How to Set Goals and Actually Achieve Them

Setting goals and achieving them is a deeply meaningful process and a key source of happiness for each of us. Without goals, we’d be pretty depressed!

The process is extra meaningful when we set really big, important goals – those that we have to stretch a lot in order to reach. Such goals tend to highlight our inner obstacles to our own potential and happiness.

Limiting beliefs are the biggest hurdles to overcome for a lot of us. Free of those, we tend to just get to work. We wouldn’t suffer with procrastination, or apathy, or stay in comfortable realms of mediocrity, instead of stepping into excellence. 

A big part of achieving goals is dealing with your beliefs Click To Tweet

This post is about the different issues that tend to come with goal-setting, and some thoughts on overcoming them.

The initial goal-setting – how do we set better goals?

Lots of people get addicted to the high of setting goals, without following up with action. That’s common because it can be pleasurable of itself to set goals. But part of growing up is seeing that there is a deeper satisfaction to be had from slowly realizing the goal. 

We restore meaning to the process of setting goals once we learn not to get too carried away with it. Instead, we might focus on setting fewer goals, and figuring out how to execute them well. The process of executing your goals should make you feel happy, provided you have set the correct goals for you, which we’ll look at in a minute.

Desire mapping

Desire mapping, invented by author and entrepreneur Danielle LaPorte, is a more self-aware way to set goals. It asks you to first examine your desires, and then set goals based on core desired feelings. So you could say that it is a more heart, less head centered way to set goals.

LaPorte says: ‘knowing how you want to feel is the most potent form of clarity you can have.’

Desire mapping can feel a little alien to begin with, as a lot of us are out of practice with using our feelings to guide us. We also don’t associate our feelings as useful in building success, which is wrong. Our feelings are the most powerful forms of intelligence available to us.

The problem that desire-mapping overcomes

You will benefit from desire mapping if you tend to set goals that make you feel stressed and keep you constantly feeling like you’re underachieving. Here are examples of quite rigid goals we set:

‘I want my business to generate this amount of money by when’.
‘I’ll go on one date per week until I find my Miss Right’.
‘I will lose 10 pounds by so and so’s wedding’.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with these goals. But unless you are a highly disciplined person who lives for meeting quotas, you might find that they’re too inflexible.

If you were to desire map in relation to these goals, you might ask yourself: what is it I really want here? How do I want to feel? What are my core desired feelings? That inquiry tends to open up possibilities for how to achieve your core desired feeling, without that specific outcome you have identified.

Desire mapping uses your feelings - probably the most powerful force there is Click To Tweet

When I first learned about desire mapping, I did find it a little fluffy. But it is actually very practical. I have found that when I am more connected with the meaning behind what I am doing, I am much more likely to get to work.

Our core desired feelings are very much entwined with our values. Read this article for guidance on how to know your values in life.

How to desire map

To desire map properly, first you need to identify core desired feelings by selecting words that resonate with you. You can use a dictionary to do this, or alternatively here is a core desired feelings library. Once you have those, follow these stages:

How to desire map:

  1. For each life area (work, relationships, health, spiritual/personal development), write down how you want to feel. Use language that doesn’t rely on other people to do anything. For example, don’t have ‘desired’; have ‘desirable’.
  2. From that, narrow the list down to 3-7 core desired feelings behind everything you do.
  3. Identify what you need to do to feel the way you want to feel. This is the intention-setting element. Get as specific as you can. It should help to think about where in your life you already experience your core desired feelings.
  4. Select three or four major intentions to work with, or perhaps just one if it is especially large.
  5. Check in with your core desired feelings weekly and monthly. Are they informing your actions generally? If not, edit your life. Plan your week by your core desired feelings. Ask yourself ‘what do I need to do more of this week to feel x’?

Try not be attached to your specific intentions materializing. It may be that in the process of working on your desire-driven goals, you are led to something different to your current realm of experience, which is no bad thing.

For a more in depth account of desire mapping, I’d really recommend Danielle’s book, The Desire Map – A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul.

After the goal is set

When it comes to executing your goals, the biggest factor is your beliefs, which impact the quality of your decisions. 

Our goals are the stones of truth upon which all contrary beliefs, emotional responses, thoughts and behaviors are broken.

People with positive beliefs tend to achieve their goals and enjoy the process of doing so. Others endlessly struggle and go through frustrating cycles of self-sabotage. 

I wrote about how to overcome limiting beliefs here.

If you think you have positive beliefs and you still aren’t executing on your goals, check the quality of your decisions.

For instance, when pushed, pretty much everyone would prefer:

  • to be ‘happier’
  • to have more money
  • being stress and anxiety free
  • to be in a great relationship
  • to live in their dream house in a dream location

But delve a little deeper, almost nobody is actually making the decision to accept nothing else. Primitive drivers such as security or control, tend to get in the way. If not those, then it’s more complex ego mechanisms, which we only really learn about once we have developed our self-knowledge to an adequate level. This is hard but not impossible, as I have written about here.

The strength of our decisions is what determines whether we achieve our goals Click To Tweet

If you think that the strength of your decisions is weak, then I would suggest practicing mindfulness (I wrote about how here). Among other benefits, mindfulness will help you to improve your self-awareness in terms of what exactly is stopping you from going all out in pursuit of your goals.


The key takeaways from this article:

  • Goal-setting is pleasurable, but the deeper pleasure happens when we get to work. We need to learn to prioritize that deeper pleasure.
  • Goals should be driven by our feelings. Not temporary feelings like insecurity, but core desired feelings. We can identify those using desire mapping.
  • A good goal can and should bring up internal conflicts to the goal. To execute on our goals, we may need to overcome limiting beliefs.
  • Our success in reaching our goals is contingent on the strength of our daily decisions.
  • If our decisions are weak, we can practice mindfulness in order to improve our self-awareness of the reasons why that is.