Jan 23, 2021

Your Goals Need Your Story

Your Goals Need Your Story

Your Goals Need Your Story

Nathan King

Achieving a personal goal boosts our confidence, causes a material lift in our well-being, and can transform the trajectory of our lives. It is a tremendous win. But most people abandon the goals they set. The sad truth is that people often set goals that just don't matter much to them, or they aren't sure what would be important, so they decide not to set goals at all. 

The problem is that people set goals without regard to what really matters to them in their lives.  Simon Sinek popularized the notion to Start with Why, and communicated a simple model that comprises the why, the how, and the what of achievement. 

When someone abandons a goal, or fails to set one to begin with, they likely haven’t established a “why” for pursuing an initiative to begin with. Take the common goal of losing weight. This is a “what.” Sinek argues that starting with the what, disconnected from a purpose, doesn’t allow our brain to create enough meaning to go after it. 

The idea to lose weight may have popped in mind after reviewing an Instagram picture featuring people who look thinner and happier than you. So is the why to look like those people? Or could it be to be happy (which doesn’t really have anything to do with weight)? Or is it a fleeting desire no stronger than the desire to eat an ice cream sandwich?

Alternatively, the idea to lose weight may have emerged from a recent doctor’s visit in which you’ve learned that you are pre-diabetic, meaning you may not live long enough to meet future grandchildren. Connecting to that “why,” to live long enough to know your grandchildren, is likely to powerfully resonate with you, and keep you focused on your goal even when your office-mate brings in donuts one Friday morning. 

When we connect what we want to do with why we want to do it, we create a story of what we want our lives to become. 

Story is humanity’s driving force, for all of history. Take the most influential book in the world, the Bible. It is a collection of stories, some more than 2,000 years old. For those who've not spent much time reading it, it has a reputation as a kind of instruction manual, or rule book. But it contains very few lists of rules or instructions, and instead is filled with hundreds of stories that have inspired and motivated people to act in drastically new ways.

Neuroscientific studies of how stories impact the brain have demonstrated that stories cause “action by physically altering the chemistry in our brains.”[1]

For a story to be worthwhile, “something must be at stake that convinces the audience that a great deal will be lost if the hero doesn't obtain his goal.”[2]

If you apply that to setting your own goals, you must know the story of where you are taking your life to be able to determine what is at stake, and there must be something at stake for you to pay attention to, to work on. This is your story. 

For most of us, our personal story operates on a subconscious level. We are not really in touch with it. It is possible and available to understand our desires, and to identify actions we can take to fulfill that desire. Clearly seeing the desire and connecting an idea to fulfill it “is the heart of a story.” [3]

Your goals depend on your personal narrative. The easiest way to start with your story is to draft your past. The act of writing down the events of what happened to you, and their importance, will bring to mind what is most important. As I've written about before, we use the past to make a picture of the future.

To help in that process, you need pen and paper, or a computer, and some time to yourself. Those are the basic requirements. You can also use my simple guide to this by signing up here

Once you've identified the high priority items, what do you need to do next? That is your goal. Maybe there are several. But pick just a few.

If you do that, you will be far more likely to benefit from goals.  


[1] Duarte, Nancy. Data Story. IdeaPress Publishing. 2019. p4.

[2] Duarte, Nancy. Resonate. John Wiley & Sons. 2010. p27. Duarte referenced Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting.

[3] Resonate, p27.




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