A Big Goals List

Goal Setting

Everyone can benefit from making a list of 25 amazingly big goals they wish they could accomplish in their lives.

What counts as an “amazingly big goal”?

By an “amazingly big goal,” I mean something that seems audacious to you to set as a goal. It is something you occasionally daydream about, seriously or not. But the daydreaming about it is a lot of fun.

A big goal would certainly take years of concerted effort to accomplish. So, the daydream needs to be really juicy whenever you think of it.

Some of the slots on the list may be taken up by common goals — find your soulmate, have children, start a business, grow your business to a certain size. But let yourself be creative and list the goals that are uniquely yours.

Don’t be stopped by the practicalities

Don’t be limited by what seems reasonable. Either “Star in an A-List movie” or “Become president” might take years of training and still be wildly improbable. But if you’re daydreaming about it, and it would be amazing, it belongs on the list. Put it on the list even if you think, “I’ll never do that!”

Don’t be limited by what’s been done before. If you have an idea for something new, like “Develop a radical new theory of motivation,” then part of what would make it amazing is that you’d be the one to figure out how to do it.

Don’t be stopped by not having worked out the details. If you want to navigate the eastern seaboard in a blow-up pool toy, you’re probably going to need to adjust your plan as you go. But your vision of how much fun that would be is what will help you turn this into a more doable goal.

Don’t be stopped by the concerns that “I don’t have time for that” or “That’s not my priority.” You are not committing to any particular goal as part of this process. You are getting clear on what ignites your passion over the long range.

Don’t be stopped by concerns that you’re too old to set such a goal. Dan Sullivan, the Strategic Coach, advises everyone to have a 25-year horizon for their lives, no matter how old they are. Let’s double down on that — assume that rejuvenation technology takes off in the next decade, so that you could live into the hundreds with the body of a healthy 50-year-old. On these grounds, I have a “big goal” of having a child when I’m 85. This goal is contingent on there being a reasonable expectation that I would be reasonably youthful for the following 20-30 years, enough time to raise the child to adulthood. (It’s not contingent on being able to bear a child, which I think is too unlikely. But if the technology is there, I’m all in!)

And of course, don’t be stopped by what people would say or think about your goal. What do you care if they lack your imagination?

What shouldn’t go on the list

What shouldn’t go on the list are things that you think you should do but that don’t inspire you.

“Plan for retirement” could not be inspiring to anyone. Making plans is not inspiring. On the other hand, listing the adventures you want to undertake during retirement would be inspiring.

Similarly, maybe you think you should take charge of your investments. Well, if that doesn’t inspire you, don’t put it on the list. What does inspire you in that regard? Creating a certain lifestyle? Creating a certain amount of wealth?

Nor is this just a bucket list. You might want to go on a safari or see Stonehenge before you die, but a big goals list is not so much a list of experiences you’d like to have as it is a list of things you want to create. After all, if you have the money, you can have these kinds of experiences. Maybe your big goal concerns some kind of wealth creation.

On the other hand, if you’re fascinated by Stonehenge, maybe you’re like Wally Wallington and you want to build a replica of Stonehenge in your backyard using only simple tools and your own labor. Well, that’s a big goal.

Why you need a “big goals list”

I only got clear on the concept of a “big goals” list a week or so ago, when I took Brooke Castillo’s “Big Goals Workshop.” After she explained what they are, she had us make our own lists. I had 30 items on my list in about 15 minutes and it opened my eyes to how powerful it is to write down such dreams. The list was immediately more valuable than the lifetime goals list I had previously generated using Alan Lakein’s “Lifetime Goals” exercise.

A list of 25 big goals opens up your horizon and concretizes to you that you could do something great in your life. It taps into your individual sense of passion and creativity. It unveils potential goals that you haven’t let yourself think about.

I already have a passionate central purpose and major goals that will take me a couple of decades to work through. But I still found this process clarifying and inspiring.

This opening up of the imagination is exactly what is needed to find and develop a central purpose. Some people go totally blank when they try to identify a central purpose. As far as I can tell, they only think about goals that they believe they can and should achieve. Every other idea gets censored. But because they have limited their options, none of the “acceptable” goals actually triggers any passion.

