Identifying Your Goals – “What Do I Want” is the Wrong Question

I’m listening to the morning rain, thinking about the fact that it’s spring break and I don’t have to go to work. How best to spend the day? When I look back, fifteen hours from now, what will I have accomplished? Will I feel happy with the way I used the time?

But I’m on the wrong track with my questions.

According to Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, “What do you want?” is too imprecise to produce a meaningful and actionable answer. In his research, Ferriss asked his clients to name the ultimate outcome that, once they achieve their goals, will have made all their efforts worthwhile. The most common response  is – wrongly – “happiness.” Wrong, he says, because it’s so ambiguous and overused it’s useless. Instead he suggests you ask yourself this: “What would excite me?” because without excitement, we won’t be able to maintain our enthusiasm for moving goalward.

When I read this chapter in Tim’s book, I got excited thinking that this wasn’t just a way to meet goals. Asking “what would excite me” might be a good way to make sure we don’t waste our lives. A day is just a small bit of the bigger picture, after all. Waste a day, waste a week, waste a life. How can I make sure that, at the end of it, I feel good about the way I spent it?

As I listen to the rain, I think that it might make me happy to have a clean office, but it won’t excite me. Now, a movie in Temecula followed by lunch in the wine country? That would excite me. Think I’ll hit the gym beforehand, earn a few alcohol credits.

And almost inadvertently move toward two of my longer-term goals: fitness and mindfulness.

Do you think this little trick will work for you? Let me know what you think.


  1. Marilyn Jean says

    It is so important to look beyond “happiness” as a concept. It’s a wiggly concept. What excites me—what turns my head? That’s the question we need to ask. It’s a deeper question that will get a deeper response from within us. Thanks Lynne for giving us something to think about.

  2. says

    I had to smile to myself as I was reading your post because it was similar to mine this morning. I very much appreciate the idea of changing the question to “What makes me excited?” I too have been thinking about this over the course of the last few weeks as Icontinue to make plans for the second half of my life, and I love the answers that are coming to me! Thanks for the gentle reminder that we should be about what excites our souls, our spirits, for if we do that, then all the rest, the important things, will fall into place. As always, you say it so well, Lynne! Thank you!

  3. Donna says

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I feel that I quantify my happiness by having an organized and clean house. My presumption is that once that is accomplished then I will be more happy and successful. Meanwhile, life is passing me, and my daughter, who is helping me clean, by. When I ask “What would make me excited?”, I have a caveat. I believe I need to include my 10 year old daughters’ needs as well. Notice I say needs, not wants! What does she need to grow, learn and flourish? What, of those things, makes me excited as well? Here is the answer : Since I find joy in her happiness, I am excited to do things that make her happy and laugh. Ususally this involves bringing a friend along, and so we will be going to the community (indoor) pool today with a classmate. I’ll let you know how just how exciting it was…..

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