When we think of goal setting we often think of going after tangible results, such as losing weight, landing a dream job, or creating a successful startup. Many of us think that our purpose comes from what we find or produce in the external world. As much as capitalism wants us to think that way, all of us already have everything we need to live a purposeful and meaningful life.
A meaningful life entails becoming the highest and most authentic version of yourself in every endeavor- your profession, relationships, volunteer work, travel, creative activities, to name a few. Things are constantly changing – we get older, we meet new people, move to different locations, achieve milestones, have new experiences and try out new ideas. As all these changes take place we are continually challenged to shift our old perspectives and strengthen our values, and in the process, transform into better human beings.
Get to know yourself
Think of your current self as a jumbled, knotted ball of yarn. Your true self is revealed to you once you unravel the ball of mess, and the first step of the journey is to locate the tip of the yarn.
In the book Strangers to Ourselves, psychologist Timothy Wilson summarizes decades of research on what he calls our adaptive unconscious, showing us just how much of what we do during every moment of every day — what we think, how we feel, the goals we pursue and the actions we take — is happening below our conscious awareness. The limited, small insight we have about ourselves is often imposed on us or heavily influenced by our parents, peers, and media. We are the product of the influences and pressures from society to be and act a certain way so we can land the higher paying jobs, impress others, or live up to family expectations yet we desperately long to live a life of passion and purpose that is true to who we are.
Self-discovery is a long and continuous journey but it starts with simply getting to know ourselves through following our curiosity and interests. Step by step we go deeper and deeper into discovering our true selves, and hopefully falling in love with what we find. Since this is an unpaved, low-traffic road the ride is bumpy and there aren’t many others around to point you in the right directions, so it requires that you have commitment and focus to stay the course. Tackle every obstacle that comes your way and then reflect on how you managed the challenge once it’s passed. Think about how you handled it, what you learned, and what you would do differently next time. Little by little you learn, grow, and shed the old layers that no longer serve you.
Life is a journey and it’s about growing and changing and coming to terms with who and what you are and loving who and what you are. — Kelly McGillis
Set your goals on self-improvement
If you are struggling to make meaning out of your life try turning goal setting inward. That means instead of pursuing worldly goals like losing weight, reaching financial success, achieving high status, to name a few – aim to develop yourself in all aspects of your life. Aim for continued improvement. It’s not always possible to plan long into the future. Just decide on the next best action you can take from where you stand and go for it. Work hard, be vigilant. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on, don’t waste your time dwelling on failures. Reflect on them, learn from them, and carry on. If you repeat a mistake, don’t let frustration take over. All it means is you have more learning to achieve in that area. Be kind to yourself, and through reflection and analysis, learn the remaining lessons.
By reflecting on ourselves and our lives we create meaning and significance as we continue to grow and develop. As Plato says, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” You will notice that by growing intellectually, spiritually and emotionally you automatically place yourself on the path to achieving your worldly goals.