Using Goal Setting to Apply the Wisdom of the World Greatest Minds

-   James Stevenson, Accredited Wellbeing Coach and Positive Psychologist -

Wise Goals - Where 3 wonderful passions become 1 great mission 

Welcome to Wise Goals! Where the science of goal setting, positive psychology, and coaching psychology, is applied to actualise the visions and hopes of inspirational philosophers and thinkers of the past. 

This is the home of my 3 greatest passions in life. If you're also interested in these area's, then you're in the right place.

  1. Wise words of philosophers, poets, writers, and great thinkers
  2. Psychology – Especially positive psychology
  3. The psychology and science of goals, personal development, coaching, and achievement

"Positive Psychology is the scientific study of that which makes life worth living" (Peterson, 2008)

"Positive psychology makes people happier. Teaching positive psychology, researching positive psychology, using positive psychology in practice as a coach or therapist, giving positive psychology exercises to 10th graders in a classroom, parenting little kids with positive psychology... and just reading about positive psychology all make people happier!! (Seligman, 2011)

"The content (of positive psychology) itself - happiness, flow, meaning, love, gratitude, accomplishment, growth, better relationships - constitutes human flourishing. Learning that you can have more of these things is life changing. Glimpsing the vision of a flourishing human future is life changing" (Seligman, 2011) 

Coaching is "The art of facilitating the performance, learning, and development of another" (Downey, 2003) 

Another definition is, "Unlocking people's potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them" (Whitmore, 2009).

These 3 topics stir my fascination whenever I delve further, they fill me with zest and enthusiasm while learning about them and applying them, and this only seems to grow with time. 

Goal setting worksheet

The thinking behind the name - Wise Goals

  • Wise = the wisdom of the greats. Great philosophers, poets, writers, and psychologists (especially positive psychologists).
  • Goals = all about goals, goal setting and goal striving, what makes setting goals work best, perseverance, meaningful goals, tapping into the potential of goals, goals as one part of coaching psychology.
  • Wise Goals = where these two areas meet and support one another to achieve great things.

In short, I’m moved by wisdom when I connect with it, and I'm excited by the idea of widespread application of that wisdom. This could be described as using goal setting for good.

I believe there are unlimited ways of applying wisdom to make the world a better place for all, and that goal setting and coaching is most powerful when it seeks to actualise high ideals.

Goal setting has been mostly used by businesses and management to get more out of staff. The SMART model is widely known and for many feels tried and dated. At Wise Goals we try and transcend functions of the lower self... greed, popularity, becoming "better" than others, fame, personal power and control, and instead focus on putting the ideas of great minds into action in society.

There is of course, nothing wrong per se with personal success, financial success… But just like positive psychology exists because of a bias in human's toward the negative... Wise Goals exists because of a bias toward greed and selfishness that all are susceptible to.

Altruistic Goals – Goals for Good in You and the World

Another way I could describe Wise Goals, is a celebration and support of goals for good, altruistic goals. This might be goals that look to make the world a better place.

Often wise words can be incredible to read… they can stir feelings of warmth, conviction, inspiration, hope… This site exists for those who want to harness the power of wisdom and how it makes you feel and act on it… taking words of experience and causing them to live once again, in a new way, through you.

For example, when multiple inspiring philosophers warn against greed and speak of the greatness of kindness and altruism, there are millions of ways this could be actualised. Each person is unique, has unique experiences and environments, has unique inner and outer obstacles.

Allowing all of this to exist, and using the tools and skills of a coach, I enable you to find your way to stand on the shoulders of giants and set great goals. 

What's below

What’s the Wise Goals way to achievement and fulfilment?

As you can imagine, there are many approaches when it comes to goal setting and trying to achieve things...

The Wise Goals way includes some of the following as a taster:

  • Treasuring yourself
  • Self-acceptance to allow wholeness
  • Self-praise to support yourself internally
  • Knowing what you value most and living your values
  • Patient progress, embracing imperfection
  • Cultivating inner harmony, positive inner relationships
  • Learning from inspiring people
  • Tapping into your personal passions
  • Understanding and using your strengths 
  • Putting yourself in others shoes while also respecting your boundaries
  • Understanding the pressures and judgements of society and norms

It involves a shift away from feeling pressurised to do certain things… toward autonomy… finding the unique things that matter to you and the unique ways you want to act on them. Freedom and self and environmental mastery. 

