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How to Set your Goals for Increased Life Satisfaction

CoachingWe are getting closer to the start of a new year, and this is a time when many of us try to finish our bucket lists for the ending year, and start thinking of new goals for the new year. But the contents of our bucket lists matter! Our goals can lead to better life satisfaction or — when not set appropriately — to a reduced level of wellbeing.

Everyone knows that goals matter. But did you know that goals covering issues of autonomy, competence (for example, learning new skills) and social integration (that is, cultivating relationships to friends or becoming active in the community) lead to positive well-being and higher life satisfaction as opposed to goals such as making money, becoming famous, and acquiring social status? According to Gollwitzer and Oettingen (2000), goals such as making money or becoming famous are not only vague, but they don’t also address the social needs we have in life, such as connection and community.

Inquire the motivation behind your goal – 

Some of us might have valid reasons to make more money; a simple example is the need to pay-off credit card debt. But then the goal here is not making money, it is to pay off credit card debt. Clearly, knowing the reasons behind the goals guides us toward goal accomplishment and better life satisfaction.

If I want to set my goal to make more money, it would be advisable to ask first “Why do I want to make more money?” What are the underlying needs and reasons behind my goal? If one reason is I want to pay off credit card debt, did I also look into lowering the interest rate of my credit card? What other expenses do I have every month? Can I reduce them in order to accomplish my goal? When our goal is clear — such as paying off credit card debt, in this example — then we can look into different ways of accomplishing it. When we have a clear understanding of what we really want, then we have a clear path and strong dedication for accomplishing the goal, enabling us to make adjustments and respond to obstacles as they arise.

Set a goal covering issues of autonomy, competence or social integration –

A practical goal such as paying off credit card debt is aside, research is showing us goals covering issues of autonomy, competence and social integration have greater potential to lead us to positive well-being and higher life satisfaction.


Autonomy related goals give us a sense of independence or freedom, as of the will or our actions.

For example setting aside a time where we do what we want to do in that moment. We give ourselves permission to check e-mails, read, watch a TED talk or anything that we wish to do in that given time. I know some people set aside ‘a day’ a week which they call “a free day”. I set aside 45 minutes a day to simply work on what calls me in that moment. You can create your own version for this.

Or another example for autonomy related goals is if you are managing too many interdependent projects; things never seem to go as they were planned, or priorities are changing and you don’t have a say on the task or the changes, and this is leaving you with a sense of lack of control,  you might even have started feeling depleted, etc. In situations where you feel a lack of control and you feel uncomfortable about it, a goal covering issues of autonomy might be useful. In these kind of situations it is helpful to inquire “is there one aspect of this situation that I have a control of?” “Which goal would address this aspect?”


Competence: such as learning new skills, acquiring new knowledge…

Social integration

Social integration: such as cultivating relationships to friends or becoming active in the community.

A goal to have more social gatherings at your place, a goal to attend more social activities, a goal to call at least one friend a week, and so on.

Remember to inquire and re-inquire for the underlying needs and reasons for your goal

When we have a complete map of underlying motivations for our goals, we tend to set up more realistic goals; we have more room to be innovative; and we have a stronger likelihood for accomplishing them.


So, if you can make just one goal right now to help increase your life satisfaction, what would that be?


Article by Nermin Soyalp with Bring Your Passion to Work


Reference: Gollwitzer, P. M., Delius, J. D., & Oettingen, G. (2000). Motivation. Pawlik, K., & Rosenzweig, M. R. (Eds.) The international handbook of psychology. (pp 191 – 206). London: Sage.