If we can’t stay focused on the personal goals we set for ourselves, it can be frustrating, and we can feel disheartened when we fail. But there are specific reasons… Read more »
Personal goals are tools to carve your life out of the void. They are the building blocks for your ideal life.
Your dream may be to climb Mt. Everest to gain self-mastery, or it may be to build a house in nature to commune with rivers and trees, or perhaps you have a dream of building a community with which you can share your spiritual aspirations.
Regardless of what you want to achieve, you will quickly find that in order to succeed, you need to clearly understand what a personal goal is.
What are personal goals?
A personal goal is an outcome that you want to have for yourself. Therefore, to accurately understand what a personal goal is you must understand what you mean by: (1) self and (2) outcome.
By self, we usually mean the mental image of a person—you—that has a body and a mind. And the mind contains: will, intellect, and emotion. The total combination of will, intellect, and emotion we call conscious desire. However, without intellect, will and emotion generate blind desire, not enlightened, conscious desire.
Therefore, a good goal comes from intellectual reflection.
Traditionally the most important question for the self is what it means to live a good or virtuous life. In the Buddhist tradition, conscious desire takes the form of the Bodhisattva’s vow to save all beings.
The second component of a goal is outcome. An outcome is how a thing turns out—its result. Your goal will not have a clear outcome unless it’s SMART.
We’ll talk more about this below.
Goals have two parts.
First, they should be meaningful, and a meaningful goal means something to the personal self. A strong goal is internally motivated. This means that a strong goal should be conscious and reflected upon—somehow related to what it means to live the life you want.
Second, a goal should have a clear, measurable outcome.
Some examples of personal goals
There are many examples of personal goals — more than there are people in the world.
A goal that may seem outlandish or unbelievable to you, may be the very thing that someone else is staking their life on.
Shakyamuni Buddha’s goal was to attain enlightenment. Buddha’s enlightenment happened one morning as he watched Venus appear in the sky. Seeing Venus as he sat in the morning under a tree, after 12 years of training, he attained enlightenment.
A personal goal is your unique wish.
You may wish to become a brilliant musician, artist, mathematician, a great parent or family member, wealthy enough to retire, a world traveler, a billionaire with a legacy, or a Nobel laureate who brings new medicines into the world.
Take a look at some personal goal examples.
What’s a true goal?
Any goal that doesn’t doesn’t benefit the world or doesn’t involve what it means to live a good life remains a mere desire, not a true goal.
It’s important to understand the difference between a personal goal and a personal desire, because to fulfill a goal, which is universally substantiated by your intellect and reason—has a lasting benefit and improves human relationships, whereas the fulfillment of a personal desire leaves one with unsatisfactory human relationships and makes for a troubled society.
The fulfillment of a desire is not the same as the fulfillment of a goal.
Therefore, it’s important to reflect on how your goal brings together (1) that which is particularly enjoyable or beneficial to yourself while at the same time being (2) that which is enjoyable and beneficial to others.
Fulfilling such a goal brings happiness.
To have the goal of being the best music composer in the world to brighten human life and culture with joy is a good goal.
But to be the best music composer in the world because you want to have more money than anyone else or beat your nemesis and exact revenge is a desire, but not a goal.
The outcome may look the same quantitatively (you might sell the same number of recordings), but the qualitative (moral and spiritual) difference between someone who wants to bring joy to the world as opposed to someone who wants glory is immense.
Therefore, reflecting on your motive for doing something is important for goal setting.
Why is goal setting important?
Goal setting is important because without goals human life perishes.
It’s our spiritual nature to make goals. So, when we don’t make goals, we violate our nature and damage life.
Not to make a goal—to be lazy, dispassionate, worn down, uninspired, or cynical—suggests that something in you is broken, hurt, or damaged.
And if this is the case, you should reflect on what it is that keeps you from wanting to make the world a better place, why you have no passion to contribute something enjoyable, fun, or enlightening to the world (something that others will enjoy, too).
Also, if you can’t or don’t set a goal, then you’re subject to the goals of others who have more passion, energy, and vision than you.
To set a goal is the beginning of human freedom because it’s the only way to overcome the limiting factors of your environment.
Innovation comes from thinking about how to make things that don’t exist but that can make life better for others.
