Self Improvement Myth: Setting Goals

Some people put a lot of importance on goals.  They are big in the self help / Personal Development world.   I’ve found that goals can sometimes cause misery and unhappiness that more than wipes out any positive gains people might make with them.  In Buddhism this is referred to as the “Near Enemy” of a technique that was meant to help you.

I will do goal setting with my clients, but not usually for the first 6-12 months.  There is value in having a direction and working towards something.  Maybe it’s how much money you want to make, the perfect relationship partner you want to have, where you want to live, or how many pounds you want to lose.  Without a direction like a goal we will likely founder and not only do less, but enjoy less.   However the Near Enemy of goal setting can sink you emotionally.  It’s interesting how the mind can use such a positive tool to sabotage the very happiness we are intending to create.

Here’s how the sabotage happens

There are many parts of the mind.  When we set goals, they aren’t the only thing that is active.   We also have the parts of the mind that I call the Judge, and the Victim.   While the hopeful side of our personality and belief system is trying to make our self better and happier through our goals, the judge and the victim sabotage our happiness and self worth with the same tool.  If we are aware, and pay attention, we can avoid this emotional trap.

When we set a goal our imagination creates a criteria of what we “should be” or what we “should” achieve.  It is a mental image of our self different and better than we currently are.  I call this an Image of Perfection.

One of the activities of the Judge in our mind is to compare everything.  The Judge in our mind often compares our self to other people.  But the judgmental voice in our head also compares us against our mental Image of Perfection.  It holds the assumption, “I should be that way.”  It compares us to this imagined Image of our goals and concludes that we are not what we “should” be.

Compared to our goal are a failure that is not good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, successful enough. Etc.  We accept the thoughts of the judge as true and invest our faith.  It easily appears true because we already have the belief that we should meet the criteria of our goals.  Often the judge ignores the time needed for completion and assumes we should have been there yesterday.  With our faith invested in these beliefs we create the emotions of unworthiness, self rejection, sadness, fear, and shame.

We create the emotions of unworthiness that we feel.  These emotions are congruent with our beliefs because that is where they came from.  But our feelings are self fulfilling results.  Our emotions are the result of our beliefs in an Image of Perfection and the subsequent judgment that happens in our imagination.   Instead, people will often make the mistake that their feelings are evidence that their belief are true.  They think that because they feel unworthy and not good enough that that their beliefs about themselves are true.  They don’t know that they fabricated their emotions from a belief that is false.  All based on an Image of Perfection that is not even real.

We’ve been told to trust our gut, go with our emotions etc.  But the problem with this approach is that our emotions are often created by beliefs that are false.

That Image of Perfection started with goals.

If we use the tool of goals from the point of view of our integrity we can create incredible change and results in our life.   However, if we let the Inner Judge use those same goals, we create unhappiness, unworthiness, and emotional suffering.  The problem is not with having goals and going for them.  The problem is really when the different parts of our mind and imagination turn goals into self judgments.

As a guide towards happiness I use goals.  But I don’t start with defining what it is you want to be or accomplish.   For the untrained mind that is a set up for the Judge and Victim to create self rejection and unhappiness.

For real emotional change the more important goal to start with is to dismantle the self judgments that create so much unhappiness.  When you dismantle your self judgments the natural result is Self Acceptance.

Self Acceptance

When you accept your self just they way you are, then you don’t believe the negative self talk in your head. Nor do you believe any negative opinions from other people.  You no longer feel the emotions of unworthiness that come from false beliefs, a false Image of Perfection and self judgment.  For me, the most important goal to start with is Self Acceptance.

When you develop self acceptance then the goals you create are activities and accomplishments that inspire you.  You can have fun working towards them instead of feeling inadequate or not good enough every time you think about them.  This is the difference between going to the gym because you are excited about the health and exercise of your body, or going because you dread the judgmental thoughts about how your body looks.

When you use goals from the point of view of your integrity, you don’t feel bad about your self even if you don’t achieve them.  Your self worth and happiness is not dependent on these external factors of achievement, that you often can’t control anyways.

Self Acceptance is needed for success

If you are going to be a success, then you will need goals.  To FEEL like a success you will need to have love and acceptance of your self the way you are.  You will have to learn to treat your self as a success.  This means not rejecting your self.   This means that to be a real success, and FEEL like a success, that you will have to get rid of any self judgments.

There are many people that accomplish great things, but they still don’t feel good about themselves.  If you have not dismantled the Image of Perfection and the Inner Judge in your mind you won’t feel like a success no matter how much you achieve.  To really feel like a success, and good about your self, you will have to create an attitude of complete self acceptance.  Only then will you really feel the worthiness of your accomplishments.

This is why Self Acceptance is more important for your happiness than any accomplishment or achievement in your life.  And yet Self Acceptance is not really a big thing.  We can often have moments of it and we discover that it is not really an effort.  It is our natural way of being. It was our normal way of treating our self before we learned to set up an Image of Perfection in our mind that the Judge uses for comparison.

However, complete self acceptance is a challenge because it means dismantling of our self judgments.  Self Judgment is the obstacle that is in the way of Self Acceptance.  Once you dismantle Self Judgments, then Self Acceptance becomes effortless.  Self Acceptance is our natural way of being, it is not a big effort at all to accept our self.  What is an effort is removing the Images of Perfection and self judgments that we have acquired.

Let Self Acceptance be your Intent.  Intent is the direction and quality of your expression.

Say aloud, with Intent and calm resolve:  I will accept and love my self no matter what.

Intent vs. Goals

I like to make a distinction between a person’s goals, and Intent.  Intent is the direction of what you pursue, and you can do so with a passion.  It has to do with the direction of your focus and the actions you take towards your goals.  Your goals are where your intent will take you.  You can be completely focused and committed to your intent, and detached from the outcome of your goals.  Your intent has to do with everything you are doing and thinking right now to achieve your goals later.

We can use the metaphor of walking to a friends house.  Your friends house is the goal destination.  Your intent is everything you do to get dressed, put on your shoes, and the energy and intent of every step on that walk.  It is actions of your intent that will carry you to your goals.  And as long as you are focused on the action, and enjoying the action, you will not whining because you are not there yet, or thinking, “I should be there by now.”

Being aware of this distinction between Intent and Goals can help you avoid falling to the Near Enemy of goal setting.

For practical action steps on dismantling the critical voices in your head and false Images of Perfection practice the exercises in the Self Mastery Audio Program