Christine Comaford sees this problem time and time again. From U.S. presidents to billionaire CEOs to budding entrepreneurs, the problem that continually arises for leaders throughout all stages of growth and development is answering a deceptively simple question: What do I want?

Answering this one crucial question is the first step to reaching any desired outcome. But for so many, the answer is elusive. In fact, most people are pretty good at rattling off in full detail all the things they don't want, but when it comes to describing what they do want, the specifics are remarkably fuzzy.

Getting clear on the exact outcomes you'd like to achieve, and knowing what you have to give up (or postpone) in order to reach those goals, is the key to success because there are no achievements that come without corresponding trade-offs.

"Many people actually don't know what they want, or they don't know the cost of it," Comaford says in this interview. "And if you don't know the cost of it, you can't create it."

Comaford's own life has been an interesting series of twists and turns that apparently started off with no clear direction. At the age of 17 she entered a Buddhist monastery where she served as a monk for seven years before leaving to pursue careers with companies like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple. Later, she became an angel investor for tech start-ups like Google and went on to write two New York Times bestselling books.

But, as she explains on her website, it was the many "unconventional lives" she led before landing on her eventual path as a high performance executive coach that gave her "a 360-degree ability to understand business not just as a set of strategies but also as a complex web of human interactions," which all begins with a simple question.

So whether your goal is a professional one or personal one, the best and quickest way to ensure success is to ask yourself: What do I want?

If you struggle to figure that out, Comaford suggests you start by going through what she calls the 'Outcome Frame', a series of six questions to help you get clear.

1. What would you like?

Envision a goal -- whether material, physical or spiritual -- and see it clearly in your mind's eye. (If you find it hard to envision what you want, it might help to work backwards. Think about what you don't want and imagine the opposite.) Make sure the goal is something you can create and maintain on your own. Losing 10 pounds in the next 60 days is a goal you can create and maintain on your own. Ending world hunger is not.

2. What will having that outcome do for you?

How will it make you feel? What benefits will you derive from reaching that goal?

3. How will you know when you have it?

Whatever outcome you want, how will you know when it appears? What is the tangible, measurable, specific proof that indicates you've reached your goal?

4. Where, when, and with whom do you want it?

Imagine celebrating your success. Where will you be, who will you be with and when will it occur?

5. What of value might you risk or lose?

This is a tricky one because every opportunity requires making a choice. Most people can easily imagine the benefits they'll derive from reaching a goal. Few people, however, consider the costs involved with pursuing that goal. If you choose to start a business, for example, it might require you to forgo going back to school or taking that dream vacation. If you choose to take on partners, then you might lose some autonomy. By asking yourself ahead of time what you might risk or lose by pursuing a goal, you can determine whether or not it's a price you're willing to pay. If the answer is no, then you know it's not a goal worth pursuing.

6. What are the next steps?

What's the next thing you can do to advance in the direction of your goal? What resources do you need -- time, people, money -- to move ahead?

Asking yourself these questions will not only give you clarity around your goal, it will help ensure you reach it in the quickest, most effective way possible.

It's Your Turn

Which of the questions shared here did you find useful? How do you decide which goal to pursue? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments.