Goal Hierarchy - What is it and why should I spend time thinking about it?

Goals1 are hierarchical. All goals fall into tiers - you may or may not be conscious of this. There are tactical goals - your To Dos or action items. There are top-level goals - about your identity, meaning and purpose in life or about the legacy you want to leave behind. And there are levels bridging the two.

Here is one possible Goal hierarchy set2, starting from tactical at Level 1 to a top-level goal at Level 7.

  1. Write a blog post today. (Tactical)
  2. Cultivate the practice of writing blog posts everyday.
  3. Practice curiosity in public - learn in public.
  4. Practice adventure in public - share your learning process, your thoughts, be bold and see which unknown paths this takes you.
  5. Practice contribution - ship what you learn and make and contribute back.
  6. Find your tribe - the people who believe in curiosity and adventure and contribution
  7. Improve the community and lives of people by advocating for a life driven by curiosity and adventure and contribution. Offer them a complementary approach to live in a a capitalist, productivity driven, type A glorifying, fast changing world.

In this goal set, each level is a stepping stone towards the higher level. The top level goals are harder, there is no clear path to follow. You may have to trail blaze.

The lower levels provide immediate gratification. Higher levels are more work, more demanding, scarier - but provide immense gratification and meaning to our lives. They become the legacy we leave behind.

So when you plan your day, or your year, do you know what level the goals are and in what hierarchy they belong - since all goals live in a hierarchy, in relation to other goals.

Do you know how your tactical goal - “take my child to swim class” - affects a higher-level goal - “nurture openness, communication and bonding with my children so they are comfortable with me being in their lives as they grow up”?

Now, if you had to choose between you taking your child to swim class or your writing that blog post, what would you choose? And why? Which task is more crucial to to which of your long-term goals? Not doing what task has a huge impact on the long-term goal?

That is, when you have conflicting goals, how do you choose between them?

Well, once you figure out goal hierarchies, resolving goal conflict becomes that much easier. You make compromises knowing why you choose what you choose, and helps you plan for the consequences accordingly.


So go spend some time today thinking about your goals, writing them down in post-it notes and arrange them in hierarchies. Experience how the way to the peak appears.


  1. Angela Duckworth in this episode of Freakonomics talks about goal hierarchy, at about the 10min mark.

  2. A Vimeo video by Angela Duckworth


[1] Goal: Something you want to achieve
[2] Goal Hierarchy set: A set of goals, all helping to achieve one top-level goal, arranged in tiers.

May 17, 2021