Leonard N. Matheson, Ph.D.


The goaling process is an important part of the work capacity evaluation. It is defined as the process of identification and development of primary goals. The goaling process assists the disabled person to:

  1. Establish a future orientation;
  2. Develop a shared reality base;
  3. Begin to receive positive feedback from his communications network.

A goal is defined as a distinct, complete, and clear communication about one factor that makes life more satisfying. Goals fit within a context between purpose and objectives.

Purpose is what gives life meaning. Many people are not consciously aware of their purpose. Some people who are consciously aware of their purpose have accepted purpose offered by others (e.g., religious leaders). Development of purpose is a task that begins in early adulthood and, for many, is never completed. Purpose is often difficult to know. One’s purpose may be great or small, expansive or narrow. Purpose is primarily a reflection of the person. Purpose affects the direction of life through its effect on one’s selection of goals. One can get closer to one’s purpose by moving towards one’s goals. Goals help to form purpose.

Objectives are statements about what one can achieve while goals are statements about what one has the potential to achieve. Objectives are the practical implementation of one’s goals. Objectives should be realistic while goals should, as one of my injured workers once told me, have realistic potential. If one can think of oneself as having an expectation horizon, that is, a range within which one expects one to perform or achieve, objectives are set at that horizon while goals are set just beyond the horizon.

Value of Goaling

Goaling is important because it expands the value (to the evaluee) of the work hardening process. What is the goal of the individual who enters the work capacity evaluation process? Several goals are routinely identified:

  1. To maintain my temporary disability payments.
  2. To find a job.
  3. To get out of the house and away from my spouse.
  4. To meet the expectations of my spouse, family, attorney, etc.
  5. To find out what I can do.
  6. To find a cure.
  7. To get control of my symptoms.
  8. To see if I can increase my disability award.
  9. To return to work.

Each of these goals is inadequate. None of these is a distinct, complete, and clear communication about one factor that makes life more satisfying.

Components of Goals

What are the components of a good goal? Keep in mind that the goal is a message which is intended to communicate. In order to promote communication, the goaling process utilizes the following rules:

  1. Each goal is presented in a separate sentence.
  2. Each sentence is composed of a verb and an object.
  3. Each verb is used in its present tense.
  4. Each object is clearly defined so as to be understandable.
  5. Negative goals are not allowed.

The goaling process has these steps:

  1. Goal identification and goal list development interview.
  2. Least important to most important prioritization of the goal list.
  3. Review and modification of the goals based upon the goalee’s consultation with one or two significant others.
  4. Formal drawing up of the goaling document with each of the goals listed in order from most important to least important.
  5. Publication of the goal list with distribution to 20 significant others and /or individuals within the goalee’s community.

Goaling Case Example

Goaler: I have a piece of paper and a pencil here and I’m going to print on the top of the paper, “What I want most out of life” and under that your name and today’s date. I want you to begin to tell me what you want most out of life and I will copy your answers down here.

Goalee: I don’t want anything out of life. I just want to be able to support my family.

Goaler: That’s a good goal, let me write that down here. “To be able to support my family.” What does that mean to you?

Goalee: Well I can’t earn anything less than 8 bucks an hour.

Goaler: Okay, income is important. Let me list it here in terms of how much money you want to make in a year now and how much money you want to make per year two years from now

Goalee: Well, I don’t know, just 8 bucks an hour.

Goaler: Well, is that 8 bucks an hour for 40 hours per week for 52 weeks per year?

Goalee: No, I was in construction and when the weather was real bad we didn’t work and didn’t get paid.

Goaler: Okay, in the best year that you had over the past 3 years before you got hurt, how much money did you earn?

Goalee: Well, I really don’t have any idea.

Goaler: Well, let’s try to figure it out. Let’s take 8 bucks an hour and multiply it by your typical work week. How many hours per week did you work and how many weeks per year did you work during your best year?

Goalee: Well I put in a 40-hour week and I probably worked 9 months out of the year.

Goaler: Okay, that’s $8 per hour times 40 hours per week which is $320 per week, times 39 weeks (which is 9 months). That comes out to $12,480 for that year. Does that sound about right?

Goalee: Well, that sounds a little low, but it’s close.

Goaler: Okay, why we don’t we say “I want to earn $13,000 per year now,” and how much would you like to earn 2 years from now?

Goalee: Oh, I don’t know, I never really thought about it.

Goaler: Well, why don’t we say that you can earn 20% more 2 years from now than you can right now? That would be $15,600 per year 2 years from now. How does that sound?

Goalee: Yeah, that sounds pretty good actually.

Goaler: Okay, let’s list those as separate goals:

  • To be able to earn $13,000 per year now.
  • To be able to earn $15,600 per year in two years.

In what other ways do you want to provide for your family?

Goalee: Well, I don’t know. Benefits I guess.

Goaler: Okay, let’s say: “To be able to have health insurance for my family.” Let’s also say: “To be able to have a retirement program.” How do these things sound?

Goalee: Yeah, those are all real important to me.

