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Personal Goals Are Like Ice Cream

Personal Goals Are Like Ice Cream

We call lots of things goals.  We have financial goals, educational goals, weight loss goals, milestones, goals for work, stretch goals, tasks, and goals for life; the list goes on and on. But are these all goals?

What is a goal?

Goals are creative thoughts about what you want.  Goals help you plan, and they motivate you to take action.

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If goals are creative thoughts about what we want, how are they like ice cream? Let me explain using SpaceX as an example.

In 2012, Elon Musk started talking about establishing a human colony on Mars. In the last eight-years, one of the projects his company, SpaceX has been working on, is building the world’s biggest rocket to help make that dream come true.

SpaceX Starship

The rocket, called Starship, will be 30 feet in diameter, stand 390 feet tall.  It will be able to transport the equivalent payload of a fully-loaded Boing 777 passenger jet into orbit. SpaceX has tested different materials for the hull, started building a launch complex in Texas, and experimented with welding stainless steel.  And just last week (as of this writing) successfully completed its first 150-meter hop. Each of these steps is a type of goal.

Organizing Goals

To organize goals, it’s helpful to put them into categories using terms like vision, milestones, and tasks. A Vision is a goal, a Milestone is a goal, and so are individual tasks. So, goals are like ice cream because they come in different flavors. To help illustrate this, let’s use a delicious ice cream sundae.

Ice cream goals pyramid

The goals called visions and dreams are your creative thoughts about the distant future. Starting out, you may have just a vague notion of what they look like and how to get there. It’s alluring and exciting to think they might come true someday. Elon’s Mars vision has evolved, and he now articulates it as: “to see mankind become a multi-planet species in my lifetime.” That is one, big…vision!

Vision sits on top of our sundae, like a scoop of delicious chocolate ice cream. A vision is often difficult and rare. They can be out there, over the horizon. You can imagine them, but they are beyond reach; today. At the same time, they are oh so tantalizing. Like rich chocolate ice cream, your mouth starts watering just thinking about it. The funny thing about visions is that once you reach them, you start moving toward your next one. Turns out, most of the reward is in the journey and working with others to accomplish it.

Milestones are a little closer, not so far into the future, they’re within reach. It feels good to reach them and often it’s a reason to celebrate. Reaching a milestone triggers reward signals in your brain. The equivalent of “Oh là là là là! Let’s do that again!” Milestones are the second layer in our sundae.

On August 4, 2020, the upper stage of Starship lit it’s Raptor engine and completed its first 150-meter hop. Eight years in the making, SpaceX achieved a major milestone. It was such an important event, that to celebrate, Elon gave SpaceX employees Friday off as a “Crew Mission Holiday”. Oh là là là là!

Tasks are where you spend most of your time. They aren’t that exciting, they’re work. In the case of Starship, just a few of the tasks leading up to the successful 150-meter hop were: Installing storage tanks, wiring the rocket, building the test stand, designing, machining, forming, stacking and welding components, and pouring concrete. The complete list would be exceptionally long, representing eight years of tasks. In our sundae example, tasks are represented by the many scoops of vanilla ice cream on the bottom.

Goals PyramidGoals Ice cream pyramid

Why Goals Are Important

A three-year study of young professionals published in 2005 found that people who set personal goals experienced improved well-being, work satisfaction, and career success[1]. These are very good reasons to set goals, but there’s even more.

The different types of goals also form a natural order. Tasks are on the bottom and support your milestones. Next up are milestones, their roll is identify the major steps that ultimately lead to achieving your vision.

Another important point about the natural order between tasks, milestones, and vision is the interaction between the different layers. When you organize your goals into vision, milestones, and tasks, you are creating a kind of visual graphic, something your creative mind loves to work on. As your thoughts switch back and forth between the different layers, it spawns creative insights.

Goals Pyramid - Insights Goals Ice cream pyramid

 For example:  The vision scoop on top gives you direction, helps you plan, and motivates you to apply consistent effort. In other words, to have grit. You will need grit because those visions are often years into the future. Cultivating a vivid vision improves the likelihood of success. And creating a vision also causes you to start thinking about what’s needed to achieve it. This helps you identify milestones and tasks.

