Spiritual Goals versus Material Goals: The Difference is in the Specifics
When you go to most self-help or business sections of a bookstore, you will find that when they talk about setting goals and planning for the future that it is important to be specific, measurable, realistic, etc.. because the brain works best when it has clarity about a target and then goes for it. This approach seems to work best when you have a finite, material goal such as building a home. When the goal is completed, you have what you have accomplished. When you get the new home, the goal is over. It starts to get a bit dicey to do this kind of goal setting when others are competing for the same thing. For instance, right now in the world you have lots of people visualizing medals around their necks that they are going to win at the Olympics. Most of them are going to go away without achieving the goals, but we will only hear about the ones who actually did win them. They will reinforce the ideas above which is how they saw the goals being achieved and how they worked to get there. It leads you to believe that if you do what they did, that you will win a gold medal. What we aren’t told in the goal setting process is that for everyone who sets a goal of winning the goal medal, there may be 10,000 others who do exactly the same thing, but fail. They go home at least partially disappointed some devastated even though they did what the winners did.
The problem with the way we value things currently in the world culture is that we lavish huge praise on making it to the top such as being first place, and then criticize everyone else who isn’t. Teams can lose by the smallest of margins, but because they didn’t win the championship, something is terribly wrong with them. This is because we are busy visualizing with great clarity our team winning and then feeling great about it. When they don’t live up to our specific vision that makes us feel good, then disappointment and maybe even anger set in. Then we start criticizing and trying to change the personnel so that the next time we avoid feeling disappointed.
There is another way to set goals that has another type of dynamic completely. It is very effective when the goal is process oriented or spiritual in nature. For instance, a great athlete who is at that the top of their game will tell you that they have had to work extremely hard to get to where they are so then we assume that all we have to do is to say the words “work hard” and then just do it. What is not very well explained or understood is that “working hard” is not a finite end. It is not a material thing. It is infinite and non-material. You will never reach the final end of “working hard”. You will only grow in your ability to do it better and better.
If you want to be effective in learning how to do spiritual things, you cannot speak about them as finite entities, but most of us do exactly that. We tell ourselves or others to be more courageous, more patient, more loving, more generous, or more honest as if saying the words will develop the process. If you want to become more patient, for instance, there are an infinite number of things that you need to learn and develop in yourself before you will have it in substantial quantities and then you have only barely begun to scratch the surface of learning about patience. Process goals are comparable to space travel. We have sent satellites to various planets, but there are infinite numbers of stars and other systems that we are a long way off of from getting to.
It seems to me that one of the great problems we have is we are stuck in a materialistic view of development. We are more interested in the size of our bank accounts than in developing our capacities and spending a great deal of time in the learning. When you set a material goal, you have a thing when you are finished that produces nothing such having more money or a house or a gold medal or a certificate. When you set a spiritual or process goal such as learning how to be determined, then at the end of working on it you have a process that is going to produce all kinds of wonderful things that will come flowing into you. For instance, you may have your eye on a specific person that you want to have a long-term relationship with as if that person were a material object like winning a goal medal and you may achieve it, but when that person doesn’t seem like a gold medal anymore, you will drop them or they will drop you. However, when you set the goal to learn how to be more loving and then work on it everyday, learn and develop until you are much more loving, then at the end of the work you will be able to have a great many relationships that are long-lasting and close.
The key difference between a spiritual goal and a material one is that when you are finished with a material goal, it is over, but when you have constantly changed to develop a new capacity or process, then you have something that constantly produces for the rest of your life. Last year I decided that I needed to get much better at the virtue of detachment. So basically I put my intention out there of being better at becoming detached particularly from the things that leaders do that I didn’t agree with. I realized that what I was doing was not helpful and causing me a lot of unhappiness despite feeling as though I was right. It took a long time nearly an entire year of working on the process daily to make some significant progress, but now those leaders’ decisions do not bother me so much and I am able to focus and do other things.
Spiritual goals or non-material processes assume that there is a higher power, what most of us call God that is the source of all knowledge. When you set a process goal such as learning how be more courageous, what I have found is that you can wake up each morning, ask the divine source for guidance and development in that process, and then do everything you can throughout that day to get the learning. Much of the learning will be in the form of dealing with difficult situations, of being tested and tried because that is where the good learning is, but you are also guided to good books and other things that increase your awareness and understanding. If you can stay in the process for a year, you will have amazing results and then the material things will take care of themselves.
There is a somewhat subtle difference that makes all of the difference. For instance, if you want more courage, you may be lead to doing something like rock climbing. If however, you have a kind of bucket list of having to climb a particularly rock face, then when you are finished you are finished. You may have a big more courage, but not much as when you focus on courage for an entire year. Because when you focus on it for a year you will have to face all kinds of fears such as the fear of being rejected by your partner.
What is difficult for most people when they do the spiritual goal setting, is that they decide one evening that they need a virtue like enthusiasm, but the next morning when they have to rush to work or get the children to school, the goal is gone never to return. If you want to change your character, which most of us believe is impossible, then it is important to give yourself some space and time each day to reflect on the progress and learning and then go out and practice it more each day. Since spiritual energy or something like a virtue is infinite in nature, there are always new lessons to learn each day. The divine force will guide you because it knows best. By staying in the process day after day you gradually change your character because you face your own weaknesses and hardships constantly. Then one day usually after a year, a new process decides to show up.
Most adults need to have processes that are relational in nature especially how to get closer to others because the world, in its current state, is primarily ruled by material forces that practice distancing yourself from others. A lot of leaders, for instance, have the notion that they have to remain distant from employees so that they have no problem disciplining or firing them when the bottom line does not appear as it should. If they were to develop closeness as goal, they begin to discover how much more productive everyone would become and how much better their organization worked, but they would have to stay in their own process everyday for a long time to get to that new ability.
In the next post, I am going to write about how to choose the process you need right now.