A personal goal is a 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, once you set a future self, your past self appears. Now three selves exist: past, present, and future.
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 capital ‘S’ Self—the Self that has brought your four other selves into existence.
So, your goal-setting self is five different selves.
The self as multiple selves is well described at the beginning of Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death. And Kierkegaard’s analysis is taken 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 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. When you live an enlightened life, you understand the nature of the Good and 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. Also, we are happiest when we fulfill our purpose.
What does Aristotle say about our purpose in life?
According to Aristotle, our life purpose 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.
Aristotle tells us—as do later philosophers like Thomas Aquinas—that a virtuous life leads to lasting happiness. Therefore, to be happy, you must know what virtue is.
Through philosophy, we learn how to live.
Clearly, there are different kinds of goals. Philosophical and contemplative goals require insight into nature. Good life goals seek to manage physical life in alignment with the insights gleaned from wisdom, meditation, and contemplation.
In other words, there are two ways of being human beings:
- The more passive way of listening, observing, and receiving insight—is the way of wisdom, meditation, contemplation, and philosophy.
- The more active way of doing, planning, knowing, and executing—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?
Many contemporary meditators confuse stillness with action and action with stillness and consequently end up wasting a lot of time with ineffective meditations.
Insight requires modesty, listening, and a contemplative attitude that sustains your openness to truth.
The point of spiritual, religious, and philosophical study is to prepare the mind to receive the truth. The spiritual mind receives spirit as insight.
The self prepares itself to receive the Self.
If the mind never stops doing and acting, it never makes itself still and available to receive the truth. Consequently, true life never appears to that mind. Such a mind will go on working and destroying life with practical, useful knowledge. This mind skillfully gets things done in the world, but it’s poor when it comes to creating meaningful human relationships.
What’s so important about stillness?
Someone who can’t be still, can’t be with the Self. Therefore, he can’t be with the Self in another. The inability to recognize the Self in oneself and in others is the inability to recognize life. This is the same as losing your ability to practice virtue and all the (spiritual) goods that make life meaningful.
Current world culture increasingly emphasizes active goal setting.
Folks usually set goals in the name of getting things done. They set a goal to earn a raise or to buy a house.
But a transactional approach to goal setting is harmful because you’re working for achievements that are ultimately unfulfilling.
Instead, we’re fulfilled when we realize an unchangeable truth. A truth that can’t be taken away. A satisfaction that can’t be 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 aimed at acquiring things and experiences leads to a hectic existence. You end up committing to frantic activity. And you lose the satisfaction of achieving something to the need to acquire another. One success forces you to move on to the next thing. The next goal, accomplishment, person, experience, or relationship.
What are the benefits of goal setting?
The benefits of goal setting depend on the kinds of goals we set.
If you receive the Self in the self, you’re likely to be more fulfilled. Because you’re completing your purpose as a human being.
We are self-actualizing our bodies and mind. We make the spiritual Self an actual living self in the world.
But when you set goals to acquire status and profit, you’ll likely end up unsatisfied. Because unless you remember to use your successes to practice wisdom and contemplation you’ll remain in a craving state. Your endless pursuit of acquisition, expansion, growth, protection, and domination leaves you unfulfilled. You end life afflicted by wan and regret. Because there are many more important reasons to live than acquiring things.
Thus, before setting goals it’s important to consider the mind by which goals are set.
Now you have a good understanding of who and what you are. You can make goals that lead to true satisfaction.
Make your first goal be to deeply understand what the self is, and what the mind is. Then ask what goals really are—what do they involve and do how they relate to human happiness and wisdom.
Then start there: what goal do you need to set to understand yourself, your purpose, and your life.
With this foundation as a basis for your thought and action, you will discover your capacity for deep listening. Your life opens out of listening. Because listening is the life of true 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!