Self Help Sanctum

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Purpose, Goals and Success

Purpose and Goals

Everyone has a purpose in life. For those of a spiritual disposition it might be to serve others, to resolve one’s karma, or simply to amass experience to carry back to the higher realm. For everyone else it might be to leave their mark in some (hopefully positive) way, to do their best for their family, or simple to fill their lives with as much happiness as they can find. Purpose is as unique as the individual.

Our true purpose remains constant throughout our life, but is most commonly expressed through our many and changing goals. It is our goals which motivate and drive our choices and actions and dictate, to some extent at least, our destiny (or the kind of life we experience).

At any one time an individual has goals at various different levels. At the highest level are our major goals. These specify what we want to do with our lives, what we want to achieve. Depending on our stage in life, as well as our unique character, major goals might be to graduate college, own a house, move to ABC, retire with a pension of $X,000 a month…

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

He who fails to plan is planning to fail, Winston Churchill

Imagine starting a journey without knowing where you want to go. You would walk/drive around endlessly without knowing what you were looking for or having any idea if you’d found it. You might stumble upon a place that seemed OK or better, but even then would be clueless about whether to stay there or continue your journey.

There is, unfortunately, great inequality in the distribution of the world’s wealth, eg a 2006 United Nations University study found that the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth. The number of people that make conscious plans is also small (eg a much quoted1 Ford Foundation research study found 23% of the population has no idea what they want from life, while 67% has a general idea but no plans for how to get it.)

By setting valid and worthwhile goals aligned to our purpose, and making the necessary plans for their achievement, we not only maximize our chances of material success but also live a more valuable (and satisfying) life by ensuring our most precious of time is spent in the optimal way.

What is Your Motivation? Seeking Heaven or Escaping Hell?

There are two kinds of motivation, the drive to move towards desired goals, and the desire to move away from perceived unpleasantness.

Dissatisfaction is one of life’s greatest motivators, whether you’re unhappy with your job, relationship, apartment… And the greater the dissatisfaction, the greater the motivation. Thus, away from motivation is by far the more common of the two types.

Sadly, for many people, when life is tolerable the desire to improve things is weak to non-existent. They reach a plateau from which they are never motivated to discover the potentials heights beyond. This comfort-zone inertia is most likely fueled largely by the fear that seeking progress risks the security of the moment, ie: “Where I am now isn’t so bad. I can stand this. There are so many people worse off than me. If I try to improve things I might end up making them worse, so I’ll stick with what I have.”

Unfortunately the more common from motivation often results in jumping from the frying pan into the fire. In our haste to escape one unpleasantness we flee in any one of 360 degrees, rather than the one that is optimal, and quite likely ending up worse off than when we started.

This trap can be avoided by maintaining the motivational power of our dissatisfaction while re-framing the desire to flee into a positive vision of where we really want to be. In other words, now sucks, but what would our ideal situation look like? Once we answer that question we have the beginning of a chain of plans and goals that might realize it.

Effective Goal Setting

Life is very precious, you only get one go at it, so think carefully about what you really want to achieve in your time on earth. If you’ve never really thought about it, take your time – re-visit the question 2 or 3 times – it’s one of the most important things you’ll ever do. Make sure your goals are your own as defined by your purpose. Be skeptical of goals others try to foist upon you, however worthy, you simply won’t have the motivation to follow through. Choose the right goals and your motivation will be unstoppable.

Our higher level goals determine those at the next lower level. Every goal (where you want to be) gives rise to a plan (how you’re going to get there from where you are now). And plans in turn give rise to sub-goals. For example a major goal may be to re-locate to another country. To do this we need to reach a certain level of income and/or assets. To do this we need to earn $X per hour/month/year. To do this we may need to change our work, or at least work harder – or preferably smarter – at what we already do. And to do this, today, we need to blah blah blah…

In business-speak we are encouraged to set SMART goals. This acronym (first coined by George T. Doran, Management Review, Nov 1981) stands for:






These criteria make excellent sense for personal goals too.

Specific goals are easier to visualize and also easier to work towards, since you know exactly where you want to get. Without measurability you cannot know how well you’re doing, and therefore whether you need to change anything; you also cannot know when you’ve arrived! Impossible / unattainable goals don’t produce effort and lead only to stagnation, but you don’t have to make your goals easy. Great achievements come from the pursuit of the difficult. Goals need to be relevant to your purpose otherwise they will not generate the necessary enthusiasm for fulfillment. Making goals time-bound keeps you on track. Stuff happens in life and deadlines change, but without a deadline a goal may remain forever on the back burner.

Visualize at least daily where you will be when you achieve your goals. Imagine your home, your daily lifestyle, the car you’ll drive, the vacations you’ll take etc. Feel the satisfaction that comes from being in that place. The clearer your vision the greater your motivation and the higher the probability of your success.

Goal setting is not a one-off exercise that once done is quickly forgotten. To maximize their chance of realization we need to constantly remind ourselves of our goals. Writing down major goals is a powerful symbol of intent, and if we can keep written copies close at hand (behind our desk, on the bedroom wall, bathroom mirror, cell phone wallpaper etc) so much the better. At a lower level daily, weekly and monthly to do lists are a powerful aid to keeping us on track, and boosting motivation by the sense of achievement that comes from making visible progress.

It helps to verbalize our goals, ie tell people. Not only does this reinforce the message to our subconscious, which works constantly behind the scenes building our unfolding reality, but can often connect us with the very people who can assist our quest. Friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends – once verbalized our goals have a potentially vast audience and can easily connect us with an ideal helper.

One downside of verbalization is that it provides ammunition for all the dream killers and naysayers. These are the people (most often close family and friends) who, once they hear of your goals, do everything to persuade you that you’re wrong, that you’re better off sticking to 9-to-5 drudgery, living in that dreary apartment etc. Perhaps these self-appointed critics have either very low or non-existent goals for themselves. Don’t allow them to stop you verbalizing; but when they surface, as they inevitably will, smile sweetly and simply ignore them.

Monitor and Review

Just as with a car journey you check the passing scenery to make sure you’re going the right way to your destination, so with progress towards your goals it helps to periodically check how you’re doing. Remember the virtue of making goals measurable and time-bound; if too many sub-goals are being missed you may need to re-visit/revise your plans. Perhaps you’ve been hit by unforeseen circumstances, or under-estimated difficulty levels. Or just maybe you’re missing goals because you’re motivation isn’t that high, in which case you need to re-assess the appropriateness of your goals.

Like everything else, we change with time. What might have been an appropriate goal 5 years ago may no longer be so. Our most powerful goals remain pretty constant over time, but it’s still worth questioning their validity every so often, without getting stuck in navel-gazing. If nothing else, re-affirming your goals strengthens your motivation to fulfill them.

1. eg: Only 3 percent Of People Achieve Their Goals by keith shawOprah does it. Do you? by Angee RobertsonWhat Words, Stories and Conversations Stop You From Living Your Ideal Life? by Ruth Anne Wood

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