Gaining inspiration from findings in psychology, the wisdom of philosophy, and your own treasure trove of experience and knowledge, you can create power, motivation, and drive. You can use your own strengths and creativity to blaze your own trail forward.

Why setting goals is so often not easy

If you’re sometimes excited by the idea and potential of goal setting and thinking through your dreams, but find yourself struggling to do it, you’re not alone. In fact, the majority of the people I speak with are in this category. 

I'm a qualified positive psychologist and coaching psychologist and an accredited coach with the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC). So, I'm uniquely positioned to be able to help with this, and passionate about doing so!

Goal setting is so often written about and spoken about as if it’s a simple matter, but this is not the case for most people. 

There are lots of important and valid reasons for this. A few examples are:

  • Being unable to choose what to do first from lots of possibilities and ideas - Feeling stuck with indecision
  • Unprepared and justifiably fearful of the many potentially difficult feelings you might experience if you do it and confidence in handling that
  • Limited past experience in proactively choosing and setting goals 
  • Concerns about taking a risk that ends up making things worse
  • Too many unknown factors that you haven't made sense of yet

All of these are genuine, normal, and widespread concerns. Rather than denying these, they can be revealed, accepted, heard, understood, and unique development and improvement in the area that you identify with can lessen and lessen it's restrictive impact. 

What goals should you have?


  • Specific
  • Measured
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timed


  • Positively stated
  • Understood
  • Relevant
  • Ethical


  • Specific
  • Measured
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timed
  • Evaluated
  • Reviewed


  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • Will


  • Challenging
  • environmentally sound
  • agreed
  • recorded


  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • Will
  • Tactics
  • Habits

This is such an important question and one that deserves significant time and exploration. You may have an idea of what you want or you may not yet be sure.

It can take time for a picture to take shape and a goal that feels right to be set. It's my job to help you get there, and in a harmonious and self-affirming way.

In order to check if you're about to climb the best ladder, you might consider some psychological models (GROW, GROWTH, PURE, SMARTER, SMART, CLEAR) relevant to goal setting and progress.

If you have an area in mind, consider some questions that I often ask while coaching:

  • How meaningful is this to you? What makes it meaningful? 
  • What will be different when you've done this?
  • What is this all about for you? 
  • What's behind this desire? 
  • Can you describe this change you'd like to see? 

Here are two options for exploring these questions.

You can write for 3-5 minutes on each. If you do this, I'd recommend writing without stopping without over thinking. Free-flow as much as you can. This is based on research by expressive writing experts Pennebaker and Evans (2014).

You could also do this as an activity with a supportive friend or significant other. Asking each other the questions, and listening attentively and actively to each other without interruption allowing the other to think freely. 

Of course, you may explore these questions and still be unsure. There could numerous things supporting this. Reaching a decision is something that happens in a moment when a range of things are present enough of the time...

These might be things like... safety, stability, self-support skills, emotional-intelligence, relevant experience, supportive others, confidence, task skills, relevant learning, conviction in abilities, understanding, planning, preparation.  

What if you're not sure what to go for first?

If you're not sure what goal to go for first, you might start by exploring with questions like...

  • What energises you? 
  • What are you like, when you're at your best? 
  • What's gone well in the past year? 
  • What are you most proud of? 
  • What kind of person do you hope to become in 10 years? 
  • What makes you, you?
  • If you had (significant obstacle - money, time, ability, support), what would you go for? 

These kinds of questions can get the ball rolling when I'm coaching... as clients share more and more, and I reflect back things that feel significant to the client, a picture can begin to take shape. If undecided, the client decides themselves what matters in the decision, and actions that they want to take to get themselves to the moment of decision. Something exciting to go for always shows up in time.

You may also like to try one of the goal setting worksheets or templates to get you moving like the one below. 

