Why You Need to Identify Your Motivations for Your Goals

It’s important to know where you’re going with your time and attention.1 It’s important to know where you want to be at the end of the year so you can plan your days to that end.

It’s also important to know why you want to be there. With anything that’s sufficiently challenging to become a goal, that project will be big enough so that you need clear reasons for seeing it through.2

Clear motivations can be especially helpful when you get into the challenging middle of a goal where you can’t quite see the finish line. At that point, knowing why you’re pursuing the goal can help you

  • Answer your own questions about why you’re continuing to pursue it,
  • Focus on achieving your goal amid possible distractions, and
  • Take the next non-overwhelming next action.

Answer Your Own Questions

Maybe you’re in the middle of the large, multi-year project called “doing a PhD.” Or maybe it’s something else.

Whatever it is, the scope of your goal may well mean that, at some point, the steam of your initial enthusiasm for the project peters out. And when it does, you might still find yourself too far from the finish line to get much motivation from how close it is.

At points like this, it’s useful to have some clear notes about why your project was important in the first place.

They don’t need to be lengthy or fancy. But it does help if you have them written down. That way, if you find yourself wondering about throwing in the towel, you can easily remind yourself of all the reasons you’re forgetting for why you want to see your project through.

Focus on Achieving Your Goal amid Possible Distractions

Alternatively, you might have plenty of motivation for the goal you’re pursuing. You just have plenty of motivation for everything else too. Whatever’s new and “shiny,” either physically or cognitively, might distract you from where your attention really needs to be.

At some point, your larger goal probably won’t provide the immediate dopamine rush of something easier to tackle. But allowing your focus to drift simply for the satisfaction of completing something—no matter how fleeting—won’t produce the sustained results you’re after.3

Being able to review why your more demanding goal is worth a lack of immediate dopamine can help you resist the urge to digress into busywork. Confronting yourself with why your goal is important clarifies exactly what the cost of that busywork will be. And reminding yourself of that can help you see why that’s not really a cost you want to pay.4

Take the Next Non-overwhelming Next Action

According to G. K. Chesterton, “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”5 That’s not because it wouldn’t be nice if it were done better. But it’s because having it done in any degree is better than leaving it undone.

Similarly, if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing piecemeal. So, if you’re grinding to a halt because your goal seems too big, knowing why you’re committed to seeing it through can help you find the next small step that will set you moving again.

Conclusion

Goals can be daunting. They can also be draining. But you have them because you’ve intentionally decided they’re worth doing.

At some point, you might question why you’re pursuing them, you might be tempted to dilute your focus into other areas, or you might be paralyzed by how much remains to be done. But when any of that happens, reminding yourself of why you’re pursuing a particular goal in the first place can help keep you on track and see it through to the end.


  1. Header image provided by Annie Spratt

  2. On the importance of clear motivations, see Michael S. Hyatt, Your Best Year Ever: A Five-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 151–66. 

  3. For one case study, see Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (New York: Portfolio Penguin, 2019); Cal Newport, A World without Email: Find Focus and Transform the Way You Work Forever (New York: Portfolio Penguin, 2021). 

  4. For more on avoiding distractions, see also Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019), 205–21. 

  5. G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1910), 320. 

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