Having a goal

What does the character in this snippet want?

There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:

1. He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else.

2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache.

3. He would one day rule the world.

These aren't wants so much as goals. What's the difference between a want and a goal?

The biggest difference is intention—specifically the intention to take action.

  • If you want something but don't intend to take action, then it's just a want.
  • If you want something and you intend to take action towards it, then it becomes a goal.

That's a simple way to look at it. There are a couple of other nuances to do with challenge, precision and control:

  • ChallengeI want the banana on my desk—so I eat it. Did I achieve a goal? Not really, because it was trivially easy. 'Goal' implies that there is some level of challenge or effort required to achieve what you want.
  • Precision: I want to save the environment. Okay... but what does that actually mean? How do I define saving the environment? What steps would I take to achieving it? If the 'want' is too vague, then you can't have a meaningful intention around it and it's not really a goal.
  • Control: I want Serena Williams to win another 7 grand slams. Sure, that's great, but there's nothing I can do about it—I can't form any meaningful intention to act. So it's not a goal.

Here are some examples that follow the same pattern:

The day I found the goose I was already going through a bunch of crises. I decided then and there that I would do three things:

1. I would quit drinking soda.

2. I would break up with Lan.

3. I would save this goose.

I remember back in middle school sitting in bio and writing in my book things I wanted to do:

1. Get a dog.

2. Get my ears pierced.

3. Graduate the Women in Wildland Fire Bootcamp.

You might notice the last goal is intentionally bigger than the others.

That's sometimes called 'buttoning': ending on a point for dramatic effect.

Try writing your own variation. 

If you use the highlighters, remember that you need to highlight each paragraph separately.

Write your own list of character goals.

We've talked about wants, intentions, and goals, but those are the tip of the iceberg.

We could also talk about desires, fantasies, delusions, decisions, obsessions... We have all sorts of words to describe varieties of wanting, depending on:

  • How strongly do you want the thing?
  • How urgently?
  • What action are you willing to take?

But for this lesson we want to keep it simple, so our focus is on the difference between merely wanting something and actually doing something about it.

If nobody wanted anything enough to take action, then there would be no story.

So let's take a closer look at how goals turn into actions (which then turn into new goals).