APG Personal Application Guide

Your guide to applying the insights revealed by your APG results

Before proceeding with this Personal Application Guide,
please take the APG and have your APG results available.

You are about to immerse yourself in a process of self-discovery. Like reading a biography that touches on all phases of a person's life, you should go through this process slowly and savor the insights that you accumulate along the way. Take a few days or even a few weeks to complete the process. Each step is designed to help you better understand your goal-life alignment – one of the most significant contributors to success and life meaning, as explained in our comprehensive book, Motivating Self and Others: Thriving with Social Purpose, Life Meaning, and the Pursuit of Core Personal Goals (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Martin E. Ford, PhD
Peyton R. Smith

What you will get from this guide

The Assessment of Personal Goals (abbreviated as the APG) is designed to reveal your “implicit self” – the underlying themes that represent the “core” of your identity and personality from a motivational perspective. Why is this important? Very simply, self-awareness of core personal goals is an essential prerequisite for making life decisions that will bring you success and happiness. Learning how to identify circumstances that are aligned with your core personal goals – as well as those that may violate your core personal goals – is the key to making choices that will enable you to lead a life that is consistently satisfying and meaningful.

It’s up to you

The APG can reliably identify the thematic categories in which your most compelling personal goals are likely to be found. But only you can connect your core personal goal categories with your unique, “real-life” choices and circumstances. That is the purpose of this Personal Application Guide for the APG. This guide will take you from your APG results to an understanding of your goal-life alignment, now and in the future.

Make the connections to discover your Goal-Life Alignment

Learning how to connect your everyday decision making with your core personal goals requires effort and thoughtful reflection. We cannot just tell you how to do it. You have to experience the connecting process. The exercises in this Personal Application Guide will provide you with that experience.

One step at a time

For best results, proceed through each step at a relaxed pace and with an open mind. Don’t rush or superficially skim through any of the steps, as they are all important in getting you to your final destination, where you can experience deep insights about where your personal goals and life circumstances are aligned – or misaligned!

Starting the process – Take the APG

Have your APG results available for these exercises. Your APG results page shows you the strength of your personal investment in each of 24 basic human goal categories, while also grouping your APG scores into five columns from least important to most important. (See the interpretation key immediately following your results for descriptions of each grouping.) You can also find a definition of each of the 24 specific personal goal categories included in these groupings in Step 1 of this Personal Application Guide (below, where the Ford & Nichols Taxonomy of Human Goals is included to help you generate your list of “current personal goals”).

Understanding personal goals

Now that your APG scores are organized according to importance (on your APG results page) and you have reviewed the descriptions in the Taxonomy of Human Goals (please refer to Motivating Self and Others for additional background information), you are ready for a more detailed analysis of how your core personal goals (as revealed by the APG) map onto the goals that you are currently pursuing in your daily life. This will help you learn how to use the insights the APG offers to increase your motivation, effectiveness, and overall sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Before beginning your goal-life alignment analysis, you should keep in mind several key points about the essential nature of personal goals, starting with a basic definition.

Personal goals are thoughts — YOUR thoughts — about desired (and undesired) future outcomes. Goals are in your mind, not in the world. It may seem like goals are part of your external world, as we are all surrounded by possible goals suggested by the culture, the media, and the people we live and work with. However, none of these suggestions can become a personal goal until you make the outcomes they represent part of your own thinking about what you want or don’t want.

Clear goals you believe in — with feeling! — work best. Sometimes personal goals are not realistic (“wishes”) or they don’t fit your current circumstances. Sometimes your goal thoughts are simply too vague to effectively direct and organize your actions or they lack sufficient emotional energy to motivate action. But when your goals are clear and you judge them to be important and attainable, they will focus your attention and direct your thoughts and actions to try to achieve the results you desire.

Goals influence your behavior even when you don’t realize it. You do not have to be conscious of your goals for them to have an impact. But it can help a lot if you do consciously think about your goals from time to time as a way of ensuring that you are investing yourself in the goals that matter to you the most. That is one of the main reasons the Assessment of Personal Goals was created – to provide you with a psychometrically sound tool for helping you label and consciously think about your core personal goals, the goals that are truly the most important and meaningful to you. That is the key to aligning what you want with what you do.

You are now prepared to move to a step-by-step interpretation and analysis of your APG Results.

