Goals R Us

They’re the beginning, end, and middle of the entire story.

Posted Jul 10, 2019

Andriy Popov 123RF
How Much Television?
Source: Andriy Popov 123RF

Life is all about goals. Everything we do is designed to either keep our goals on track, or to get them back on track. From the time sperm and an egg do their baby-making tango until our final breath is exhaled, our entire existence is scripted by our goals. We have goals about the saltiness of our food, the cleanliness of our kitchen, the warmth of our house, the amount of exercise we do, how frequently we catch up with friends, the amount we contribute to a colleague’s farewell gift, the length of our fingernails before we cut them, the distance between us and the car ahead, the extent to which we involve ourselves in community events, the grades we get in our subjects and courses, and on and on. In fact, everything we do can be traced to at least one goal.

It all starts and stops with goals. Let’s think about that for a moment: There are very few absolute decrees or pronouncements we can make about life, but this is one of them. There are no ifs or buts; goals are what it’s all about. An achievement is only an achievement because a goal has been captured. Disappointment only appears when a goal has slipped away. Learning is nothing more than a process of creating new goals and discovering ways to experience them. Everything to do with living needs to be considered in the context of goals.

Given the fundamental importance of goals, unpacking the title of this post might be useful and instructive: “Goals R Us."

“Goals." A goal is simply a specification about the way some part of the world must be. How long your hair should be, how much to spend on a holiday, how much to restrict your child’s TV time, how much glucose there should be in your blood, how loud the radio should be, how busy your weekend should be, and how much information to share with your new colleague, are some of the different areas in which goals can be established and maintained. Your world is the way it is and continues to be the way it is, and changes the way it does, because of your goals. Forces from the world that engulfs you undoubtedly have an effect, but it’s your goals that are primary.

“R.” Goals are what we are. They are the most that we are and the least that we are. Our magnificence is all about goals, and our fallibility, too. We can never step outside our goals. Being carefree, going with the flow, and not having any goals — these are still goals. The idea to not be restricted, constrained, or pressured by goals, is still a goal! There really is no escape. Every time you feel happy or content, it’s because of a goal. When you’re glum, that’s also because of a goal. Perhaps it is true that we are what we eat but what we eat is determined entirely by our goals. Maybe it would be better to say, “We are what our goals instruct us to eat.” We can only ever be praised or insulted relative to our goals. Criticizing me for my lack of mastery of Swahili won’t cause even the faintest blip on my radar because mastering Swahili is not a goal of mine.    

"Us." Each of us is, individually, an us. And, as an “us," individually, we are, essentially, a massive, cacophonous, coordinated, networked universe of goal-seeking systems. Each system specifies how some aspect of the world is supposed to be from our individual, unique perspectives. The hierarchy works like a well-oiled machine by adjusting some goals to keep other goals in their right states. Have you ever varied how honest you will be on this occasion in order to protect a relationship goal that is important to you? Have you ever said something and then wished you hadn’t, or done something and wondered what had come over you? All of these experiences come down to goals in our "usness" that we’re not completely in tune with. So, each of these happenings provides us with an opportunity to know ourselves (or our us) a little better.

Goals are who we are, so the more we can get to know as many of our goals as possible, and especially how they relate to other goals we have, the more we’ll be able to ensure that our goals stay in their specified states.

In my next post, I’ll explore some of the implications of our wondrous nature as a network of goal-seeking systems.