How to Figure Out What You Want in Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Goals!" by Brian Tracy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you know what you want from life? Why is it important to take time and reflect on what you ultimately want?

Deciding what you ultimately want from life is the foundation to creating a bright future. If you are unclear about what you want, you’ll wander aimlessly—jumping from one thing to another—and likely will never find fulfillment.

Here’s how to figure out what you want in life, according to motivational speaker Brian Tracy.

Brian Tracy: Decide What You Want

Motivational speaker Brian Tracy has traveled around the world to give thousands of seminars and talks about achieving goals—and he’s living proof that his principles work. His compelling rags-to-riches story shows just how much you can accomplish when you have a strategy for going after what you want. In his book goals Goals!, Tracy explains how to figure out what you want in life and set goals to achieve it.

The first step to setting goals is to determine what you actually want in life. This is important because knowing what you want keeps you from wandering aimlessly—when you know where you’re going, you can move forward purposefully and decisively. (Shortform note: While you shouldn’t formulate goals based on what others want, instead focusing on what you want as Tracy suggests, copying other people’s strategies to achieve goals is effective. Research suggests that emulating other people’s successful tactics to reach similar goals can increase your confidence.)

Use this step to figure out what you want and set the direction for every area of your life: finances, career, relationships, and health. To avoid coming up with vague wishes, make sure that your goals are:

1) Clear and Quantifiable 

Tracy argues that having clear and quantifiable goals allows you to measure your progress. (Shortform note: Tracy writes that it’s important to be specific and have an unambiguous target; however, being too specific can be detrimental—when you aim for a particular number, missing the mark even slightly can make you feel like you failed. To stay motivated and expand your definition of success, try setting range goals instead of single-number targets. For example, instead of making your goal to “save $5,000 this year,” make it to “save $4,000 to $6,000 this year.”) 

2) Challenging 

Your goals should push you out of your comfort zone, Tracy notes. If they’re too easy, then you won’t experience much growth. (Shortform note: Challenging goals, also called stretch goals, are good because they motivate you to work harder, but you might feel discouraged if the goals are too challenging. Research suggests that range goals have the added advantage of striking a good balance between being challenging and being attainable.)  

3) Time Constrained 

Deadlines give you a sense of urgency and prompt you to act. Tracy says it’s okay if you don’t meet them—they aren’t set in stone, and you can just keep setting new deadlines until you reach your goals. What matters is that you have a target to aim for. (Shortform note: Some argue that setting deadlines for your goals can be limiting and disheartening, so they recommend paying attention to the process to reach your goals. For example, instead of aiming to lose 30 pounds by the end of the year, aim to walk at least 7,000 steps every day. Focusing on the process keeps you focused on action and may even lead to better outcomes.)

4) Aligned With Your Values and With Each Other

As discussed in the pre-goal-setting section, Tracy recommends clarifying your values so that you’ll have goals that are true to who you are. If your goals aren’t aligned with your values, you’ll end up feeling unfulfilled. Furthermore, if they aren’t aligned with each other, you’ll end up sabotaging yourself. For example, one of your goals might be to build a successful business, while another goal might be to have plenty of free time to pursue your hobbies. Since these two are at odds with each other—building a business requires your time—you’ll find it impossible to accomplish both.(Shortform note: To avoid having conflicting goals, author Tony Robbins advises coming up with a hierarchy of values then pursuing the goals aligned with those values one at a time. In Awaken the Giant Within, he writes that you can eliminate values from your list once you’ve achieved them so you can then focus on other things on your list. Continuing the previous example, if your goal is to build a successful business, you can remove it from your list once you’ve put the business in place and it has become stable. You can then shift your time and attention to pursuing your hobbies.)

How to Figure Out What You Want in Life

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Here's what you'll find in our full Goals! summary :

  • Brian Tracy's steps to setting and reaching your goals
  • How to approach your goals with the right mentality
  • Why persistence is more important than courage

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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