List of common goal areas:
This list is meant to be in the area of goal-space.  It is non-exhaustive and the descriptions are including but not limited to - some hints to help you understand where in the idea-space these goals land.  When constructing this list I try to imagine a large venn diagram where sometimes they overlap.  The areas mentioned are areas that have an exclusive part to them; i.e. where sometimes knowledge overlaps with self-awareness there are parts of each that do not overlap; so both are mentioned.  If you prefer a more "focussing" or feeling base description; Imagine each of these goals is a hammer, designed with a specific weight to hit a certain note on a xylophone.  Often one hammer can produce the note that is meant for that key and several other keys as well.  But sometimes they can't quite make them sound perfect.  What is needed is the right hammer for that block to hit the right note and make the right sound.  Each of these "hammers" has some note that cannot be produced through the use of other hammers.

This list has several purposes:

  1. For someone with some completed goals who is looking to move forward to new horizons; help you consider which common goal-pursuits you have not explored and if you want to try to strive for something in one of these directions.
  2. For someone without clear goals who is looking to create them and does not know where to start.
  3. For someone with too many specific goals who is looking to consider the essences of those goals and what they are really striving for.
  4. For someone who doesn't really understand goals or why we go after them to get a better feel for "what" potential goals could be.

What to do with this list?

0. Agree to invest 30 minutes of effort into a goal confirmation exercise as follows.
  1. Go through this list (copy paste to your own document) and cross out the things you probably don't care about.  Some of these have overlapping solutions of projects that you can do that fulfils multiple goal-space concepts. (5mins)
  2. For the remaining goals; rank them either "1 to n", in "tiers" of high to low priority or generally order them in some way that is coherent to you.  (For serious quantification; consider giving them points - i.e. 100 points for achieving a self-awareness and understanding goal but a pleasure/creativity goal might be only worth 20 points in comparison) (10mins)
  3. Make a list of your ongoing projects (5-10mins), and check if they actually match up to your most preferable goals. (or your number ranking) (5-10mins)  If not; make sure you have a really really good excuse for yourself.
  4. Consider how you might like to do things differently that prioritise your current plans to fit more inline with your goals. (10-20mins)
  5. Repeat this task at an appropriate interval (6monthly, monthly, when your goals significantly change, when your life significantly changes, when major projects end)

Why have goals?

Your goals could change in life; you could explore one area and realise you actually love another area more.  It's important to explore and keep confirming that you are still winning your own personal race to where you want to be going.
It's easy to insist that goals serve to only disappoint or burden a person.  These are entirely valid fears for someone who does not yet have goals.  Goals are not set in stone; however they don't like to be modified either.  I like to think of goals as doing this:
(source: internet viral images) Pictures from the Internet aside; The best reason I have ever reasoned for picking goals is to do exactly this.  Make choices that a reasonable you in the future will be motivated to stick to Outsource that planning and thinking of goal/purpose/direction to your past self.  Naturally you could feel like making goals is piling on the bricks (but there is a way to make goals that do not leave them piling on like bricks); you should think of it as rescuing future you from a day spent completely lost and wondering what you were doing.  Or a day spent questioning if "this" is something that is getting you closer to what you want to be doing in life.

Below here is the list.  Good luck.


Spirituality - religion, connection to a god, meditation, the practice of gratitude or appreciation of the universe, buddhism, feeling of  a greater purpose in life.
Knowledge/skill + Ability - learning for fun - just to know, advanced education, becoming an expert in a field, being able to think clearly, being able to perform a certain skill (physical skill), ability to do anything from run very far and fast to hold your breath for a minute, Finding ways to get into flow or the zone, be more rational.
Self-awareness/understanding - to be at a place of understanding one’s place in the world, or have an understanding of who you are; Practising thinking in eclectic perspectives for various other people and how it effects your understanding of the world.
Health + mental - happiness (mindset) - Do you even lift?, are you fit, healthy, eating right, are you in pain, is your mind in a good place, do you have a positive internal voice, do you have bad dreams, do you feel confident, do you feel like you get enough time to yourself?
Live forever - do you want to live forever - do you want to work towards ensuring that this happens?
Art/creativity - generating creative works, in any field - writing, painting, sculpting, music, performance.
Pleasure/recreation - are you enjoying yourself, are you relaxing, are you doing things for you.
Experience/diversity - Have you seen the world?  Have you explored your own city?  Have you met new people, are you getting out of your normal environment?
Freedom - are you tied down?  Are you trapped in your situation?  Are your burdens stacked up?
Romance - are you engaged in romance?  could you be?
Being first - You did something before anyone; you broke a record, It’s not because you want your name on the plaque - just the chance to do it first.  You got that.
Create something new - invent something; be on the cutting edge of your field; just see a discovery for the first time.  Where the new-ness makes creating something new not quite the same as being first or being creative.
Improve the tools available - sharpen the axe, write a new app that can do the thing you want, invent systems that work for you.  prepare for when the rest of the work comes along


