How To Find Your Goal

Clarifying your values and goals will give you an anchor for everything you do—the compass that will help you make big decisions and find your footing when you feel unsatisfied, unfulfilled, or lost.

This acrticle is about figuring out who you are, what makes you happy, and what you want for yourself. It is also about making smart decisions while taking risks; planning for the future without worrying too much about it. Finally, life is about figuring out where you fit within your broader community and leveraging your unique vision to make the world a better place.

This acrticle covers:
• Setting the “big picture” vision for your entire life
• Identifying your core values
• Brainstorming short- and long-term goals

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A value is a belief, a mission, or a philosophy that is meaningful to you. Whether consciously aware of them or not, every individual has a guiding set of personal values. Values are not something you choose or want in the future; they represent who you already are and the core principles that guide your actions.

It is likely you experience strong feelings of tension or unhappiness when you are not living according to your core values; conversely, you feel most fulfilled and deeply satisfied when you are living according to those values.

Below is a list of common personal values. Read through the entire list first, then circle the 20 values that resonate most (feel free to write your own if you can’t find what you’re looking for).

Common personal values:
Accomplishment Accountability Accuracy
Adventure Authenticity Autonomy
Beauty Belonging Calm (inner peace)
Challenge Change Cleanliness
Collaboration Commitment Communication
Community Competence Competition
Control Cooperation Creativity
Decisiveness Delight of being, joy
Democracy Discipline Discovery Duty
Ease of use Efficiency Equality Excellence
Excitement Exploring Fairness Faith
Family Flexibility Freedom
Friendship Fun Generosity
Global view Goodwill Gratitude
Growth Happiness Hard work
Harmony Health Helping
Honesty Honor Humor
Independence Innovation
Inspiration Integrity Intimacy
Justice Kindness Knowledge Leadership
Love Loyalty Meaning
Merit Modesty
Money, wealth Openness Passion
Patriotism Peace, nonviolence
Perfection Persistence
Personal growth Physical vitality
Pleasure Positive attitude
Power Practicality
Preservation Privacy
Problem-solving Progress
Quality of work Quiet
Regularity Resourcefulness
Respect for others Responsiveness
Results-oriented Risks Safety Satisfying others
Security Self-reliance Service (to others, society)
Sharing Simplicity Skill
Speed Spirituality Stability
Status Strength Structure
Success, achievement Systemization
Teamwork Tenacity Timeliness
Tolerance Tradition Tranquility
Truth Uninhibited Unity
Variety Warmth Well-being

Now narrow that list to ten. Write them below.


  1. Choose your top five values and rank them from most important to least important.
    This may be harder than it sounds; you may want to reflect on this and come back to it tomorrow or later in the week. (This exercise took me about two weeks of ordering and reordering my list; you might also put the top 10 on Post-Its on a wall of your house, then rearrange them until you are happy with theorder.)
  2. Value Strings—The words we use for our values mean different things to different people. Value strings can help create a more complete and personalized picture for each of the values you have identified. For each of your top values, add words that capture what you mean—like a game of word association.

    The words or phrases used in your value string do not have to be values themselves—they can be subjective or intuitive things that capture a feeling or idea, like “grand canyon”or “on top of the world.”

    Here is a sample value string:
    Personal Growth / learning / growing / challenging myself / living big! / expanding my awareness /teaching / mentoring / inspiring others

My value strings:
A side note (and my personal values list):The words you use to represent your values don’t all have to be terms that you find in this section.

Feel free to get creative and make something up! Here is a list of my personal values—you can see that some are quite unique (but to me they convey each sentiment perfectly):

FREEDOM—Freedom to be myself, freedom to be honest, and freedom to live an independent life.
Freedom to be able to support myself financially and emotionally (I never want to stay in a relationship or job because I’m afraid to leave). Look within to achieve balance and serenity; do not rely on others for my happiness.

SERVICE—Use my talents to serve others; to inspire, motivate, teach, and uplift people in service of living their best lives. Dedicate my life to helping others reach their full potential; to feel empowered,happy, confident, and creative.

PHYSICAL VITALITY—Express myself fully by doing what I love. Commit to healthy sleep,fitness, and nutrition habits in order to maintain physical vitality for long-term health and happiness.
Honor my body and treat it like a well-oiled machine; love and accept myself despite any perceived flaws.

GRATITUDE—Take time every day to appreciate and give thanks for my health, my family, my friends, my job, my ability to give back to others, and all the small things that make me feel incredibly fortunate. Regularly express my gratitude to others.

GROWTH—Enjoy the process of learning from people and situations in my life. Learn from my failures and my successes. Find new ways to challenge and stretch myself through reading, further education, and new experiences.