The milestone layer not only supports your vision, it helps clarify it. As you think about the milestones needed to reach your vision and switch your thoughts back and forth between vision and the milestones, you will begin to see gaps, redundancies, and have new insights. This creative loop adds clarity to your vision and helps you build your path forward.

Finally, there are the numerous, every-day, vanilla tasks. Not only do they play a critical role in achieving your milestones, but they also enable your vision to come true. This time, the back and forth pattern is most prominent between tasks and milestones. This is very helpful in deciding what tasks to spend our precious time on each day. Using goals, leveraging their natural order and interactions helps time from just slipping away.

Once you know the structure of goals, and their back and forth relationship, you can use that knowledge to improve and smooth your path to success.

Pursuing your vision, milestones, and tasks make life fun and rewarding. Its a lot easier to work on boring, everyday tasks when you know how they fit into the big picture. Completing tasks and reaching milestones sets up a cycle of progress that adds variety and anticipation to life. It’s fun and rewarding to accomplish even little tasks when you see how they are powering your progress.

Goals example

An area that concerns many people is their financial security. Below are the results of a short, five-minute brainstorming session on the topic.

Financial brainstorming

Reaching one million dollars in a 401(k) by retirement is pretty common advice, so is living debt-free, and paying off the car.

By converting our ice cream sundae example into a form, we can start organizing our brainstorming using the vision, milestone, task pattern. (You can download a free copy of the form here).

Goals Pyramid Example

Let’s pull a few ideas from our brainstorming to start creating a vision. Ideas like: “Live a middle-class life, whether financial challenges and enjoy retirement.” With our vision in place, let’s look for a milestone to work on.

Dave Ramsey is well known for helping millions of people achieve financial security. According to Dave, creating an emergency fund is a critical first step. And the reason is simple. The number one reason people stop working toward financial security is due to a major unforeseen expenses. Without an emergency fund, when faced with a big car repair or surprise medical bill, people are forced to use a credit card, and that just spirals them deeper into debt.

Having a $1,000 emergency fund is a very important milestone on the way to financial security. But how do you find an extra $1,000 when you have a lot of debt? That is where tasks come in.

Here are some tasks that relate to our new milestone of having a $1,000 emergency fund:

1. Create a budget.

It’s impossible to make good choices without basic facts. A budget will give you a firm starting point. It may not be pretty, but it’s a critical task. For a free guide, check out Dave Ramsey’s Guide to Budgeting. Dave also has an easy to use Monthly Cash Flow Plan that can be very helpful.

2. Sell some stuff.

Most of us accumulate a lot of possessions over time. Fishing rods we never use, bicycles, old cell phones, even old stuffed animals, and they all can be turned into cash.

3. Earn extra income.

Turn some of your leisure time into cash. Retailers are constantly looking for dependable part-time help. If you are handy, you could pick up some home repair, painting, or landscaping jobs around the neighborhood.

You might have noticed that “Selling some stuff”, and “Earn extra income”, weren’t on our brainstorming list. That’s because they resulted from thinking about creating a $1,000 emergency fund. It’s an example of the insights created from the back and forth thinking between tasks and milestones.

Why is Goal Setting Important?

Setting up a Goal goals boosts your creativity and opens the door to new solutions. Setting up a Goal Pyramid, is like creating your own game.  As you organize your goals and allow your imagination to move back and forth between vision, milestones and tasks you will discover new insights and opportunities.

As the game progresses, your vision becomes clearer, and your path more defined. Over time, as you complete tasks and achieve milestones, you will move closer and closer to your vision, until it finally comes true.

To help you organize your goals, I’ve created a Free PDF of the Goal Pyramid.

I am curious about how you will use the Goal Pyramid. What new insights did you find by thinking about the interactions between vision, milestones, and tasks? Let me know in the comments below.

[1] Bettina S. Wiese, Alexandra M Freund (2005). Goal progress makes one happy, or does it? Longitudinal findings from the work domain. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, June 20

Learn More About Voycoo

Voycoo is a To-Do List with a twist.

To find out how Voycoo can help you define your vision and take steps every day to reach it, visit the link below.

