Setting Goals That Serve, Not Enslave

Setting Goals That Serve, Not Enslave

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.  Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself.”– Rumi

How Setting Goals Can Reduce Joy

The horizon is always just as far away no matter how far I travel. It is not until I turn around and look back over the distance I have come that I can appreciate the progress I have made. If I just keep setting new goals every year and don’t set aside time to stop and reflect and appreciate where I’ve been, my goals can become empty pursuits of achievement that not only don’t add much to my experience of joy, but can actually reduce it.

Over the years, my own understanding of goals and the process of making them has transformed significantly and it continues to transform. One of the major realizations I’ve had when it comes to how I was setting goals is that most of them were set from a place of lack, from a focus on what I perceived to be missing or not enough in my life.

Most goals we set come from a mindset of lack, from a focus on what is missing or not enough. Click To Tweet

Another thing I noticed about most of my past goals is that they were accomplishment based and as a result, my own sense of self-worth became directly tied to how many of my goals I accomplished or didn’t accomplish.

Many of my past goals ended up doing more harm than good because they kept me stuck in the belief that my well-being was something to get to, through setting and accomplishing goals, rather than something to come from based on a more profound awareness of who I really am and what life is really for.

I still see value to setting goals in certain ways, but my goals today look and feel very different from the way I used to make and feel them.

My Pre-Requisite For Setting Goals That Serve Me Instead of Enslave Me

The purpose of this message is to share something that for me is an essential pre-requisite to creating goals that serve me instead of enslave me.  What is this pre-requisite?

Not setting goals until I am first coming from a state of profound appreciation for what is.  It is from this state that I see more clearly and that I can more easily distinguish between personality driven goals that seek a greater sense of external security or validation, and soul driven desires that contribute more to others and to life for the sheer fun and joy of it, regardless of how I perceive that things turn out.

I have come to see that…

Any worthwhile goal must contribute to the ultimate goal of life or it is a distraction and vain pursuit. Click To Tweet

What Is The Ultimate Goal of Life?

What is the ultimate goal of life? To me it is pretty clear. I refer to it as Soul-Realization. Click To Tweet

It has been called by other names, but by whatever name it is called, it is what all the saints and sages throughout human history have referred to as our common purpose of life.

Soul Realization is a lofty and broad concept, but it’s fruits are unmistakable.

Soul Realization is not something you ever finish, but rather something you continually deepen. Click To Tweet

As Soul realization deepens from a mental concept to an embodied experience everything begins to transform. One of the ways that it shows up is that we begin to live moment by moment in a state of deep appreciation for what is and profound awareness of the essential truth of who we are and what life is for.

As we increase is Soul realization, we perceive less lack and experience more contentment with what already is. Click To Tweet

I have come to see that I am not here to change life, but rather to learn to appreciate it and be changed by life and to contribute my part to it.

My Personal Goal Setting Practice

Here’s a practice I have come to treasure myself and which I love to do before creating any new goals. I make an appointment with myself where I can have some quiet time for reflection and writing (or typing on my computer).  I focus my reflection on the following ten questions and stick with them until I have written down several answers for each.

  1. What ways this year did I intentionally push myself outside of my comfort zone?
  2. What ways this year did Life push me outside of my comfort zone?
  3. What people did I meet or deepen my acquaintance with this year that stand out as significant/meaningful?
  4. What books did I read or experiences did I have this year that helped me become a better version of myself?
  5. What new places did I visit this year that I’ve never been to before?
  6. In what ways was I able to contribute something meaningful to others this year?
  7. What were some of my favorite moments this year?
  8. In what ways was I supported by others this year?
  9. In what ways was I really blessed this year?
  10. What are some important lessons I learned/re-learned this year?

I let my emotions guide me as I do this. If I find myself feeling grateful, appreciative, self-affirming, contented and inspired, I know I’m doing it right. If I find myself feeling lousy in any way, I know I’m doing it wrong.

If this is the case, I try to identify the thought that is creating that feeling and say something like “I know that is not really true because I am feeling lousy, so no matter how much evidence you come up with to prove your case, I know it’s an illusion.  Nice try, but I’m not buying. I trust my emotional intelligence. It will always let me know if I’m believing a lie, no matter how cleverly disguised, by causing me to feel lousy.”  Then I go back at the questions again until I am basking in a feeling of deep appreciation.

It is from this state of clear perception that I then can engage in goal setting that will help, not hurt.

I keep a written record of my answers to these questions from year to year. To me this written record is of great value- most importantly to me, but also to my posterity someday.

These ten questions are by no means the only or even the best ones.  They are just the ones I’ve been using lately. Feel free to modify or replace with your own if they work better for you.