Ahhh, life goals: the symbol that someone has direction and purpose...and also the source of stress and anxiety. How do you figure out your purpose? How do you know that you picked the right goals and have the right plan to move forward? What are the best goals to have? If you’re like many people, these questions are generating anxiety already.
Fortunately, setting life goals are so much easier than all of that, and you don’t even to know much more than generally what you like and don’t like about life and the world to get started. If you want to set goals, there’s a very simple four-step approach that can help you get a better life direction: Why->What->How->What It Gets You. Let’s go through this model step by step:
If you can just document those four things in order, you can get a sense of what you want in life, why, how you can get there, and what success looks like. Let’s go through a sample exercise together taking a hypothetical situation where a college student is trying to figure out what career to go into when she graduates:
See how easy it can be? You use what interests you, what motivates you, and what inspires you to drive ideas for what you might want to do next in life. Then, you use what ideas you have identified and the drive you feel for them to motivate you to explore ideas for how to make progress in those areas. Finally, you ask yourself how your life would be better after doing all of those things. Note that you can always go back—if you don’t like the “What” you’re getting based on the “Why” you’ve defined, you might think of new “Whys” or “Whats” that can adjust and then reinforce each other. The same with the “How” and the “What” such as when you realize that the “How” might be a little difficult so you set an intermediate goal to make the “How” easier. Finally, you might not like what your initial plan gets you and so then set a different or higher goal or list of action steps to increase the outcome.
Try this method and see how it works. Remember that you can use the list of Growth areas from The Meaning of Life (e.g., Financial, Social, Relationship, Intellectual, Physical) to help you shape your list in the Why and What sections, and if you still don’t know what to put in an area then you can do some research and see how to get the information you need to make your goals more clear. Remember that in the worst-case scenario, you want to know what you want—in other words, your goal can be to explore areas that might be of interest until you identify possible goals. By doing so, you prime your brain to look for possibilities that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
If you want to document this in a way that makes it more clear for you, make sure to check out the downloads page for free examples of how you can do that. My personal favorite for this exercise is the Life Strategy template; while you might feel strange documenting your life goals as if you were going to be presenting them to an audience, it’s a good way to help you keep them short and clear while making them feel real, tangible, and well-defined. If you don’t like them, you can always change them. That’s what’s great about life goals: they are always changing as you accomplish them or decide to change them upon receiving new information or experiencing changing conditions.
Best of luck!