CUPCAKES!—Honor my playful, fun side. Celebrate often! Indulge, be happy, relax, and look for ways to expand pleasure and joy in my life.

CLEAN-BURNING FIRE—Contribute positive energy to the world. Bring optimism, good cheer,and a smile to a room or a conversation whenever I can. Be conscious of my impact on others; don’t leave a dark cloud of smoke behind—focus on being a passionate, happy, shining light.

RIDE THE WILD TIGER—Live big! Take risks! Leap! Go big or go home. Do things that make me uncomfortable—that challenge what I think is possible. Ride the wild tiger—there is no saddle; there are no reins to hold on to. Just enjoy and adjust to the crazy ups, downs, and surprises that life throws my way.


Rate your current level of satisfaction (on a scale of 1–10) in each of the following areas of your life (these areas are also the chapters of this book).

Consider how you are feeling right now, and know that your ratings on this report card will constantly change. Doing periodic check-ins can help you figure out where you are doing well, where you feel disconnected or stuck, and in what areas you are looking for more balance and satisfaction.

Work Money
□ Home
□ Organization
□ Friends
□ Family
□ Dating & Relationships
□ Health
□ Fun & Relaxation
Personal Growth


Now that you have rated how you currently feel about each area of your life, it is time to articulate what you really want.

For this exercise, describe what a “ten”in each area would look and feel like. What do you want to have, do, or be one year from now?

Dating & relationships:________________________________
Fun & relaxation:________________________________
Personal growth:________________________________


The final step after articulating your vision for each area of your life is to set goals based on specific things you would like to do, have, feel, and learn in the next year.

Writing down your goals is a powerful step toward actually making them happen. Here is a table for brainstorming 6-month, 1-year, and 3-year goals.

Give yourself 15 minutes to write down as many things as you can in each of the squares (refer back to the previous exercise for a head start). When you think you are done, push yourself to add a few more in each category (those might be some of your most creative ideas).

Note: It’s fine to leave some of the squares blank. For example, you may not have goals related to skills and education for every single block of time. Likewise, sometimes the “be/feel” column is consistent no matter what the time frame. If that is the case, just fill in the top square.


Big, Scary, Hairy Goals. You know what I am talking about—those goals of yours that seem so big and scary that you can barely bring yourself to admit that they exist. BSHGs require their own special set of observations:

Writing them down can be hard because you may be afraid to fail; there is a lot at stake, and you may not be sure you can actually achieve the goal.

Saying them out loud is often the scariest part. Saying them out loud to another person (who is awake and listening) is even scarier, but it makes the goal start to feel REAL (and maybe even possible).

When someone first tells you a goal of theirs, especially a BSHG, congratulate them! Say nothing about practical considerations or what might stop them—so often those remarks are about our own baggage or perceived limitations, not theirs. Likewise, don’t let others’ limited beliefs hold you back. It is your unique goal, not theirs—so it makes sense that not everyone will be able to see the possibilities right away.

The bigger and more important the goal (in a life-fulfilling kind of way), the louder and more insistent the “inner critic” becomes. Inner critics (also referred to as gremlins or saboteurs) are those voices that try to bring you down or protect the status quo with phrases like “you are not experienced/smart/unique enough to reach that goal” or “you can’t do that—who do you think you are?” We all have inner critics.

Learn to notice the difference between these voices and what you know to be true.

If you stop referring to your goals as scary, it starts to take the scariness away. “Scary” just means the opportunity is big enough. Our language creates our reality. Be proud and excited when you share your big goals with others! Don’t shrink away from them.

Setting BSHGs and working toward them feels REALLY good. That does NOT mean it feels easy or effortless. But it does feel really great to stretch and expand beyond what you originally thought was possible for yourself. It feels even better to learn, grow, and inspire others in the process. Finally, it feels great to fail and know that you can pick yourself back up. So get out there! Don’t be afraid to get dirty.


What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Pretend you can freeze time and work on something without anyone knowing about it or judging your success (at least until you’re ready).

What would you be most proud to achieve in your lifetime?

What are some of the inner-critic messages that get in the way of you setting or pursuing your biggest goals?

What advice would you give yourself in response to your inner critic?


Setting goals is a relatively straightforward process. Pick something you want to do or have and write a statement that is specific, measurable, action- oriented, realistic, and time- bound (the SMART formula).

However, sticking to the goals you have set is an entirely different story.

Some goals are slippery — they never really seem graspable, and before you know it you have forgotten all about them. Really meaningful goals are sticky—they take on a life of their own, and you cannot help but work on them consistently and tirelessly until you reach them.

