One of the hardest aspects of setting meaningful goals is understanding what you need from your work, your life and your general context. While many people harbour great ambition, if it is blind or driven purely by ego, it will often miss the salient aspects that truly satisfy us. This blindness can create a vicious cycle of setting yet higher ambitions and deepening the frustration or increasing the risk of ultimate failure.
I am a faddist; someone who gets intricately immersed in new topics, hobbies and ideas until I either tire of them or have satisfied my curiosity and have internalised them. I recently came to realise, through some excellent feedback, that this is not a problem but a consequence of my “multi-faceted” personality. Yet, the passion and zeal I often feel when undertaking a new direction have left a wake of complex projects behind me, all of which tend to pull my focus in different directions when thinking about what genuinely drives me.
In an attempt to squelch out this self-inflicted noise and understand my core motivations, I explored the hierarchy of needs, as explained by Abraham Maslow. Whilst his work is widely mooted as a finite definition of what people actually need, I responded well to the structured approach. To me, it is like an OSI Model for humans. To make use of this model, though, I needed to assess my position against these attributes, and in doing so, I came up with a simple approach to make this hierarchy actionable.
I created a basic spreadsheet, with Maslow’s needs in one column and then added three more columns to the right. These columns are titled Current, Next and Final.
Follow this process for each need, ignoring the Physiological section as these are probably life-sustaining needs.
In the “Current” column, add a word or short sentence describing the current state for each of Maslow’s needs. Think hard about each one and try to boil the word or statement down to its essence, as it pertains to you.
Skip the “Next” column for now and go straight to “Final”. In filling this cell, you will need to envisage or determine where you want to be before you die or at least to feel you have completed any changes necessary before The End. This concept is described best in Habit 2 by Stephen R Covey in his highly effective works. As with “Current”, boil this word or statement down, don’t worry about taking your time and revising these statements as needed. If you can’t or don’t want to look that far, leave this column blank, for later consideration.
So, you now have your current assessment of how you are fulfilling each of Maslow’s needs and your present understanding of where you would like to end up. Now use the same technique to complete the “Next” column for each need. This target is the next stage you want to work towards; a footstep on the journey to your final situation. It definitely won’t bridge the entire gap but, once completed, will allow you to review the remaining gap, assess the viability of your final goal and decide what to do for the next step, and then the next step until the end goal is within reach.
This process may be illuminating enough to you to prompt your creativity in opening up key areas of focus. But you can take the approach a little further too.
After the “Next” column, add in two new ones, “How and “Why”. You can add in a “Why” after the “Current” if there are learnings or insights to keep in mind. I also highly recommend a “Why” after your “Final” to make sure you check the validity of this over time.
If you use the same concentration technique to boil these new terms down, the result should provide a solid basis for outlining some goals that genuinely matter to you. You will also have a reference to look back on periodically to adjust and refine your overall needs and what goals to set to deliver on them.
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