Don't Base Your Goals on Your Emotions

Do your goals focus on your emotions such as happiness or tranquility? If so, you may never reach them. We explain why this isn't the best way forward.
Don't Base Your Goals on Your Emotions
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 02 February, 2023

Self-realization is a basic need for us, as human beings. Indeed, we all have the desire to develop personally, grow, improve, set goals, and move toward them. However, not all purposes lead us to the same destination, and a poor choice of them can hinder our progress instead of enhancing it. For this reason, we want to show you why you shouldn’t base your goals on your emotions.

If you’re wondering what this means, think about your biggest goals, and about what you most want for yourself. It’s likely that your answer will be along the lines of: “I want to be happy”, “I just want to feel calm and at peace”, “I want to feel loved”, “I want to be successful”… Of course, these ideals are totally legitimate, but they may not be particularly well-structured. We explain why.

Woman thinking
Your emotions aren’t under your control. They can’t be built and are transitory. That’s why you shouldn’t base your goals on them.

Your goals

To understand why an emotion can’t constitute a goal, we need to review the definition of a goal. It’s something that you achieve and to which you direct all your actions, decisions, and activities. In other words, it’s not a dream, desire, or abstract ideal. You must be able to materialize it and make it a reality.

Different authors have proposed the minimum characteristics required by a goal to be considered as such. One such proposal was made by George T. Doran. He created the acronym, S.M.A.R.T. to help identify these basic principles. However, as a rule, we can state that a goal must have:

  • A date. This distinguishes a dream from a goal since it defines the firm purpose of working to fulfill what you’re longing for.
  • A few steps to follow. Every objective must be concrete, specific, and measurable. It mustn’t remain ambiguous. It’s necessary that there are (or that it’s possible to establish) several sub-goals, to bring you closer to your final achievement.
  • A series of actions. Finally, it’s imperative that you take action and put into practice the previously established steps. Without this, your goal will continue to be just a wish.

Why your goals shouldn’t be based on your emotions

As you can see, it’s easy to understand why your goals shouldn’t be based on emotions. It’s because they wouldn’t meet the aforementioned parameters.

In the first place, your emotions are transitory states. Consequently, they don’t define your life. Furthermore, they’re not fully under your control. Obviously, there are certain guidelines and practices that can help you experience positive states more frequently. That said, negative emotions are inevitable, natural, and necessary at certain times in your life.

Most importantly, emotions can’t be built. They’re not the result of a series of steps or actions that you can take. They’re natural reactions of your body when faced with different stimuli from the environment. Therefore, it’s not healthy to generate your vital expectations around them.

So, what should you base your goals on? The answer is in your attitudes, strategies, and personal skills. It’s completely logical that you want to be happy and successful and feel calm and fulfilled. You need to operationalize those desires to take action toward them. If not, you’ll be at the mercy of what happens to you and any situations and environments that present themselves to you.

In order to better understand, here are some examples of attitudes and resources that you can work toward:


Optimism describes the tendency to possess positive expectations regarding the future and to interpret events in a flexible and functional way.

An optimistic attitude can be worked on and developed. Without a doubt, it contributes to experiencing the kinds of positive emotions that you’re looking for.


Gratitude is also useful since it allows you to identify, appreciate, and value all the good things that you have and that surround you. Again, it’s a quality that can be increased by practicing it regularly. Indeed, it’s in your power to be or feel more grateful. Moreover, it’ll bring you closer to happiness and fulfillment.


Perseverance can help you achieve success if that’s your goal. Instead of waiting for the ideal conditions to arise, and leaving everything to chance, perseverance means you create them with your willpower and determination, taking active and sustained action.


Contrary to what you might think, forgiveness isn’t always something that comes naturally. In fact, it involves a conscious decision.

If your goal is to live calmly and peacefully, carrying around your resentments and grudges with you won’t help you achieve it. On the other hand, learning to forgive and practicing forgiveness will be extremely positive for you.

Emotional and social intelligence

This is a much-needed skill if you want to ‘feel loved’ or enjoy deep, meaningful, and healthy bonds. Again, you can’t expect to enjoy the relationships you want by chance. It’s important that you work on yourself in order to build them.

Friends talking on the street
Emotional intelligence, assertiveness, and other related concepts, such as empathy, favor the construction of relationships.

Your goals shouldn’t be based on emotions but on strengths

The above examples are some of the character strengths proposed by Martin Seligman, the renowned psychologist in the field of positive psychology. They’re constructs that reflect attitudes, abilities, and skills that people have and that contribute to greater well-being and greater life satisfaction.

The most important thing about these strengths is that they can be worked on. Indeed, you can become more skilled in each of them and learn to apply them in your daily life. If it’s within your power to make progress, it’s possible to operationalize them and create measurable and achievable steps to follow. This is why they’re more appropriate as vital objectives than your emotions.

Therefore, if you tend to base your purposes and goals on your emotions, try to change your perspective. It’ll help you take charge of your future and really get closer to the life you want.

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  • Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management review70(11), 35-36.
  • Maslow, A. H. (1958). A Dynamic Theory of Human Motivation. In C. L. Stacey & M. DeMartino (Eds.), Understanding human motivation (pp. 26–47). Howard Allen Publishers.
  • Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of social and Clinical Psychology23(5), 603-619.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.