Goals vs. problems
Thu Aug 16, 2018 · 564 words

A great question about achieving goals came up on Hacker News:

I have been thinking about various problems. Problems like how to get that girl I want, how to make more money, who is it that I want to be, etc.

Well my mind just isn’t capable of solving these problems. So what do I do? I try to expand my mind by reading and talking to people. But it’s still my own mind progressing at a snails pace. Progressing so slowly that things will not change unless I find some other way.

I keep falling into these same unproductive modes of thinking. I am so intensely driven but all of my energy is going nowhere.

Please help me think differently so that I can analyze my goals from new angles.


To change your thinking about goals, you’ll need to recognize that goals aren’t for everyone.

And that’s completely okay.

Goals and problems are mentioned in your original post, but they are fundamentally different things.

Goals usually mean you’re adding value. Problems mean you’re fixing something. Mixing the two is likely what’s making things difficult. Sometimes we make a goal to solve a problem, and sometimes we try to solve a problem to achieve a goal.

But goals and problems are not the same thing.

This isn’t just semantics.

We’ve all witnessed those visionary folks that are born to set and achieve goals e.g. Steve Jobs.

Then there are the problem-solving geniuses who can break down and debug just about any problem you throw at them.

Which one are you?

The world needs both kinds of people.

But if you’re a problem-solver, it’s no fun to be aiming for goals.

It’s equally discouraging if you’re a goal-setter trying to solve a problem.

Do you feel stressed setting and reaching for goals? Do you feel stress from defining problems and solving them? Which one is more stressful?

Based on your original post, goals are probably more stressful for you.

The subject of your post is about goals, but…

You very quickly start talking about the problems of:


Assuming you’re a problem-solver, let’s reframe your goals:

If you’re a problem-solver, you’re off and running with ideas to fix these problems.

But I might also be wrong, and maybe you’re a goal-setter…


If you’re a goal-setter, here’s a repeatable framework that works for me:

  1. Pick a goal… let’s pick making more money.

  2. What are 3 things you must achieve in order to make more money?

  3. Maybe it’s getting a new job, maybe it’s getting a promotion, maybe it’s getting another job or maybe it’s starting your own business.

  4. Suppose you chose getting a promotion. What are 3 things you must achieve in order to get a promotion?

  5. If those 3 things are too big, pick one… maybe talking to your manager about what’s standing in your way to a promotion.

  6. Keep breaking down each level of goals 3 at a time until you end up with something achievable.

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