A Values-Based Approach to Goals

by Stephen Mills on December 2, 2009


Cath Duncan published an article on her blog yesterday that targeted something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I suggest you check it out: Is Traditional Goal-Setting Broken? She speaks to the issues I’ve been wrestling with myself.  It is a nice background to this article.

Let’s cut right to the chase.  While you are working toward that distant goal, what about right now?  I touched on this in my article Redefining Our Ultimate Goals.  I’m a strong believer in goals, but at some level traditional goal setting seems to conflict with living in the present, being happy now, and a lot of other things I and others talk about.  Should you sacrifice yourself now for some future goal?  Maybe, but then again maybe it won’t be worth it when you get there.  What happens then?  What happens in the meantime?

What About Values?

In my opinion, the number one most critical factor in goal setting is making sure they align completely with your values.  You need to understand what your values are and sometimes this requires that you keep asking questions about what you really want.  Identifying your values is far more important than setting goals.  It’s a prerequisite.

I used to have a goal that said I wanted to have to be rich and to me than meant having X million dollars.  When I asked myself why I wanted to be rich, the answer was because I wanted freedom and I wanted stuff.  I thought then and I still do that money can buy you freedom that people with less money don’t have.  I’m not sure I want the stuff anymore.  Regardless of whether you agree or not, the key point here is that money is not really a value to me.  Money is a goal and the value is freedom.  That’s a core value to me and has been for as long as I can remember.

What if I work myself to death so I can be rich someday and gain my freedom?  Am I free in the meantime?  Am I living one of my core values of freedom now or am I a slave to my goal?  If something happens and I don’t get rich, what then?  What if I get rich and find out that it didn’t make me free?  Any of those scenarios are really going to suck.

Living Your Values

A breakthrough for me was asking myself the question “What can I do right now to be free?”.  That question led to a lot of steps I could take to gain more freedom regardless of how much money I had.  I now have short, medium, and long term strategies that I can follow to gain more freedom without being rich.  That doesn’t mean I couldn’t still have a goal to be rich, but I don’t.  I’ve changed the “be rich” goal into one strategy, among several, for living my core value of freedom.  If it never happens it will be OK, because I don’t intend for that to prevent me from living my ultimate value of personal freedom.

This same approach can be used for all of your values.  I value freedom, self-acceptance, peaceful well-being, health, vitality into a very old-age, endless learning, and a lot of other things.  My approach now is to figure out how I can live into these values right now, while establishing goals that deepen and extend their experience.

This is a significant departure from how I viewed all of this not too long ago.  My thoughts are evolving and that’s part of the journey and I find it quite exciting.  I’m very interested in see how this plays out on Cath’s blog in the near future.  She promises to explain her ideas on the topic in the coming weeks.

“If you are living a goal-focused life, then no matter what you have, it’s never enough.  Not so with a values-focused life, because your values are always available to you, no matter what your circumstances.” – Russ Harris

What do you think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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{ 3 trackbacks }

What Other Coaches & Bloggers Are Saying About Goal-Setting « Mine Your Resources
December 8, 2009 at 9:41 am
Is Passion Necessary for a Meaningful Life?
December 12, 2009 at 1:16 am
GOALS by lindalib - Pearltrees
December 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Schryer December 2, 2009 at 7:46 am

I like it! But then again, I’ve never really been a fan of setting goals. I used to think that there was something wrong with me because everyone always told me that you have to have goals, you have to be working for something, etc., etc. But I find them too restrictive and conforming for my tastes. I prefer to have ideas instead of goals. I have a good idea of where I’d like to be, and what I’d like to be doing, but I’ve abandoned the notion of struggling to reach a “goal”.
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..Grandpa Comes Home =-.


Stephen Mills December 3, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Hi Jay, I think you have hit on something here – your tastes. Whether goals work for people and what kind of goals work for people probably depend a great deal on their personalities. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Thanks!


