Life of a Stick

How To Make Goals Work For You

I’ve recently come across a Truth which has had a rather large impact on my life. The pieces for it have been in my life for a while, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that they’ve clicked. And the more time moves on, the more it becomes a central part of my life.

Prelude Parts
So when I was young, and I’d do stupid things, or things my parents didn’t understand, and my mom would explain to me that nothing happens without a reason. I’ve found that to be true. There are some situations where the reason isn’t immediately obvious or is otherwise unknown, but there’s always a reason. Science dedicates itself to finding out reasons. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to specifically talk about people’s actions and the reasons for them.

Another piece of the puzzle is one of those business-speak paradigms. I hate those business “paradigms.” That’s an entirely different blog post, though. Anyway, one of those things businesses always talk about is creating goals. Which is another piece of the puzzle.

The last piece is a cardboard box I saw. That comes later.

An Example
So those two pieces: a reason for everything, and having goals. Let me start with an example.

Jane sees Sue enjoying some ice cream. Jane tells Sue that she’s going to get fat if she keeps eating ice cream.

Very simple. At least the surface is. Let’s take a look under the hood and see what’s really going on.

Two things have happened in the example:
1) Sue is eating ice cream.
2) Jane is telling Sue she is going to get fat.

Here’s the key to it. Sue is not just eating ice cream. She’s working towards a goal. And Jane is not just talking to Sue. Jane is also working towards a goal. The common misunderstanding is that people’s actions are exactly what you see, and that’s almost never the case.

What is Sue’s goal? When I eat ice cream, I usually have a few reasons that bring me to that action.
a) I love how it tastes and want to experience that sensation.
b) It’s really hot out and I want to cool down, but sucking on ice cubes isn’t near as fun.
c) I’m bitter and angry and want to enjoy something.

These are goals. Ice cream is a means to an end. Ice cream is not the only solution for any of the above goals. Each of those goals above could have various other solutions.

Sue may have similar goals for eating ice cream. If you know Sue well enough, you may be able to see behind the action and into her reasons. Unfortunately, I just made Sue up on the spot, and know nothing about her. Some friend I am.

Now how about Jane? Nagging on poor little Sue, right? Maybe not. The reason behind spoken words is a lot harder than actions. The actions can just have a shadow goal behind them. Words imply their own shadow goal because they have meaning in themselves. However, speaking words is just like any other action. The goal may be totally unrelated to the words spoken.

Once again, I’ll example my own reasons for saying something like this.
a) Reminding someone else of something helps me remember it. I may nag someone about getting fat because I’m worried about my own weight.
b) I may be doing them a favor. Reminding them about their diet they’ve told me about.
c) If I’m not paying attention, I may apply stereotypes or generalizations to someone. Thus, all women are worried about their weight, see last reason.

So what’s Jane’s reason? If you know her, or witness the exchange with some general knowledge of social behavior, you may be able to formulate your own guesses as to the goals behind the actions.

And that’s the point behind the example: Every action someone takes has at least one goal behind it.

The Usefulness
So now you know that everyone’s actions have a goal or two behind them. Why do you care?

Ever been offended by a friend? Maybe his goal was innocent, and he just didn’t word it properly. I know I have a problem with failing to word my goals clearly.

Ever found yourself behaving oddly? Acting to impress someone? What possessed you to behave like that? It’s actually pretty easy to find out what your own goals for things are with a little introspection.

This is useful because it makes your life easier. It prevents misunderstandings. It helps you understand yourself and communicate more clearly. It lets you see through people’s lies, or their poorly worded sentences, to the true meaning behind what they’re saying.

And if you’re on the other side of the coin, it lets you know people can be keeping an eye out for goals. By picking your actions based on false goals you think they would want to see, you can disguise your true intent better. But I didn’t say that.

Goal Based Planning
So let’s take this concept and put it into application.

One of my biggest beefs with massively-multiplayer online games (MMOGs) is that they’re all the same. There’s a few that are slightly different, and a few that have creative ideas or small unique features, but barring a few outliers everything is pretty much the same. And to me, that really kills the fun because I’ve already played “that game.” Sure, a new story would be nice, but the story never comes fast enough to be interesting. There’s too much “game” which I’ve already experienced.

So let me take a detour real quick and return to that cardboard box I mentioning at the beginning. It’s a small one. It held candy bars or something. My mom had taken the last bar, and I was in the way of the recyclables, so she asked me to fold it up and toss it in with the rest of the cardboard. As I started folding it up, I realized it was a very different style of cardboard box. I turned it over in my hands, looking at it, and realized why. They had built it in such a way that the top easily popped off so you could access the candy bars, even if they’d fallen sideways along the bottom when there was just a few left. By doing that, they had to redesign the rest of the box so it could still hold its shape properly.

What that company did is look at their goal: We need a box that lets people access the contents. And they designed it from the ground up to meet their goal. I’m sure they had a few other goals, like reasonably cheap to print and make, is about yea big, and doesn’t make people sue us.

Looking at that cardboard box, I saw a company that could have just done what everyone else had done, but instead figured out what their goal was and worked towards that.

Looking at MMOGs, I see company after company that builds the same “cardboard box.” I’m sure the reason is fairly simple. They picked their goals differently than I would. Maybe they just wanted money, and so they design the game to be like all the other games out there that make money. Maybe they just wanted to focus on telling their unique story, so they just used a cardboard box like everyone else used and painted it differently. Or, it’s possible the companies themselves don’t know what their main goal was and they were just having fun.

In some situations, the goal is speed. Doing what you know “already works” is a great shortcut in that situation. But when you’ve got the time, or the item is important enough, just churning out what already exists because it worked for someone else is a poor substitute. Figure out what your goal is and work towards that.


  • Anything someone says or does has a goal behind it, which may not match what they’re doing through either poor skills or intentional misdirection. By analyzing their behavior, you can plot a path to their goal and find their true intentions.
  • Beginning anything by listing out the ultimate goal, and then the lesser goals, you can create something worthwhile. Instead of just another cardboard box.


One Response to How To Make Goals Work For You

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