Legacy - are you leaving something behind?  Do you have a name? Will people look back and say; I wish I was that guy!
Fame/renoundness - Are you “the guy”?  Do you want people to know your name when you walk down the street?  Are there gossip magazines talking about you; do people want to know what you are working on in the hope of stealing some of your fame?  Is that what you want?
Leadership, and military/conquer - are you climbing to the top?  Do you need to be in control?  Is that going to make the best outcomes for you?  Do you wish to destroy your enemies?  As a leader do you want people following you?  Do as you do? People should revere you. And power - in the complex; “in control” and “flick the switch” ways that overlap with other goal-space areas.  Of course there are many forms of power; but if its something that you want; you can find fulfilment through obtaining it.
Being part of something greater - The opportunity to be a piece of a bigger puzzle, are you bringing about change; do we have you to thank for being part of bringing the future closer; are you making a difference.
Social - are you spending time socially? No man is an island, do you have regular social opportunities, do you have exploratory social opportunities to meet new people.  Do you have an established social network?  Do you have intimacy?  Do you have seek opportunities to have soul to soul experiences with other people?  Authentic connection?
Family - do you have a family of your own?  Do you want one?  Are there steps that you can take to put yourself closer to there?  Do you have a pet? Having your own offspring? Do you have intimacy?
Money/wealth - Do you have money; possessions and wealth?  Does your money earn you more money without any further effort (i.e. owning a business, earning interest on your $$, investing)
Performance - Do you want to be a public performer, get on stage and entertain people?  Is that something you want to be able to do?  Or do on a regular basis?
Responsibility - Do you want responsibility?  Do you want to be the one who can make the big decisions?
Achieve, Awards - Do you like gold medallions?  Do you like to strive towards an award?
Influence - Do you want to be able to influence people, change hearts and minds.
Conformity - The desire to blend in; or be normal.  Just to live life as is; without being uncomfortable.
Be treated fairly - are you getting the raw end of the stick?  Are there ways that you don't have to keep being the bad guy around here?
Keep up with the Joneses - you have money/wealth already, but there is also the goal of appearing like you have money/wealth.  Being the guy that other people keep up with.
Validation/acknowledgement - Positive Feedback on emotions/feeling understood/feeling that one is good and one matters


Improve the lives of others (helping people) - in the charity sense of raising the lowest common denominator directly.
Charity + improve the world -  indirectly.  putting money towards a cause; lobby the government to change the systems to improve people’s lives.
Winning for your team/tribe/value set - doing actions but on behalf of your team, not yourself. (where they can be one and the same)
Desired world-states - make the world into a desired alternative state.  Don't like how it is; are you driven to make it into something better?

Other (and negative stimuli):

Addiction (fulfil addiction) - addiction feels good from the inside and can be a motivating factor for doing something.
Virtual reality success - own all the currency/coin and all the cookie clickers, grow all the levels and get all the experience points!
Revenge - Get retribution; take back what you should have rightfully had, show the world who’s boss.
Negative - avoid (i.e. pain, loneliness, debt, failure, embarrassment, jail) - where you can be motivated to avoid pain - to keep safe, or avoid something, or “get your act together”.
Negative - stagnation (avoid stagnation) - Stop standing still.  Stop sitting on your ass and DO something.


This list being written in words; Will not mean the same thing to every reader.  Which is why I tried to include several categories that almost overlap with each other.  Some notable overlaps are: Legacy/Fame.  Being first/Achievement. Being first/skill and ability.  But of course there are several more.  I really did try to keep the categories open and several; not simplified.  My analogy to hammers and notes should be kept in mind when trying to improve this list.

