A personal goal is the way you realize yourself in the world.
When you decide to do something, a visualization emerges. First, the future world appears with a picture of your new self.
By setting a goal you divide yourself into two: your present and future selves.
But instantly, a third self appears: your past self, because your present self knows it will become—and has already been—a past self.
And then—snap! —a fourth self appears: the self that’s aware of your past self, present self, and future self.
And finally, the fifth self appears—your capitol ‘S’ Self—the Self that has brought your four other selves into existence.
So, your goal-setting self is five different selves.
This analysis of yourself as multiple selves is well described at the beginning of Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death, and it’s an analysis he takes from Hegel’s Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit.
What is goal setting?
Analysis of the goal-making mind (self five) helps you generate goals that lead to lasting happiness because this analysis allows you to understand the mental, emotional, and spiritual space wherein you make your goals, and the process by which you make them.
If goals are set with a good and clear understanding of the goal-setting mind, you’ll set good clear goals.
For great religious figures like Jesus, Buddha, and Aristotle, Universal Self sets the goals that the lower-case-‘s’-self follows. And this is what it means to live an enlightened life: to understand the nature of the Good and to act on that understanding.
Aristotle says that the great goal of human life is to live as a virtuous person.
He says that virtue makes us happy because virtue is the purpose of being human and that we are happiest when we fulfill our purpose.
Another way to put it, according to Aristotle, is to understand that the purpose of our life is to embody the mind of virtue.
But before one can live virtue, one needs to know what virtue is. And the study of the nature of virtue is philosophy or wisdom.
Therefore, interestingly, Aristotle tells us—as do later philosophers like Thomas Aquinas—our purpose is to live a virtuous life and through that achieve lasting happiness.
Through philosophy, we learn how to live.
From this concept, it follows that there are different kinds of goals: philosophical and contemplative goals that require insight into nature, and goals aimed around managing physical life in such a way that it aligns with the insights gleaned from wisdom, meditation, and contemplation.
In other words, there are two ways of being for human beings:
- The more passive way of listening, observing, and receiving insight—this is the way of wisdom, meditation, contemplation, and philosophy.
- The more active way of doing, planning, knowing, and executing—this is the way of action, utility, work, and doing.
When one sets goals, it’s important to know the attitude and position from which one is setting them.
Are you setting goals for stillness, or goals for action?
This distinction is important for many contemporary meditators because they confuse one with the other and end up wasting a lot of time with ineffective meditations.
Insight requires modesty, listening, and a contemplative attitude that maintains your openness to truth.
The point of spiritual, religious, and philosophical dialogue, writing, and practice is to prepare the mind for receptivity of pure, true nature. In other words, the mind prepares itself to receive spirit as insight.
The self prepares itself to receive the Self.
If, however, the mind never stops doing and acting, and never makes itself still and available to receive truth—to listen—then life will never appear for that mind, and it will go on working and working, destroying life with practical, useful knowledge that may be effective for getting things done in the world, but useless when it comes to human connection, love, meaningful friendship, or loving relationships.
Someone who can’t be still, can’t be with the Self in oneself, and, therefore, can’t be with the Self in another. The inability to recognize the Self in oneself or the Self in others is the inability to recognize life, virtue, and all the (spiritual) goods that make life meaningful.
Current world culture increasingly emphasizes active goal setting.
When folks think of setting goals the goals are usually set in the name of getting things done—to acquire a raise in salary or to buy a house.
What’s often lost in this transactional approach to goal setting is the recognition that we’re grasping or acquiring knowledge and things that are ultimately unfulfilling.
Instead, we’re fulfilled when we realize an unchangeable truth that can’t be taken away or ruined by hurricanes, floods, global warming, divorce, or other forms of change and loss.
In short, realizing truth allows us to rest in meaningful, nurturing relationships, with ourselves, with others, and with the world.
A life based on acquiring things and experiences, on the other hand, leads to hectic, frantic activity where the satisfaction of getting things inevitably fades and forces us to move on to the next thing, to the next goal, acquisition, accomplishment, experience, person, or relationship.
What are the benefits of goal setting?
The benefits of goal setting depend on the kinds of goals we set.
If we set goals with the aim of organizing and arranging our life and mind to receive the Self in the self, we are likely to be more fulfilled because we are completing our purposes as human beings.
We are self-actualizing our body and mind—that is, we are making the spiritual Self an actual living self in the world.
On the other hand, if we set goals for acquiring status and profit, we’re likely to remain unsatisfied because we’ve forgotten the more important reasons for acquiring these things.
Unless we remember to use our status and profit to be able to realize a life of wisdom and contemplation —as opposed to endless acquisition, expansion, growth, protection, and domination — we’ll remain in a craving state, unfulfilled, and afflicted by want.
Thus, before setting goals it’s important to consider the mind by which goals are set.
With a good understanding of the mind, one is in a better position to make goals whose completion leads to more human satisfaction not less.
Given this reality, before setting a single goal it perhaps makes sense to have as one’s first goal, a good, sincere, and thorough understanding of what the self is, what the mind is, and what goals really are—what they involve and how they relate to human happiness and wisdom.
Then start there: what goal does one need to set to understand oneself, one’s purpose, and one’s life.
With that concept as a basis for thought and action, you are sure to end up in a complete and happy place so long as you follow through with the answers that come out of the deep listening required for such investigations—the deep listening one must offer both to nature and to oneself.
Ideally, you will find your purpose as outlined above when you are young so that you can order your life according to its purpose—for in youth we have leisure, and the ancient root of the word for leisure is also the root of the word school.
Examples of personal goals
There are many great examples of such a life in history including: Confucius, Buddha, as well as many prophets, luminaries, and saints, all of whom had the goal to attain wisdom.
Ought you not join such a company as best as you can, living as equally a creative and beneficial life as those who realized their purpose and function as human beings?
Imagine the earth if all her inhabitants were so!