Setting Personal Goals

Goals based upon genuine personal desires are crucial for long term success and happiness. Many factors influence the choice of goals including personality, intelligence, family upbringing, experiences, and culture etc. Disappointment is inevitable if a large gap exists between your personal goals and your genuine desires.

Fortunately Dr. Steven Reiss, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University spent five years developing and testing a new theory of human motivation. After conducting studies involving more than 6,000 people, Dr.Reiss found that 16 basic desires guide nearly all meaningful behavior. The results were published in the very readable text Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Action and Define Our Personalities (Tarcher/Putnam, 2000).

Who Am I?contains some of the most profound and useful information I’ve come across since I started reading psychology text books in 1972! Not only is Who Am I? well worth reading but it contains self-tests designed to identify the desires that influence your personal decisions.

With your desires identified, it’s much easier to chart your way through life and to avoid false starts.

Each of the desires range from low to high.

The 16 Basic Desires:  

Power – the desire to influence. Manifests itself in leadership, achievement and work. A person’s choice of career is a clue to his or her desire for power. A person who always declines promotions is different than a Prime Minister, President, or CEO.

Independence – the desire for self-reliance. Manifests itself in doing things one’s own way and resisting advice from others. Some people are easily manipulated by others while others stubbornly resist any influence at all. (Why else would people refuse to wear seat belts?)

Curiosity – the desire for knowledge. Manifests itself in truth seeking and problem-solving. Bookworms and inventors relentlessly seek out new knowledge while others couldn’t be bothered.

Acceptance - the desire for inclusion. Manifests itself in avoiding rejection and criticism. Risk takers handle criticism better than those who usually set easy goals for themselves. As Virgil, the Roman epic poet (70 BC - 19 BC) said, “Fortune favors the brave.”

Order – the desire for organization. Manifests itself in making rules, planning and low tolerance for messiness. Slobs tolerate messiness while clean freaks can’t. They make poor roommates e.g. The Odd Couple.

Saving – the desire to collect things. Manifests itself in frugality. (The Squirrel Gene.) Some people pay off credit cards monthly while others only pay the interest.

Honour – the desire to be loyal to one’s parents and heritage. Manifests itself in high character, morality and principled behavior. Upon finding a wallet, one person may pocket the money while another will deliver it directly to the owner and not accept a reward beyond thanks.

Idealism – the desire for social justice. Manifests itself in devotion to causes, volunteer work, and giving to charities e.g. Greenpeace.

Social Contact – the desire for companionship. Manifests itself in socializing and the need for friendships. Some people cannot bear loneliness while others are happy hermits.

Family – the desire to raise one’s own children. Manifests itself in making child-rearing and day-to-day time with one’s family a priority.

Status – the desire for social standing. Manifests itself in a concern with reputation. Some people NEED a Ph.D., Mercedes and a Rolex watch.

Vengeance – the desire to get even. Manifests itself in competitiveness and aggression. Some people play for fun; others need to win. Some turn the other cheek while others “go postal.”

Romance – the desire for sex and beauty. Manifests itself in courting and the pursuit of love. Some need sex often while others could care less. Large differences strain intimate relationships.

Eating – the desire to consume food. Manifests itself in eating, dining, and cooking. Some people eat only when they are hungry while others spend much of their spare time either eating or daydreaming about food.

Physical Exercise – the desire for exercise. Manifests itself in physical activity and participatory sports. Athletes vs. couch potatoes.

Tranquility – the desire for emotional calm. Manifests itself in avoidance of stressful situations. The timid characters Woody Allen portrays are not the same as pilots able to land fighter jets at night on aircraft carriers

Printable Goal List - Mac
Printable Goal List.pdf

This woman knows herself well enough to trust her judgement and thus resist the influence of others.  Log Driver's Waltz by John Weldon.




Our lives are a sum
total of the choices we
have made.

Wayne Dyer

If at first you do
succeed - try to
hide your
Harry Banks

Men who know
themselves are no
longer fools. They
stand on the threshold
of the door of

Henry Ellis