The Perils of Goal Setting

Since the age of twelve, I have been exposed to the field of self-improvement. My father collected and read books on the subject — Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and a slew of countless others. He also became interested in, and actually became a distributor for, the motivational self-improvement products offered by Paul J. Meyer’s Success Motivation Institute, and our house became a storehouse of multi-tape collections such as Blueprint for Success, The Dynamics of Personal Leadership and so on. This was in the late 1970s, so it preceding Tony Robbins as far as I know.

I of course being a directionless teenager (in the estimable opinion of my father, anyway), was instructed to read these materials and listen to endless hours of cassette recordings. My father’s speech became peppered with the buzz-words and slogans of this way of thinking — having a PMA or positive mental attitude, developing a POA or plan of action, and remembering quotes like if you are not making the progress you feel you should be making, or feel you are capable of making, it is simply because your goals are not clearly defined. I could go on. My dad was big on goal-setting. Never mind that at 14 or 15 I neither had the tools, experience or authority to exercise what was necessary to achieve my so-called goals — one of which was to avoid motivational instruction altogether.

Over the years, I have supplemented these books of my father’s with some of the same songs, but different verses, from other quarters. I’m OK, You’re OK, The Games People Play, Neuropsychology, The Road Less Traveled. My mother has offered to buy each of the kids one or another of the Tony Robbins courses. I myself have worked with the Centerpointe Holosync series, Learning Strategies Genius Code offering, Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and countless other tomes on creativity, motivation, mental acuity and so forth. The way that some people approach diets, and physical exercise programs, I have followed the strengthening of the mind and the interior world.

But I find myself often at a strange place. The place of hereness. Where there is no need to establish goals, or to plan excessively for the future. It is a world of possibilities, perhaps, but also one in which possibilities are not something to be achieved, anticipated or even engendered, but rather simply to be experienced.

And of course, my success with most of the above referenced materials is something short of stunning. Because, to quote Mr. Meyer again, “my goals are not clearly defined.” Yes, I suppose I’d like to make more money. But for what, exactly? Yes, I’d like to have more free time. To spend doing what? Yes, I’d like to be able to learn faster, retain more information, absorb using more of my sensate capacities, reach a deeper level of understanding. But why? To baffle ’em with bullshit at the next cocktail party? To solve all the world’s problems? To “win friends and influence people,” or in other words, gain the ability to sell something they don’t need to people who can’t afford to buy it?

I wonder.

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