Long Term Dreams Planning Sheet

Learned Helplessness and self-efficacy

One helpful explanation that seeks to explain why people don't go for what they want is called learned helplessness (Seligman, 2011).

This theory suggests that sometimes people have, often in childhood when things were out of their control, learnt that they can't do certain things... that they aren't in control... that they can't change things. This was often true for a long time, and although no longer true, becomes a belief that halts action and progress.

Over time this can develop into, "I don't want to do it. I'm not interested in that kind of thing". 

If experience has told you many times that it's pointless and painful then it makes perfect sense to not do it. Of course, this can cause certain strategies that really do work to be overlooked and can slow down the development of abilities, skills, and capacities.

The reasons to go for it... like more effective strategies, quality support, or an accessible process of personal change, may not have been available when helplessness was learnt. But what is learned can be unlearned over time. 

Goals usually emerge when your self-efficacy (belief in your ability to do something) is there, and it can built up. Self-efficacy depends on previous successes, seeing others succeed, supportive validating others, and positive emotional experiences.

So you can see how it can be gradually built starting with small successes and connecting with the right people (people who are understanding, have empathy, who have the ability to make you feel good, optimistic, and hopeful). 

Popular goals to set

When it comes to goal setting, there are some areas that tend to popular...

Does anything jump out as especially meaningful for you personally? 

  • self esteem or confidence
  • student life / exams 
  • improvement at work / promotion / new career / change roles
  • start a business / grow a business
  • find a partner / love 
  • friendships and social life
  • exercise / better physical health
  • manage stress, anxiety or depression 
  • Illness / acceptance / progress in difficult times
  • learn something new
  • body / weight
  • save money / grow finances
  • health / nutrition
  • inner peace / happiness / psychological wellbeing 

Why should you set goals?

If you're able to get to that point where you set goals for yourself, large or small, a lot of benefits can come out of it. 

  • If you do it wisely, you're more likely to achieve more - even extrinsic or non-self determined goals are linked to greater achievement (Deci and Ryan, 2016). At Wise Goals, where we encourage finding your intrinsic motivation, achievement is even higher and comes with interest, enjoyment and satisfaction. 
  • Slightly more decisiveness - When you're clearer about what matters to you, what you're unique strengths are, and about where you're going in detail it’s easier to decide on the best action to take. Decision making becomes easier, reducing stress and anxiety. Indecision can be a painful and frustrating experience. Often sticky unhelpful habits and past failures can create stagnation. Often what's needed is a broadened momentary awareness of multiple factors. In that space, decisions happen naturally. 
  • You'll have a bit more enthusiasm and sense of possibility - Arriving at something well-chosen, that feels right, can take some work... especially if it's a major change in direction. However once the outcome is defined and progress begins, it creates fresh possibilities and a feeling of hope and excitement. 
Quote about fulfilment
  • Distractions have less power - One great thing about having extra clarity about where you want to be is... Less distractions. This means less procrastination. It becomes easier to say “I appreciate the offer but not this time thanks”. All those really appealing ways of passing time become more manageable because something else far more important enters the equation.
  • You'll grow in capability - Doing this whole goal setting thing points to a life of growth and bringing out more of your capabilities. Over time, you'll become more capable by setting goals. You'll grow at a faster rate. 
  • Wellbeing and positive emotions - Having personally meaningful goals and working toward them is connected to higher wellbeing, happiness, and more frequent and intense positive emotions (Fredrickson, 2009).

Types of goals you can set

Being aware of the following types of goals can be helpful when you're either thinking about your own progress or supporting others:

  1. Long term goals - in the future  
  2. Short term goals - soon 
  3. Avoidance goals - focused away from something
  4. Approach goals - focused toward something 
  5. Outcome goals - focused on an end point or result
  6. Performance goals - focused on actions taken or tasks
  7. Learning goals - something learnt to facilitate goal progress
  8. Complimenting goals - congruent or in alignment with other goals 
  9. Contradicting goals - goals that compete with each other or work against each other
  10. Self-aligned goals - fitting with values, or body and mind in alignment 
Quote about habits

On Time Frames - Short, medium, and long term goal setting

One interesting theme in goal setting is time-frames. Goals can exist in the short, medium, and long term. There is almost an endless array of possibility when it comes to picking a time-frame. The one that emerges for you will depend on many factors, and certainly shorter is not necessarily better than longer. 

