Goal Setting

by Arielle Essex

Thinking big works best

Before you can carry out a goal setting process of refinement and clarification, you need the raw material: a goal.

It is best to start with your really big and worthwhile goals. These will eventually get broken down into smaller goals and tasks that you can do, but you have to start from the top.

First we need lots of ideas of goals that could be your worthwhile big goals. This is like a brainstorming session. There are no wrong answers; there are no limits. We will deal with little matters, such as being realistic and achievable, later! For now, let the dreams flow...

Many of us have learnt not to want what we don’t think we can have. It is time to throw out this habit and get back in touch with those dreams you used to dare to dream.

The great danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.


By setting goals that we deem to be realistic, given our own mishmash of hopes, fears and beliefs, we can end up with a goal that just does not provide the juice to motivate us enough, and is probably not what we want anyway. At this stage of figuring out your big goals, throw ‘realistic’ out the window.

Here’s a way to get going when you think you don’t know exactly what you want.

Goal brainstorming

Thinking big and thinking positive may sound daring or unrealistic, but the excitement and energy generated can burst through obstacles to success. When you let your imagination run wild and create the best possible scenario, stretching beyond your normal boundaries of success, creative ideas unfold and new solutions and opportunities open up. Things become more possible. Rather than shrinking to fit pre-determined set ideas, everything expands.

You’ve probably brainstormed in meetings, but have you ever brainstormed what a great life you could have? What if you could make it happen? What would you choose? If you give your imagination free rein, you may be surprised at the wisdom you discover.

Here are various exercises and questions to help you come up with a list of those big goals. Make sure you write down the goals and ideas you come up with.

Heroes and idols

You may have people you admire or look up to – people who have achieved things you would like to achieve. Write down a list of these people and what they have or do that inspires you. It could also be their approach or attitude that you envy. Identify what qualities or skills they have that you’d like to acquire.

Old dreams

What do you want to do when you grow up? Think about the dreams you used to have when you were young. You know, those dreams that used to capture your imagination before your experience of life taught you not to think about them. What did you want to do before you decided to be reasonable? What interests did you have? What hobbies fascinated you? What talents got left behind to lay dormant?

  • What did you always want to be or do when you were young?
  • What aspects of those dreams still have some ‘pull’?

Big goal thinking questions

  1. If you won £1 million on the lottery, what would you do differently in your life?
  2. If you only had six months to live, but could live in perfect health during that time, what would you do?
  3. What have you always wanted to do, but have been afraid to attempt?
  4. If you had the courage, and you could be absolutely sure of success, what would you choose to do?
  5. Think of something you failed at – but now you are glad that happened! What did you learn?
  6. Think of something you thought you had failed at, but didn’t. What did you learn?
  7. If you had the courage, what would you be willing to risk failing at now? How does that relate to the previous questions and answers?
  8. How could you balance your life to be more in harmony with your core values and to honour what is truly important to you?
  9. On your deathbed, would you prefer to regret something you tried and failed at, or prefer to regret not trying it at all?
  10. What legacy would you like to leave behind; how do you want to be remembered?
  11. What gives you the greatest feelings of satisfaction, achievement and happiness?

Current goals and activities

Think about any goals and activities that you currently have and how they form a hierarchy.

For a mundane example, imagine your goal is to go to the supermarket. You will have some reason for the trip – perhaps to stock up on food for a party. So that might be the bigger goal that gets you out shopping. But why are you having a party? A still bigger goal would be to have some social interaction. Why do you want that? An even bigger goal might be to meet someone special. Why is that important?

Notice that your goals are like Russian dolls, each one inside a larger and larger one. Ask ‘why?’ enough times and you will get to the bigger goals that start to reveal what you really want.

Talents and skills

Jot down a list of all your talents and skills. Your unique gifts and qualities give even more clues about the sorts of goals that would generate real passion. Often your real talents are effectively hidden from you. This is because they come so naturally, you don’t even consider them a talent. It can be very useful to ask people who know you well what they would put on your list.

What can you do with these talents and skills?