On goal setting and discernment

A couple of days ago my brother-in-law posted a link to a column he had written. As a biologist he uses the analogy of the different ways in which certain organisms choose their environment to illustrate the importance of true navigation in our human lives. It is well worth reading.

http://www.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/winter2013/think-tank/human-animal.html

But it got me thinking. I am a little ambivalent about the idea of setting goals. I do understand that it is useful to have goals to work towards. Goals help both in keeping us on course, and in keeping us motivated. I think though, that I am little wary of presuming that we will arrive at a place of enlightenment or fulfilment or contentment simply by pursuing and attaining our goals.

My own life path has been erratic (if one measures it by the standards of goal setting). That is not to say that I did not have purpose and distinct trajectory in the choices I was making. My goal, in as much as I had one, was to deepen my relationship with God. That isn’t a very tangible goal, and it certainly took me on a very winding road. It continues to be the thing that motivates me, and yet the markers seem mostly to appear in hindsight.

I suppose my issue, inasmuch as I have one, is that I think goals are good, but only if we are open to the possibility of rethinking occasionally. I am a firm believer in importance of discernment. The daily task of paying attention: Paying attention to what is happening internally; paying attention to the feedback from my environment; paying attention to communication from God. That is something akin to the internal feedback of checking that I am on course, which is a little different to evaluating how I am doing with respect to my goal. Or it can be.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I think the direction we are headed in is more important than the proximity of a goal (whatever that goal might be). In pursuing a particular long favoured goal we may end up on the wrong trajectory. Pursing the goal may have simply been a useful means to get to place where we have greater perspective and are thus able to make different choices and set different goals.

We need to be attention on a daily basis; to notice whether the goals we set weeks, months or even years ago, are in fact still appropriate for our primal search for meaning. Goals are important but we need to continue to be discerning.

4 thoughts on “On goal setting and discernment

  1. This reminded me of Ignatius and his goal (I could almost say fixation) on going to the Holy Land. He needed some convincing to change course?

  2. Really enjoyed this. Thanks for writing. The present moment is place most people don’t even realize exists. It is for me, the key to knowing myself, which in turn aides in my ability to remain focused and clear when confronted with daily “issues”. Faith is something that is given to us, but also a gift that needs tending to. So pleased to see others walking around the world with similar mind set. I will be following this now, I think, as i have never followed a blogger before. Thanks to Phil for passing the link on.

  3. The only way to live a very successful life is to create goals. It’s preferable to create small goals that in due course lead to bigger goals. Unfortunately goal setting can be very time consuming so many people do not put in the proper effort. Too often we are plagued by distraction, lack of time, or fears. Visualization is one of the most powerful tools anyone can use. When you have implanted an image in your head, it stirs your subconscious to move you towards that direction.;^

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