Much of our culture, as well as our lives, are goal oriented…which is a good thing! However, that mindset can sometimes backfire on us and place restrictions and limitations on our overall happiness, peace, and contentment. Setting goals for ourselves that are S-M-A-R-T (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound) is vitally important for success both professionally as well as personally. Without goals, our lives can be like a rudderless ship…going around in circles and ending up nowhere in the end. However, focusing too much on our goals, driving ourselves too hard to achieve them, and defining ourselves and the quality of our lives exclusively on achieving those goals is a sure recipe for disaster and shipwreck!
As a personal example to illustrate this phenomenon, a few years ago I woke up one morning and for some reason decided to hike the biggest mountain on Kodiak Island. It was right after the holidays, and I had been eating way too much and exercising way too little. I was in terrible shape at the moment but was dead set on climbing that mountain as a way of kick-starting my exercise program for the upcoming New Year. So, I loaded up my pack, grabbed my trekking pole and up and away I went! After ten hours, a great deal of profuse sweating, excruciating muscle cramps, throbbing knees, dehydration and near hypothermia, I had made it to the top and back down. It was a miserable ordeal, to say the least, and it took me twice as long as it should have due to my poor conditioning at the moment. There was nothing enjoyable about that hike at all. But, I did it. I had achieved my goal. I was satisfied…for the moment…but not genuinely happy.
Months later, I did that hike again…this time in shape…and with no specific goals for the day, other than simply enjoying the journey. I took my time along the trail, pausing often to enjoy the sight of the winding river below, the deer and bear moving through the thick brush, the bald eagles soaring overhead and the mountain goats roaming the distant peaks. I took many breaks while ascending and descending the mountain to sit down and rest, drink some water, and just reflect and pray about the goodness of life while taking in the breathtaking beauty that was all around me…all things I had totally ignored and failed to see and do the last time I hiked that mountain…as I only cared about one thing and one thing only…getting to the top. It was an important lesson for me to realize that so much of the joy in life is in the journey, and to take the time to appreciate the many things that often get pushed aside or ignored while pushing so hard to achieve a goal.
Again, it’s so very easy to go through life by putting goal oriented limitations or demands on our happiness and peace. How often we say to ourselves things like, “I’ll only be happy when I get that new job…that new house…that bigger salary…when I accomplish this goal or that goal…etc., etc.” And, when we do get those things or accomplish those goals, how often we find ourselves saying, “Wow! That was great! But now what?” Happiness that is dependent upon fulfilling a goal is often exceptionally fleeting. While it may be a source of great satisfaction, it’s more like a “sugar high,” which dissipates quickly and leaves one wanting more in the end.
As many spiritual masters have pointed out throughout the centuries, true happiness is not goal dependent, but rather, it’s a chosen and cultivated mindset which ultimately comes from appreciating and enjoying the immense beauty and simple blessings of life that are all around us while on our journey. So, while it is extremely important to set goals for ourselves to keep our lives moving in the right direction, and to work hard at achieving those goals…don’t forget to slow down once in a while, take a break, open your eyes as well as your heart and enjoy the journey along the trail of life!
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