Personal Goals

The Ultimate Guide.

An ideal life is built on personal goals. 

You wish to climb Mt. Everest, build a cabin in the woods,  or start an inspiring community.

To fulfill your wish, you’ll start with a personal goal.


In general, if you want to be happy, the most important question for you to answer is what it means to live a good life.

A good goal comes from knowing who you are and what you want.

Of course, what it means to “live a good life” differs from person to person. The important action is to determine what a good life looks like for you. Fortunately, there are many helpful exercises for this, such as the Greater Good Science Center’s, Best Possible Self

For a Buddhist monk, living a good life means living a life that is dedicated to benefiting all beings. 

When a monk knows his purpose he makes a vow to help all sentient beings. And his vow is a kind of personal goal that guides him throughout his life.

A monk’s dedication to helping all beings helps him decide what to do in any given situation. For example, he might have to decide whether or not to miss his train or to help an old woman cross a street. His goal and purpose in life will encourage him to help an old lady across the street, even at his own expense.

However, your goals will not have true power unless they’re  SMART.

SMART means:


M    Measurable

A    Achievable

R    Realistic

T    Timely

We’ll talk more about this below.

A strong goal is internally motivated. This means that the goal should be emotionally meaningful to you—something that you want to do rather than something that you’re told that you ought to do (sometimes these are the same, but not always.)

It’s always a good idea to dig into your goal and ask “Why do I want to do this?” “What is important about achieving this goal?”

Also, an effective goal has a specific, measurable outcome.


There are many examples of personal goals — more than there are people in the world.

A  goal that seems outlandish to one person may be the very ambition another person wants to conquer. 

A personal goal is your unique wish.

Shakyamuni Buddha’s goal was to attain enlightenment. Buddha’s enlightenment happened one morning as he watched Venus appear in the sky. Seeing Venus as he sat under a tree at dawn, after 12 years of training, Buddha attained enlightenment.

You may wish to become a brilliant musician, artist, mathematician, a great parent or family member, wealthy enough to retire, a world traveler, a billionaire with a legacy, or a Nobel laureate who brings new medicines into the world.

Take a look at some personal goal examples.


Aristotle says that virtuous goals make us happy.

So, goals that you set for yourself that also benefit others are the kinds of goals that will make you happy. 

In fact, according to neuroscience, altruism is one of the four practices that contribute to well-being

The other three skills that make for well-being are attention, positive outlook, and resilience (defined as “the rapidity with which you recover from adversity”).

Fulfilling an altruistic goal makes you happy.

And because you thrive by setting internally-motivated altruistic goals, it’s important to reflect on how your goal (1)  is particularly enjoyable or beneficial to yourself and  (2) enjoyable and beneficial to others.

For example:

 To have the goal of being the best music composer in the world to brighten human life and culture is a good goal.

But to be the best music composer in the world because you want more money and status than others, or because you want revenge on your enemies, is unlikely to make you happy, even if you succeed. 

The outcome in both of the above cases looks the same. Quantitatively, you sell the same number of recordings. But the qualitative—the moral and the spiritual difference—between someone who wants to bring joy to the world and someone who wants glory is immense.

Therefore, reflecting on your motive for doing what you want is important for goal setting. Especially if you want to feel happy and fulfilled.


It’s our spiritual nature to grow, thrive, and make goals. So, when we don’t make goals, we violate our nature, damage our life, and make ourselves sad.

Not to make a goal—to be lazy, dispassionate, worn down, uninspired, or cynical—suggests that something in you is broken, hurt, or damaged.

It’s impossible to change and make progress without setting a personal goal.

If you feel unmotivated to have a goal, reflect on what keeps you from wanting to make the world a better place. Why do you have no passion to contribute something enjoyable, fun, or enlightening to the world (something that others will enjoy, too)?

Setting a goal is the beginning of human freedom because it’s the only way to overcome the factors that limit your life.

Also, if you can’t—or don’t—set a goal, then you’re subject to the goals of others who have more passion, energy, and vision than you.

Innovation comes from thinking about how to make things that don’t yet exist in order to make life better for yourself and others. Without goals, we wouldn’t have penicillin, electricity, or clothes.

