Set Achievable Goals by Asking This One Question


I am an avid reader and process junkie.  I love discovering new articles with tips and tricks to help improve any process in my business or personal life.

I have lists created saving articles into classifications from home improvement, organization, writing, networking, goals, exercise, healthy recipes, dog obedience – and my bookcases, well, they are a cornucopia of books to inspire, take action or reflect.

There is a common theme with all the different categories: at some point during the process you must make a goal.  From there you can create a plan and then the helpful books and articles help you define and execute this plan.

I have a neurotic side that dedicates itself to the latest project with full vim and vigor and yet, so many of those goals die a slow death with those impressive action plans gathering dust or sadly being discarded.

I could not figure out why and it would frustrate me to no end.  I am a somewhat intelligent person, one who is able to create plans and follow them through.  I am resourceful, creative, committed and yet – too many goals were in the goal graveyard.


And that is when it hit me, the irony of it all – that very question is the reason.

I had always missed the why.

When I would start out with a new project or goal, I had a why in mind: I want to organize my office.  Why – because it is distracting to work in chaos.

That is not really the why. It was the first why that I never went beyond.

You see, I was exercising the “pot kettle black” rule.  When working with my clients determining their desired next step, I guide them through a version of the five whys.  The first answer to why is normally a conditioned response or barely scratching the surface.

To find the real reason, you must continue to ask why until you get to the root cause driving the desire for change.  On first blush when looking for a new position a client may say they want more money.

When diving a little deeper it may be revealed that the money aspect is not coming from them, but an expectation put upon them by friends, family or the industry.  After a few whys it may be discovered that the real reason is they want to focus on a certain aspect of their job, change jobs completely or take a new direction.

We do not dedicate to ourselves in finding the real why.

The one question we need to ask – what is the real why?

Organizing my office is not about controlling chaos.  It is about appreciating what I do and creating an environment that supports me, my work and feeds my creativity.  It is about respecting myself enough to create a sanctuary that I deserve to do the work that I love.  It is about not feeling guilty for doing something for me, making a space that is not conforming to an office expectation; rather creating an all about me space.

The real why is always there, we just have to dig to get to it.  What we often find is that is a purely selfish reason.  And that is the rub.

I want to create an office just for me.  Of course, this makes sense, it is my office, my business – it should be all about me.

Not so fast.

We are told that making something all about ourselves is bad.  Bad, bad, bad.  Selfish.  Egotistical.  We need to think about others.  How might it affect them?  What would other people think?

Stop it.  Stop that thinking right now.

You have a right to be selfish.  To have goals that are all about you.  Let me cut to the chase – if you cannot provide for yourself, make yourself happy – how on earth are you going to best support others?

You can pull that off for a while.  Sacrifice what you want and make everyone else happy and that can continue for some time.  Everyone else is all hunky dory because they are happy that you are taking care of them.  Yet, how do you feel?

Resentful, unfulfilled, not aligned with who you really are or want to do?  We are programmed to think of others and that thinking of ourselves first is selfish, wrong, taboo.

Let me just throw this out there, while I am at it: if you put yourself first and someone tells you that you are being selfish – listen to their reason on why you are being selfish.  Is it because you are not longer putting them first?  Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, however, why is it okay for them to be selfish and put themselves first and expect you to do the same but when you put yourself first (not asking them to do so) you are the bad guy.

That does not seem quite right to me. Yet we want others to tell us it is okay to think of ourselves first. We crave permission to do for ourselves.

I hereby give you permission to think only of yourself and what you want for you. You are not a bad person for doing so, you deserve it so do it.  Do it now.

What is a goal that you have?  Why do you want it?  Now dig deeper, why do you want that first response?  How will it make you feel, what benefit is it for you, how can it improve any quality in your life for you?

Finding the real why in your goals is transformational in two ways.

First – it gives you a real, deep rooted reason for the goal.  Something that has emotion, passion or real desire behind it.  With those types of strong feelings driving a goal, you have a greater chance at success. Your goal will transform from a have to or must to a want to and will.

Second – once you start pursuing this goal with those strong emotions as a driver, you will most likely find that the relationships with the others that you were supposed to be thinking about first, improve.  You are happier which leads to you being in a better place when dealing with them.

Positive feeds positive.  You may be more relaxed, more driven, more open, more free to express yourself or go after something that will truly transform your life.

This will have ripple effects on different aspects of your life.  Going after a degree will give you more confidence, which means you may take on more challenges at work, which allows your boss to see you in a more positive light, which leads to more opportunities, which may lead to a new position, which may include a better salary and better benefits, which may mean more opportunities to do more for your family – it is a positive cycle.

If I continue to set goals based on outside expectations, they will fill up the graveyard.  I have no real connection to them, no stake in the game. It is easy for me to give them up. But when I have a real, deep rooted reason – no matter what it is – that is when I get it done.

Now, I could be wrong and all full of happy hooey.  However, what if I am on to something?

What would it feel like to take one goal, just a small one, and try this process out?  What harm could it do to sit down and write out five or more whys until you get to a reason you were not even expecting?  Worst case scenario, you have another action plan gather dust and goal end up in the goal grave yard.

Best case scenario – you reach that goal, feel great about yourself, experience a positive effect on other aspects of your life and are ready to take on another goal.

My experience in this exercise is this: find out your real why and you discover the key to making it happen.


As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc., a national career coaching and practice firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies, leadership and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging LinkedIn, resumes, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.
I help people get from where they are in their jobs to where they want to be in their careers.

Click here – – to find out more about how we can help you.

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