Step 1: Identify your current personal goals

Your objective for this step is to “brainstorm” as many of your current personal goals as possible. Remember, the personal goals you pursue in your daily life are far more specific than the thematic goal categories they fall under. So, for example, you would not list “Mastery” among your current personal goals, but rather goals like, “Pass my annual physical with flying colors” or “Improve my piano playing skills.”

Some people find it difficult to list their current personal goals because so much of what we do is an “automatic” part of our daily living. Here are three tools to assist you with this exercise.

  1. Goals are thoughts about the future

    For many of us, we don’t have a list of goals at the ready that we carry around with us. We may actually be “turned off” by the idea. Nevertheless, we all think about the future – that is how humans are designed. So if you experience difficulties listing “personal goals,” try instead to just list your thoughts about the future – the positive things you want to happen in different areas of your life and the negative things you are working to avoid.

  2. Goals are networked

    A network of goals in layers connected by lines going up, down, and across with varying numbers of connections on each.

    Goals are thoughts that are stored in our memories in vast hierarchical networks, as depicted on the right. Indeed, almost all of our goals are connected to other goals. So, for example, the goal of losing weight may have neural connections to sub-goals having to do with diet and exercise along with neural connections to “higher level” goals having to do with health and appearance.

    To help fuel your brainstorming efforts, review the goals you have listed and for each, ask yourself these two questions:

    First, “What other goals do I need to pursue or achieve in order to make progress on this goal?"

    Second, “What higher-level goals does this goal help support?"

    Answering these questions will help you see how your current personal goals are connected and organized in your mind.

  3. There are 24 categories of human goals

    As discussed earlier, all human goals can be traced back to one or more of the 24 goal themes described in the Ford & Nichols Taxonomy of Human Goals. In other words, all of our personal goals are derived from at least one — and often more than one — of these 24 goal themes. Therefore, we can use the category descriptions to help us remember our current personal goals.

Helpful tips for completing Step 1

  1. Do not worry if your goals overlap or even conflict with other personal goals you’ve listed. There are no “wrong answers”!
  2. You may express some of your goals as desired future outcomes and others as future outcomes that you want to avoid – either perspective is fine. Your objective for this exercise is to describe your life in terms of what you want and/or don’t want. Include everything!
  3. Your list does not need to be in any particular order.
  4. Your list of current personal goals should be comprehensive and “motivationally diverse.” For example, include hopes, dreams, and ambitions for which you have yet to develop plans. Include those “lofty” long-term goals that you think about from time to time as well as “everyday” short-term goals that you pursue often. Include goals that you are highly motivated to pursue, goals that seem more like chores to you, and goals that have been on your “to do list” for a while because you’ve been putting them off or focusing on other, more immediate priorities (which you can also include on your list!).
  5. List your personal goals from your entire “life spectrum” including, for example, your work, hobbies, family, friends, affiliations, self-improvement efforts, helping goals, etc.
  6. Try to generate as many goals as you can. You have unlimited space for this brainstorming task; simply print out the goal list page and use it as many times as you need.
  7. Consider asking your spouse/partner, friends, and other significant people in your life for their help in recalling current goals – but remember, these are your goals, not theirs.
  8. Keep in mind that many actions are just things that you do to progress toward your goals; they are not personal goals in and of themselves. When you think of the kinds of goals you are currently pursuing, your guiding question should be, “What am I trying to accomplish?” not “What am I doing?”
  9. Keep it “real”! Be careful not to write things down just because you think you are supposed to have those goals. Everything you write down should be something you actually want to happen (or not happen). To check on this, ask yourself as you write down each current personal goal, “Is this really a goal of mine?”
  10. For best results, please do not move beyond this step until you have finished with your list. When you can’t think of any more goals, put your list aside and work on it later (or better yet, sleep on it!).


Print out the Personal Goal List form below and hand write as many of your current personal goals as you can think of. Write them down as they occur to you in any order of importance on the lines beneath the heading, “My Current Personal Goals” (don’t worry about the columns labeled “T” and “C” for now).

Note that the life domains (shaded in blue, upper middle of the page) and the goal themes from the Taxonomy of Human Goals (shaded in orange, on the right) are there as reminders to help you think of as many current personal goals as you can.

