Aligning Goals and Values

How do we get on top of life?

How do we impact on our circumstances rather than our circumstances impact on us?

It’s an issue that so many of us face and I’ve found that most people can be categorised into two groups: those who master life and those who don’t.

It comes down to how well they are able to get their values into their lives. It was Tony Robbins who said, “If you want the formula for happiness then all you have to do is find your highest values and then spend your life living up to them.” That means if we’re doing things that do not line up with our values, that are not congruent with our values, the chances are we’re going to reach a whole pile of goals and never find happiness. Let’s look at how that happens.

When it comes to life planning people choose of one three options: the first option is people who commonly use a to-do list, the second are those who don’t, and the third are the people who use a to-do list now and then. It doesn’t really matter if the to-do list is on a piece of paper, in a diary or in an electronic format.

If we ask this third group, “When is it that you make that list?” Then essentially they’re going to say, “When it all becomes overwhelming. When there’s too much for me to possibly remember. When I’m starting to go crazy keeping all these balls in the air,” at that point they take the time to make the list.

Of course, most of the time, they find there’s too much to do. In other words, they are often confronted with the idea that their list has more things on it to do than there is time in the day to get it done.

If you have ever been in this situation you will notice that when there are too many things on our list of things to do today we make some strange decisions.

We get pressured. The pressure is on for us to perform. When somebody says, “We need you to stay back at work because if you don’t we’re not going to get that huge contract” it goes on the list. When somebody sends you a letter saying, “Fill in your tax returns for the last seven years or we’re sending you to gaol” it goes on the list. Those things get to stay on the list and we start to have a list that’s full of crises and emergencies and things that absolutely have to be done.

Our response is to go into ‘reaction mode’ trying to get things off that list. Unfortunately things that go off our list are actually the things that are important, the things that are going to build us as a human. In other words, we say things like “I’m going to have to skip the gym today.” If you’re a meditator then today’s the day you don’t meditate. If you practise mindfulness, today’s the day that you don’t. If you’re into healthy food, this is a day where you’ll just grab a snack on the run. This is a day that you will stay up late. In other words, we will neglect ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally for the need to just get through and get our goal over the line.

The problem with getting a goal like that over the line is that it doesn’t result in us being happy. So we don’t go to gaol … I guess you could say that would be a happy result, but it’s not really a sense of happiness. It’s more a question of relief. If we get the huge contract for the corporation, that’s not really happiness. We would probably be saying, “Well, I’m relieved, now I get to keep my job.” That’s one big pressure situation over and done with.

So we end up frantically busy but not experiencing the happiness that should go with reaching these goals and targets because achieving them has taken us way from the things that are most important to us.

An example I hear often is clients who have pursued a career because of the opportunities that were there. Promotions turned up without them necessarily having to be aggressively pursuing them and their career took off, but it consumed more and more time. They had a fantastically successful financial life, but they were not happy because highest amongst their values was family. The price of being successful in their career was less time with their family.

This causes enormous dislocation and they don’t have the connection with their family that they wanted and desired, and which ultimately would bring inner contentment and happiness. So the great career doesn’t bring the happiness they expected. They got led into it because they weren’t planning their life, they were just letting things happen.

We need a better system, we need to reverse this process.

Simply put, we need to make the to-do list the last thing in our planning actions. The first thing to do is come up with a sense of mission or vision for ourselves and our lives – a dream for the way that we’re going to be.

As a personal development coach and mentor, what I wanted to do was be extremely successful when I interacted with my clients. I wanted them to feel like they got massive value compared to the money they spent. So the mission statement I used very successfully for many years said, “I’ll live with integrity and make a difference in the lives of the people that I meet.”

I wanted to leave the world a better place than the way that it was when I turned up. Now, it took me a little while to come up with that statement, and you’re going to need to spend some time to do that for yourself.

Before you try to make your mission statement though, I recommend you ask yourself, “What are my values? What is most important to me?”

You may value courage, humility, making an effort, compassion, generosity, family, fitness etc. Whatever you choose will be personal to you.

The way to develop that list is to do an imaginary exercise. Take yourself forward in time and imagine that you’re at a testimonial dinner. Somebody’s put on a dinner in your honour and a whole bunch of people have come to make speeches about you, what they value about you, what they like about you and how important you have been in their life. You get to listen to these speeches, and you don’t have to make any speeches. Just imagine that this was a roomful of people, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people turned up and there’s a few people going to make a speech.

Imagine that a member of your family makes a speech and they talk about what they love about you, what a difference you’ve made in their life, why you are important to them and how their character has been influenced by the interaction with you and what an inspiration you’ve been to them. Just imagine that goes the way that you most want it to. Take a moment to write down the key elements of their speech. Don’t worry about sentences just catch the important words.

What would you want them to say … and have it be the truth? What’s dearest to your heart in terms of what you would like them to say and have it be the truth, because that’s the way that you’d been acting?

The next person to come up and give a speech is someone you’ve worked with, so a workmate, maybe in a current job, maybe not, maybe in a job that you’re going to have in the future. What would you like that person to say about what it was like to have you as a workmate? What influence you had on them, were you inspiring, how did you influence them, their character, what did they value, what will they always treasure about you? Really all you want here is to catch the key words. What are the key words in this speech?

Then the third person that comes up and talks is somebody who you’ve met through association, so you might have met them at the dog-training club or at your church or somewhere where you had a shared interest. It might have been standing on the side of the soccer field as a parent. That person comes up and talks about what it was like to have you in their life and what difference you’ve made to them, what they value about you. Remember just trap the key words.

The fourth person is a friend, so someone who’s been in your life a long time. What would you like them to say about you and have it be the truth? Get the key words on paper now.

The words you have written down about the way you would like to be are a piece of gold. They’re actually very close to your most highly treasured values.

