Setting Personal Goals

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Much has been said and written in recent years about the value of goal setting and the importance of guiding our lives toward certain predetermined objectives. This process has taken on many of the aspects of an exact science. It has found expression in the world of education in the form of behavioral objectives, and in the corporate and industrial world it manifests itself in a "management-by-objective" philosophy. Some individuals feel that unless each hour of each day is programmed to achieve specific objectives, life cannot be lived to the fullest, and personal potential is being cheated. In fact, this general notion has become so universally accepted that to question the value of goal setting in the achievement of any public or private enterprise is no longer rational in the general point of view.

Setting goals and objectives to guide one's efforts toward accomplishment is one of the processes of human dynamics that can be demonstrated to yield positive results. It is a process, however, that can also be restricting and limiting when it is distorted or misguided. It is important to hold this process in the right perspective when we seek to understand the principles that lead to human progress.

An important distinction must be made between the potentially confining process of setting goals and objectives and the more encompassing need of having a general purpose in life. This distinction is more than a play on words. One's purpose in life has an overriding influence upon what he does with his time, energy, and resources. It can also have a profound effect upon how he relates to other people. Without this purpose life has no compass. Within the framework of such a purpose, there is an acceptable place for much spontaneity and flexibility. Indeed, without this freedom life can become stilted and sterile, and much of the potential for progressive inspiration and renewal can be thwarted. Unless the goals and objectives an individual works toward are harmonious with his general purpose in life, a devastating kind of internal conflict can develop that is destructive to happiness and personal development. Appropriate, useful goals and objectives must be a direct outgrowth of one's perceived purpose in life. Otherwise they can lead to a random expenditure of effort and resources that may not contribute effectively to long-range progress.

Purpose entails much that is qualitative. It does not always lend itself to quantitative measurement in terms of numbers, percentages, size, and volume. In today's material world most objectives are considered to be meaningless unless they are expressed in quantitative terms and are susceptible to measurement within these terms.

It is important for us to bear in mind that worthwhile goals and objectives can be of a qualitative nature as well as a quantitative one; that is, they can relate to the quality of people, things, and relationships as well as to numbers and size. In a materialistic society much more attention and validity seem to be attached to quantitative goals, probably because they are more easily measured and reflect more directly profit and loss, material growth, and production. This should not lead to the conclusion that attainments of a qualitative nature are less important than those that lend themselves to easy numerical measurement. In fact, in the realm of moral and spiritual things, qualities may be much more significant than quantities. The nature of one's relationship to others may have more significance and more value than his "productivity."

There is no conclusive evidence that setting and working toward quantitative objectives always and inevitably produces beneficial qualitative effects in one's life. Indeed, a too-intent focus upon the acquisition or production of quantities of things may actually obscure the need for qualitative development, and in the world of spiritual things, such a condition could be an obstruction to the achievement of the goals...
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