OBJECTIVE: To develop a framework for classifying the nature of goals identified by people with acquired brain injury (ABI) and explore the extent to which goals and the ability to set realistic goals vary over time and according to stage of recovery. METHODS: Participants included 60 people with ABI comprising two subgroups: a post-acute subgroup (n = 28, mean time since injury = 1.1 years, SD = 0.5) and a long-term subgroup (n = 32, mean time since injury = 4.9 years, SD = 3.0). Participants completed the Self-Awareness of Deficits Interview, which includes a goal-setting component, at an initial assessment and at 12-month follow-up assessment. Data generated from the interviewing process were analysed using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. RESULTS: Through an inductive analysis, a classification framework was developed consisting of the following goal categories: 'relationships', 'work and education', 'injury/rehabilitation', 'health and leisure', 'daily life management' and 'general life/personal goals'. Each of these categories comprised several subcategories of goals. Overall, the post-acute subgroup identified more goals in the improve function/rehabilitation subcategory than the long-term subgroup (P = 0.002), whereas the nature of other life goals remained consistent over time. The ability to set realistic goals improved over time for the entire sample (P = 0.013). CONCLUSION: The findings provide therapists with greater insight into the goals most commonly identified by individuals with ABI. The classification framework may assist therapists to elicit client goals and tailor rehabilitation accordingly.