Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Should You Act to Achieve Your Goals or Manifest Them?

Reaching your goals requires more than just acting on your intentions.

Key points

  • Having a goal or intention does not guarantee results.
  • In your brain, after you state your goal, numerous unconscious factors converge to alter that stated goal.
  • Rather than executing on your goals, consider self-transcendence and becoming a channel of your goal’s source, which is elsewhere.
  • Meditating, detaching from struggle, and allowing your commitments to define reality, may help you transcend yourself.
Source: Marrio31 /iStockphoto
Source: Marrio31 /iStockphoto

Many of us have goals and intentions, yet we cannot attain them despite having them. Recent research suggests that goals and intentions may be a start, but they evolve into far more complex phenomena. Also, rather than being the causes of our actions, we might realize that what we want requires connecting to something outside ourselves. In that sense, we are a channel.

Your intention is not necessarily the reason for your results

Four factors make it unlikely that your goals or intentions instigate results.2 The moment you state your intention or move toward your goal, several branching effects can occur. Through these divergences and eventual convergences, different factors (that are vastly different from your original goal or intention) come into play.

In addition, after your initial intention, you may get feedback that alters its meaning or power. Also, your initial intention may flip a switch that causes an unintended consequence or permanent change. For example, stress may help you build immunity until it flips a switch.

And finally, your intention may activate subtle accurate or inaccurate information that may work for or against you.

The selfish goal theory

Research has proven that our goals may sometimes drive processes in contradictory ways.3 That’s because you have both conscious and unconscious goals, and your conscious goals may not be as powerful as you think. Many people struggle with this as they try to get something done when they truly want it, yet procrastinate for some reason that they cannot rationalize. Because this “reason” is unconscious, it’s difficult to get to.

When you’re not getting to your goal, you should suspect conflicting goals at play and explore them. I sometimes see this when people are proud of their achievements because of a struggle, but when they try to go further, they can’t because struggling is a more important part of their identities than getting to the next level. No amount of intentional goal pursuit will get them there. They must give up the struggle.

Also, despite believing that we can be agents of our own actions, it is sometimes impossible. That’s because our external circumstances may prevent this. In addition, research indicates that we are often unaware of the reasons behind our actions and the biases underlying our evaluations. And sometimes, external factors act automatically to constrain us.

For instance, you may be trying to make more money but have a spouse with “reasonable” scarcity thinking that your risks will endanger you. This external circumstance may take the wind out of your sails. Even though you disagree with your spouse, you may limit the risks you take and unconsciously avoid lucrative opportunities because you are intimidated by the risks. And every time you get a bill or are in a financial pinch, this acts automatically to constrain you too.

Acausal actions

Outside of causing an action, things happen in many other ways. For example, psychiatrist Carl Jung talked about synchronicity, which was about meaningful co-incidences without apparent cause. Jung believed that the mind is guided by a system of forms, the archetypes, which are powerful, even though they don’t carry any mass or energy, and are real, even though they are invisible.1 Certainly, numerous things, like atoms and certain frequencies of sound and light, can influence our biology. The idea that the invisible can influence our thoughts is not that far-fetched.

What can you do if you’re not achieving your goals?

If you’re not achieving your goals, consider that acausal factors are at play. Do not rely on reality to define your commitments. Instead, allow your commitments to create new realities, and proceed with the belief that you can deliver on these even if you have not delivered on these in the past.4 Examine whether you are attached to struggling as part of your identity and allow yourself to be someone different.

That’s not to say you should hope and abandon doing, but that instead, you should act in accordance with your vision for your life with a simultaneous awareness of your agency and your ability to channel more transcendent powers. When you transcend your current self (through processes like meditation, for example)5 you may be able to express the new self you are looking to become. Since anxiety is the cry of the self in the process of becoming,6 expect to be anxious, but know that this anxiety signals a new beginning.


(1) Valadas Ponte, D.; Schäfer, L. Carl Gustav Jung, Quantum Physics and the Spiritual Mind: A Mystical Vision of the Twenty-First Century. Behav Sci (Basel) 2013, 3 (4), 601–618.

(2) Brash, D. E. Rethinking Causation for Data-Intensive Biology: Constraints, Cancellations, and Quantized Organisms. Bioessays 2020, 42 (7), e1900135.

(3) Huang, J. Y.; Bargh, J. A. The Selfish Goal: Autonomously Operating Motivational Structures as the Proximate Cause of Human Judgment and Behavior. Behav Brain Sci 2014, 37 (2), 121–135.

(4) Pillay, D. S. Inside the Mind of a Troubled Leader. Medium.… (accessed 2020-04-08).

(5) Kang, Y. Examining Interpersonal Self-Transcendence as a Potential Mechanism Linking Meditation and Social Outcomes. Curr Opin Psychol 2019, 28, 115–119.

(6) Badiche, A.; Eudier, F.; Guerry, P. [Psychodynamic understanding of anxiety]. Encephale 1983, 9 (4 Suppl 2), 17B-21B.

More from Srini Pillay M.D.
More from Psychology Today