Setting Goals: A Key to Productivity and Happiness

by Jed Rudd

If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things. – Albert Einstein

As every season turns and turns, we eventually hit a key demarcation of time: the end of a calendar year. We made up time. I get it – time is a construct. But these uniquely human increments of time have led to powerful periods of potential in our lives. As we face another year, I’d like to explore the concept of setting goals – and how we can leverage this process even more effectively in the coming year.

At times in my life, I’ve been very skeptical of shared rituals. The idea of a New Year’s resolution was, at one time, something I derided. After all, shouldn’t a goal or resolution be something you jump on immediately? And if you fail to achieve resolutions, shouldn’t you just pick yourself up and set a new one instead of waiting until a new increment of time to set another resolution? I think this logic holds up, but I’ve also mellowed out on my scorn of new year’s goals/resolutions and now leverage this unique time of year to review my goals, refresh stale efforts, and set my sights on new ones!

Mindset for Goals

Personal accountability is the belief that you are fully responsible for your own actions and consequences … it can and should be learned as it is not only the foundation for a successful life, but also a prerequisite for happiness.Cy Wakeman

The key mindset to adopt prior to goal setting is that personal accountability is the foundation for a successful life and, most importantly, required to experience happiness. It might seem counterintuitive; after all many people seek to reduce stress in their lives to achieve happiness. But according to positive psychology, a precursor to happiness is our ability to demonstrate personal accountability, which is founded upon a practice of personal goal setting.

Aligning Goals

Now that we’ve got the right mindset and a desire to experience happiness through personal accountability, it’s time to generate some goal ideas. In the business context, we use organizational mission/vision or job descriptions to provide a baseline alignment for goal setting. Setting personal goals doesn’t have to be terribly different – but instead of an organizational mission or job description, we need to align to some kind of personal mission or values.

We can explore setting personal mission statements or identifying life values at another time – but our goals will not get us where we want if we don’t align them to “what we’re all about”. In an interesting study by Niemiec, C.P., Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L, the authors found that attaining intrinsic aspirations “related positively to psychological health, attainment of extrinsic aspirations did not.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Goals that are aligned to our intrinsic motivators (our mission, values, drive, etc.) lead to improved psychological health whereas the attainment of extrinsic motivators (more money, status, stuff) may not. By aligning our goals to our mission or values we improve our chances of experiencing improved health and happiness – so let’s align our efforts with our core purpose!

Balancing Goals

It can be helpful to look at our personal goals in relation to two key areas: performance and development. A multidimensional approach to goal setting ensures we don’t just focus on extrinsic elements of life!

Performance goals are the stuff you want to “do” – projects, initiatives, etc. This is where typical goals usually come from. Do you want to take on a certain home improvement? Establish a weekly check-in with your kids? Develop a sustainable approach to fitness or nutrition?

Developmental goals are the stuff you want to “be” – practices, education, etc. Do you want to learn specific skills for your job or life? Is there a new hobby you’d like to tackle? Do you want to read a certain number of books or articles each week or month? Maybe you want to become a better listener so others can rely on you! Pick 1 or 2 from each list and create a balance of things you will do and be!

Smart/Measurable Goals

I’m sure most people are familiar with SMART goals but that’s an acronym that could be more efficient in my opinion. If a goal is both Specific and Measurable – it basically checks all the boxes of a SMART goal – so stick to SM and forget the ART. Unless you’re feeling artsy (yes, I’m a dad and a comedian).
Make sure your goals clarify specific activities or actions and that they can be measured (either by completing it or by a date). If one of your goals was to read a book a month for the entire year, this would be both specific and measurable. You are specifically reading and you’re reading a book. Your measure is one per month for 12 months.

Take that, SMART goals – we just made you smarter.

Final Thoughts on Setting Goals

Goals can be a powerful aspect of our life and happiness. I hope this brief article provides some practical insights to help motivate and improve your goal setting practice. As Laurence J. Peter stated, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” Let’s leverage goal setting to make this year even better than the last!


Niemiec, C.P., Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2009). The path taken: Consequences of attaining intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations in post-college life. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 291–306.
Emmons, R. A. (2003). Personal goals, life meaning, and virtue: Wellsprings of a positive life. In C. L.M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived (pp. 105–128).American Psychological Association.
Wakeman, C. (2015). Personal Accountability and the Pursuit of Workplace Happiness. Retrieved from
Moore, C. (2019). How to Set and Achieve Life Goals the Right Way. Retrieved from

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