“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi
The horizon is always just as far away no matter how far you travel. It is not until you turn around and look back over the distance you’ve come that you can appreciate the progress you have made. If you just keep setting new goals every year and not set aside time to stop, reflect and appreciate where you’ve been, your goals can become empty pursuits of achievement that not only add little to your experience of joy, but can actually reduce it.
Over the years, my own understanding of goals and the process of making them have transformed significantly, and they continue to transform. One of the major realizations I’ve had when it comes to how I was setting goals is that most of them were set from a focus on what I perceived to be missing or not having enough in my life.
Another thing I noticed about most of my past goals is that they were accomplishment-based. As a result, my own sense of self-worth became directly tied to how many of my goals I accomplish or didn’t accomplish. Many of my past goals ended up doing more harm than good because they kept me stuck in the belief that my well-being was something to get to, rather than something based on a more profound awareness of who I really am and what life is really for.
The purpose of this article is to share something that is even more important – an essential prerequisite to creating goals that serve me instead of enslave me. What is this pre-requisite?
It is to not set goals until I come from a state of profound appreciation for what is. It is from this state that I see more clearly and easily distinguish between personality-driven goals that seek a greater sense of external security, and soul driven desires that contribute more to life for the sheer joy of it.
To me, any worthwhile goal must be a stepping stone to the ultimate goal of life, or it is really just a distraction and vain pursuit of the personality. What is the ultimate goal of life? I believe it is this: to live moment by moment in a state of deep appreciation for what is, and profound awareness of the essential truth of who I am, and who you are, and what life is for.
I am not here to change life, but rather to appreciate it and be changed by life and to contribute my part to it.
Here’s a practice I’ve come to treasure myself and which I love to do before creating any new goals for a new year. I call it my “AAA Inventory” (Annual Appreciation & Awareness Inventory). I make an appointment with myself where I can have some quiet time for reflection and writing.
I focus my reflection on the following ten questions and stick with them until I have written down several answers for each:
1. What ways this year did I intentionally push myself outside of my comfort zone?
2. What ways this year did life push me outside of my comfort zone?
3. What people did I meet or deepen my acquaintance with this year that stand out as significant/meaningful?
4. What books did I read or experiences did I have this year that helped me become a better version of myself?
5. What new places did I visit this year that I’ve never been to before?
6. In what ways was I able to contribute something meaningful to others this year?
7. What were some of my favorite moments this year?
8. In what ways was I supported by others this year?
9. In what ways was I really blessed this year?
10. What are some important lessons I learned/re-learned this year?
I let my emotions guide me as I do this. If I find myself feeling grateful, self-affirming, contented and inspired – I know I’m doing it right. If I find myself feeling lousy in any way, I know I’m doing it wrong. If this were the case, I would try to identify the thought that is creating that feeling and say something like :
“I know that is not really true because I am feeling lousy, so no matter how much evidence you come up with to prove your case, I know it’s an illusion. Nice try, but I’m not buying. I trust my emotional intelligence. It will always let me know if I’m believing a lie, no matter how cleverly disguised, by causing me to feel lousy.”
Then I go back at the questions again until I am basking in a feeling of deep appreciation. It is from this state of clear perception that I make best goals.
I keep a written record of my answers to these questions from year to year. To me this written record is of great value- most importantly to me, but also to my posterity someday.