Are goals really necessary to be happy and successful in life?

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving” said Albert Einstein. But where to?

Moving is good – agreed. If you stopped moving you would eventually die. But is it good enough just to keep moving without knowing where to go?

Goals give you direction

How about just going through the motions and dealing with stuff as it comes? I hear you – you could do that if you want. But you might never get to witness what you’re truly capable of.  To unleash your power, it has to be focussed on something. Why leave it to chance?

If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Said someone.

Some people don’t seem to have goals and they do perfectly fine. But look again. Maybe they do actually have goals, not necessarily pinned to the fridge door, but implicit goals driving them towards something.

Derren Brown hates goals with a vengeance, and in his book Happy: Why everything is more or less fine he has a good old rant about them. However, reading his story it’s clear that he himself had a goal – to get better every day at doing magic tricks. A simple goal that made him single-mindedly pursue greatness which led to him becoming one of the most famous magicians alive.

Not all of us are like that. We drift around. We dream of being good at something, but don’t apply ourselves. Consciously setting goals forces us to prioritise what’s important to us and pursue it. It’s not easy to let go of the myriad of possibilities and follow one thing through. A goal helps you become more focussed and therefore more likely to achieve something worthwhile. That’s where the magic is.

Goals are a necessary step towards achievement

If you don’t set goals, how do you know if you’ve achieved them? You might then ask, why is achievement important? Put simply, achievement hits an emotional target that’s incomparable to any other. It’s a legal high which lasts a lifetime.

Especially if your goal improves not just your life but others’ too. And the more difficult the path, the bigger the emotional pay off. Think of a parent’s sense of achievement from rearing a child from birth to adulthood.

With every goal you accomplish, you learn how capable you are. Belief in your capabilities is the bedrock of confidence.

Pursuing a goal forces you to grow – literally

When you set yourself on a course towards a goal, you’ll come across obstacles that have to be dealt with – not avoided like you might normally do. This process literally transforms you.

Encountering new situations changes your physiology. New genes in the central nervous system are turned on, proteins are created and new brain structures are built.

You take on responsibility

Pursuing a goal means you willingly take on a load. This strengthens you and has ripple effects on those around you.

So, how do you set goals?

Firstly, give yourself permission to set a goal for the future. That future could be tomorrow, or it could be in 5 years time, whatever feels right to you.

Don’t get het up on the goal being ‘correct’. That’s not really the point. The point is having ‘a’ goal, relevant to you in some way. Your goals will naturally become more obvious to you as you go through life and learn more about yourself.

There are some ingredients that must be taken into account when working out a goal for yourself. A goal is a mix of these things in various strengths and quantities:

  • Things you can control (not things you can’t)
  • The outcomes you want
  • The meaning (for you)
  • What’s important to you (your values)
  • Time (how long will you give yourself, or how much time have you got?)

Your goal should stretch you – how much is up to you, but the point of a goal is to take you out of your comfort zone, far enough to make a difference. Setting goals, like anything, gets easier the more you do it.

So how do you set a goal if you have absolutely no clue where you want to go in life?

“If you can’t find a mountain to climb, look around you. Your messy room is full of mini mountains”

Said someone on the internet

Start with immediate surroundings and start small. Fix things that are annoying you: the dripping tap. Clear out your shoe cupboard. Or start with stopping the things you shouldn’t be doing (yes, those things). Clear the mess that’s around you so that bigger goals come into view.

If you’ve organised everything within view and you’re still in a quandary, then perhaps you simply don’t know enough yet, so you need to expose yourself to more of life’s experiences. Your first goal could be just that. The more we experience and learn from, the more clearly and strongly our goals emerge. Start with the thing you’re most curious about and keep going.

Some mistakes people make in setting goals

Making too many goals

One is enough. Don’t set yourself up for failure by overwhelming yourself.

Money goals for money’s sake

Ask yourself what the money would do for you and why that is important, and make that the goal, not the money.

Not enough meaning, too arbitrary

A goal must be truly significant to you personally, to be a worthwhile goal that you’re more likely to follow through.

“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”

Albert Einstein (again)

Do it with a life coach

Talking to a neutral person helps you work out where you want to go in life. Here are some fantastic life coaches that will give you that outside perspective and ask the right questions to help you create goals that are meaningful and relevant to you.

Gabrielle Collard
Verified Coach
Verified for professional standards and commitment to clients. Read more Close

I’m a business and marketing coach from London with a passion for personal growth. If you're looking for support in developing a business, email me at

1 comment

  • It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you few interesting things or tips. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read even more things about it!


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