If you are reading this article, I’m sure that you have taken the time to research, and use, personal development goal-setting strategies that are taught to help individuals create their ‘ideal’ life. There is an endless amount of literature, audio programs, speaking series, and educational classes that teach similar goal-setting strategies to help individuals achieve goals and increase the levels of fulfillment they experience. While there is nothing entirely wrong with this process, there are a number of problems with how individuals in the Western world set and strive to achieve their goals.
The common goal-setting systems that are used in the West typically have individuals start the achievement process by writing a vision statement, setting SMART goals, and creating action plans to turn these goals into reality. This process is built upon by adding helpful tools such as incantations, visualization exercises, and other techniques that reward individuals for being successful in completing important tasks.
While these personal development systems, that incorporate these goal-setting strategies, can verifiably help you achieve the things that you believe are important to you, there is a major problem with the types of goals that individuals typically set. There is also limited focus, in the West, paid to one of the most important personal development tools: Self-Awareness or Mindfulness.
These are two of the major problems with goal-setting strategies and in part one of this two-part series, we will examine the problems that arise when individuals set the wrong goals for themselves. In part two, we will look at how Western personal development teachings do not put enough emphasis on the concept of mindfulness, which can be an invaluable tool throughout the personal growth process.
Setting Goals that Bring Temporary Happiness:
When people in the Western world set goals, they are typically setting objectives that will enhance their lives on the outside. In America, we have been taught to believe that money, beautiful partners, and the newest material products will bring us the happiness that we crave. While these things can bring some happiness, the truth is, the fulfillment you receive from these things is and always will be fleeting. Your ‘ideal’ partner turns out to be human, your new Porsche wears down in a number of years, and you still crave more zeros at the end of your paycheck even though you just received a raise.
Setting out to buy a new house, find the right partner, or receive a promotion at work are not bad goals in and of themselves, however, when we allow our happiness to be determined by our ability to accomplish these things, we give up our basic right to feel fulfillment and joy on a daily basis. The truth is that the ‘goals’ and ‘ideal life’ that we have been taught to aim for have been systematically inserted into our belief systems by society and advertisements. We are taught to believe that we have to follow the status quo and obtain the things that are valued in society, and if we don’t, we are doomed to sadness and loneliness.
Determine What Makes You Happy:
At the deepest levels of our beings, we all understand that fulfillment is, and should be our ultimate goal. The problem that we face, however, is that we have come to believe that things outside of ourselves will bring us the fulfillment that we desire and deserve. There is a saying in the world of spirituality that says,
The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.”
At the deepest level of our beings, the goals that we hold are much more similar than one would believe. We all want to deepen our connection with ourselves and others, we all want to accept ourselves completely, and we all want to find joy, happiness, and contentment in our everyday activities.
By all means, it is a worthwhile venture to try to improve your life in a variety of ways, however, you cannot allow your levels of happiness to be determined by the completion of external objectives. The true nature of everything is one of constant change, so when we hang our happiness hat on our relationships, career, or even physical body, we will certainly see the levels of fulfillment that we experience rise and fall. After you achieve a goal, you feel satisfied for a period of time but typically are left with a yearning desire for more.
Our focus on achievement must move from the outside to the inside. We need to find ways to accept ourselves completely, faults included, and develop the qualities of contentment and compassion in our lives. I’m sure that parts of yourself may be saying, “This is a bunch of bull,” but I hope you realize that these are the same parts that have been conditioned to search externally for fulfillment.
The goals that we set, in order to achieve status and material possessions, are assuredly coming from these conditioned parts of ourselves, called the ego, but beyond this limited reactionary viewpoint, there is a separate part of ourselves, called the true self, that has desires and goals that will actually lead us to the fulfillment we seek.
Setting Goals the Bring Lasting Fulfillment:
At the level of your true self, which is where your goals should come from, you have desires that aren’t centered around material possessions or external circumstances. At this level, we want to improve the type of person we are, we want to help others, we want to do the right thing on a consistent basis, and we want to find contentment with our current situations. While external relationships, status, and gadgets can be the byproduct of internally focused personal development, we have to make sure that they aren’t our primary aim.
So, how can we change the type of goals that we set to bring true and lasting happiness? Here are three ideas to think about:
- Focus on Finding Contentment and Gratitude: If you find ways to develop these two personal qualities, you will assuredly experience higher levels of success and happiness regardless of the situation or circumstances you find yourself in. One way that you can do this is to ask yourself every morning, ‘What am I grateful for today?’ and listen to the answers you receive from your heart. You could also create a list of 10 things that you are grateful for and review it daily.
- Deciding What You Truly Want: By striving to deepen the connection with your true self, you can determine what areas of your life you are happy with and which ones you are not. Ask yourself questions such as: ‘Am I happy with my life?’ ‘How can I bring more joy and fulfillment into my life?’ ‘What would I be doing if money, success, and status didn’t factor into decisions?’ Similar to the question ‘What am I grateful for?’, we need to listen to our hearts to receive these answers.
- Find Ways to Give Back: If you have a goal to increase your income, which many of us do, you need to make sure that you find ways to give back. Study after study has shown that living a compassionate life increases the happiness you experience. Strive to be selfishly unselfish by finding ways to give to charities or some of your time volunteering.
Avoiding Common Problems with Goal Setting:
The next time that you start reading a book on personal development and see the tried and true methods of setting goals, creating action plans, and achieving what you set out to achieve, I hope that you will remember to make your objectives internally focused. Remember that everything in life passes and the only way that we will find lasting fulfillment is to satisfy the needs of our deeper self. Get in touch with this part of yourself, find out what will make you truly happy, and then go ahead and use the personal development strategies that can bring you the success and happiness you deserve.