3 simple questions that reveal your big goals.

When it comes to goals, people only have two amounts:

1. None at all.
2. Too many.

People will tell me, “I just don’t know what I want to do with my life. I don’t have one perfect passion like other people.” They have 0 goals and January, the greatest goal setting month of the year, comes and goes with a whimper.

The second type of people have too many goals. They have 1,000 things they want to do. They have half written books and almost cleaned garages and diets that were half started scattered about every corner of their lives.

The good news is that figuring out a goal for 2017 is not that complicated.

On the piece of paper, I just want you to answer three questions:

1. What do I need to do?
2. What do I want to do?
3. What should I do?

What will go in each category? Well, a need goal is something you have to do or you will be fired. Or divorced or die. For instance, if you’re in the middle of budgeting season at work, you might not want to do your budget for next year, but if you don’t, your employment will come to a very unsurprising conclusion. That’s a need goal.

If your wife has asked you to go to counseling, that’s a need goal. You might not feel like doing all the things that it would take to do that particularly activity, finding a good therapist, checking if your insurance will cover it, being honest to a complete stranger with a beard who is asking you questions while the white noise of a sound machine tries to lull you into vulnerability, etc. but you need to if you want to repair a broken marriage.

If your doctor told you that at 42, you’ve already consumed the amount of bacon an 88-year-old would consume, you probably need to exercise. You may never be one of those smiling psycho paths you see on Instagram who love 4AM work outs and see nipple chafing from a half marathon as a badge of honor, but that’s not really the point. The point is that if you don’t exercise you’re going to die. You need to do it.

Start writing down need goals without judging the quality of them at all yet. We’re not trying to create a perfect list or even a complete list at this point. We’re creating our first list.

Question 2 asks, “What do I want to do?”

This one is tricky becomes it borders on the quicksand like nature of passion, calling, and purpose. I think all of those are great things, I just think when we try to answer those questions sometimes we get stuck and never do anything.

So don’t read “What do I want to do?” as “What’s one thing I want to do?” Or “What’s the most important thing I want to do?” Or “What’s the dream I’ve had since first grade, the one my dying grandmother wrote on a piece of paper and stuffed into my hand on her deathbed, begging me to fulfill as my destiny under the coyote moon some day?”

When I asked this question one December, here are some answers I had:

1. I want to run the Nashville Half Marathon in under 2 hours.
2. I want to make a certain amount of money next year.
3. I want to take 6 weeks of vacation.
4. I want to sleep 7.5 hours each night.

Those are four things I wanted to do, but I didn’t need to do them. If I ran the Nashville Half Marathon in 2 hours and 10 minutes, nothing bad would happen. If I didn’t even run it at all, my life wouldn’t be dramatically impacted. If I only took 5 weeks of vacation that year, I’d still have a pretty good year.

Those are want goals. You might have had them for years or maybe only minutes, but what’s something you want to do?

If you have a hard time coming up with some, try using a time frame to make it easier. What’s something you want to finish this year? This month? If that doesn’t work, reframe the question with the future in mind. That’s how we handle our neighborhood pool.

Our reputation as a family is that we pool hard. If our neighborhood pool is open, you can find us there. Why? Because our house is small. It’s old. None of the kitchen cabinets close. They’re like relaxed fit jeans or sweatpants. They just kind of pucker open, which is convenient in a way because you can see what’s inside them from across the room by looking through the two-inch open gap.

Our friends have nicer houses. I get jealous when I visit them and they have those drawers that close themselves. Have you experienced those? As you slide the drawer shut, it’s like the cabinetry says to you, “I’ll close this last inch for you. You’re busy. I’ve got this for you!” But the downside of our house is balanced out by the upside of our delightful neighborhood pool, unless we don’t go ever.

So on the 17th day in a row in a July when we are tired of dragging that cooler down the stairs one more time and sick of putting sunscreen on our kids, why do we still attend? Because we know that in October we will wish we had. When the pool is closed and the days are dark and the house feels small or as people who don’t live in it tell us, “Charming,” we’ll ask ourselves, “Why do we live in this stupid house? Oh yeah, the pool. I’m glad we went so many times last summer!”

It’s a simple forecasting trick. In July, we ask, “What do we want to be true in October?” And when we have an answer we change the way we behave in July.

So, if you still don’t have something you want to do, ask yourself that question.

What do I want to be true a month from now?

