One More Thing Before Setting Your Long-Term Goals…

Before you can jump feet first into master planning your life, you have one more job to do: Figure out what’s really important to you.

Most people you meet on the street don’t like their jobs, are unhappy with their family life, and want more money. They believe that if they could just do this or that, everything would be better.

Winning the lottery would make it all okay. At least that’s what they think. But the truth is otherwise. Unless you live your life according to your core values, no success will be enough to bring you joy.

So before you attempt to set your goals, you have to spend 15 minutes figuring out your core values. What do I mean by core values? I mean the feelings you have about good and evil that are buried deep within your heart.

What does goal setting have to do with core values? It’s all about insuring your long-term happiness. If you set goals that contradict your core values, you will wake up one day and say, “I did everything I said I wanted to do. But so what?”

You don’t want to end up being yet another highly successful but fundamentally miserable person – a fate so common it’s become a cliche. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen…

Begin by imagining a funeral. It is taking place in an elegantly appointed room. The room is full of friends and family members who have assembled to talk about the deceased. You look around. You begin to recognize faces. “Who is the deceased?” you wonder. You look at the casket. Good God, it’s you!

So what are the people at your funeral saying about you?

Imagine specific people: a parent, a sibling, a neighbor, a business associate, and even a stranger. Don’t be vague about this. Think about individual, real people. And imagine them making very specific statements.

It’s not enough to imagine your nephew saying something like, “She was a generous woman.” You need to imagine a second, qualifying sentence, such as, “She always sent me expensive birthday presents.”

And be honest. Don’t sugarcoat the pill. Say it like it is. For example, your next door neighbor might be saying, “I thought he was a very inconsiderate person. He never picked up the mess when his dog crapped on my lawn.”

Imagine everything the people at your funeral could truthfully say about you – and then think about the way their words make you feel.

If you don’t feel good, it means that, in those relationships at least, you are not living your life according to your core values.

Now, for every negative statement you just imagined, ask yourself, “What would I like this person to be saying about me?” The answer to that question will reveal your core values for that particular relationship.

The goal of this exercise is to create a set of about a dozen sentences. Each sentence will be a statement that indicates what you think is important in a particular area of your life.

Let’s say you imagined someone saying, “He was always struggling to make ends meet.” That statement would make you feel bad, right? So then you imagine what you would like that person to say about you, and you might come up with, “He struggled for a while and then everything changed. He became very successful and died a wealthy person.” If that statement makes you feel good, it’s reasonable to say that acquiring wealth is a core value for you. And you would write it down like this: “I believe that financial success is a valuable and admirable accomplishment.”

Got it?

Negative Statement: “He was always struggling to make ends meet.”

Positive Statement: “He struggled for a while and then everything changed. He became very successful and died a wealthy person.”

Core Value: “I believe that financial success is a valuable and admirable accomplishment.”

I recommend that you shoot for about a dozen statements, because you want to address all the major areas of your life:

  • Your health values
  • Your wealth values
  • Your self-improvement (personal) values
  • Your social happiness values


Because your core values should determine your goals. And your goals have to be comprehensive.

Most goal-setting programs are not comprehensive. They focus on just one thing. Making more money. Or losing weight. Or being happy (whatever that means). Setting such singular goals can sometimes be effective if you have the flexibility in your schedule to focus on them. But most people don’t. And that creates a problem. They start out enthusiastically and make progress for a while. But before long, life’s many urgencies push their way in. Good habits are neglected. Bad habits return. Before long, the goal is abandoned.

You are going to avoid that very common problem by considering the full spectrum of your life – not just your health or your wealth but also your hobbies, personal relations, social obligations, and so on.

Here’s what you should do now:

  1. Take out a piece of paper and divide it into four boxes.
  2. At the top of those boxes, write Health, Wealth, Self-Improvement, and Social Happiness.
  3. Inside each box, write down statements in that category that you would like to have said about you at your funeral.

For example…

Under Health:

  • “He was the fittest 80-year-old I ever saw.”
  • “He could run a mile in eight minutes.”
  • “I once saw him lift up a car by its bumper.”

Under Wealth:

  • “Of all the people who graduated from Riverdale High School in 1972, she turned out to be the wealthiest.”
  • “She had a huge mansion in Laguna Beach.”
  • “She left $4 million to charity when she died.”

Under Self-Improvement:

  • “He was the best chess player I ever knew.”
  • “He was also a published poet.”
  • “He knew more about home decorating than Martha Stewart.”

Under Social Happiness:

  • “She was the world’s kindest mom.”
  • “She was also a very generous friend.”
  • “She was a strong supporter of breast cancer research.”

Write down at least two such statements in each of the four categories. The purpose of writing them down is twofold: to fix them in your mind, and to have something specific you can refer to later.

You will be referring to these core values many times in the coming years. They should be a source of continuous inspiration. Treat them seriously. They are the crux of your master plan.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]