Goaler: What else do you want from a job?

Goalee: How about job security? Job security is real important to me right now.

Goaler: What do you mean by job security? There are several ways in which you can get security out of a job. You have to tell me exactly what security means to you.

Goalee: Well, I want to have a job in which I really know what I’m doing and I would be difficult to replace.

Goaler: Okay, that sounds like two goals to me. Let’s go ahead and list them this way:
“To work in a job in which I would be very difficult to replace.” The next would be: “To be able to do my job very well.” How do those sound?

Goalee: Yeah, those sound real good too. How about: “To be able to advance in my job?” That’s something that I wasn’t able to do in my old job and I’d really kind of like.

Goaler: Okay, let’s go ahead and list that: “To be able to advance in my job.”

Goalee: Yeah that sounds real good. I guess that’s all there is, I can’t think of anything else. That’s a pretty good list though.

Goaler: Well actually there are only seven goals listed here and we really want to come up with fifteen. Here are some suggestions about what other people have come up with as goals before:

  1. To have status in my community.
  2. To be recognized by my boss for the good work that I do.
  3. To have the opportunity to supervise others.
  4. To have the opportunity to avoid supervising others.
  5. To work in a job that is safe.
  6. To work in a job that is within my physical capabilities.
  7. To have the opportunity to receive training in my job.
  8. To work within 30 minutes of home.
  9. To work within (my city).
  10. To work outdoors.
  11. To work indoors.
  12. To work with my hands.
  13. To use my work experience.
  14. To work daytime hours so that I can be with my kids.
  15. To work nighttime hours to avoid being with my kids.
  16. To have a profit sharing plan
  17. To be on a commission plus a draw.
  18. To work with people of my own race.
  19. To work with people of my own sex.
  20. To be able to travel as part of my work.

(In this way the goaler assists the goalee to develop goals that are distinct and clearly understandable. Each of the goals is written in pencil so that it can be easily revised.)

Backward Prioritization

After the goal list is drawn up, the list is given to the goalee who is given the instruction to:

select the goal that is fifteenth most important on this list and put a 15 next to it. After that, select the item that is fourteenth most in important and put a 14 next to it. In this way, come up from least important to identify the goal that is most important.

Goalee: Okay, but lots of these look like they’re of the same importance.

Goaler: No, that’s not possible. Let’s go ahead and set it up so that one goal is always more important and one goal is always less important. There are never any ties. All of these goals have some importance and some of them are very important. But one of them will be most important and one of them will be least important. Being least important does not mean that it is unimportant. It means that other goals are more important.

After the goalee has finished this initial prioritization, a photocopy is made of the goal list for the goaler’s files. The goalee is sent home with the original goal list and told to review it with one or two significant others and return with it in a day or two. When the goalee returns with the initial goal list that he has reviewed with one or two significant others, the list is reviewed by the goaler and a typed copy is made with each of the goals in prioritized order from most to least important.

Publishing the Goal List

The goaler produces 20 copies of this goal list and provides them to the goalee. The goalee is instructed to tape one of these to his refrigerator door and distribute all of the remaining copies to his significant others or other people in his community. Most goalees will balk at this and must be firmly encouraged to follow through. Most goalees complain that they do not have 20 people in their community to whom they can distribute the goal list. The goaler must work with the goalee to identify people that can be used in this way. This part of the goaling process has two important results. The first is that it can help the goalee to maintain a realistically potential stance in terms of goal development. If goals are defined as existing just beyond one’s horizons, how does one know when one is too far beyond one’s horizons? In practice, it seems that the goalee’s expectation that he will be distributing the goal list to 20 people in his community is a moderating influence and helps to avoid the establishment of goals that are ridiculous. The second important reason for undertaking the publication of the Goal List is to expand the goalee’s perception of his community and to assist that community to redefine itself as one which is supporting the goalee’s stated goals rather than other potentially destructive or dysfunctional goals that individual members of the community or the community as a whole may possess. The goaler must keep in mind that the goalee is firmly rooted in his or her own community and will continue to respond to this community long after the goaler’s influence can be felt. Everything that can be done to orient and focus the goalee’s community upon healthy and appropriately designed goals should be done.

Most goalees approach the goaling process with considerable incredulity and, especially in the early stages, are somewhat bemused by the exercise. Much of the potential for benefit from this process will come from the goaler’s commitment to the process. For this reason, for maximum benefit, every goaler should have gone through the goaling process. It is simply not one of those aspects of life that one can learn sufficiently by reading about it, although the temptation is certainly very real. The goaler who has participated in the goaling process will learn that

  1. Goals are powerful forces in one’s life which serve to limit, direct, and drive one’s energies.
  2. Of fifteen goals that are developed in a typical goal List, 12 or 13 of them will be realized within two years.
  3. Goals will tend to be organized into major categories.
  4. The major categories in which goals will tend to be organized begin to define one’s purpose in life.

The author has developed the goaling process out of his own experience with the value and power of goals. The success of the process appears to be directly tied to the thoroughness with which it is carried out.