Why self-connection must come before goal-setting

    Are you so caught up in the obligations of work that you have lost connection with what matters most to you? Does the busy-ness leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted?

    Sure, you may be "getting things done," but your accomplishments feel empty, and the accolades have lost their allure.

    You are not alone. When we find ourselves in this position many of us turn to goal setting and values clarification to find our direction. I propose a better coaching model for business leaders who want to prioritize personal fulfillment.

    The problem with the common coaching practice of goal setting and values clarification exercises is that they are usually done in a business or professional context. They frequently miss what matters to us personally. For example, most goals are externally focused, leaving the component of personal satisfaction out of the equation. Results are measured based on performance (numbers) without considering the impact on our health and well-being to get those results.

    We need another model to uncover what matters to us: self-connection.

    Self-connection is the state of being in touch with our needs, wants, and desires. It is the core of values clarification. It gives a new take on goal setting that leads to personal fulfillment. We feel good about ourselves when we accomplish goals from a place of living out what we value and being genuine to who we are.

    Three elements of self-connection

    Human beings are living, breathing beings with needs, wants, and desires. Self-connection is a personal journey that puts us in touch with those needs, wants, and desires.

    What are my needs?

    The first element of self-connection is needs. In my Self-connection Success Model there are five categories of needs:

    1. Physical needs pertain to our physical body, personal space and our belongings or resources.

    For example, movement to strengthen the body and sleep for rejuvenation are physical needs. Just like a personal space that provides a safe place to decompress from a stressful day is a physical need.

    2. Energetic needs relate to our life force energy and sense of vitality.

    For example, a pattern of spreading ourselves too thin for too long is exhausting.

    3. Emotional needs are necessary for self-expression and well-being. Having an understanding of and the ability to express a range of emotions is important for authentic communication.

    For example, if we repress the feeling of anger it comes out sideways in passive aggressive behavior. Our job is to learn how to express our emotions in a healthy way so we can reap the gifts of our emotions.

    4. Mental needs support our development of problem solving, perceiving, reflection and executing tasks.

    For example, we need to self-reflect to know if we are making decisions that enhance our life.

    5. Spiritual needs relate to understanding the human condition and the journey of a human experience. We explore things outside of ourselves to find ourselves.

    For example, when we hear someone’s story we can see ourselves in them. We understand them and ourselves a little better.

    In my experience, needs are not hierarchical, no matter how famous are Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Our needs are the basic requirements that need to be met in the moment and ongoingly in order to thrive.

    For example, we all know the experience of being understood without having to defend or justify ourselves. The other person gets what we are explaining. The need to be understood is being met in the moment when we are sharing an idea. We will require that need again in future moments for continued connection and collaboration.

    When needs are met, they set us up to flourish and thrive. We don’t spend resources (mental, emotional, energetic, or physical) to survive.

    Unmet needs are detrimental. They keep us in fight, flight, freeze and fawn response, which diminishes our ability to perform at our optimal level. For example, when we are experiencing a high level of stress we may skip meals, not go to the bathroom when needed and make calls on the fly. These reactions get things done, but keep us running on empty, not taking care of our bodies and distracting us from being in the present moment.

    All humans have the same basic needs. However, each person’s needs are different based on what is happening with them in the moment. It’s our responsibility to identify our needs and communicate those needs. Doing so helps us to set boundaries to protect what matters to us.

    What are my wants?

    Wants are individual preferences. They are nice to have, and they vary depending on the individual. Not everyone has the same preferences. For example, we all have the need to eat, but our preferences might be different. One person may choose to eat meat with vegetables and another person may choose vegetables only.

    When we get what we want, it builds confidence, develops our ability to evaluate options and go after what we want. It creates a sense of agency, and we are empowered to choose what we prefer.

    Unmet wants don’t have the same detriment as an unmet need. When we don’t get what we want it can be disappointing, but it doesn’t put us in survival mode, where it consumes our energy – physical, emotional or mental.

    Knowing what we want is pivotal to setting boundaries that help us navigate our life. These boundaries help us to stay in our own lane and make choices that are life-enhancing.

    What are my desires?

    As we refine our wanting, we align to what we desire. Desires are a strong feeling of having, doing or being something.

    It may be simple and meaningful, a long-held dream, or a sense of purpose that is uncovered as part of a self-discovery journey. We are willing to develop ourselves to be the person who can fulfill this desire. For example, if a person has a desire for freedom they may start a business that is structured so they have time flexibility instead of getting a job with a set schedule.

    Knowing our desires informs what we are committed to doing and being. We act from our inspirations and visions. Setting boundaries from our desires guides how we invest our time and energy in who we want to be and how we participate and contribute in life.

    Self-connection is at the core of satisfaction and fulfillment. It’s crucial to be in touch with our needs, wants, and desires. It’s the foundation of self-care and the root of negotiating how we engage with people, in business, and with the world at large. It moves us from competing and defending a position to collaborating and creating what matters to us.

    Self-connection grounds us in our integrity

    Self-connection means we know who we are and who we aren’t. We quit trying to be everything to everyone. We know our value and what we bring to the table. We know our skills, talents, and our limits so we know how to take care of ourselves. We clearly communicate boundaries and authentically collaborate. People know what they can and cannot count on us for. We serve and lead from a place of personal integrity.


    When we take ownership of what we need, want, and desire, self-care is built into our daily practices. We know our basic requirements, our preferences, our dreams and we set boundaries in place to honor them. We don’t push ourselves into burnout before we are willing to take care of ourselves.

    Self-connection improves clarity so we can communicate more effectively. We can, will, and do ask for, advocate for, or take action towards what we need, want, and desire. For example, when we need a neutral place to sort out our thoughts to make a clear decision, we hire a coach.


    Self-connection can be reframed into a business model. For business transactions, needs become basic requirements, wants become preferred interactions, and desires become the vision of the business.

    For example, contracts are written to include basic requirements and some preferences. If the vendor can’t deliver on the contract it becomes a deal breaker and a different vendor that can deliver the basic requirements should be identified. Distinguishing requirements from preferences supports the negotiation process while staying committed to the vision.

    Pairing the personal with the professional

    Self-connection is the core of self-care. It must come before the conventional goal-setting process if the business leader is to thrive personally, not just professionally. Boundaries naturally arise from a healthy sense of self-connection. Self-connection, paired with healthy boundaries, will support your seeking both personal fulfillment and professional impact.

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