List of common human goals

What is this list?

One day I was lost.  Looking for goals.  I read the guides that suggested making lists of your goals.  I genuinely sat down with a piece of paper with a timer and went, “um”.  I tried it again and eventually I sat down enough times that I decided I needed a better strategy.  I thought, “What do other people commonly do?” and I stumbled around with that idea for weeks.  I searched for the list and couldn’t find it anywhere.  Then I realised “AHA!” What if I wrote out a list of common human goals!  The ones that other people commonly try to approach.  Then I could get an idea of the general gist of what sorts of things to do for myself might be.  So I wrote the list.

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 but there are parts of each that do not overlap; so both are mentioned.

If you wanted a bit of both Spirituality and Fame, you might want to do things that landed in the in-between region.  However if you were keen on the leadership side of spirituality, it won’t always be fulfilling your desire for fame.  And there are certainly parts of spirituality that won’t fulfil a Fame desire.

If you prefer a more “focusing” or feeling base description; Imagine each of these goals is a mallet, designed with a specific weight and properties to hit a certain note on a xylophone.  Often one mallet 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 mallet for that block to hit the right note and make the right sound.  Each of these “mallets” has some note that cannot be produced through the use of other mallets.  This is what I mean by having overlapping goals.

This list has several purposes:

  1. If you have some completed goals and you are looking to move forward to new horizons; to 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. If you are without clear goals and looking to create them and don’t know where to start.
  3. If you have too many specific goals and are looking to consider the essences of those goals and what they are really striving for.
  4. If you don’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.  If you don’t think this 30 minutes will be well spent now, plan to do it later today.  Copy the link into your diary and set aside time for this task.

  1. Go through this list (copy paste to your own document) and cross out the things you probably don’t care about.  (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) (Put it in your diary 6 months from now)

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 😀


This document in total has been 7-10 hours of writing over about two weeks.  And has gone though 4 revisions.

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.

A late addition to the list is Improve the tools available, As a suggestion about 6 months after I posted the original list.

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