Remember that your memory organizes goals in networks. For each goal you list, consider other “connected” goals. When you can’t think of any more, put your list aside and work on it later.

If you need more space, use the Print button to print out as many copies as you need.

Personal Goal List sample image

Before you begin Step 2

To successfully apply your APG results, it is essential that the list of current personal goals you generate in Step 1 be as thorough and comprehensive as possible. Therefore, we suggest that before moving on to Step 2, you review the “helpful tips” and instructions and think about whether you overlooked any noteworthy goals.

Step 2: Indicate how you spend your time

In this step, you will go back and review your list of current personal goals from Step 1. Using the rating scale shown below, indicate in the “T” column the relative amount of time you are currently spending on each goal.

During this exercise, if you think of additional current personal goals not on your list, take a moment to list them and then resume this step.


Using the rating scale below, enter a number in the “T” column from 1 (least amount of time) to 5 (greatest amount of time) for each of your current personal goals in Step 1.

1 – Almost no time spent thinking, planning, or acting on this goal as compared to other goals
2 – Very little time spent thinking, planning, or acting on this goal as compared to other goals
3 – Occasional time spent thinking, planning, or acting on this goal as compared to other goals
4 – Considerable time spent thinking, planning, or acting on this goal as compared to other goals
5 – Abundant time spent thinking, planning, or acting on this goal as compared to other goals

Step 3: Calculate your goal-life alignment

When people invest much of their time pursuing goals for which they feel little emotional energy, they will experience a sense of misalignment between their core personal goals and life circumstances. The same can be said for people who spend little time pursuing the goals in which they have the greatest emotional investment. It is therefore beneficial to explore precisely where alignment and misalignment may be occurring with respect to your broader core personal goal categories (as revealed by the APG). What time-consuming goal pursuits are doing little to fulfill your underlying core personal goals? And are you spending a lot of time pursuing goals that fall within your least favorite personal goal categories?

People who experience a high level of goal-life alignment are able to calibrate their time investment in current personal goals to approximately match the degree to which each goal seems important and emotionally compelling. For some people this “matching” process is intuitive and goal-life alignment is the norm. However, for most people achieving goal-life alignment on a consistent basis requires an effort to increase awareness of their core personal goals and when they are being fulfilled. It takes practice to be able to see when the “fit” is good and when current goal pursuits are misaligned with your core personal goals. It requires that people reflect on the emotions they experience in different kinds of circumstances, and then use those feelings to help guide their choices and investments of time and energy. Even people with high goal-life alignment can benefit from such practice and reflection.

Step 3 is designed to help you get a sense of how the process of matching personal goals to life circumstances and life opportunities works.


In this exercise, you will need the Goal-Life Alignment Calculator Form that you received as part of your APG results (all 3 copies, as needed).

Notice that your core personal goal categories (i.e., all of the “Highly Compelling” and “Very Important” personal goal categories from your APG results) are listed along the left side of the form.

  1. Using the slanted lines to the right, list all of your current personal goals that have a “T” (Time) rating of 4 or 5. If you have more than 10 goals with a “T” rating of 4 or 5, continue your list on the second (or third) copy of this form that you received with your APG results.

    Note that if you have more than 30 current personal goals with a “T” rating of 4 or 5, you will need to print out extra copies of your Goal-Life Alignment Calculator Form (if you saved your APG results) or make photocopies of one of your printed Goal-Life Alignment Calculator Forms before using it.
  2. Next, in each cell rate the impact that successful pursuit or attainment of each of your current personal goals would have with respect to your highest scoring APG personal goal categories listed below. Enter the sum of each column in the bottom row (where it says “Totals”).

    In each cell, use the following rating scale to complete the statement,

    “Attainment of this current personal goal {0, 1, or 2} this personal goal category.”

    0 – does not help fulfill
    1 – helps somewhat to fulfill
    2 – helps a lot to fulfill

Please see this example of a partially filled-out Goal-Life Alignment Calculator Form to make sure you are completing this step correctly.

Step 4: Analyze and interpret your goal-life alignment

In Step 3, you entered a goal fulfillment score in each cell and then computed column totals. The pattern of scores down each column (and across each row – see below) are the numbers you should focus on to learn how to size up the extent to which different kinds of goal pursuits can help you fulfill your core personal goals. Once you get a feel for looking at situations in terms of goal fulfillment, you can begin making decisions about goal investments based on the “emotional return” those investments are likely to yield (as predicted by your APG results). That’s the key to leading a life that is consistently satisfying and meaningful.