I welcome all suggestions and improvements to this list.
I welcome all feedback to improve the do-at-home task.
I welcome all life-changing realisations as feedback from examining this list.
I welcome the opportunity to be told how wrong I am :D


This document in total has been 7-10 hours of writing over about two weeks.
I have had it reviewed by a handful of people and lesswrongers before posting.  (I kept realising that someone I was talking to might get value out of it)
I wrote this because I felt like it was the least-bad way that I could think of going about
finding these ideas in the one place
sharing these ideas and this way of thinking about them with you.

Please fill out the survey of if this was helpful.

Edit: also included; (not in the comments) desired world states; and live forever.

New Comment
23 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:38 AM

Meta sub-thread

Was this discussion post helpful? [pollid:1020]

I like the idea of adding a poll to get feedback about how the post is received. But this poll in particular seems to add little beyond what can be inferred from the votes. Maybe choose another dimension next time?

will do.

this source:

suggests these questions for analysis of your life; in the form of a yearly review. If you are reviewing there is no need to put it off for that time of year; copied here in case the source disappears:

  1. What went well?
  2. What did not go well?
  3. Where did you try hard?
  4. Where did you not try hard enough?
  • Do you have a sense of purpose and direction in life?
  • What is your philosophy of life?
  • What are your fundamental goals, beliefs, and values?
  • How do you want the world to be different when you're dead?
  • Where are you right now (both physically in the universe and temporally)?
  • What do you want out of life?
  • What is a summary of your beliefs?

Contribution & Impact

  • How are you giving value to the world?
  • How much money did you give away in the past year? Who did it go to? Did it have the most possible impact.
  • Do you take responsibility for your environmental impact on the world?

Location & Possessions

  • Where do you live?
  • Where is your home?
  • Where in the world are you?
  • What is your living situation like?
  • How much stuff do you own?
  • Approximate value of all possessions?
  • What are your toys?
  • Is your life cluttered?

Money & Finance

  • Do you have savings? How much? Where are they?
  • What is the status of your assets and investments?
  • Do you know where you spend your money?
  • Do you budget?
  • What is your budget?
  • Are you aware of where you spend your money?
  • Are your finances organized?
  • Do you have any debt?

Career & Work

  • How do you make your money?
  • What do you do?
  • Do you like your job?
  • Are you engaged by your work?
  • Are you well networked within your industry?

Health & Fitness

  • Typical foods?
  • Are you generally tired or alert?
  • How often do you get sick?
  • Do you exercise?
  • How much do you sleep on average?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • What is your standing heart rate?
  • Do you regularly eat fast food or make healthy home-cooked meals?
  • Do you research healthy foods and choices?
  • What is your source of health information?

Knowledge & Education

  • How much time do you spend learning new things?
  • How much have you read in the past year?
  • How much education do you have?
  • What talents and skills have you recently developed?


  • How much have you written in the past year?
  • Do you ever discuss controversial topics with others?
  • Do you ever give presentations to friends or coworkers?
  • Are you confrontational or open to discussion?
  • Do you have influence and status in your social circles? In society?

Intimate Relationship

  • Are you in a relationship?
  • How is it going?
  • How much do you know about the other person?
  • Are you aware of each other’s needs and desires?

Social Life & Family

  • How is your home life?
  • What is your relationship like with your family?
  • How many core friends do you have?
  • How many acquaintances?
  • What clubs or organizations are you a member of?
  • Are you a good friend?


  • How do you feel about your life?
  • Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic?
  • Are you generally positive or negative?
  • Are you easily aware of your current emotional state?
  • Are you quick to notice how your emotions are influencing your thoughts, actions, and decisions?
  • Do you do any sort of regular mindfulness practice?

Character & Integrity

Rate yourself in the following:

  • Compassion
  • Integrity
  • Empathy
  • Honor
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-awareness
  • Communication skills
  • Responsibility
  • Focus
  • Authenticity
  • Confidence
  • Persistence
  • Effectiveness
  • Etc.

Productivity & Organization

  • What productivity systems do you use, if any?
  • How well are they working?
  • Is your life organized?
  • What sorts of daily routines do you have?
  • Is there too much complexity in your life? Do you need to simplify?

Creativity & Adventure

  • Are you experiencing what you want to experience in life?
  • What fun things have you done lately?
  • What creative things have you done lately?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What do you do for recreation?

Thanks for posting this. Just a quick note, many of the things listed above I would consider may be "common" terminal values, not goals. Might just be a wording thing, but I think of goals as instrumental, with values propagating to actions via the hierarchy values->strategies->campaigns->goals->actions.

