Jan 092009

This is a question that comes up in various forms: “How do you select which goals to set?” The common response is lobbing another question back, “Well, what do you want?” This is an absolutely bullshit answer.

“Want” has so many meanings it has no real use anymore. It can be used to describe a passing preference between white shirts over light blue shirts or a really deep desire to save the life of a loved one. It can refer to a desire for an emotional hedonistic experience or for a deep spiritual connection. The feeling of desire can often be made stronger or changed, so its not exactly fixed. The situation is made worse when people say, “what do you REALLY want?” This question means that on a scale of 1-10, your desire has to be an 8 or 9 (a real burning desire) without regard to the fact that your desire can be stimulated.

So, I generally simply decide what I want. If I have a passing preference for one state or the other, I simply pick one, decide I want it and commit to it. This doesn’t work in all cases but it works often enough. If I find something better along the way, its usually not too hard to switch over to it (low switching cost). I’m more likely to find out what I like and I don’t like in motion, and its easier for me to change course along the way (often) than it is to stand still and try to figure out what I “really want” before I get started. Just set a goal and get moving! If you’ve to make a big decision like choosing a career, set smaller goals like job shadowing two or three people in the fields you’re considering, or just taking them out to lunch.

Another way to choose goals is to pick goals that if someone came up to you and said they had done it would impress you. I’d recommend more “doing” or “being” goals rather than having goals. Such as, someone with an Aston Martin is impressive but if you’re genuinely impressed by someone who’s written a book or who can speak three languages.

Yet another way is to choose goals based on how they make you feel in the present moment, as Steve Pavlina recommends. He suggests setting hairy, audacious goals that really challenge you and push you to your limits. The goal is personal growth, after all. They have to make you feel absolutely excited, just as Tim Ferriss puts it. Remember, you can choose to look at failing in that situation in two ways: either you weren’t good enough, or that you’ve learned your limits and you can work on improving your limits.

Sometimes I’ve caught myself spending way too long in a state of analysis paralysis, trying to figure out what I “want” more, or what I want exactly. But if you wait too long to decide, you often don’t get anything at all, or your time to enjoy it has lessened. Have fun!

Main Points:

  • Sometimes you can just decide what you “want” and commit to it.
  • Pick goals that impress you in some way, or would impress you if someone else told you they’d done it.
  • Pick goals that cause you to feel excited right now. They push you and challenge and are right at the edge of your abilities/imagination. If you fail, you’ve learned about a limit of yours and you can improve it.
  • Stop sitting around trying to figure out “what you want”. You can figure out what you want and adjust course along the way.

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