Setting Goals—What Is Your Purpose?

by Doc Orman, M.D.

goalsThe beginning of every new year is a time for making resolutions.  It’s also a time for setting your goals for the next twelve months.

Much has been written about how to set goals, how to write them down, and how to include all the important elements to make them actionable and achievable, such as making them specific as possible and declaring a definite due date.

But there are other important aspects of goal setting that often go unemphasized.

Goals, Purpose And Values

This week, I want to focus on two very important aspects of creating your personal and business goals—purpose and values.  Today, I will speak about purpose and in my next two posts, I will address values.

We often set our goals without first clarifying our basic life purpose.   What is your purpose in life?  Not your goals, like being happy or being wealthy, or being famous.  But what is the purpose that pervades your entire life, including the goals that you choose to pursue?

  • What is the purpose for your life that gets you out of bed each morning?
  • What is the purpose that keeps you up working way past your bedtime because you are so excited or passionate about what you are doing?
  • What is the purpose that keeps you carrying on, despite any obstacles or setbacks you might encounter?
  • What is the purpose of your life that is never-ending, that never gets fully completed, that never dies until you do?

My Purpose In Life

I must admit that for most of my early life, I didn’t have a well-defined purpose that I was aware of.  Mostly it was to do well in school, play and have fun, do well in sports, have good friends, have a special girlfriend, and decide on a career.  But those are not really a purpose—rather they are a bunch of things to do while you are waiting for your purpose to become clear to you.

I didn’t even have a clear purpose when I entered medical school.  I knew I was there in order to learn how to become a physician, but I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be one, because that had never been a burning desire of mine.  I did want to have a profession, but again, that is very far off from having a purpose to your life.

After looking at various medical or surgical specialties I could pursue, I finally decided to become a general practitioner (Internist).   Once again, I didn’t have a conscious purpose that made me make this choice—it just felt like the best decision for me at the time (and there weren’t any specialties that really turned me on).

It wasn’t until I was in private practice for about five years, still searching for my “basic purpose” in life, that I was finally able to look back on my life, including all the many decisions/choices I had made along the way and all the things that interested me, and my purpose just sort of jumped out at me. 

I was surprised to notice that the thing I wanted to do most in life was to contribute to other people—specifically with respect to their health and well-being.  I was also very interested in my own well-being, and in letting others contribute to me.  And when this would occur, I would have a natural excitement about passing on anything I had learned to others.

Now you might think this was a pretty obvious conclusion, given that I spent seven long and arduous years training to become a healer, but I’ve got to tell you it wasn’t obvious to me.

When You’re Clear…You Goals Gush Forth Naturally

All I can tell you now is that when you are totally clear that your purpose in life is to contribute to the health and well-being of others, you don’t have to struggle to create a bunch of highly meaningful goals.  In fact, you’ll have so many exciting goals in front of you, all appearing quite naturally, that your major problem will be choosing among them.

Now I’m not suggesting that you too should commit to improving the health and well-being of others as your life’s purpose, but if this fits for you…that’s great.

Your purpose could be entirely different from mine.  Your purpose could be being the best mother or friend or husband or wife you can be.  You purpose could be about educating others, preparing others for the rigors of modern life.  You purpose could be to become a successful salesperson or business manager or inventor or scientist or explorer or entertainer or story teller, etc.

Whatever it may be, when you are clear about your true, deepest purpose in life, the business of creating goals becomes much, much easier and much more enlivening.  On the other hand, when you are still in the dark about what your true purpose is, your efforts to set goals for yourself, without being driven by your purpose, will likely be much more difficult and potentially much less fulfilling.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet January 8, 2014 at 9:14 AM

Hi Mort – what a great post – I resonated 100% with everything you have said. You have succinctly put into words my own purpose in life and now I feel I have a way forward re setting my goals.

We have more in common than being authors of stress relief books 🙂


Doc Orman, M.D. January 15, 2014 at 9:43 PM

Janet: Good to hear from you I enjoy your work. Thanks.


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