Two thousand years ago the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca remarked that for a ship without a harbour: “No wind ever blows from the right quarter.”

Yet, despite the importance of setting goals, the vast majority of people spend their lives aboard Seneca’s aimlessly drifting vessel. They are constantly blown to and fro by the vicissitudes of fate, without any clear course to steer and with no particular destination in mind. Instead of being able to work consistently and efficiently towards clearly defined objectives, the individual becomes a victim of chance and circumstance.

Researchers report that among the small minority – estimated at around just 3% of the population – who set themselves clear goals are to be found some of the most successful men and women in every field of human endeavour. They included top business and sporting personalities, successful entrepreneurs and highly respected academics, world- class journalists, writers, and artists, prize-winning scientists and top of the bill entertainers.

Without clear goals you will find too much of your time is wasted on low value, low priority tasks and not enough on high value, high priority ones. You risk falling into the “busyness” trap in which “being busy” is confused with “doing business.”

Setting yourself specific goals, by contrast, keeps you mentally focussed and your energy levels high.

THREE TYPES OF GOALS – All goals come into one of three categories:

WHY Goals are personal goals. They are concerned with your family, and relationships, your mental and physical health, your ethical and spiritual needs, and relationships with others. These form the bedrock of your life. The reasons “why” you want to achieve all other goals in life. Unfortunately it is all too easy to become so focussed on trying to accomplish “What” and “How” goals that it becomes all too easy to lose sight of the “Why?” ones.

WHAT Goals describe your ambitions. They include career, financial and security goals. They are “what” you want, or need, to accomplish in order to achieve your “why” goals.

HOW Goals specify ways in which “what” goals can be achieved.

For example:
WHAT GOALS “To become my company’s top salesperson, to join the President’s Club by outselling my quota by more than 80 per cent and earn £500,000 a year.”

HOW GOALS “I shall achieve all this by finely tuning my selling skills. By expanding my network of contacts and prospects. By making more sales calls. By closing more deals.”

WHY GOALS “To ensure my family’s financial security. To enjoy recognition from others in the company and make my parents proud of me. To see myself as a success and feel good about achievements. To live in a nice neighbourhood and give my children the best possible start in life.”

“Why….” goals are the driving force behind all our other goals. Which makes them our most personal and important goals.

People who focus too narrowly on “what” or “how” goals, without ever getting their “why” goals clear in their heads risk ending their days disillusioned and despairing, no matter how successful the outside world considers them to be.


A good way of identifying “Why” Goals is to prepare your own obituary! Write about yourself not as you are now, but as you ideally want to become. How do you want to be remembered?

  • What professional and career goals would you hope to have achieved by the end of your life?
  • What sort of relationships do you want to have enjoyed?
  • Where would you like to be living, and under what circumstances?
  • What sort of physical and mental shape do you want to be in?
  • How would you like your friends to remember you?
  • Would you like to have made your mark on society as a whole?

Using the template below create an obituary that you feel would be a fitting description of the sort of achievements and accomplishments for which you would ideally like to be remembered.

As a guide, here is a Lifestyle Planner completed by one of my clients on a Time & Stress Management Masterclass.

With your imaginary obituary completed, ask yourself: “What am I currently doing to achieve those goals? ”

If your honest answer is that you are not, at present, doing enough then consider what changes may be needed to help you accomplish those goals, starting by identifying what those goals really are.


1 – Specify your goals so that you are able to distinguish genuine opportunity from time wasting distraction.
2 – By giving priority to gaining, or polishing, the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to seize and exploit those genuine opportunities.


Specific – Establish a mandate of how you will be spending your time. But before deciding to work towards that goal, ask yourself whether it is something you personally desire to achieve. Or are you really setting it to please or impress someone else – parents or partner for instance. The only goals we are ever truly motivated to strive towards and whose accomplishment brings with it a profound sense of personal fulfilment are those of personal value, importance and significance.

Make certain, too, your goals are balanced. Avoid focussing too narrowly on one aspect of life, such as your career at the expense of family or relationships.

Use the fantasy obituary as a guide to those goals that are meaningful and important in all areas of your life.

Measurable – There must be some of judging progress towards your goal. The harder it is to measure, the less likely it is to be achieved.

Attainable – Make sure the goal is within your area of power and responsibility? Do you have all the necessary resources available? If not make acquiring those resources a higher priority goal.

How dependent are you on others in the accomplishment of those goals? If the answer is “to a considerable extent”, can you be sure they are equally committed? If unsure, make creating such a commitment another key life goal.

Realistic – Your goal must be something you can realistically accomplish. That is not to say it should be undemanding. Goals that are too easily gained offer little by way of motivation or reward. Studies show high achievers set themselves extremely demanding goals. But whatever you attempt must be “attainable” by you and within the time available.

Time Limited – A deadline clarifies the urgency of your goal. But make sure your deadlines are realistic and take other demands on your time into account.

While it is essential to be fully committed to your goals and convinced they are important and worthwhile, never allow yourself to develop tunnel vision. Because things change rapidly goals must be equally flexible.

This applies particularly to “What” and “How” goals, where the means by which you achieve your “Why” goals may change considerably in just a few months. It’s been estimated, for instance, that most people will have at least seven different jobs over the course of their working life. Too single minded a pursuit of any goal can lead you to miss opportunities.