39 Goals: A Framework to Realign Your Direction in Life

guide Feb 12, 2020

Everyone has dreams.

Personal Goals: Everyone has aspirations (source: dilbert.com)

Turning dreams into actionable goals can help you get there.

Basics: Direction Is Important

If you are pointing in the wrong direction you’ll miss your target.

"Speed is dangerous if you move in the wrong direction." - ....
“Speed is dangerous if you move in the wrong direction.” – ….

My direction was wrong. It (1) was set by others and (2) was not aligned with my personal goals.

39 Goals: Your Compass

In 2010 I met 2 Dream Developers – Hermann & Katzi from DreamAcademia – who helped me nudge my life into the right direction.

DreamAs: Katzi & Hermann (source: Jure Vukadin Photography)
DreamAs: Katzi & Hermann (source: Jure Vukadin Photography)

The most impactful tool they introduced me to was a goal-setting framework with a simple premise: Writing down 39 goals/dreams is all you need to do.

It sounded easy. It wasn’t.

Why 39?

  • 39 is an odd number, you’ll remember it
  • 39 is large enough that you run out of high-level goals (e.g. ‘travel the world’, ‘be healthy’, ‘be successful’) quickly
  • 39 forces you to break down high-level goals into smaller, more achievable goals


  • Checks Pulse:What are my current priorities?” “Where are my goal destinations?” “Where am I relative to where I want to arrive?” It’s not dissimilar to stopping and looking at the compass to confirm your trajectory.
  • Clarifies Ideas: Writing is thinking – sometimes surprising goals surface by doing this exercise
  • Creates Purpose: The 39-goals are a great ‘task list’ to execute towards

How To: Setting Goals


When introducing this concept to my friends, I frequently get a variation of the following question:

What type of goals should I write down? Should it be long-term goals/dreams (i.e. live on an island) or short-term tasks (i.e. do laundry)?

Hermann & Katzi introduced the framework as a ‘list of your biggest dreams’. The idea is to verbalize seemingly unachievable goals to start deconstructing and potentially finding attainable sub-goals, which help you moving in the right direction.

Turning Dreams Into Goals
Turning Dreams Into Goals

My initial list featured the following:

  • Live in Berlin – broken down from the abstract goal of “travel the world” // still somewhat ‘abstract’ since the definition of “live” was not totally clear
  • Live in London
  • Live in Paris
  • Live in New York
  • Talk to 10 strangers – to get more comfortable in new social settings
  • Do 80 push-ups in a row – arbitrary health goal. didn’t require a gym and I could do it at home

After comparing my status quo to my ‘dream list’ I realized that my life was not aligned with my personal vision, hence I changed (quit my job + moved to a new city).


I use pen and paper to create my list of 39.

It avoids digital distractions and I can hang the list in my bedroom (visible on a daily basis).

I use the piece of paper in landscape format and divide it into four quadrants. Each quadrant holds 10 goals – only the last one holds 9.

How (continued)

My personal addition: I pick a focus for each quadrant.


  • Fitness/Health
  • Creativity
  • Work/Career
  • Finance
  • Social

Usually I select the focus areas depending on where I see ‘room for improvement’. This ties also ties back to my annual review.

39 Goals: Framework (Cheat Sheet)
39 Goals: Framework (Cheat Sheet)


It is an iterative process now: goals change. It is almost like ‘personal OKRs‘ – a regular check in with yourself.

I usually do this exercise every six months since by now I set stretch goals, which are realistically achievable in the short- to mid-term.

After having achieved a handful of dreams from my initial list I set my goals now as a mix of tactical chores (e.g. finalize tax return), some realistic goals (i.e. complete 1 illustration course) and some stretch goals (i.e. DJ in a new city).

Bottomline: Destination, Direction, Action

Know your destination, then start moving in the right direction.

  • Destination: Complete the exercise to identify your goals
  • Direction: Set smart goals to have an actionable task list
  • Action: Similar to OKRs // even if you don’t achieve 100% it’s a move in the right direction


  • Goals vs. Systems (Scott Adams) – Interesting article about designing ‘habit systems’
  • GTD in 15 Minutes (Erling Hamberg) – Good introduction into Getting-Things-Done Methodology // loosely related to this topic


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