Today I got really bold.

When Goals Hold You Back: Essences First


Today I got really bold. I stopped putting my life on hold.As a life coach, I’m all for goals… except when they start becoming a reason to put your life on hold. If you’re waiting to experience freedom, confidence, joy, or fun until you accomplish whatever goals you’re working on, you may be putting the cart before the horse. Or, more specifically, the goals before the essences.

What are essences? Essences are your purest, simplest, deepest desires. They are the reason behind every goal you can think of. An “essence” is the Why behind your What.

Essences aren’t the same as core values (principles you uphold that form your moral compass). Essences are qualities and experiences you want more of in your daily life. There may be some overlap with your values, but some values are things that we want for everyone, not just ourselves. Each essence is something you define for yourself, and some are more important than others.

As you define yours, make sure you’re not selecting ones that are means to an end. For example, you may be tempted to put “Courage” as one of your essences. Is it the feeling and experience of courage that you want more of in your life, or do you want courage so that you can experience something else? That “something else” is an essence, and courage is just one of the resources you’ll use to build that essence into your life.

Your essences are the evidence and legacy of a life well lived.

How to Name Your Essences

To find your essences and make sure they’re leading the way, you may need to do a little digging. I have an exercise that can help.

The 9 Whys is a group facilitation exercise I learned from Liberating Structures, which was created by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz. In addition to my coaching work, I provide facilitation services to nonprofits, local government departments, and community coalitions. One of the most powerful resources I bring is inviting them to remember – or in some cases reinvent – their purpose.

It’s easy for people to get caught up in their day to day work and forget the point of it all. Why are we doing this work? Why does it matter?

When groups get disconnected from their Why, everything gets harder. The path to action gets fuzzy. Relationships falter. Goals go unmet. Holding patterns keep them stuck.

The same is true in our own lives.

I’ve adapted the 9 Whys exercise to apply it to individuals who may be feeling stuck or on hold.


Think about something you really want to do or have in your life.

Now ask yourself why that’s important to you.  Then ask why that’s important to you.

And, why is THAT important to you?

You get the idea. Keep going, peeling the layers until you get to the essence of your Why.

If you do this with every goal you have, you may end up with several essences. And then you’re ready for something life changing.


Hold your goals lightly but your essences tightly. Release attachment to your goals. They aren’t nearly as important as your essences. Any goal you may be focused on at the moment is simply one possible path to your true desires (essences).

Furthermore, your goals have been born out of what you currently know to be possible and who you are right now. As you evolve, it’s important to allow your goals to evolve.

I’m not saying you should throw your goals out the window and keep changing them every year. That’s not going to get you anywhere. I’m inviting you to prioritize your essences over your goals.

So, for just a moment, forget about your goals. Starting with each essence you identified, ask yourself, what would be the best way for me to have more of this essence in my life this year? This month? Right now? 

This line of inquiry does two very important things:

1. It puts your essences in the driver’s seat. When your goals flow from your deepest desires, your intentions and actions will be better aligned with the energy you need to propel you forward.

2. It allows you to start living in new ways now. There’s no need to wait until your goals are fulfilled. Essences are needs we can build now by focusing on them and creating opportunities each and every day to have those experiences.


Take action on something that will help you experience more of at least one of your essences this week. Then be sure to track your essences over time and watch how your ability to consciously tend to them will grow the things that matter most.


Goals are important to have, but they require planning, action steps, and at least a few factors that are outside our control. Essences speak to the overall, big picture experiences you desire. They’re about quality of life, not about specific, limited benchmarks. Lead with them and you can’t go wrong.

There are thousands of ways – big and small – to experience your essences without waiting a single moment more.

Here are examples of essences that may resonate with you:



Loving Relationships

Meaningful Work




Spiritual Connection

Physical Health


Personal Power




Sense of Community


Essences Worksheet and Tracking Log


Click here for instant access to the Essences Worksheet and Tracking Log (free, of course).

I love what one of my community members said after trying it out:

“I scheduled a reminder in my google calendar to re-do my essences today. I did these ratings ‘blind’ to my former ones … so it was amazing to see that Success (one of my essences) jumped from 1 to 7. Like holy crap, really?”

One of the core manifestation principles is that what you focus on will grow. Identifying your essences and tracking them over time is an easy and effective way to manifest them. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!


DEBBIE LACY is the author and creator of Ready, Set, Manifest!™, a paradigm and set of skills that helps people get from where they are to where they want to be. Debbie’s private Facebook group is a place where people can get the tools and support to manage their fears, take action, and have the life they’ve been dreaming about.

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