Ideas With A Kick December 2, 2009 at 9:03 am

Hey Stephen,

When I work with people to help them define their values, what I ask them is: “What is important to you”. Because that’s what I think values are. So, it makes a lot of sense to me to align our lives with them. Goals may show us the destination, but values show us the road we are willing to take in order to get there.

.-= Ideas With A Kick´s last blog ..Personal development ideas I can do without =-.


Stephen Mills December 3, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Hello again Eduard. In my mind it’s really important that you spend a fair amount of time really analyzing what’s truly important to *you*. You need to make sure you are not accepting as important something you have simply absorbed from society, religion, your parents, etc.


Positively Present December 2, 2009 at 11:17 am

Love this post. Values are something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently and it’s really interesting to see how they can be used to approach goals. Thanks for this great write up!
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..looking for beauty in all the right places =-.


Stephen Mills December 3, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Hi Dani and thanks! Values are the key in my opinion 🙂


Oscar - freestyle mind December 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Very interesting reading Stephen, I like this approach.
.-= Oscar – freestyle mind´s last blog ..Last Time I checked, 1 Step Per Day… =-.


Stephen Mills December 3, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Thanks Oscar, I appreciate that.


Steve |MyWifeQuitHerJob December 3, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Couldn’t agree with this article more. People often get so caught up with money that they don’t realize that they are torturing themselves and going against what they are ultimately trying to achieve. It’s not about the money. It’s about the lifestyle and the values. Excellent!
.-= Steve |MyWifeQuitHerJob´s last blog ..How To Use Adwords The Right Way With Your Online Store =-.


Stephen Mills December 3, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Hello Steve, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for letting us know!


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills December 3, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Nice article Stephen. It’s amazing how almost anything can go from being an asset to a liability when taken to the extreme. Balance is always the key, and often the most difficult skill. I like how you maintained your balance here.
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..28 Things You Probably Never Knew About Me =-.


Stephen Mills December 3, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Thanks, Jonathan. Balance is a key to just about everything isn’t it?


Lana-DreamFollowers Blog December 3, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Great post Stephen, totally agree – without knowing our values we cannot live fulfilled and authentic life. In the past I often chased after goals that I thought I needed but in reality if I stopped and asked myself why, I would have realized that I needed something compeletely different.
.-= Lana-DreamFollowers Blog´s last blog ..Finding Your Life Purpose: Do You Know What You Stand For? =-.


Stephen Mills December 3, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Hi Lana and thanks for stopping in to comment. It’s easy to get caught up in what you think you to want or need. We accept a lot of social baggage without realizing it. Spending some time to figure out what you truly want is a critically important part of a fulfilling life.


Robin Easton December 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Dear Stephen, I really like this. It’s something I’ve always been aware of but more so lately. I find that the more I focus on my values and what moves me to great joy, love, laughter and peace…the more I do well at whatever I am doing.

I guess what’s made me think about it more often is blogging. I tend to be someone who just can’t get frenetic about finding ways to get the largest number of readers, etc. I find that VERY draining (both emotionally and mentally), but if I just be myself and return to my natural way, which is to simply love people, enjoy them, see them, then I not only develop really astounding friendships with caring and wise people, but I feel sooo much more myself, more peaceful and happier.

This article really stresses a fundamental insight that is so often overlooked in American culture. Thank you for bringing it more to light. Hugs, Robin. 🙂
.-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..Lifting the Lid on Age and Death =-.


Stephen Mills December 3, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Hello Robin. That was a lovely and insightful comment and I really appreciate you taking time to leave it. Hugs back 🙂


Jonny December 5, 2009 at 12:32 am

Great post, everyone should have a clear idea of what their own individual values are and have them written down so that every decision they make if first ran through thier values filter.

incredibly important in life.
.-= Jonny´s last blog ..3 Months In The Life Of A Travelling Entrepreneur =-.


