Modern life can be deeply stressful and confusing because of its complexity. Like a maze with too many directions, life fosters anxiety because it is difﬁcult to know which way to go. You can navigate the labyrinth by embracing two big "G" words: Goals and God.
Goals help you deﬁne your direction, gather your energy, and cut through a dizzying amount of distraction. They relieve stress because they provide a conduit for wholesome, positive action.
Inaction fuels helplessness, generating the worst kinds of stressful states of mind: desperation and despondency. We become trapped in habit patterns of negative thinking, blind to opportunities, victimized by powerlessness. Setting goals helps reverse these conditions. By deﬁning targets and taking small, consistent steps toward them, we clear a path through the complexity. Instead of being stuck, we become empowered.
Of course there is much more to life than setting and achieving goals. Life can be shallow and self-centered if it lacks an expansive connection to the inﬁnite creative presence known as God (Goddess, Brahma, Buddha nature, Christ consciousness, Allah, Life, Being, Spirit). When we unite ourselves with a loving, inclusive God, we are lit from within. We no longer feel driven to deﬁne ourselves by approval or results. We build a consciousness that can move with equanimity through frustration, fear, and pain.
When goals become partnered with awakening to God, it yields a process I call "spiritual goal-setting." Spiritual goal-setting is a tool for much more than simple acquisition of things and management of life's confusion. When goal-setting is spiritualized, results are not the main focus; it is the process we care about. Through the process, we grow, learn, and awaken. The goal itself is merely icing on the cake.
How to Set Spiritual Goals
The Buddha talked about the importance of cultivating four states of mind: equanimity, loving-kindness, compassion, and joy in others' successes-states collectively known as the "heavenly abodes." The more they arise, the more happiness we experience. Stress has no room to take root. Spiritual goal-setting provides a wonderful opportunity for cultivating the heavenly abodes. How? The answer is simple: through generosity. The driving energy behind spiritual goal-setting is generosity. As you'll read below, every goal is extended into a generous action. The Buddha says that, in a single act of generosity, all four heavenly abodes are experienced equally.
Now to the speciﬁcs:
Declare Your Goal
Goals must be measurable. Make your goal as speciﬁc as possible so that you'll know when it is achieved. It should also have an end date or condition. Educator and businesswoman Chellie Campbell, author of The Wealthy Spirit: Daily Afﬁrmations for Financial Stress Reduction, deﬁnes a goal as a dream with a deadline. Here are a few simple examples:
Deﬁne Your Act of Generosity
This is where you extend your goal into an act of generosity. Some goals are naturally noble; others need to be expanded a bit. Find a way to serve others with the goal you have set for yourself. Here are a few examples:
By extending your goal into charitable action, you fuel your enthusiasm for achieving it. Each act of charity brings you happiness in three ways: the pleasure of the planning, the joy of actually doing it, and the warmth of the memory. Generosity is a delight and a relief. It is the ultimate stress reducer. Through generosity, the uptight, demanding energy we sometimes bring to our projects is either expelled or never really has a chance to develop.
My friend Bob complained about this step. "Why should I extend my goal into a generous action? I already put in a million work hours to support my family. My whole life is a generous action!"
Let me clarify: The idea is to include generosity as part of your goal; it doesn't have to be a staggering effort. Make the extension something you will enjoy or care about doing. For example, if Bob decides that he is going to submit his taxes on time this year, he could extend his goal into a special trip to the park with his children.
Like Bob, you may be burdened with "daily grind" responsibilities that feel emotionally and spiritually empty. You're probably careful not to squander what little energy you have left at the end of the day, but energy and happiness grow from sharing, not hoarding-from emptying your cup so that it may be ﬁlled again. This is accomplished by acts of conscious, open-handed generosity. It may be challenging to get started, but no lesson is more important to learn....
A ﬁnal word about this process: Always include quiet time for meditation or prayer. Try starting and ending your day with a spiritual practice. It will help transform a potentially self-centered effort into an open-hearted, creative sharing of universal abundance.