What do I want to be true a week from now?

If that still turns up zero results, ask a friend for help. Ask a coworker or a boss, I guarantee they will have an answer for you. Say, “I’ve been reading this blog by this really tall, really, ‘commanding’ is the word I think I’m looking for author and he says that the future belongs to people who do things. I want to be one of those people. Can you think of something in my life that I could do? Is there a goal I’m missing?”

They’ll have a few ideas, I promise.

If they say, “No, you’re already perfect, but when you smile at the ground it ain’t hard to tell, you don’t know you’re beautiful.” it’s probably time to find new friends.

Also, be careful that you don’t edit your wants right now. It’s tempting to judge them as not good enough or noble enough. Don’t worry that they’re too vain or should be more impressive or aren’t big enough. Fear loves to tell you that you’re being selfish as a way to prevent you from even going through this exercise.

The third question we need to answer is “What should you do?”

A should goal is something you should do if you were a better person. If you were a better mom, you should spend more time with your kids. If you were a better husband, you should not have an epic fight while putting up the Christmas tree. It always looks so peaceful on Facebook, people are hanging popcorn strings and twinkly lights while making out. But then you set up your tree and it’s always a lot more yelly in reality. You should not have that argument.

This question is a little tricky because at first glance it’s not a particularly fun activity. You’re trying to call out these slippery, shame filled ideas out of the shadows. But remember, the goal of this entire exercise is to reduce the number of things you’re trying to do and nothing clogs your ability to hustle like a whole bunch of unidentified should.

The dangerous thing with should is that it will talk you into doing things you really don’t want or need to do. I see this happen in offices when someone thinks at their age they should have a better job or should be making more money. A really talented graphic designer, who loves creating projects will think they should be a manager. They’ll get promoted to creative director because they should progress up the corporate ladder. But months if not weeks in, they’ll realize that managing designers is a lot different than being a designer. They no longer get to do their favorite thing which was designing projects and they might not have the skillset to manage in the first place. They can become bitter micromanagers, desperate to get their hands dirty with design again but afraid there’s no easy path to climb down a ladder without looking lazy or afraid or dumb.

College students pick majors they think they should have as well.

The trick is that I don’t want you to spend a lot of time on this particular question. Write down a few, but know that want and need are a lot more important. If anything, I just want you to get the should goals out of the way.

Three questions, limitless potential.

What do you do next once you have a list of goals?

It depends.

There are three popular options:
1. Do nothing.
2. Try what you always try.
3. Hustle.

If you’ve followed me on any social media for longer than 14 seconds, you know I love queso and I hate options 1 and 2.

I’m a fan of the third option.

Why? Because I’ve seen 5,000 people accomplish amazing things when they hustle.

I’ve seen stay at home moms start big businesses.

I’ve seen people lose weight.

I’ve seen authors finish books.

I’ve seen houses get decluttered.

I’ve seen thousands and thousands of lives change for the better.

We’re on the edge of a new year and I have two options for you:

1. If your goal is business related, take the 90 Days of Business Hustle Course.
2. If your goal is anything else, take the 30 Days of Hustle Course.

The video content is completely different for each course, but the results will be similar.

You will do more than you did in 2016.

You will look back next December and be amazed at what you got done.

You will make more money, write more pages, lose more weight or a million other things.

But only, if you sign up in the next 36 hours.

I’m going to shut both courses down at midnight on Thursday. They’ll be closed for a few months and probably only available twice in 2017.

Most people won’t change anything next year. Don’t be most people.

Swim upstream.

Make big goals. Live big dreams.


About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff


  1. Anna Grimes

    I’m going to put a Jesuitical spin in your goal trifecta: For 2017, 1) what am I good at? 2) what brings me joy? 3)what does the world need me to do?

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    Little typo:

    “tricky becomes it borders”

    – because

    Thanks for the great content!

  3. Jon, this is a good one. I have so many WANT goals that I can’t focus on anything—I didn’t know that was so common. I like this post a lot … it kind of crystalized some things for me. Thank you 🙂

  4. Ben

    Sometimes I get jealous when I see all my friends posting about hanging out at their neighborhood pools all summer… but then I remind myself that I live close to city so we can enjoy family bike rides to the farmers market, walks to the park and weekend trips for ice cream downtown 🙂

    Good stuff Jon… I hate those self closing cabinet doors too #firstworldproblems

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