Pledge: The Context
In this article, a definitive look at what philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and scientists throughout history have thought regarding the importance of having one prevailing mission or life goal and its impact on an individual’s happiness and well-being.
The Power of Goal Setting
Let’s talk about why goal setting is important for members of our Bodhi community. If you took just one lesson from this month’s challenge, it should be that setting a goal is an act that makes everything else better. The science on this is pretty clear.
- Setting goals contributes to higher motivation & self-confidence
- Setting goals is tied to stronger feelings of autonomy
- Setting a goal rewires your brain in ways that increase your likelihood of achieving that goal
And so on. Decades of research back up this thing that we all seem to intuitively understand, which is that goals lead to success. They are not the only component of success, obviously. We still must do work to achieve our goals and to overcome setbacks as they occur. But that act of goal setting raises our likelihood of success in a number of ways.
For example, scientists have demonstrated that setting a goal causes a person’s brain to adapt its circuitry in such a way as to give work towards that goal priority over other mental tasks. It’s almost as if we’re able to hack our brains to work in our favor, which is pretty neat.
Clarity of Mind
And setting your goal will help you prioritize your life. The clarity that comes from saying, “This is my most important priority” is immensely helpful when making every other decision in your life. Instead of evaluating decisions based on abstractions like “good” or “bad”, you can ask yourself, “which decision would best advance my goal of XYZ?”
In order to set yourself up for success, follow the recommendations from science.
- Focus on one goal, two at most. Goal setting works better when it’s specific.
- The more ambitious the goal is, the more likely you are to make progress towards it.
In other words, don’t try to boil the ocean with a million personal goals. Focus your life on one goal, be as specific as possible, and then make sure that the goal you chose isn’t a total gimme.
As an example, if you can already run three miles and you want to be able to run a half-marathon, you could do better than these two weak goals:
- I will practice running more.
- I will run in a half-marathon.
Instead try something like this:
- I will complete a training course to achieve thirteen miles in under two hours by the end of October of this year.
The Power of Declaration
Once you have your goal, make sure to write it down. According to research, people who write down their goals are 33% more likely to achieve them than people who merely set goals in their heads.
There’s something about writing a goal down that just makes it more real than if you just think about it. If your goal is something that can be tracked with numbers, you may consider going so far as creating a simple tracking spreadsheet. But in any case, take the time to write out your goal, preferably with a pen and paper.
Science gives us another interesting tidbit on this topic, too. The mere act of setting a difficult goal reduces its perceived difficulty. As in, a goal that feels like a stretch before you declare it, feels like less of a stretch after you declare it. That doesn’t mean it magically becomes easy to achieve, mind you, it just means that your brain views the goal as less intimidating, which raises your overall confidence level towards achieving the end you want.
Boosting Personal Accountability
It’s probably no surprise that writing down your goals increases your personal accountability towards them. But if you want to take it a couple of steps further, first do this:
- Translate your goal into a plan, which will improve your personal accountability and success rate.
And then do this:
- Send your goals and your weekly progress to a trusted friend, which has been shown to even further boost our accountability and probability of success
These two actions are a great way to increase your commitment level to your goal. And if for some reason you don’t want to share with a friend - perhaps your goal is private - writing down a plan is still a great step forward.
Modern Philosophy, Psychology, & Science
Modern science and psychology have explored the nature of happiness and well-being from an empirical perspective, investigating the factors that contribute to human flourishing. Research suggests that having a sense of purpose and meaning, engaging in activities that align with one's values and interests, and fostering positive social connections can contribute to greater happiness and well-being. Additionally, modern psychology emphasizes the importance of cultivating a growth mindset and focusing on personal strengths and resilience in pursuit of goals.
Modern philosophy offers a variety of perspectives on the importance of having a prevailing life mission or goal. Some philosophers, such as Kant and Nietzsche, emphasize the importance of individual autonomy and self-realization, suggesting that pursuing one's own goals and ambitions is key to personal fulfillment. Others, such as Mill and Bentham, explore the nature of happiness and well-being, suggesting that having a sense of purpose and contributing to the greater good can lead to a sense of fulfillment and happiness.
Axial Philosophies Overall
The Axial Philosophies, which emerged between 800 and 200 BCE in different regions of the world, emphasized the importance of having a central mission or life goal as a means of achieving happiness and well-being. According to these philosophies, a clear sense of purpose and direction in life can help individuals overcome the challenges and difficulties they face and lead to a fulfilling life. For example, Confucianism emphasized the importance of fulfilling one's duties and obligations to society, while Buddhism emphasized the pursuit of inner peace and enlightenment. The Axial Philosophies continue to influence many aspects of contemporary thought and culture.
Confucianism & Daoism
Confucianism emphasizes the importance of fulfilling one's social duties and obligations to achieve a harmonious society, which involves having a clear sense of one's role in society and striving for moral self-cultivation. Meanwhile, Daoism emphasizes the importance of cultivating inner harmony and naturalness, which involves being in tune with oneself and the world. Both philosophies recognize the importance of having a sense of purpose and direction in life, which can contribute to an individual's happiness and well-being.
Hinduism & Buddhism
Hinduism is a complex and diverse religious and philosophical tradition that originated in ancient India. It emphasizes the importance of fulfilling one's dharma, or duty, in life, which involves following the moral and social obligations associated with one's caste or social status. Hinduism also emphasizes the pursuit of moksha, or liberation from the cycle of rebirth, through spiritual practice and self-realization. Both the pursuit of dharma and moksha are seen as contributing to an individual's happiness and well-being.
Central to Buddhism's Eightfold Path is the pursuit of right intention, speech, action, livelihood, mindfulness, concentration, and effort, all of which are aimed at developing wisdom and ethical conduct. Buddhism emphasizes the importance of having a clear sense of purpose and direction in life, which can lead to greater happiness and well-being.
Traditional Western Philosophy & Stoics
The Stoics believed that a sense of purpose and direction in life could be achieved by aligning oneself with the natural order and accepting what cannot be changed. They also emphasized the importance of developing inner strength and resilience in the face of adversity.
Christianity, Judaism, Islam
Christianity emphasizes the importance of loving and serving God and others as the ultimate purpose of life. Christians are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who lived a life of love, service, and sacrifice. Through faith in Christ, Christians believe that they can find meaning and purpose in life and attain eternal life in heaven. Christianity also teaches that loving and serving others can lead to a sense of fulfillment and happiness.
Judaism emphasizes the importance of fulfilling one's religious and moral obligations, as outlined in the Torah and other Jewish texts. Jews are called to live a life of righteousness, justice, and compassion, and to contribute to the betterment of the world. Judaism also emphasizes the importance of personal growth and self-improvement, through the pursuit of wisdom, prayer, and other spiritual practices. The pursuit of a meaningful life, grounded in faith and moral values, is seen as contributing to an individual's happiness and well-being.
Islam emphasizes the importance of submitting to the will of God and fulfilling one's religious and moral obligations. Muslims are called to follow the teachings of the Qur'an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who lived a life of service, compassion, and devotion to God. Islam emphasizes the importance of individual accountability, and the pursuit of a meaningful life through the pursuit of knowledge, worship, and ethical conduct. The pursuit of a virtuous life, grounded in faith and devotion to God, is seen as contributing to an individual's happiness and well-being.
“Goal-Setting Is Linked to Higher Achievement”
“What Goal-Setting Does to Your Brain and Why It's Spectacularly Effective”
“The Science & Psychology Of Goal-Setting 101”
“The Science of Setting Goals”
“How to Set and Achieve Goals, According to Science”
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