:

“Measure in love”

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