Cath December 8, 2009 at 5:44 am

Thanks for joining the debate, Stephen

I agree that knowing your values is a prerequisite to setting goals – when you’re setting goals, you’re essentially deciding your strategy for satisfying your values. ie. My goal is to buy a house (goal) so that I can feel independent/ create a safe, nurturing space/ become financially independent… (whatever your values are). Deciding your values is like deciding what wall you want to climb, and placing your ladder against that wall, before you decide how you’ll climb the ladder (using goals).

I focus a lot on helping people determine both their conscious and unconscious values, because unconscious values can sabotage your efforts (ie. when you’re unconsciously prioritizing protecting yourself from rejection over the value of intimacy.) Values have loads of “value” in clearing up your thinking – they’re powerful stuff!

I guess the big question for me is whether it’s necessary to move on to the goal-setting stuff after you’ve clarified your values. Traditional goal-setting would start with overall mission/ purpose in life, move on to values, then move on to goals, then move on to tasks/ action lists – a sort of funnel effect, getting more and more specific, focused and procedural as you move down the funnel.

I’m wondering if we can stay at the level of values and just keep checking in every so often when we have decisions to make, “Does this fit with my values?”

What do you think?


Terry December 9, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for this. My website is dedicated to helping people identify personal values and align them with there goals.


Terry December 9, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Thanks for this. My website is dedicated to helping people identify personal values and align them with their* goals.
.-= Terry´s last blog ..6 ways To Let Go Of All Fear, Worry, And Money Stress =-.


Ronny December 9, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Write your goals down and track them. I use a little booklet you can download fromshttp://www.isetmygoals.com/goal-setting.html . It is always in my wallet and helps me keeping the focus on what is really important.

Enjoy and success!


Mike Siete Cinco December 11, 2009 at 5:49 pm

hey man, Really think you and Cath are onto something with looking at traditional goal setting and removing what is broken. Too much focus on the goal, if it takes you away from falling in love with the path (the moment, the now, the whatever), is reason enough to look for another way.

I feel you on saying that your personal freedom is more important than any goal. It’s true. No goal can ever bring the kind of freedom you’re talking about. The thing about goals is, that when you get there all you want to do is set another one. I know this to be true because setting big goals (to me they feel big) and putting a short time frame to reach them, is all I do in my life.

so if we all know this intellectually, then we must find a practical way to fall in love with the path to our goals. The freedom you’re searching for is there, on the path… I think 🙂


LostinTranslation December 15, 2009 at 3:40 pm

As usual, thanks for providing such a thought provoking post! I personally have never really had any goals. Never knew what they were, or was never instructed how to present to achieve. So, therefore, I feel I have been more motivated by the person I am, hence the value system.
I guess I never really thought about it before, until I read your post. The beauty of analyzing a value system is that I can now work to actually pinpoint my values, and work towards creating concrete goals, and thereby be more clear on what it is I enjoy in life, and what new things I would like to approach. The road is never easily paved, but the act of just trying to develop this more concrete lifestyle can give creation to a new path in life. Thanks Stephen!!


Paul January 6, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Once you’ve created your goals, the next – and probably the most important step – is to actively monitor them.
Research has shown that self-monitoring of your goals is the key to achieving them, no matter what they are. As well as reinforcing the motivation to succeed at a goal, and giving more attention to it, it also creates awareness into how you are progressing and what areas you need to improve.
There’s a free web site called GoalHappy.com that allows you to do this and to also let your friends and family track your progress for extra encouragement!


Joe Don November 25, 2012 at 6:30 pm

A valuable attempt to disconnect between goals and values. But i consider that there’s no quite divide between the two. Both work in synergy. There is no value without goals and vice versa. Ironically, goals are sometimes disguised in the course of getting values; once the heart is set on something, ultimately, goal is set and what is birthed thereof is the value. In programming, i think it could be likened to “attribute” and “value”.


Darcy March 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm

This goes hand in hand with what Tony Robbins once stated, it went something like “People are not lazy, they simply do not have impotent goals. That is, goals that do not inspire them enough to take action”
Darcy´s last blog post ..Larry Page


Simone August 13, 2014 at 1:25 am

Astonishing article! Thank you, keep up the great job! Warm hugs from Italy!



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