But a central purpose is necessary for long-term happiness.

You need some direction in order to clarify a central purpose. And you find that direction by tapping into a source of passion. The “Big Goals” list is an exercise to expose that passion. From there, you can choose a direction and shape a life in the image of your ideal.

Why the “big goals” don’t need to be practical per se

These big, long-term goals don’t need to be practical per se, because figuring out how to achieve them is most of the work and most of the fun and most of the reward of pursuing a long-range goal!

When you set an ambitious goal, you are committing to turning yourself into the kind of person who can do it. It means developing new skills and sometimes changing your psychology. Your journey becomes a fulfilling, creative adventure in itself, with many achievements along the way. It’s great if you actually achieve the amazing big goal, but that is not necessary to have deep meaning, pride, and joy in what you do and in your life.

Now, there is some minimum plausibility needed. There is no point in setting a goal that you are certain is inherently contradictory. It will never motivate you. So, a modern-day physicist should not set as a goal to create a perpetual motion machine.

And I would never consider a goal to have a child when I’m 85 if I didn’t think it was plausible that rejuvenation technology could be far enough advanced by then. I came up with this particular goal by asking myself, “What would I do if I could extend my life indefinitely?” That’s what I would do first. In the meantime, I’m making sure I’m staying in good shape so that I could benefit from such technology, should it exist. Meanwhile, I am healthier and therefore happier.

Suppose someone set out to create a perpetual motion machine 300 years ago, before it was established as inherently contradictory. He could have had a great time figuring out how to remove friction and other sources of energy loss in a machine — and he would have significantly advanced our knowledge of machines in his lifetime, even though he’d never actually have achieved his goal. And indeed, he probably would have been the person to figure out it was impossible.

Or take the alchemists. They wanted to turn lead into gold. Not a really practical idea. (I believe it’s been done now, but at huge cost. It’s a lot cheaper to dig up more gold.) In their lifetimes, they learned a lot of basic facts about elements and how chemical reactions occur. This information was eventually systematized into the science of chemistry.

This is not the exception. This is the rule. If you are all-in looking to achieve something new, especially something difficult that nobody knows how to do, you develop new knowledge. You develop new skills. You go where no one has ever gone before — at least in your imagination.

The need for passion

You need passion in your life. That’s what motivates you to create over the long term. That’s what gets you through the inevitable ups and downs of life. That’s what powers all creativity.

A “Big Goals” list is a means to tap into your existing values to find your unique sources of passion. Once you are connected to your own big goals, you can choose a meaningful direction for your creativity and unleash your productiveness on the world.

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  1. Matthew

    That was a fun exercise- thanks! Giving yourself a license to dream is something my wife and I have done together on long car rides, but I’ve never taken the time to reflect on what I love long enough to come up with so many.

    My Someday/Maybe list just got a lot more fun to review!

    Play a beautiful piano concerto
    Paint the Laguna Beach landscape
    Hike John Muir Trail
    Give an OCON talk other than on supporting
    Write poetry
    Powerlift 1.3K lbs.
    Run the Top of the World trail round-trip
    Build and maintain my own beautiful garden
    Play a competitive soccer game alongside one of my kids
    Build something large and functional or beautiful, i.e., worth keeping, with my son
    Go dancing with my daughter
    Become an ARI Benefactor
    Competitively compete in recreational athletic events in my 50s or 60s
    Spend a perfect day in a great city
    Visit all the national parks
    Become a very knowledgeable layman in the field of evolution and American history
    Sail (or even just help sail) a boat to Catalina Island
    Create and build a large, beautiful coral reef out of Lego with my son
    Play a valuable role in supporting elite military servicemen
    Create a perfect baseball game outing experience with my dad
    Climb the Matterhorn
    Consume all of Ayn Rand’s and Leonard Peikoff’s content on Objectivism
    Have a serious blog or website on all the parks across Orange Co.
    Become a fantastic cook
    Coaching or refereeing at some level of professional soccer
    Reading all the great novels in Western literature
    Teach a class

    • Jean Moroney

      So glad you enjoyed it! Yes, this is a terrific list of “Big Goals.” And it keeps in mind that there is a whole world of inspiring things you can do!

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