Print out (or Save and then Print) the Goal-Life Alignment Analysis Form below. Print out as many copies as you need to complete Parts 1 – 3.

Goal-Life Alignment Analysis Form sample image

Understanding the concept of Goal-Life Alignment

The area within the solid orange border below conceptually represents an individual’s core personal goals (i.e., the “Highly Compelling” and “Very Important” personal goal categories from their APG results). The area within the dotted blue border represents the person’s current personal goals. The middle section, where these two sets overlap (i.e., their intersection), can be thought of as an individual’s goal-life alignment. As the intersection expands, goal-life alignment increases. That in turn has a cascading positive impact on motivation, effectiveness, and life meaning.

The Red

The area on the left shaded in red represents time-intensive current personal goals that do not “help a lot” in fulfilling any of the individual’s core personal goals. The blank area directly beneath the red shading on the right is where less time-intensive, but equally unfulfilling current personal goals reside.

The Yellow

The area on the right shaded in yellow represents core personal goals that are generally being neglected in the context of an individual’s current goal pursuits. This area is referred to as “Missed Opportunity” to emphasize the notion of an under-investment of time in goal pursuits that are likely to be particularly satisfying and fulfilling.

The Green

The area shaded in green – the goal-life alignment “sweet spot” – includes time-intensive current personal goals that “help a lot” in fulfilling two or more of an individual’s core personal goals. The blank area directly beneath the green shading is where current personal goals reside that fulfill just one core personal goal, or that fulfill multiple core personal goals but without a strong time commitment. Pursuit of these “below the green” personal goals is also likely to be quite rewarding, yet the motivational “best bets” with respect to current personal goals are those that afford the simultaneous attainment of multiple core personal goals.

The “Before”

The goal-life alignment diagram above is designed to show the typical way that many individuals experience life before they engage in a deliberate effort to enhance their goal life alignment – for example, by (a) taking the APG, (b) completing their APG Personal Application Guide, and then (c) using the resulting insights into their “implicit self” to make better choices – choices that eliminate “red flags” (goal pursuits that aren’t aligned with an individual’s core personal goals) and that directly target each “missed opportunity” (core personal goals that are being neglected).

The “After”

The diagram below represents a more favorable goal-life alignment scenario that might serve as a target for those seeking to increase their overall levels of satisfaction and life meaning. Notice that most of the individual’s time is now being spent on “Best Bet” current personal goals (as indicated by the prominence of the green shading). Yet, for most of us, it is unrealistic to live a life that is completely free of circumstances that sidetrack us into motivationally unappealing (“red flag”) activities, or that keep us from spending as much time as we would like on our favorite (“best bet”) goal pursuits. Nevertheless, the more expansive size of the goal-life alignment region (i.e., the middle intersection) – especially as compared with the “before” diagram above – indicates that choices are being made within this life space that can be expected to consistently lead to productive and fulfilling outcomes.

Step 5: Targeting specific areas where change can help you increase your goal-life alignment

Compared to goal pursuits shaded in green (your “best bets” from Step 4, part 2), the time you invest in current personal goals shaded in red (from Step 4, part 1) will be far less satisfying and meaningful. Therefore, deliberate attempts to increase goal-life alignment should start by exploring ways to reduce the time you spend pursuing these “red flag” personal goals.

Part 1. Reduce the Red: How can I spend less time pursuing motivationally unfulfilling (i.e., “non-core”) current personal goals?

Review the current personal goals you listed in Step 4, part 1. For each goal, ask yourself:

Do my current life circumstances afford me the opportunity to reduce (or eliminate entirely) the amount of time and “mental energy” that I invest in this goal?

On the list of current personal goals you completed in Step 1, find your “red flag” goals (as listed above) and then enter the following in the “C” (for “Change”) column next to each of these goals:

Part 2. Grow the Green: What current personal goals “deserve” more of my time given their ability to fulfill my core personal goals?

Next, review all of your current personal goals with a “T” (Time) rating of less than 4 (from Step 2). As you look at each of these “low T” goals, ask yourself:

To what extent would successful pursuit or attainment of this current personal goal help me fulfill one or more of my core personal goal categories (i.e., the “Highly Compelling” or “Very Important” personal goal categories from my APG results)?