Principles of Life And How to Create Your Own

Principles of Life and How to Create Your Own

Principles of life, Isaac Newton and the apple

Isaac Newton & gravity

What Are Principles?

The world is a network of cycles and patterns.  Things like, the time between meals, the passing of the seasons or the ups and downs of economies.  For example, one principle, based on thousands of generations of experience, is that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. 

Principles are like formulas that predict how things behave.  But here is the fun part.  You can also use principles to assist you in solving seemingly unrelated problems.    

Say you were in a rowboat, adrift on the ocean.  The lone survivor after your ship went down.  You had food and water, but no compass, radio or cellphone.   Without a reference point, you would probably just row in circles till your food and water ran out.  But knowing just two additional things can help you out.  One was that ancient principle about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  The other is you know the port you sailed from was in the east.  Knowing the sun follows the same pattern every day, you decide to row into the sun in the morning, then in the afternoon, row away from the sun.  Following this simple procedure will eventually lead you to safety.

For almost every cycle or pattern, there is a principle that can help you get where you want to go.

Examples of Principles

Scrum cycle


In 2001, a group of seventeen software developers published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development (1).  That manifesto includes the developer’s principles for creating software.  Their principles are:

  • Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
  • Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months)
  • Close, daily cooperation between businesspeople and developers
  • Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress
  • Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  • Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  • Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  • Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly

In the early years of Microsoft Windows, a new version was released every year or two.  All too often, these upgrades resulted in crashed computers, lost data and frustrated customers.  The programing steps to create these early versions were mapped out in great sequential detail that spanned months or years.  Unfortunately, things like hardware improvements, programing bugs, or changing customer needs, could upset the entire timeline and cause additional programing that delayed the software release for months.  Sometime around 2014, Microsoft started adopting an Agile approach.  Today, Microsoft updates the Windows 10 application or security modules every few weeks.  This frequent delivery of usable software is a core part of Agile’s principles.

Financial success

Ray Dalio, ranked as the top hedge fund manager of all time, has built his fortunes by creating and using principles.  Ray didn’t start at the top, he built his way there by studying his successes and mistakes, finding the root causes and devising principles to help him make better decisions in the future.  As a sample, here’s Ray’s principle for getting what you want out of life (2):

Use the 5-Step Process to Get What You Want Out of Life

  1. 1
    Have clear goals
  2. 2
    Identify and don’t tolerate problems
  3. 3
    Diagnose problems to get at their root causes
  4. 4
    Design a plan
  5. 5
    Push through to completion

This is just one set of principles that Ray uses.  He has many others that contribute to his success.  Principles covering things like:

  • Life Principles
  • Work Principles
  • Building and Evolving Your Machine

So far, we’ve looked at how principles help castaways, software developers and an investor.  Here’s one last example of principles at work. 

Design Principles

Have you ever noticed how Apple’s logo has evolved over time? (3)  It’s a great example of design principles at work.  Whether designing a logo, an advertisement for a product, or a poster for an event, designers use design principles to make their work engaging and memorable.  Some common principles of design are:   

  • Unity/harmony
  • Balance
  • Hierarchy
  • Scale/proportion
  • Dominance/emphasis
  • Similarity and contrast

Combining design principles with elements like color, line, shape and space, help Designers craft images that cause us to pause and take in their message.  Whether an ancient cave painting of bison, or a poster for the latest blockbuster movie, the principles of good design repeat themselves over and again.  And situations that repeat themselves are the perfect place to utilize principles.

How to create your own principles

How will you use principles?

Everyone's needs are different.  Would you like to use your principles to help you personal life, work life or both.  This question is key.  You might have noticed in Ray Dailo's example, he created principles that covered both his work and personal life.  Over time, as I focused on understanding my principles they evolved that way too.  I find there is so much overlap between my personal life and work, that to be the person I want to be, it's advantageous to merge them.

Research and gather ideas

Next, do an internet search on related topics like: “religious principles”, “business principles”, “scientific principles”, “writing principles” “_____________ principles”.  Just about any topic will result in many, many ideas.  You can print these off and use them as idea starters in the next step, brainstorming.