So if you’ve got those words then you are able to put them together later to form a mission statement, but most importantly, those values are critical.

You might want to ‘sit on’ that bit of paper for a week or a month and just consider are these things really important? Are there too many? Are some more important than others? Do some of them conflict with each other and therefore does one of them need to be removed from the list? What changes would you make? This list of values may evolve over the years, so don’t consider it locked in concrete.

The next part of the exercise is to look at who you are to all the people in your life? And the truth is, in my life I’m a farmer. I’m also an entrepreneur because we own several businesses, I’m a teacher and I’m a coach and that’s primarily my professional source of income over the last 35 years. But I’m also somebody’s husband and somebody’s brother and somebody’s son and somebody’s friend. There’s a whole bunch of others that I could put on this list. Take a moment to list your roles. Who are you in the lives of other people?

Now order those roles in order of importance to you. So for example, you might I put number one beside husband/wife/partner, and then number two beside father/mother/parent, and then number three your professional activities, number four business interests, five is friend and so on. You can do it anyway that you like. There’s no correct way to do this. What roles are the most important to you?

The exercises you have just completed will help you to begin living your life with the end in mind. Your list of what is most important to you becomes your inner guidance mechanism. You can make sure that your thoughts, words and actions do not go against what you have said is most important to you. You can also make sure that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole.

The best way to do that is to ensure that when you’re setting your goals and targets, you don’t let a lower order goal interfere with a higher order one.

If you achieve goals in area number four, say as an entrepreneur, your business can extremely successful but if that’s at the cost of anything above that … number three, number two, and number one … then you’re not going to be happy.

So when we’re setting our goals we’ve got to make sure that our goals as a husband/wife/partner are our number one priority and that they are our first consideration when we’re doing anything.

If somebody says, “Hey, let’s go to Europe.” “Hey, let’s climb Mount Everest.” “Hey, let’s do this, let’s do that,” We need to consider it from the form of what’s the impact on our primary relationship, what’s the impact on my relationship with my children, what will be the impact on my clients and my business and work our way down the list.

As long as the impact is not too great on those things then I can say to myself, okay, I’m good to go with whatever it was that was suggested. If, however, I see that climbing Mount Everest is going to have negative impact on any of those things I’ve got listed from three upwards, then I’m going to say no. In essence it’s a way of organising our goals so that we don’t end up achieving a whole bunch of goals that really don’t mean much to us.

When you are clear on your priorities, you can plan. Plans are like your mileposts towards the goal. When they all add up then they equal the target. Plans are what we take to a builder. If we look at this from the point of view of building a house, then essentially we go to an architect and we say, “I want you to design me a three-bedroom brick veneer house,” which is at the goals level, and a good architect is going to say, “Hang on for second. Let’s go up here to mission. What’s the function of this house? Who will live there?”

There’s a purpose of this house. Is this a sanctuary in which you’re going to bring up your family? Or is this an entertainment centre in which all your friends and family are going come and spend time with you? What is the mission or purpose of this house? That’s going to affect how we design it. Then they’re going say, “So, what do you value? Do you value solitude? Do you value quietness or do you want it loud and full of kids and activity?”

Then we’re done with all of that, we have set the goal to build the house, and we draw the plans up and take the plans to the builder. We say to the builder, “build these.” Essentially, plans are mileposts towards the goal. In other words, a builder will say, “Well let’s lay the concrete slab before we try and put the roof on. Let’s see if we can get the walls up before we try and put the plumbing in.” They’re a logistics organiser.

So mileposts are small goals. They are the big goal divided into as many little pieces as you can. The more you can do that, the smaller the pieces are, the more of them there are, the easier it is to plod your way along, ticking off boxes, making progress. Big hairy-ass goals that have nothing between start and finish are the ones that daunt us the most. The same big, monstrous goal split into a 1000 steps is a lot easier for us to handle because we can say “what’s the next step?” Plans are integral to that, and plans of course lead to “what am I going to do today?”

When you look at your to-do list, it’s important to ask yourself, “If I do the things that are on this list are they going to move me towards or away from my mission in life?” At that point you’ve got gold, because it identifies the things that come off your list. It might be that the trip to the gym stays on the list. It might be that the meditation stays on the list and that working back has to take a dent in it. We modify things based on the impact that they’re likely to have (on living our values).

You’ll see this version of life-planning is backwards to what we’ve been taught. Our culture says be busy, get on with it, go for it like crazy, be more enthusiastic, be more energetic, put in more effort, and la la la … most of us just run out of energy.

This process allows you to be effective instead of efficient. Efficient people get really, really busy. Effective people get things done and they get the right things done.

You only have to refer to this every now and then. This is not a daily activity. It’s important to get into place because it becomes your inner guidance mechanism about what you say yes and no to.

If you want to take this to next level, then I suggest that you spend some time organising those roles in your life and numbering them in the way that I’ve mentioned. It can be quite confronting but if you can pull it off in a way that doesn’t insult or hurt anybody then you can take everybody’s life up to the next level.

The second thing for you to look at is to design a personal success ritual. It’s a very, very important thing to get in your life. It says you cannot sleep your way to success. You’ve actually got to have something going on in the morning that gets your brain into the right mindset for achievement.

Getting on top of life will not come from sitting down and brainstorming a bunch of things you want.

The procedure for getting on top of life and impacting on our circumstances is to:

  1. Establish your values and use them to determine a mission statement for your life.
  2. Determine the roles you play and put them in order of importance.
  3. Set goals within the roles.
  4. Write these goals down.
  5. Develop action plans or strategies to reach the goals.
  6. Follow the plans, knowing that each day’s activities involve you in doing the things that are most important to you.


That’s when life really gets to be exciting!