Some questions you might have:

  • Should I set goals in multiple time-frames?
  • How do you connect them? 
  • How do I make my goals compliment each other? 
  • What do I do if some of my goals contradict each other?
  • If I have lots of long term goals, how do I choose what to start with? 

These kinds of questions are important when they arise... they present a great opportunity. When one doubt at a time is aired, met with respect, discussed, and worked through, progress can happen more freely. Usually the answer to such questions is different for each person. It's totally unique.


When I'm supporting people and they share various hopes and goals, at the right time, I'll ask questions asking about potential connections or conflicts. I'll also ask what they think and feel about these links.

When a long term goal has for example 4 short term goals that moves toward it they are sometimes referred to in psychology as big and small chunks. Chunking is the skill of creating a fuller picture by linking the short term with the long term. 

Exploring bigger chunks add meanings to the short term, and chunking down makes larger chunks feel less overwhelming, more concrete and manageable. 

Connecting the short term to the long

Every small chunk makes me curious about the larger chunks that haven't been mentioned yet... what is all this for? Where might it lead to and how appealing is that? What other things become possible if it's completed? 

Long term dreams and short term goals worksheet

Connecting the long term to the short term

Likewise, with every long term dream, the linking of the present reality feels important. That dream can feel more doable when the between bit has been discussed and thought through.

What might make it challenging? How will it feel to be 10% closer? what are some different ways you might begin?

Strategically going back and forth in this way, connecting all the time-frames, and revealing more and more of what matters to you, what you want to achieve, creates congruence and grows a sense of confidence.

Planning and goal setting - filling in the gaps 

Planning may or may not be helpful. What I mean by this is a high degree of planning can feel restrictive for many (me included).

Having a vague idea is sometimes enough. As long as what you have is motivational for you, it's good enough. 

Often once a possible path takes shape it can feel natural to go full steam ahead. Feeling how it's possible is motivating. However, although counterintuitive, it can be fun and freeing to create many viable pathways to your goals. (Snyder, 2000). 

Seeing for example 5 different ways to get there can have many benefits. It takes the pressure off a particular action or pathway for one. It also fosters non-attachment and understating of others. 

We like to think everything is going to go smoothly but setbacks, unforeseen challenges, are pretty much inevitable. With multiple options or routes, hope and motivation remains in times where things don't go to plan. The more of this we can build upon the better.

Setting short term goals

If you have a goal or topic in mind, you can use the "my main goal right now" activity to walk you through setting a short term goal. The questions help you set and plan around one of your goals. 

This printable includes some questions my clients tend to find helpful, e.g. about strengths, if... then questions, imagery, and next best steps.

Of course, what I can't do with a worksheet is ask the best question at the best time, spot an area that it would great to focus more on, or hear something that is especially significant and ask about it.  Still, this activity is a great starting point. 

A short term goal like this can plant a seed... leading to new ideas for action and a growing sense of motivation. 

Setting long term goals

Your long term goals, an ever-changing fluid vision, will develop and change as you do. When thinking about the future, it's not the time to be realistic or practical.

The result should feel like a reflection of you and what you stand for... Where all your ideas, hopes and passions emerge and come together.

Fill out the long term dreams worksheet now to give it a try!

Don't worry if you can't fill it all out now. You can always add to this in the following weeks, months, and years eventually creating something you are delighted with which captures your vision for the future.  

Remember, there are no wrong answers! This is your private personal thoughts. 

The importance of where you are now in goal setting

Choosing some goals is an achievement. If you've managed to select some goals and they align with your model of choice (smart, smarter, pure, clear) this is of course just the beginning as you can see in the GROW (Whitmore, 2017) and GROWTH (Campbell, 2016) models. 

Once a goal exists (it may inevitably change many times), your progress is supported by the integration of it into your current situation. The movement forward happens more readily when this broad, often complex reality is part of the picture.