This process gives you the freedom to generate a lot of ideas.  To start the process: locate a pen, some sticky notes and a quiet room with a blank wall.  It can also be helpful to ask a few people you trust to join your brainstorming session.  They can build enthusiasm, offer different points of view and prevent self-editing.  Make sure everyone understands that in the brainstorming session, there are no bad ideas.  The goal is to jot down as many ideas on sticky notes as possible in the time you allow.  As far as time goes, I suggest no more than thirty to forty minutes. 


After a short break of ten minutes or so, return to the wall and organize the stickies into groups.  As you start to organize the stickies, you will notice themes or groups developing.  Don’t worry about being absolutely correct or overthink this step.  The purpose of using stickies is to allow you to easily move things around.  If you see new patterns of themes developing later on, it’s easy to adjust.


The next step is to review your principle and make it shine.  Look over each of your groups and write its essence down on a new sticky note.  It’s important to write several versions, each on a separate sticky note.  Try rearranging the words or testing the sentence with your experience.  You may want to let these ideas marinate for a day or two and then revisit them with fresh eyes.  When you're done, it will feel right and sound right too.


The last step is to place your principles someplace where they are easy to access.  This could be on a wall near your desk, in a notebook or, on Voycoo's dedicated principals page. 

Some other reasons to consult your principles are:

  • When looking for shortcuts or solutions to problems
  • When facing work related obstacles
  • Exploring how to respond to challenging world events
  • When an unexpected event turns your personal world upside down
  • Principles are helpful in creating your own personal vision

 Defining your principles before you need them and having them close at hand, provides you with a valuable tool to save time, avoid known problems, and improve your results.  

Leave a Comment

I'm always curious to hear what you think.  What are some of your favorite principles?  Has there been times principles have really helped you?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.


(1) Agile software development, Wikipedia

(2) Principles by Ray Dalio - Summary

(3) Evolution of Apple’s logo

Make Better Decisions by Defining Your Personal Ethics

Make Better Decisions by Defining Your Personal Ethics


Have you heard of The Butterfly Effect?

Imagine for a moment a butterfly beating its wings as it crosses a meadow full of wildflowers.  Each beat sets the surrounding air in motion creating little swirls of movement.  One of those swirls nudges a pocket of warm meadow air into motion taking along with it a column of moist meadow air. 

Over the next week or so more moist air is lifted up until a thunderstorm forms, and ultimately spawning a tornado.  All this from the graceful beating of two small wings.

Our decisions are like the Butterfly Effect.  The beat of our life, our decisions, therefore influencing our overall happiness. 

An Example of Personal Ethics

(or not)

Have you ever found money laying on the floor?  Maybe it was at work or while shopping?  Ever had a friend become upset and insult you during what started out as an interesting political discussion?  You receive a small inheritance and could put it toward retirement or buy a new car.  In each of these cases, what do you do?

So, do you try to find the owner of the money?  Give it to the staff at the information desk?  Do you pocket it and celebrate your good fortune with a delicious Mocha Latte?

On the way back to your car, enjoying your Latte, did you pretend not to notice the mother and daughter searching the spot where you found the money?  Did you feel it, that tinge?

Knowing your ethics helps you make better decisions.  And when you chose poorly, gives you a base to make better choices in the future.

Ethics are like a mountain that lifst you up.  From higher ground horizons are wider, your vision clearer.

From a strong foundation you can reach the stars.

What are Personal Ethics?

Personal ethics

-moral principles that frame your world and guide your decisions.

Let’s go deeper into personal ethics and explore what they are.  Ethics are principles for determining correctness, what’s best, what’s right.

Ethics help you make better decisions, evaluate people and situations and have better results.  A trick Aristotle used was to select words triggering larger ethical principles and concepts.

Aristotle used four simple words as the basis for his personal ethics.  His choices were:

  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Courage
  • Justice

Personal ethics encapsulate your True Beliefs.  Knowing your truth and living it leads to a happier life. 

Why are Ethical Decisions Important?

In his book Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote that "living well and doing well are the same as being happy".  Don't you find yourself happy when you are being true to yourself and immersed in whatever you are doing?  Even work?

Your ethics provide insight into your past, give meaning to your present, and foretell your future.