For each “low T” current personal goal that aligns well with your core personal goal categories (conceptually, these goals would occupy the area just beneath the green shaded area in the diagram above), ask yourself:

Do my current life circumstances afford me the opportunity to increase the amount of time and “mental energy” that I invest in this goal?

On the list of current personal goals you completed in Step 1, enter the following in the “C” (for “Change”) column next to each “low T” goal that you believe has high promise for fulfilling at least two of your core personal goal categories:

But before you do this …

Note that it is important to complete Part 1 of Step 5 (“Reduce the Red”) before contemplating any additional time commitments. After all, there are just so many hours in each day. To effectively increase your time pursuing a “best bet” current personal goal, you must first identify where that added time will come from. In other words, for every “+” you write in, be sure that you have an offsetting “R“ or “X” so that you do not exceed your total “bandwidth” and, as a result, fail to make goal-life alignment changes that can “stand the test of time.”

Part 3. Minimize the Yellow: What new goal pursuits can I create (or return to) that will reliably fulfill the core personal goals I am neglecting?

Ideally, each of us would have goal pursuits that fulfill all of our core personal goals. If you have areas of “under-investment” in this regard – that is, you are not spending much time trying to fulfill one or more of your core personal goals – you will see those “missed opportunities” in the yellow shaded area (from Step 4, part 3).

Even if most of your core personal goals have aligned goal pursuits, it is important to address areas of motivational neglect. Sometimes just one “missed opportunity” can leave you with a sense of emptiness or discomfort (“Why do I still feel unfulfilled - everything seems to be going so well”).

Admittedly, finding new goal pursuits to invest in may be harder than simply “rebalancing” your current investments. To make time for new goal pursuits, you may need to end others, which can be particularly challenging if they involve other people (as when efforts are made to seek out new relationships or job opportunities). Yet sometimes all it takes is a realization that you just need to get back to some “tried and true” goal pursuits that you set aside while focusing on other priorities (e.g., favorite pastimes or valued friendships). You may also be able to expand or transform some of your current goal pursuits so that they enable you to simultaneously accomplish multiple core personal goals (e.g., by seeking out new challenges within the same job or by rethinking how you spend time with your family).

Part 4. Think Big: How can I achieve an overall sense of integrity and meaning in my daily life? And how can I go beyond my own goal pursuits to help others achieve their core personal goals?

Aligning your everyday goal pursuits with your core personal goals is not just a matter of navigating life circumstances in an effort to embrace satisfying activities, while also “steering clear” of unrewarding activities. Your core personal goals are the essence of who you are – or as we say in Motivating Self and Others, the “leaders within you.” Identifying these powerful underlying sources of motivation (the purpose of the APG), and then using those insights to help you confidently make consequential life choices (the purpose of the APG Personal Application Guide), is an effective way to ensure that you “stay true to yourself” and live your life with integrity. Aligning your goal pursuits with your core personal goals will also ensure that you experience abundant life meaning on a daily basis.

As for helping others, you can also use what you have learned about goal-life alignment to try to anticipate what actions will support (or violate) others’ core personal goals. That is fundamentally what it means to show respect for other people. Indeed, because humans are highly social creatures, goal-life alignment is often focused on the problem of trying to create “win-win” collaborations and partnerships with the people we live and work with. Mutual respect of each other’s core personal goals is the key to harmonious relationships and collective well-being.

Experiencing the process of seeking goal-life alignment – whether in self or with others – can be a motivational catalyst for seeing yourself in a different way and for seeking a better life for yourself and those you care about. The clarity that comes with a better understanding of “the real me” can help people who are feeling unfulfilled discover pathways to a more meaningful life – one in which thriving outweighs coping as a mindset for dealing with life’s challenges and opportunities. Moreover, it appears that this thriving motivational orientation can be “amplified” when we allow personal goals associated with social purpose to move to the forefront of our thinking. Indeed, these are the key concepts we have used to describe our comprehensive theory of human motivation, as described in detail in Motivating Self and Others: Thriving with Social Purpose, Life Meaning, and the Pursuit of Core Personal Goals (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

For more on this book, please see Motivating Self and Others.