I talk to somebody about their goals–whether that person is trying to change the world, grow a company or lose a few pounds–one of the first questions I ask is, “Why do you care about this goal?”

Some people look me right in the eye and say, “It doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s my boss (spouse, doctor, etc,) who cares.” I’ve lost count of the number of CEOs who’ve answered with, “Well, it’s our Chairman who really feels this goal is important…” And how many kids, when asked the same question, would answer, “It has nothing to do with me. I’m only doing it because my parents are making me.”?

“Why do you care about this goal?” It’s a simple question, and a frighteningly accurate way to predict whether or not somebody will abandon their goals at the slightest roadblock. The people who will pursue their goals regardless of the challenges will answer with something like, “This goal is my passion, it’s what I’m here to do,” or, “I love my children too much to not accomplish this,” or even, “What I really care about is the finish line; I’m totally pumped to get to the payoff.”

But when people say, “My boss/spouse/doctor/chairman is the one who really cares about this goal,” or, “I’m doing it only because I have to,” all signs point to the negative. It’s right there in their words; these are the people lacking in any real emotional connection to their goals; it’s not heartfelt. In fact, emotionally, it’s not even really that person’s goal; it belongs to somebody else.

When you ask someone this question, and I encourage you to test it out for yourself, listen to the proper nouns and pronouns they choose in answering you. If they take ownership of the goal with a me, mine, my or I, even though the goal may have originated with someone else, it’s a strong sign that person will see that goal through to the end, no matter what gets thrown in the way.

But, if they mentally assign ownership of the goal to their boss, spouse, doctor, chairman, or whomever, which you’ll hear in words like his, hers, the company’s, my teacher, the boss, then you know they’re just not feeling connected to the goal. You can also listen to the emotional words they use (i.e. pumped, excited, can’t wait, fired-up, etc.). Expressing intense feelings usually portends better results than emotional detachment. Just remember, nobody ever washed a rental car (which means that if you don’t own it, you’re not going to put much effort into it).

You’d do just about anything for the people you love–kids, spouse, best friend, family, etc.–because you have a heartfelt connection to them. You don’t just know these folks; you know you really care for them. But what if you were asked to do something for a passing acquaintance or even a total stranger! Most likely you’d exert some effort because you’re a nice person, but most people would risk and sacrifice much more for a loved one than they would for an acquaintance or stranger. Doctors give more comprehensive care to people they feel more connected to. People give more money to charities when they feel a heartfelt connection to the recipients. Research has even shown that sales generated at Tupperware parties can be significantly explained by analyzing the strength of the personal connection between the host and the guests.

With all due respect to Sting, if you love somebody (and thus have a heartfelt connection to them), you’re probably not going to set them free. Because of that heartfelt connection, you’re going to follow them to the far corners of the globe, dripping blood, sweat and tears to help them in any way you can. And that’s precisely the kind of heartfelt connection you want to feel towards your goals. You want to love, need and be deeply connected to your goals; you want to feel like you’d chase that goal to very ends of the earth in order to fulfill it.

Just to be clear, it’s not all about emotions. Certainly you should calculate the precise amount of weight you need to lose, the dollar amount by which your sales should grow, what mile mark you need to hit to be marathon ready, and how many classes you need to attend to experience the optimal level of challenge. But while you can create the most analytically sound goal in the world (with just the right degree of difficulty, etc.), if it’s not heartfelt, if you’re not emotionally connected to it, if you aren’t ready to chase this goal to the far corners of the globe, then you’re more likely to abandon it than you are to accomplish it. Goal-setting processes often get so hung up on the analytical and tactical parts that they often neglect the most fundamental question: why do you care about this goal!

In the early days of my career I advised seriously troubled organizations (the ones teetering on the edge of bankruptcy). I could always tell if the company was going to make a successful turnaround just by walking around and asking employees, “Why do you care if this company succeeds or fails?” If I heard a lot of people say, “Because I’ll lose my job,” or “I need a paycheck,” or something similar, I knew the company probably wouldn’t make it. But if I heard something more heartfelt like, “I’ve poured my heart and soul into this place and I’m not gonna let it fail now,” or “Too many people are counting on us,” or “Our customers need us to survive,” then I knew we had a real shot at a comeback.

By the way, every politician that wants to survive knows that caring, emotional intensity, and heartfelt connection all mean the same thing: voter turnout. When people are emotionally connected to an issue or leader, when they feel heartfelt enthusiasm, they’ll move heaven and earth to guarantee its success. But when they’re apathetic! That’s very bad news indeed.