This may include difficult/supportive relationships, time restraints, inner resistance, current habits. It will also include your strengths, what your good at, your resources, your experiences. It's all relevant and to be considered. 

Creating awareness of this whole and how it relates to what you want allows for two important things. 1. Useful adjustment of the goals. and 2. Creative ways forward and unique action planning.

When the current reality is honoured and becomes enmeshed with the goal, motivation, hope, progress is stirred up. Exploring what's happening now regarding what you want to happen often presents something important that needs to be tackled first before strong progress can occur. Identifying this is great progress in and of itself.

Creating pathways/options - the wise approach to goal setting

When you're feeling good about what you want, you've been able to decide where you're moving toward (acknowledging that this may evolve), and you've explored all the relevant and related happenings in your life that may be important, something wonderful happens. Ideas for ways forward, new possibilities and actions, and motivated planning start to flow. 

Once you have an outcome, or various outcomes, it's time for actions, plans, and habits... It's time for movement. When it comes to that way forward, a particular theory by Richard Snyder (2000) called hope theory becomes most relevant. He defines hope as "the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways".

In a nutshell, this theory suggests that when multiples pathways to the goal are explored and created, there is more hope, because un-predicted blockages and barriers pretty much always occur. Expecting this and being ready for it in our goal setting journey is a wonderful thing.

When you have a goal that really matters to you and a pathway forward becomes clear it might seem pointless spending time evaluating it, exploring alternatives, comparing them, combining them, developing them.

Although it can seem counter-intuitive and time-consuming, having multiple routes can be empowering. This capability to create workarounds, be flexible, and have a broader strategy and view of things supports many of your strengths.  

From outcome goals to action goal setting and next best steps 

If you have an idea of where you want to get to, you've connected it to the reality of your actual day to day life, multiples routes have been explored... Strangely there is still a risk at this point of not doing anything. 

This is why the GROW model suggests ending with what you will actually do next, and when. Where will it happen? what time? Just enough to get the ball rolling action wise. 

It's a good idea to build in flexibility. If... then statements are shown to create higher commitment then rigid promises (Fredrickson, 2009). i.e. "If I'm in a good mood and I see him, I'll share that".

Even when you're able to create lots of hope and motivation it's still a temporary state. It feels like it'll last forever but surprise surprise, an hour later, a day later... life with all it's unpredictability will happen again. There may be a time when other things take over and feel more urgent. Knowing this will happen and having a strategy and tactics for this can help with following through.

More goal setting resources and tools to work with

You can find resources such as different worksheets and various templates for every kind of goal you're thinking of setting below. 

Most popular areas you can set wise goals in

Have you got a goal in mind you want to focus on now? Below are some popular areas that you might want to focus on...

Goal setting articles 

Sometimes a quick reminder to jog our memory can be helpful... Why goal setting works? How it all works? How to make your goal smart etc etc... You will find articles on all this below.

Thanks for popping by...

Well done for visiting the goal setting dojo and honing your skills once again! 

Wishing your great success and get in touch if you'd like some extra support!


Last Updated: 09/01/2023

James Stevenson is the owner of and a qualified and accredited wellbeing and philosophy coach.

He works with clients in an patient, understanding and creative way to help them apply great philosophical ideas and psychological scientific findings so they can flourish in a way that leads to them also contributing to a better world.

The development of a strong sense of mattering and agency, alongside deep understanding of inner and outer obstacles give clients a powerful coaching experience. More about James here


Campbell, J. (2016). Framework for Practitioners 2: The GROWTH Model. In C. van Nieuwerburgh, Coaching in Professional Contexts. London: Sage. 

Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Pocket Books. 

Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (2017). Self-determination theory. Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. Guilford Publications. 

Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Ground-breaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. One World Publications. 

Locke, E, A. and Latham, G, P. (2017). New Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance. Routledge. 

Pennebaker, J. W., & Evans, J. (2014). Expressive writing: Words that heal. Enumclaw, WA: Idyll Arbor Books.

Snyder, C, R. (2000). Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications. Academic Press. 

Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership. 5th Edition. Nicholas Brealey Publishing

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