Only You Can Choose the Right Goals for You
You are a unique person living in a specific place with unique work, family, and friends. Your life is unique; it is not like mine nor is it like those of your friends and acquaintances. All the hacks and systems in the world that help you be efficient and effective won’t help if the wrong goals are picked.
The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
Everything I read is based on the assumption you know how to select the best goals for you. Rarely does anyone give any help in telling you how to find out what goals are best for you.
Nobody calls them on it, but you know why they don’t tell you how to find your goals? Because they can’t. They have no idea what goals are best for you. You’re on your own.
The highest level of mastery is simplicity. Most information is irrelevant and most effort is wasted, but only the expert knows what to ignore.
— James Clear, JamesClear.com, Atomic Habits
So how can you decide what goals are right for you? How do you decide what your priorities are? How do you decide what to say “no” to? How do you decide what you’re going to do today, or this week, or this year?
Here is what’s even more ominous to consider: what happens if you pick the wrong goals?
That’s where I was for the first thirty-two years of my career. I had good jobs with good companies, but I had no specific goals I believed in and reviewed daily. Result: I was a failure. Luckily, all that changed in year thirty-three of my career!
Steve Jobs talked about the value of knowing what to say “no” to, but how can you know when to say “no” if you don’t know how to pick your goals?
The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.
— Warren Buffett
Buffet, Steve Jobs, and others all seem to think that you know how to select the best goals for yourself. Yet you don’t want to just hope that you’re lucky. (When luck is involved, remember Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry.)
We intuitively know there must be a way. You’ve may have already read about the starting place in earlier blogs (see link at the end of this blog): once you know your ten to twenty internal core values, you can then select those goals that are consistent with them. Every day. You will finally have the answer to the question: how do you pick your goals?
Once you’ve discovered your core values, then, with confidence, you can use your favorite goals-based or productivity-hack system to focus on those goals that matter to you, deeply. You can rest easy knowing that down the road, accomplishing those goals will likely result in the promise that Stephen R. Covey and his partner Hyrum W. Smith made: fulfillment and inner peace!
If you feel lucky, you can use some system other than choosing your core values first, but remember: the stakes are high. Further, there is a possibility that if you continue down the wrong path, you will fall prey to what is known as “the sunk-cost effect.” Christopher Olivola, an assistant professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and author of a paper on the effect in the journal Psychological Science, described this as “the general tendency for people to continue an endeavor, or continue consuming or pursuing an option if they’ve invested time or money or some resource in it.” I know that feeling.
Consider what may happen if you’ve set your goals incorrectly:
And one of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means…And the thing about a successful life is that a lot of the time, our ideas of what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They’re sucked in from other people…And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera…So what I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own…Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out, at the end of the journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.
(Alain de Botton, philosopher and author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work; emphasis added)
Robert Greene, in Mastery, adds this about selecting the wrong goals:
A false path in life is generally something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons — money, fame, attention, and so on…Because the field we choose does not correspond with our deepest inclinations, we rarely find the fulfillment that we crave. Our work suffers for this, and the attention we may have gotten in the beginning starts to fade — a painful process.
If we glean from these thinkers, it’s clear that choosing the wrong goals sure doesn’t sound good. Yet, I don’t see the system of choosing the right goals taught anywhere. Why was this knowledge lost? When Covey and Hyrum Smith retired, no one else stepped into the void. With the information in your hand, you no longer need to worry. You know now how to choose the right goals.
In my next blog, I discuss self-knowledge — the key to choosing your goals.
This is the eithteenth blog on this subject. Each blog can stand alone or can be viewed as a comprehensive look on the why and how finding and living by your core values can change your life. Dramatically!
If you want to read my other core values blogs: https://medium.com/the-innovation/your-core-values/home.
As a reminder, the actual step-by-step process of how you can discover your core values will only be covered in chapter 2 of my book, published January 12, 2021— A Fool’s Errand: Why Your Goals are Falling Short and What You Can Do About It.
If you’d like me to email you the first chapter, please add your email here: https://mailchi.mp/592c9a435a29/a-fools-errand. (Until then, I promise to share with you the power of core values via blogs taken from my book 2–3 times per week.)
 Clear, James. “3–2–1: On the highest level of mastery, being a positive force, and living a meaningful life.” The 3–2–1 Newsletter, November 21, 2019. https://jamesclear.com/3-2-1/november-21-2019.
 Haden, Jeff. “Warren Buffett Says 1 Thing Separates Successful People From All the Rest (and Leads to Living a Fulfilling and Rewarding Life).” Inc.com, December 11, 2018. https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/warren-buffet-says-1-thing-separates-successful-people-from-all-rest-and-leads-to-living-a-fulfilling-rewarding-life.html.
 Ducharme, Jamie. “The Sunk Cost Fallacy Is Ruining Your Decisions. Here’s How.” Time, July 26, 2018.
 Botton, Alain de. “A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success.” Talk presented at a TED Conference, July 2009. https://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success/transcript?language=en.
 Greene, Robert. Mastery. New York: Viking, 2012.