Medicine extends life. Dishwashers and garbage disposals save time. And goal-setting, dreams, and challenges keep us from being bound by our circumstances.
Goal setting is important for human progress and development.
Without setting goals, we end up as slaves to karma.
And the big, ambitious goals that require the most energy, challenge, imagination—and that push you out of your comfort zone—are the best goals to set.
Learn more about why goal setting is important.
Should you keep your goals to yourself?
Having a goal, a vision, or wish for yourself is like planting a seed in your heart.
The spiritual heart is like earth filled with nutrients that sustain the seed—your great wish—to grow.
Some environments, people, and relationships nourish the soil of the spiritual heart.
But some people, relationships, and environments are toxic and simply deplete the soil of the spiritual heart.
Therefore, it’s important to be able to judge the effects of your environment on your wish and on your spiritual (and physical) heart.
Sometimes the environment and situation can be so bad you may fear that the mere thought of a wish will cause punishment or blowback. If your environment won’t support your goal, it’s better to protect it by keeping it to yourself.
For example, if you feel shame or judgment from your community for wishing to be free, you might keep your wish to yourself.
If criticism inhibits the fragile, delicate beginning of your dream before it has legs in the world, it’s better to keep your wish secret.
But there are times when a wish is better to be made public—if the people and environment in your life support your wish. Because one of the great joys of our life is to share our wishes and dreams—and to realize those wishes and dreams—with others.
It’s a great joy when someone meets and shares and encourages our wishes and dreams and when others trust, love, and respect us enough to have us participate in theirs.
Learn more about whether or not you should keep goals to yourself.
Goal setting techniques
There are several ways to set goals. But the process has three main parts.
The first part is discovering the reason why you want to achieve the goal. The second part is structuring your goal effectively so that you can achieve it. The third part is to think big. Be ambitious!
Discover your emotional motivation for your goal
Why is this important to you?
This involves three steps:
1. Determine the objective
For example: “My goal is to climb Mt. Everest!”
2. Determine the measure of the objective
How will you know you have achieved the goal? What will you have, see, understand, or feel?
For example: “I will have achieved my goal when: I reach the summit.”
3. Be clear on what it means to you to have achieved this goal
This step is the most important because the likelihood that you’ll achieve your goal is significantly increased if the goal you set is internally motivated.
For example: “When I climb Mt. Everest, I will have overcome a monumental personal challenge and proven to myself that I can achieve great things in my life.”
Internal motivation is an important part of understanding how to set goals, and being able to stay focused on your goals.
Therefore, I suggest putting together a vision board to help you contemplate why the goal is emotionally meaningful to you so that you become invested in achieving it. Because emotion is the energy that keeps you going when obstacles arise.
Set SMART Goals
SMART stands for:
I will climb Mt. Everest.
I will have achieved my goal when I reach the top of the mountain.
I will prepare for the climb by running five miles a day – four days a week, taking the time off from work, and asking my family to support me.
R—Relevant (to your project and life)
When I achieve this goal I will prove to myself that I can achieve great things. This accomplishment will give me the confidence to live a great life because I can arrange my life and be supported in achieving my dreams. I will know that I’m free to design my own life and succeed.
I will climb Mt. Everest before I turn 30 years old.
It’s energizing and healthy to think big and set ambitious goals that you break up into smaller ones.
Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great and other books, talks about the importance of successful companies (but you can apply this to your own life) to generate Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
These are massive goals that inspire, energize and focus your life. They should be thought about carefully and deeply.
A lot of the work one might do with a coach is to spend a lot of time with people (sometimes weeks) digging into and coming up with these massive goals—especially why they are emotionally meaningful to you.
Discussions of this nature usually require a vision statement, which we’ll go into in other posts. Collins outlines the parameters of effective vision statements in an excellent article he published in the Harvard Business Review.
Preparing a strong vision statement is a fabulous way to work with a coach.
Doing so with the right person, you’ll learn a lot about your life, what your values are, your resources, strengths, fears, as well as what your vision for the world is, and how you might use your unique talents, gifts, and abilities to make the world a better place.
For help through this process, you can start by downloading our Goals Motivator worksheet
Read more about goal-setting techniques.
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