Convergent instrumental goals might be an interesting collection as well.

I have a lot to consider in the way of "values" that are not really covered in this document. Thanks!

First off, I wanted to say that I like your post and the general idea of it, but I feel that in its current form it is lacking a base. That is, it's not grounded in anything. When I look at each of your points, I don't get any understanding of why these goals would actually be rational and worthwhile pursuing, I feel like you sort of have to approach your list with goals already in mind. Maybe, this is just about different ways that we would approach the same issue, but if I was creating a similar list I would first look at what the fundamental human needs are. If you know what these are and you also know what causes people to flourish, then you can develop your goals around that. This would probably give you very similar goals, but it would also let you know why and when the goals are worth pursuing. It would also let you know which goals are currently worth spending the most amount of resources and effort pursuing as you can look at how much you are meeting each of the fundamental human needs. Then you can find gaps and choose appropriate goals that will fill those gaps.

I found the below resources to be useful when I briefly looked into the fundamental human needs.

  • Maslows ranking of needs, but I don’t think the current research backs up the order or idea or ranking.
  • Manfred Max-Neef talked about fundamental human needs
  • There’s also this book by Martin Seligman and others which classifies the character strengths and virtues Summary of the virtues here

The below table of virtues (basically what makes a good person), see above link for more details, is probably a good starting point for something to base your goals on

Here are some more goals that I could think of

  • Practicing appreciation/gratitude
  • Finding ways to get into flow or the zone
  • Practicing thinking in eclectic perspectives, i.e. trying to understand how things would be from a different view point. For example, trying to understand what another person is thinking or feeling?
  • Is be more rational in your list? Maybe, something like more closely follow the 12 virtues of rationality

Here are some of your goals that I don't really understand why they are worth pursuing

  • Being first
  • legacy
  • fame/renoundness
  • leadership, and military/conquer

Maybe, if you have a different persona or personality than I do then you would find these worth pursuing, but I don't. I'm not sure they are rational things to be pursuing either. These seem like things that come after you become awesome at something and you can only become awesome at something if you love doing it. You simply wont be able to love it if you are only doing it for some ulterior motive like wanting fame. Now, I understand why you would leadership if you feel like you are in a certain position where you believe you can do more good than the current people in charge or if there is a gap that needs to be filled, but it doesn't seem worth pursuing power just for powers sake.

Yes this list has no base, but its less-bad than not having goals or a map of common goal-space and not knowing where to look for inspiration in the area.

Power was a late addition to the list; while I can agree that power is unusual; it may be /a/ goal of /a/ person (to obtain power for power's sake).

Similarly finding a way to leave a legacy behind, i.e. setting up a sustainable foundation to shape the future of humanity (i.e. nobel prizes). and leave yourself with a legacy (without of which Alfred nobel would be known only for the invention of TNT - which he did not want). This is potentially a goal-class of humans to have.

I also care not for fame nor conquer. But I can suppose that someone else might. And might want to think about how to achieve those things.

I think that gratitude falls under either spirituality or self-awareness. So I will update the description to include it. Flow is a self awareness skill (and I will update it to be included there) Perspectives is also a self-awareness trait Rationality is definitely a skill/ability to be trained.

Interesting table of virtues; I find them to be a cluster of traits any person would want (variously) along the journey to pursuing their goals. But not goals of themselves. "bravery" is a good thing to have; or to carry, but does not become a goal of itself. Just because you are brave; does not mean you know what you will next do with that bravery.

I will add your suggestions to the list.

These goals are not by any means rational. Some of them might be irrational. But that doesn't stop some people from chasing after them. And I don't know if I have any right to be the person who defines which goals are irrational for another person. I can only leave that up to the reader.

It is another process (another post) to consider if goals are rational (or a good idea) and further "what is the most effective way to achieve the next goal". But you need a goal first before you can apply those considerations to them.

Thanks for your help improving this post!

Alright, I think I misunderstood the overall point to this post. It is meant to be about goals that people commonly have rather than should have or would be good to have. Here's some more ideas:

  • Create something new, not necessarily the first, but something new. For example, you might build a table or write a program and take enjoyment in the fact that you created it.
  • Be treated fairly
  • keep up with the Joneses - you have money/wealth already, but there is also the goal of appearing like you have money/wealth

I guess you have decided not to include the boring drives and urges like eat food etc.

goals that people commonly have

I have this communication problem, I put that in the title. I am not sure how to make it more clear other than changing the title words from "list of common goals" to "goals that people commonly have".

