Think about setting aspirations, not goals

Seeing everyone else setting goals for next year, and confused? Try thinking about aspirations instead.

Two suggestions:

1- Know what makes you happy, really. It’s not money or material things or skills. If you think it is, keep asking why. 3 most common answers: purpose, close relationships, living a live aligned with a personal ethic.

2- Disentangle things that drive you from things that you drive. And remember those you drive with: the people you love.

Want to know more?

This blog post is part of a series I am making called Reading For The Aspirational Self. Don’t think of this as book summaries – I’m not doing that. Instead, I’m drawing out specific lessons that I find particularly interesting. And which I think could act, together, to help people who share my aspirations. If you, too, want to be present, family-centric, intrinsically motivated and polymathic, I can help.

  • The most distilled version of what I’m offering is a free mailing list designed for learning, “Think On Thursday” – each e-mail will include a lesson designed around the content. Click here for some information on that.
  • The series is also on YouTube in the form of 7-12 minute videos. Here’s the channel link – the video and transcript are below.
  • I’m tweeting excerpts from the videos, as well as some of the story of this project, how we’re doing it, and where it is going, on Twitter. @DaveCBeck

Starboard reflections,


This week’s video:-


Those of you who follow closely. Might’ve noticed that a few of the books I’ve talked about so far focus on happiness and what really makes people happy as opposed to what people are told, makes them happy by marketers and by other people who get things like that wrong all the time. And I’ve had a few questions recently about goals for the new year.

And these two things link really closely. So if you find goal setting a little bit confusing and you find the whole idea of assigning yourself goals for a year, a little bit off putting.  Me too, and maybe you’ll enjoy the rest of this video.

The short version is goals in themselves are pointless, for humans. They’re great for resources and I can see their utility for employees. If you’re working in a big organization and you need that kind of goal-driven culture, not many do, but if you do, that’s fine as in terms of employees, but for yourself, they don’t lead anywhere.

Even if you achieve your goals, all you’ll do is tick them off and then set some new ones next year. They’re not useful for you unless they are linked to an aspiration, something you want to be. And that’s where things get more interesting. So goals can be useful as stepping stones to an aspiration.

But it’s the aspiration that’s important. It’s not the goals. And if you set and embed that aspiration, you don’t need the goals.

And that’s why when I see people making all of these micro goals or using smart goals or any of the other measurable and tick-off-able things that you can inflict on yourself, I wonder about the utility of that for making them happy. The two things link together and that’s what I’ll talk about a little bit.

(section – know what makes you happy) , like really happy.

Firstly, know what makes you happy, really. And I mean, really. It’s not money. It’s not material things. It’s not even what you know or who, you know, if you think it is. And lots of people think that that they’re things make them happy. Keep asking yourself why, why does that thing make me happy? And if you keep iterating that cycle, pretend you have a seven year old next to you who just asks why continuously until he understands.

If you keep asking yourself why you’ll uncover something else behind it, normally there is one of these three things.

It’s purpose, it’s close relationships and the security that comes with those close relationships. And it’s a personal ethic. Those are the three things that for most people, if you have those three, the rest is very much secondary. Those are the three most common driving factors for human happiness across most of the research that I’ve read.

Many of the people who think that material things are money makes them happy. What they actually want is security and not to fear that they can’t provide for themselves and that they can’t provide for the people that they love. That’s an incredibly common thing that you uncover if you keep asking why like a seven-year-old. And the third thing is a personal ethic.

(section – external validation and intrinsic motivation)

On external validation. Children now are raised to be validated externally.  If you’re speaking about a Western country and I think this goes for most of the world, actually nowadays. Tests from an early age, the idea of praising your child so that they learn to do things in a way that that is more convenient.

The idea of a good baby being a quiet baby, which makes me particularly sad. The idea of showing children, how to act like little adults and repress their emotions and be little adults and get praise. And praise is the driving factor for a lot of parenting. And that’s better than punishment. I mean, I’m not saying go backwards here, but I am saying that constant external validation means that kids never find out what’s important to them. What they’re curious about, if you’re talking about learning and how they want to deal with theyre angry-ies or their furious-city, to use my five-year-old’s phrase, how they can do that themselves, and they can develop their own strategies , if you help them along the way.

Most adults are also focused on external validation, whether that’s something that you can measure. And they get their validation from the tick box check sheet that they can tick off and that they’ve achieved their goals for the year or whether that’s, simply the praise  of colleagues, coworkers, society around you, esteeming you, because  you’ve arisen up the social ladder or whatever it is.

External validation is, is incredibly common now. And, the people who know what they want, the people who have an internal motivation stand out as unusual. It’s one of the reasons that I get lots of questions about things, because it’s clear that I don’t care what other people think about me apart from those I love.

Internal motivation. And the idea of doing something for yourself is, is a very rare thing now. And  that’s not good. As far as I’m concerned. And I think most of the people who will bother listening to me and watching me at any point will share that feeling even if they haven’t got to the point of being able to comfortably say that they don’t need external validation yet.

But it has a big consequence for what your aspirations and your goals should be. And that is you can set them based on yourself and who you want to be in the future and the contribution you want to make to the world in the future. And you can look further ahead than the next review for yourself. You can look a lot further ahead.

The only caveat to that is when it comes to those who you’re building a life with, you can kind of change for and change with them. I guess one way of thinking about it is, are you driven by these goals? Are you driven by the idea of something that you can tick off or by the idea of accumulating more wealth or whatever it is, or are you driving somewhere, you driving yourself to a different way of being a different way of living the same life. If you’re already in a great place, are you driving that life? Are you taking control.

And who are you driving with? They’re the people that you love and the people you care about. And with them, it’s different. You don’t need their validation, but you change with them.  And you know, that you change with them intentionally so that you fit together better. That’s how great relationships are built is fitting together better is changing together.

Having an internal motivation kind of links to the three things that I mentioned that make you happy. It means that you can set your own purpose in life rather than have it being set for you. It means that you can build closer relationships with the people that you love, and you can orient your life in such a way as to make those connections stronger, rather than have them be pulled apart by distractions and other things.

And you can’t do it without having a personal ethic. You just can’t. There is no way to be internally motivated without having some kind of ethic behind your actions. So the three things that make you happier, all enabled by pulling away from the idea of external validation. And that’s the kind of message I want to just, just send out here and the one that I try and give anybody who asks me about new year goals.