The following strategies helped me stick to my goal of running a marathon in 2008—a goal that once seemed utterly impossible quickly became rewarding and enjoyable.

Get inspired.
I had been tiptoeing around the idea of running a marathon for almost a year before I finally committed. I started to realize that every time someone mentioned they were training for or had finished a marathon, I was jealous. Then, one day after admitting on my blog that I “was still too scared to train for a marathon” a reader (complete stranger) wrote back with a link to a video on YouTube called “Running My First Marathon.” I was so inspired after watching the video that I committed to myself right then and there.
Getting (and staying) inspired, whether by videos, friends, family or a cause that is important to you,is an incredibly important part of sticking to a goal—it is what recharges your battery when you areready to quit.

Make a symbolic “I’m serious” purchase that will help you in your pursuit of the goal.
As soon as I committed to running the marathon, I splurged on a pair of custom Nike+ running shoes that were wirelessly connected to my iPod. I ordered them in UCLA colors (go Bruins!) and had my motto, Live Big!, sewn into the back. Those were my lucky shoes for the rest of training (and every event I’ve done since). Lacing them up for training runs made me feel like a serious runner, and I wasn’t about to back out on my new shoes; I was determined to take them all the way to race day!

Set up regular accountability.
As soon as I committed to my goal, I called my dad, a marathon veteran, and let him know. I also wrote ten questions on a piece of paper, and asked if he would help keep me accountable by reviewing them with me every Sunday. Questions like, “Did you do your long run?” “What did you learn from running this week?” and “Are you having fun?” helped keep me on track and focused not just on the goal, but on the process too. Plus, I knew I couldn’t get away with completely quitting—what would I tell my dad on Sunday?

Visualize success.
I can’t stress enough the importance of visualizing success—seeing yourself from the perspective of already achieving your goal. It creates a positive reality to work toward, and cements what success will be like. I designed a SELF magazine cover (featuring me) and taped it to my bathroom mirror to visually represent my goal. I also wrote a “feature” article as if I were being interviewed about the diet and exercise habits that led to my success, and visualized how great I felt as a result.
When my morale dipped during training, I would make a point to reconnect with my original vision and picture myself crossing the finish line at the actual marathon, surrounded by friends and family, and how elated and proud I would feel.

Consider the alternative—not sticking to your goal.
The alternative to sticking to my goal was giving up. When I thought about giving up, I thought
about how that would make me feel. I would feel deflated, discouraged, and disappointed. As
challenging as it was to get motivated sometimes, I knew it would feel far worse to let myself down.

Avoid the All or Nothing trap.
Maybe you have experienced this before: giving up on a goal after just one slight misstep. I call this the All or Nothing trap—it’s the feeling that if I can’t do something 100%, I shouldn’t do it at all. Or if I veer off course, I might as well stop and let everything fall apart rather than make an adjustment and get right back on track.

Don’t make a big deal out of getting off track. Just pick yourself up and keep going right where you left off. In fact, “getting off track” often provides a much-needed break.

Don’t forget about gratitude.
Rather than complain about how miserable I was during my runs, I made an effort to focus on everything I was thankful for. When running got tough, my inner dialogue would start something like this: “I’m tired. My feet hurt. I’m hot and thirsty. I have so far to go.”

At that point I would stop and purposefully shift gears to “I’m thankful that I am able to run at all. That I am healthy and strong. That my body is willing to put up with me throughout this crazy training process. That I get 5 hours outdoors to think and be alone. I am thankful that I get to enjoy nature—the blue sky, the birds, the water, and the people-watching. I am thankful for the huge boost in self-esteem I feel after I finish a long run. I am thankful for my supportive friends and family, who encourage me every step of the way.”

Take your goal one hour, one day, one week at a time.
At many points during my early weeks of training, I got completely overwhelmed at the thought of running 21 miles on my own, let alone a full marathon. At that point I felt like 8 miles was my maximum, and 21 seemed absolutely impossible. I had to constantly remind myself not to worry about the future weeks — just the next Saturday’s long run. I told myself I will have plenty of opportunities to worry about those longer runs later, so why start now?

Don’t let yourself get scared away by the magnitude of your goal. What makes it sticky is breaking it down in to smaller steps that seem more possible, steps that build to create confidence and stickiness.

Once you have started working on your goal (and told friends, family, and co-workers), you are truly invested and it is a lot harder to give up and walk away.
Little by little, week by week, I built on the previous weeks’ accomplishments and was able to achieve just a little bit more, until the very moment when I actually crossed the finish line during the marathon itself. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.


What are some methods that have helped you commit to your goals in the past?
What are some new tactics that might help you stick to your goals in the future?
What is important to you about sticking to your goals and seeing them to completion?