Setting Value-Based Goals

Goals are interesting - I’ve written on them before and it seems no post is ever a catch-all. Everyone has goals but they set and pursue their goals in vastly different ways. Interestingly enough, the different stages of goal setting closely follow Kohlberg's Six Stages of Moral Development.

1. Authority/Fear
Fear of punishment.

2. Self-Interest
What benefits me?

3. Expectations if others
What would others think of me?

4. Rules and Laws
What does the law say?

5. The Principled Stage
What is good for society - very idealistic.

6. Universal Ethical Principles Stage
What is good for society on a global scale?

Though I haven’t performed a study, I’d bet that the bell-curve of the Six Stages of Moral Development and the bell-curve of Goal Setting are very similar. On the primal level, everyone has some sort of goal like eating food. Each stage along the way is driven by increasing value.  I’ll give you some examples and let you determine for yourself.

First Stage - Fear

Some goals are driven by fear. These goals are instinctual and are rooted in our survival mechanisms. We don’t want to experience pain, punishment, rejection or a host of other negative consequences that might occur so we avoid doing whatever triggers those negative results. This may be as simple as not touching a hot stovetop but can become much more intricate when you think about social repercussions such as betrayal or emotional heartbreak. These simple commands that the brain gives us might not be classified as a “goal” in the minds of most people because they are so fundamental to life.

Second Stage - Self-Interest

A step up from fear-motivated goals is the self-interested goals. This goes beyond raw survival and seeks to create a desirable lifestyle. Purchasing a product you’ve had your eye on or going on vacation might fall under this category. They might also force the goal-setter to make active decisions that sometimes aren’t always pleasurable or that don’t provide immediate gratification. If you’re an athlete, a grueling practice certainly isn’t the most enjoyable thing you can do with your afternoon, however, it does tend to fulfill you. Despite the burn in your muscles, the shortness of breath and the fatigue, you understand that to do well, you must train which sometimes means sacrifice. So you push on. These types of goals are generally internally motivated - there’s something in it for the goal setter. What action can you take that will build a better lifestyle for yourself?

Third Stage - Societal Expectations

The third level of goal setting is driven by society - what would others think of me? This can be closely linked to the previous level where you’re doing something for yourself in instances such as “catching up with Joe after work.” On the flip side, it can also be a radical departure when you are forced to choose between doing what you want to do and doing what society expects of you. For example, your inner, self-interested goal-setter might WANT to take the rest of the week off and go fishing. However, society expects you to get up at 7:00am and fight rush-hour traffic and go to work. Societal expectations are a powerful motivator and can override the goal-setter’s self-interested knee-jerk reaction.

Fourth Stage - Rules and Law

In Kohlberg’s Six Stages of Moral Development, the fourth stage is "Rules and Law”. In the goal-setting arena, this is where the correlation fails to match up - any goals set under the “Rules and Law” category are often fear-triggered goals that we mentioned in the first stage.

Fifth Stage - Principles

The fifth stage is the Principled Stage which is where we begin to see people break away from the inner animal and show our humanity. It’s the stage that encompasses such things as service, volunteering and compassion. People who set goals in the Principled Stage have a concern for the society in which they live. They care about seeing everyone live in peace with each other, enjoying each other’s company and achieving great things as a united community. They also have a deep-rooted hatred for wrong doing which drives them to rally others against injustice and fight anything that might compromise the community. Principled goals are admirable, noble and generally, selfless.

Sixth Stage - Universal Good

The final category of goals pushes beyond the instinctual goals and even societal goals. They’re known as universal goals. Universal goals ask the question, “what is good for society on a global scale?” Eradicating poverty, bolstering the global economy, exploring survivability in outer space. In seeking to answer this sort of question, people often come together bridging nationalities, genders, backgrounds and cultures as they rally around a shared purpose. Many people admire such goals but few set them and follow through with action. It’s, no doubt, a difficult undertaking driven by a concern for all people, moonshot thinking, and an incredible level of resilience.

Where are you on this scale? Have you made it past level three? Level four?


Jacob Jolibois is the founder of The Archer's Guild, a content marketer at MESH - a Baton Rouge based marketing and advertising agency and a contributor to Lifehack. The only thing he likes better than a great idea is a great idea followed by purposeful action.