The Real Motivation Behind Your Goals

Emotions are what really drive us toward our goals.

There’s always more than what meets the eye

“I want to lose 20 pounds by the end of the year,” you tell yourself.

“In three years from now, I’d like to be on a 3-month backpacking trip around Europe,” comes another objective from your mouth.

“When my Corolla’s lease ends in two years, I’d like to upgrade to a BMW sedan!”

These all seem like fairly simple outcome goals on the surface, but are they really?

Also Read: Goals: Process Versus Outcome

The goal behind the goal

Harvard professor Theodore Levitt has been quoted as saying, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit, They want a quarter-inch hole.”

Renowned marketing authority Seth Godin reflected on this statement in his book, The Is Marketing, and added an important insight:

“What people want is the shelf that will go on the wall once they drill the hole.”

Of course, that makes sense. But Seth’s next line is what’s most important here:

“Actually, what they want is how they’ll feel once they see how uncluttered everything is, when they put their stuff on the shelf that went on the wall, now that there’s a quarter-inch hole.”

In the first part of that sentence lies a four letter work that explains why we really want what we seek in life. Can you tell which word it is?

F…E…E…L. Our feelings. Our emotions. They’re what we’re really trying to appeal to when we reach for certain heights. They’re what lie beneath the surface of the goal.

Behind every goal you set is a feeling you want to experience.

It really is that simple

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the three goals I mentioned earlier in the post as examples.

Losing 20 pounds – it’s probably not actually the number of pounds lost that’s motivating you, or the weight you’ll be at once you’ve hit your target. It’s most likely the feeling of being more healthy, stronger, more capable and more confident that’s pushing you forward. Maybe your clothes will fit you better? I’ll bet that you’ll feel more beautiful and attractive as a result!

Backpacking around Europe – while this will probably end up as very educational and worthwhile experience for a number of reasons, I’ll bet it’s the feelings of novelty, excitement, and adventure that have you really looking forward to this epic trip.

Splurging for the sweet ride – this is a classic emotional decision. (By the way, there’s no judgment around this – I like nice cars too! :-)) The Corolla and BMW 5 Series Sedan will both take you to where you’d like to go by road. It’s the feelings of greater comfort, performance, prestige, and fun that are almost certainly behind your idea to splurge on a luxury vehicle.

Are you emotionally-aligned with your goals?

I recently asked someone to set a random goal, and then tell me how he’d feel once the goal was achieved.

He set a logical enough goal for himself: “be on time to school everyday.”

But when I asked him how he’d feel upon achieving a streak of punctual arrivals, he admitted that he probably wouldn’t feel anything.

“Satisfied, I guess…” – I think those were his exact words.

“Satisfied, I guess…” is a pretty weak emotional response. So I asked what he felt the likelihood of him actually reaching his goal was.

“Hmmm…not great,” he blurted out, after a classic “aha moment” head tilt.

Here’s a key takeaway from this encounter:

Our most important goals demand our strongest emotional backing.

If you’re not emotionally-aligned with your goal – meaning you’re not truly excited by the projected feelings that may come with your goal’s attainment – then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how important the goal is to you.

Without enough emotional juice behind the goal, there’s a pretty strong chance you won’t nail it at the end of the day.

It’s not the goal that’s on paper…

It’s the goal in your heart that will truly push you in the direction you want to go in. The heart is what tells you it’s time to change careers, switch up your diet, start exercising, buy a house, and have children. The brain is only there to help you strategize ways to achieve these emotional ends.

Try this exercise. Write down the 3-5 most important goals you have in your life right now, and then jot down the emotional reasons for each goal. What are you more drawn to: the material accomplishment or the deep, internal experience that will accompany your success?

Pro tip: let your heart decide. 😉

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