Medicine extends life. Dishwashers and garbage disposals save time. And goal-setting, dreams, visions, and overcoming challenges keep us from being bound by stultifying limits and ignorance.

Goal setting is important for human progress and development.

Without goals human life perishes.

And the big, ambitious goals that require the most energy, challenge, and imagination—the goals that push you out of your comfort zone—are the best goals to set and to pursue.

Learn more about why goal setting is important.


Having a goal, a vision, or a wish for yourself is like planting a seed in your heart and mind.

The spiritual heart-mind provides nutrients that sustain the seed—your great wish—to grow.

Some environments, people, and relationships increase spiritual nutrients.

But some people, relationships, and environments deplete the soil of the spiritual heart. Such elements are toxic and are best avoided.

Therefore, it’s important to be able to judge the effects of your environment on your wish and on your spiritual (and physical) heart.

Sometimes the environment and situation can be so bad that the mere existence of a noble wish, dream, or aspiration, invites negative reactions from others such as scorn jealousy, and hate. In such a case—if you live in an environment that’s hostile to your good wish—it’s better to keep your wish to yourself. 

If criticism and negativity inhibit the fragile, delicate beginning of your dream before it has the strength to exist in the world, it’s better to keep your wish secret until it’s strong enough to put into physical practice without being extinguished.

But there are times when it’s better to make your wish public—if the people and environment in your life support your wish. Because one of the great joys of our life is to share our wishes and dreams—and to realize those wishes and dreams—with others.

True happiness is when someone meets and shares and encourages our wishes and dreams and when others trust, love, and respect us enough to have us participate in theirs.

Learn more about whether or not you should keep goals to yourself.


The goal-setting process has three main parts.

  • The first part is discovering the reason why you want to achieve the goal.
  • The second part is structuring your goal effectively so that you can achieve it.
  • The third part is to think big. Be ambitious!


Here is a breakdown of how best to think about setting a goal:

For example: “My goal is to climb Mt. Everest!”

How will you know you have achieved the goal? What will you have, see, understand, or feel?

For example: “I will have achieved my goal when: I reach the summit.”

This step is the most important because the likelihood that you’ll achieve your goal is significantly increased if the goal you set is internally motivated.

For example: “When I climb Mt. Everest, I will have overcome a monumental personal challenge and proven to myself that I can achieve great things in my life.”

Internal motivation is an important part of understanding how to set goals, and being able to stay focused on your goals.

Therefore, I suggest putting together a vision board to help you contemplate why the goal is emotionally meaningful to you so that you become invested in achieving it. Because emotion is the energy that keeps you going when obstacles arise.


SMART stands for:

I will climb Mt. Everest.

I will have achieved my goal when I reach the top of the mountain.

I will prepare for the climb by running five miles a day – four days a week, taking the time off from work, and asking my family to support me.

When I achieve this goal I will prove to myself that I can achieve great things. I will know that I’m free to design my own life. 

I will climb Mt. Everest this year.


It’s energizing and healthy to think big and set ambitious goals.

Jim Collins, a former professor at the Stanford Business School, author of  Good to Great and other books on what makes a company great, talks about the importance of setting Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS—pronounced bee-hags).

BHAGS are massive goals that inspire, energize and focus your life. They should be considered carefully and deeply, based on your core values and purpose.

Some of the most fruitful work you do with a coach comes from digging into your core values and purpose in order to formulate a vision for your life with massive goals that are emotionally meaningful to you.

Discussions of this nature usually require a vision statement, which we’ll go into in other posts. Collins outlines the parameters of effective vision statements in an excellent article he published in the Harvard Business Review.

Preparing a strong vision statement is a fabulous outcome to have while working with a coach.

Doing so with the right person, you’ll learn a lot about your life, what your values are, your resources, strengths, and fears, as well as what your vision for the world is, and how you might use your unique talents, gifts, and abilities to make the world a better place.

For help through this process, you can start by downloading our Goals Motivator worksheet

Read more about goal-setting techniques.

Read More About Personal Goals