One of the hardest aspects of setting meaningful goals is understanding what you need from your work, your life and your general context. Whilst many people harbour great ambition, if it is blind or driven purely by ego, it will often miss the salient aspects that actually really satisfy us. This can create a vicious cycle of setting yet higher ambitions and deepening the frustration or increasing the risk of ultimate failure.
Personally, I am a fadist; 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 source 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 really drives me.
In an attempt to squelch out this self-inflicted noise and understand what really drives me, I explored the hierarchy of needs as explained by Abraham Maslow. Whilst this work is widely argued about 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. The empty template is available here and it’s simple to use.
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 your word or statement down to its essence as it pertains to you.
Skip the “Next” column for now and go straight to “Final”. In here 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 needed before The End. This concept is captured well in Habit 2 by Stephen R Covey in his highly effective works. Again, as for “Current”, boil this down and 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 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 and so on.
This may be illuminating enough to prompt your creativity in opening up key areas of focus for you. But you can take the approach a little further…
After the “Next” column, add in two new ones, “How and “Why”. You can also add in a “Why” after the “Current” if there are learnings or insights to keep in mind and I highly recommend a “Why” after your “Final” to make sure you check the validity of this over time.
These additions should be self-explanatory and, if you use the same concentration technique to boil the terms down, should provide a solid basis for outlining some goals that really matter to you.