Pondering our ethics for even a moment changes us. There’s that jagged tinge of regret for a past shortcoming. An ongoing internal debate about our next move. A sense of wellbeing from decisions grounded in who we really are.

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."  -Aristotle   Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions]

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”


Ethical principles could be single word or take the form of a short phrase or motto.  Whatever form they take, they help you choose the right course, your next step.  No two people need the same ethics.  One person might place a high emphasis on “Courage”, while someone else might to prefer the word “Valor”.

Understanding your personal ethics can:

  • Help you make better decisions.
  • Help you chart your own course.
  • Help you learn from your past.

What are Value Ethics?

Aristotle was a philosopher who lived 2,300 years ago.  He developed a system for making decisions based on an individual’s unique character and principles.  He called this philosophy Value Ethics.

Aristotle taught that decisions based on four key ethics lead to a happier life.  Those ethics are: prudence, temperance, courage, and justice.[1]  We don’t use words like prudence and temperance very often, so here are the definitions for you.

Prudence, seeing ahead, wisdom, good judgment caution, training ourselves to use reason.

Temperance, moderation in action, restraint.


Courage, bravery, confronting uncertainty, moral strength.


Justice, being fair, impartial, just, conforming to laws, taking right action.


For over 2,000 years people have followed Aristotle’s lead and weighed their decisions against their ethical values. 

Reference:  [1] Aristotelian ethics

How to Create a List of Your Own Personal Ethics

The fastest way to create a list of personal ethics is to use Aristotle's Value Ethics.  

Another option is to create your own list of ethical trigger words.  To help with that I've created a spreadsheet containing over 75 words that describe ethical principles.  The spreadsheet will help you find those 4-7 words that define your own personal ethics.

To create your own personal ethics list, join my list.

How to Make Better Decisions

Your personal ethics acts as a filter. Now that you have your own list of personal ethics, you can use it to gage events, people and decisions.

Take for example a decision at work. Let's say your boss assigns you the task of meeting with an unhappy customer. You’ve heard the customer is upset and wants immediate action and solutions. You know the first step should be a phone call, but you hesitate. You’ve never done something like this before.

That hesitation is a signal to take a moment and consider your course of action.

Let’s say your list of ethics are:


You quickly run through your list of ethics. Considering the current situation, here’s some actions they inspire.

Friendly: Be friendly, let the customer know you are on their side.

Courageous: You have done difficult things before. Facing difficulties has always helped you grow.

Generous: You can do more than the customer expects. Don’t tell them how to solve the problem, personally solve if for them. You can work through your company’s bureaucracy easier than they can.

Fair: What is a fair solution for them and your company?

Detached: Remain detached from the outcome. You know the customer is upset. Remaining detached allows you to be objective and calm. Your calm approach will help calm the customer.

Determined: Resolve and be determined in solving this problem. It might take several calls and some footwork on your part. Your determination will help win the customer’s trust and reduce their frustration.

This line of thought can happen quickly. Creative solutions appear immediately as you consider each of your ethics. Instead of worrying, procrastinating and making things worse. You can quickly create a course of action. A set of easy to follow steps. Steps that ring with honesty because they are based on what you truly believe.

Daily events like this help you develop your ethic muscles. The more you practice, the more you become the person you want to be.

Ethics and Decision Making Wrap up

Sound ethics is a cornerstone of your happiness. Your personal ethics solidifies what’s important and defines the kind of person you become.

You may choose to adopt Aristotle’s four ethical principles or select principles with a unique personal flavor. What’s important is that they trigger thoughts of what’s correct, what’s best, what’s right.

Our choices can spawn tornadoes or clear blue skies. Filtering your decisions through your personal ethics can transform your life.

Your Next Step

Try using your list of ethics on a problem you’re facing. What new insights appear? What other uses can you think of for your list of ethics?

Let me know in the comments below!

The Value Of A Clear Vision

What I mean by vision

As I read and study successful people, I see the same pattern over and over.  They all have a clear and simple vision.  Of course, I’m not talking eyesight here.  I mean the mental picture of where they see themselves going or how the world could be different.  Having a clear vision is the cornerstone of any important work.  With it you stay focused and make steady progress.  Without it, we tend to wander or even worse, follow others.

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