Self Help Sanctum

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Goal Setting and Achieving

Personal Goal Setting and Planning

Our logical, rational mind tells us we live in a predictable world. We flick the switch, the light comes on; turn the key, the car starts etc etc. But experience tells us life isn’t so simple. What we expect often doesn’t come about, while surprises happen with disturbing frequency. This inherent complexity and seeming randomness begs the question of whether it is ever worth the bother of trying to set goals or plan for the future.

How many of us drift through daily life on autopilot? How much of what we experience is the result of conscious planning or intention, and how much just simply happens? Routine and habit are very comfortable states for the mind in which the subconscious takes control allowing our consciousness to wander freely in aimless chaos. Those that have tried meditation will know how much effort it takes to tame the mental flow of garbage.

Whether you subscribe to the Spiritual view of being incarnate to learn and grow, or the materialist alternative of this life being all there is, spending our existence like a train traveling along fixed tracks is a terrific waste of potential. Despite life’s uncertainties, it follows that a degree of goal setting and planning combined with willful action is essential to make the most of our time on earth.

Life is far from simple. We are all subject to myriad influences, each pulling us from different directions. Making plans is equally complex. So much so that we are often tempted to use life’s complexity and uncertainty as an excuse to abdicate personal responsibility. But goal setting and planning are things we must undertake if we are to realize our potential.

Goal setting and planning occur over different timescales, eg short term plans are what you hope to do today or this week, medium term plans may relate to the year ahead, while long term plans may cover several years to a lifetime.

The longer the term under consideration, the more subject our plans are to unforeseen circumstances; so we give greater specificity to shorter term plans.

Setting Goals and Making Plans

There is a difference between setting goals and planning. Goals are things we’d like to achieve, plans are the methods we will follow to achieve our goals. Plans are more appropriate to shorter time frames, whereas goals are suitable for the more distant future.

Unpredictability shouldn’t prevent us from having long term goals; for it is only through these that we are able to formulate shorter term plans that will bring them about. But being too specific about the long term can create conditions for failure, so it’s best to keep it general, eg I’d like to move to —– (without being particular over which street or house), or I’d like to have my own business (without mentioning the exact nature of that business).

Note that If you practice the meditative practice of creative visualization in which you enter meditation and visualize things as you would like them to be it can be beneficial to bring as much detail and specificity as possible to your mental imagery.

Along with setting goals we should also be consciously aware of why these things are desirable to us. It is this motivation that will keep us on course when the going gets tough. For example, the reasons for wanting your own business might include the satisfaction that comes from the alignment of efforts and rewards, mastery of one’s destiny, independence, freedom from corporate bickering and back-biting etc.

Coping with the Unexpected

Having set our goals and made our plans, what should we do when we encounter life’s inevitable surprises?

We should feel huge relief that life is a fluid process rather than fixed and rigid. This inherent indeterminacy makes things interesting and brings potentials previously unimagined. Rather than being frustrated by challenge, remember that one man’s problem is another’s opportunity.

Like life itself our plans and goals should be fluid, open to amendment in the light of circumstance and experience. Indeed we need not, and should not, wait for the gales of chance to blow us off course before re-evaluating our direction.

Without navel-gazing it is good to periodically review our goals and the plans we are following to realize them. Goals change with the effects of time, as do the actions needed to fulfill them.

Be flexible, even if goals remain unfulfilled. So long as progress towards them has led to personal growth they have served an invaluable purpose.

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