How to create your own wellbeing goals that actually work

“Setting goals is a way to articulate what is really important to you,” says Dr Denise Quinlan, director of the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience. She tells Jessica-Belle Greer about wellbeing goals that send us on a journey of self-discovery as we connect to a greater purpose.

1. The types of wellbeing goals

  • Relationship goals Those that build connection in a broad sense, from communities to individuals.
  • Generative goals Those that create something new, whether that’s a painting or painting a new fence.
  • Spiritual goals Those that connect you to something bigger, which could be faith or nature.

2. Finding your motive

Goals are about finding your motivation and staying connected to it. Ask yourself:

  • What’s the best thing about this goal?
  • Why are you bothering to pursue it?
  • What will this goal give you that’s important? “This is about knowing yourself and what works for you,” says Denise.

3. Sidestep status

If you (or someone you know) have climbed to the top of the career ladder only to wish you could jump off, you will understand that performance goals that revolve around status and power aren’t likely to improve your wellbeing.

“There are less positive emotions generated on the way to it,” says Denise. “And when you achieve it, you’re less likely to feel happy.” If you’re still drawn to status goals, you can tie them to the wellbeing ideas above. For example, if your goal is to make CEO, ask yourself: Is this to transform people’s lives through what your business creates or how you lead your staff?

4. Stay open

While some people have a compelling vision and know exactly what they want, being open with your wellbeing goals can create new opportunities. Instead of having a goal to be an HR manager, it could be to work with a team of like-minded people doing work that makes a difference. Like a mission statement, this example encourages clear values over time. You can break big-picture goals down to stay motivated, such as into six-month time frames. If you’re interested in goals in different areas of your life, ask: Will pursuing another goal support and reinforce progress towards the one that’s most important?

5. What is progress?

For Denise, true progress is reminding yourself what motivates you and finding how you are getting closer to your goal along the way. “It’s a much more intuitively done goal, getting in touch with what it is that you really want,” she says. “The big success is the last piece of the picture. But if we don’t notice our progress, we’re missing out on a lot of how things work.” Looking for day-to-day wins helps with focus for complex long-term goals, such as living more sustainably. “I think it’s really important that we understand the value of our effort and the value of our miniature, little successes along the way.”

6. Remember your strengths

It helps to note your strengths, including the things and people that support you, to remind yourself of everything you are bringing to your goal process. “Sometimes our goals feel much bigger than us, but actually our goals are only part of our life,” says Denise. At the end of the day, “we’re all bigger than a goal”.

7. Changing goalposts

If what matters to you changes, or the assumptions that created your goal change, it’s time for a new tactic. It’s still important to reflect on the process, identifying your learnings and your strengths to help you decide where to pivot next. “In this past year of huge upheaval, what goal is right for you?” asks Denise. “What goal is going to support you?”


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