How To Set Goals When You Don’t Know What You Want

When you have no idea what your ‘dream life’ could look like, focus on what you want to experience instead.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

During this crisis many people have more time on their hands and want to make the most of it. Finally it seems we have time to do what we always wanted! But what if you’re not sure what your big dream actually is?

I often get asked a question “How do you set goals if you don’t know what you want?” There is a dangerous illusion that only if you know exactly what you want can you get it. People who end up being successful in what they do (or how they live their lives) know what kind of life they want, but not exactly what they want.

Another illusion is that even if you knew what you wanted it is unlikely that you could get exactly that. Getting what you want might actually lead to disappointment as we don’t often know what is good for us until we let life experiences shape us. For instance, seven years ago I didn’t know that I wanted to be leading a women’s network as my whole career had been in branding. But I did know I wanted to make a positive impact, explore what I’m capable of doing and grow.

When you accept that you can’t get what you want and that’s a good thing, it takes the pressure off from exploring the future. It’s good to have goals and consciously plan ahead but don’t let lack of vision stop you from making progress.

Here are 5 steps you can take immediately to plan your life, even if you don’t know what you want.

1) List four focus areas in your life

People are familiar with listing goals for work and business but not for other areas of their lives, such as relationships or for wellbeing. It is very easy to get carried away with your career and neglect other areas of your life completely.

List four areas you want to focus on. These could be family, wellbeing, finances, career, relationships, making a positive contribution or being creative. Make sure to write down four life areas that matter to you.

2) What kind of feelings and experiences do you want in your life?

List what kind of feelings you would like to feel or experiences you would like to have in each of the four key areas. What activities give you a boost of self-esteem or make you feel energised? What kind of people do you want to work with? How do you want to feel in your relationships? What kind of impact would you like to make?

Write down with bullet points how you’d like your life to shape out in those four key areas. You can list emotions and material things. Anything that paints a picture of a happier and more fulfilling future.

When you don’t know what you want it is not fruitful to set goals based on achievement, but based on what kind of days you want to experience.

3) Are you doing things that excite you?

When you become more aware of the things you want to invite into your life, your four focus areas, it already gives you a good direction. Give up the idea of chasing one ultimate goal, but keep an open mind with each step and be aware of new opportunities that constantly arise around you. Weigh each option against how they are going to make you feel and if they excite you.

Make a list of things that excite you but don’t just expect those moments to happen. Becoming aware of what lights you up will equip you to become better in spotting the opportunities that might lead to a more fulfilling direction.

4) List things that are ‘Hot’ or ‘Cold’

I used to play a game called ‘Hot and Cold’ when I was a kid. Someone would hide an object in a room and the others would have to find it based on tips such as ‘Hot’, ‘Hotter’ or ‘Cold’. ‘Hot’ means you are getting closer and ‘Cold’ means you are not. Sometimes I ended up searching the whole room before succeeding.

Evaluate what areas in your life are ‘Cold’ and what are ‘Hot’ to set priorities. Make a plan to move away from ‘Cold’ and towards things that are ‘Hotter’. Ultimately you want to live your life completely with things that are ‘Hot’. As long as you are getting closer, you are on the right track. And sometimes it indeed takes a long time until you succeed so don’t give up.

5) List actions you can take today

Think of small steps you can take immediately to start making these ideas a reality. Don’t start from drastic moves such as leaving your job or selling your house. Little steps can often give more information about what you actually want and you can further refine your goals as you make progress.

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...


    Taking a Step Back is The First Step Forward

    by Tracy Kennedy

    Settling Will Change Your Life

    by Kirsten Trammell

    Do you dare to dream?

    by Jenny Hoekstra

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.