These are new suggestions. I will add them in.

Boring things I made the assumption that there is a natural human drive for (i.e. relieving one's self by peeing when appropriate; eating food; getting sleep) the very basic maslow desires before higher level goals appear relevant.


I think the options could be more diverse. For example, 'fame/renoundness' doesn't take into account a possible wish for blending in, or just for a different kind of acknowledges. For example, my sister went to volunteer once and was told there was no need for her to get involved, but she was called by my name. Each of us certainly wish people wouldn't mistake us for the other, but it doesn't mean we wish more people to know us. Or 'freedom'; what if one wants to settle down, but not to be 'trapped' - one would need to add qualifiers to the stated choice, which is not a good feature in a questionnaire.

desire to blend in is one that neither me nor the people who I asked to review came up with! Well done!

Edited: conformity.

It feels like a hollow goal. I wonder why I didn't come up with it. To me; (a very non-conformist person) you can never really fit in. As hard as you try; you will never be "normal" because normal is always an average of the world; so its not a real thing. Then again; other goals like legacy are just as much not real...


Actually, the 'get your act together' is interesting; perhaps 'self-awareness' can have a specific option of 'debug inconsistencies in your worldview'?


As to the performance question - are options 1 and 2 not the same? Since it is hard to envision a diametrically opposite goal(although one might plausibly want to be better at recognizing others' attempts at manipulation), is this more of a leading question?

Can you clarify what you mean by this? I suspect you have summarised; but I don't know which point you are asking about specifically. Maybe quote the original?


'Do you want to be X', 'do you want to be able to do X' - I realize it's not exactly the same, but maybe the second one should be stated more like ' occasionally lighten the mood', or some such.

Explicitly - having the skills of performing on a stage is different to actually being the person who performs. you might want to train in those abilities for the fun of training without actually using the skills. That is why both classes are mentioned

update now lists:

Improve the tools available - sharpen the axe, write a new app that can do the thing you want, invent systems that work for you. prepare for when the rest of the work comes along.

that took a while to come up with... and overlaps with self-awareness.

See also the list of human universals (as complete as it gets).

A few brainstormy ideas:

Survival/Sustenance - Food/Water/Shelter/Safety

Humor - Jokes/Comedy

Intimacy - Feeling emotionally connected/Physical Affection/Proximity

Validation - Positive Feedback on emotions/feeling understood/feeling that one is good and one matters

I added survival into health

Intimacy falls under family/social I feel that you can get intimacy out of either family endeavours or social endeavours and there is nothing of intimacy that falls outside of those two. (have added to the above but not made a new class of goal)

validation is new and on the list now.

I am not sure how humour is a goal - can you explain more?

It's an okayish exercise in brainstorming, one that, if nothing else, should drive home the point that there is a plurality of goals which can be pursued, and that they're not necessarily commensurable on a single good-bad scale.

I was trying to do something similar, but under the broader umbrella of values rather than just goals – in that from values derive not just goals, but also virtues, vices and worldviews. The other difference is that values can be of maintenance rather than of maximization or change. Another thing I was working on compiling (but for a far more casual purpose) is a list of aspirations in life that define one's role in the world, which might be closer to what you're trying to do here.

By comparing your posts to my lists, here's what I can tell you from my perspective: don't neglect the more... ignominious things that humans can value. One thing that jumped out to me about your list is that it's very feel-good and unobjectionable for the most part, fit for a self-help book. This may obscure the fact that there are some goals which people pursue in a very real sense but don't admit to as readily. To many people here this probably sounds very Hansonian, and indeed, status can be listed here, but I also mean things like hedonism or sex, or reckless risk-seeking, or a class-based understanding of advancement in life, or even laziness. If you're trying to follow this list as a mindfulness or productivity exercise, an invisibility of such goals can hinder you if you're not aware you're pursuing them instead.

Another thing: meditating upon a list of goals is weaksauce in terms of emotional salience. You'd need more elaborate related rituals and perhaps some communality in order to get really inspired to work on them. In other words, you'd need to get a bit religious about it. I don't have any good suggestions as to how to act upon this observation (without having to swallow up a whole lot of accompanying bullshit), but it's just something I thought I should throw out there.

I don't expect any ritual more complicated to even be tried by someone. Not sure how to ritualise this task in a way that makes it equally do-able and more likely to cause progress...