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How do I set goals?

Begin with the end in mind

This is one of the first principles of personal leadership. We have to work on self-mastery, to lead ourselves and eventually to lead others. We all find ourselves thrust at times into positions of leadership. It may be as simple as planning an afternoon outing with a group of friends, but at least time to time, others are looking to us to set the tone for how things are supposed to be done. For these moments, but also to lead more meaningful lives, it is important for us to know what we are seeking in life.

One of my favorite questions for people is “what are you working on?” It could be in their personal life, in spiritual life, at work, in an important relationship. The context is not so important for me, but I do want to see a conscious effort to be improving in something. This gives me confidence that this person is taking advantage of life. We all risk an unfulfilled life. Having a purpose gives us a sense of meaning and makes us happier.

Setting goals gives a sense of accomplishment and “the experience of frequent positive emotions…, but not negative emotions, relate to broadened cognitive (i.e., problem-solving) and behavioral (i.e., social support seeking) coping strategies” (Reschly et al., 2008, p. 13). Getting into a habit of goal-setting prepares for positive emotions that will reinforce the good behaviors that are happening.

All things are created twice

“There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation, to all things” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 106). This is very clear in the case of carpentry or when making a painting. It is true, though, in all fields of life. What exists in reality exists first in the mind of its creator. It is good to think about this in relation to our own lives. We have to think about what we want if we are ever going to achieve our goals. Our goals have to exist before we can pursue them.

We are able to re-make ourselves and our image as well. We can think about the people we want to be, and then work at this day by day. This can be the source of a lot of hope for each one of us. We are not determined by external circumstances. We have the power to create ourselves. “Man is not only able to make himself, but also must make himself. He must inexorably realize himself. Reality is impellence. It compels him to sketch a system of possibilities, and from among the things available to him man has to opt and thus, in the end, constitute his own reality” (Rovaletti, 1999). Zubiri was fascinated by this concept. Man has a vast array of possibilities open to him. It is up to him to determine the particular path that he will follow.

Leadership and Management – the two creations

“Management is a bottom-line focus. How can I best accomplish certain things? Leadership deals with the top line: What are the things I want to accomplish?” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 108). In this habit, we are focusing on our own personal leadership. What are the things that we want to accomplish? This will help determine many of our choices in life since they should be aligned with our goals. Often, a question as simple as “what do you want?” can bring a lot of light. Apparently, it should be easy to answer. However, in practice, we are often unaware of what we truly desire. If we want to begin with the end in mind, we have to clarify our expectations, first and foremost to ourselves.

To take control of our own lives, it is important to become our own creator. To expand our proactivity, we exercise our leadership through leadership and imagination. “Through imagination, we can visualize the uncreated worlds of potential that lie within us” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 110). Imagination opens up new possibilities. We propose alternative courses of action to ourselves, giving ourselves true options for action. “Through conscience, we can come in contact with universal laws or principles with our own singular talents and avenues of contribution, and with the personal guidelines within which we can most effectively develop them” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 110). Having a moral compass allows us to evaluate the different courses of action with some objectivity. Between the two basic human endowments, we are able to write our own script.

Personal Mission Statement

A personal mission statement focuses on character, contributions, and values. This allows us to be and do according to our own personal philosophy. Different sources contribute to our personal mission statement. Our beliefs, our values, and our experiences shape us in a way that we will want to reflect in our mission statement.

A mission statement is a bit like a constitution. A constitution is a law that sets the tone for all other legislative actions in a country. A constitution endures when it is based on correct principles, such as the “self-evident truths contained in the Declaration of Independence” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 115). A mission statement allows us to be more flexible because we are better equipped to handle change.

A sense of mission gives a sense of the essence of our own proactivity. We have the vision and the values which direct our life.

At the center

To write our “personal mission statement, we must begin at the very center or our Circle of Influence” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 116). We deal with vision and values. “Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 116). Security represents our sense of worth and our identity. Guidance refers to what gives us direction in life. Wisdom refers to our perspective on life, what gives us a sense of balance. It is how we integrate the various pieces of our life into one whole. Power “is the faculty or capacity to act, the strength and potency to accomplish something” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 117).

These four factors: security, guidance, wisdom, and power; go together. They are interdependent. They should be together in harmony to create a “great force of a noble personality, a balanced character, a beautifully integrated individual” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 118). Each one of these factors lies on a continuum between two extremes. Much of our work is to find the proper balance which allows us to find our true center.

Tapping into the right brain

“Frankl says that we detect rather than invent our missions in life” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 136). In order to discover our missions in life, we need both the logical/verbal side of the brain, typically ascribed to the left side; and the intuitive, creative side, which is the right brain. As we are thinking and reflecting on our personal mission statement, it is natural to use the left side of the brain. How can we get the right side involved?

The first approach can be visualization. It is good to imagine the future as we desire it to be. This exercise of visualization gets our right brain involved and opens up new avenues of reflection.

The next step can be a good affirmation. A good affirmation is personal, positive, present tense, visual, and emotional (Covey, 1989/2004). This can allow us to live out future situations in such a way that we will be better prepared to handle them when they do arrive. We can look at some character flaws that we have and imagine handling situations better than we are prone to do.

Identifying roles and goals

Once we capture the essence of our personal missions, we can identify the different roles that we play on a daily basis. Who am I for the different people with whom I interact on a daily basis? Who am I for my family, for friends, for those I work with?

When I identify my role, I am also able to identify the goals that help me be the best version of that role. This will come in handy when we talk about managing our lives according to our personal mission statement. The roles can even help to give a lot of structure to the personal mission statement. After some general statement about the mission one has in life, the roles can clarify the values that guide day-to-day decisions.


Covey, S. R. (1989/2004). The seven habits of highly effective people. Powerful lessons in personal change. Simon and Schuster.

Reschly, A. L., Huebner, E. S., Appleton, J. J., & Antaramian, S. (2008). Engagement as flourishing: the contribution of positive emotions and coping to adolescents' engagement at school and with learning. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5), 419–431.

Rovaletti, M.L. (1999). Man, experience of god: the problem of god in xavier zubiri. Xavier Zubiri Review (2). pp. 65-78.

How to set goals?

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