Is goal setting a Bane or boon, a curse or a blessing, a deep affliction or of great benefit?  For sure goal setting can be a double-edged sword.   I have been a list-writer all my life, and there’s a way in which list writing and goal setting are closely linked.  I realize that for me it’s useful to ask the question of who is writing the list? Just who is it who is setting the goal?  

Over the decades, my ego has lots of goals.  It’s been driven ever since it was in the first grade and tried to get gold stars for good spelling, or tried to make its body look like the cultural norm, or tried to live up to family expectations… Notice the italics of “tried to”.  That’s the ego kicker.  Living fraught with efforting, struggling, always trying… (Maybe you’d like to create an “ego goal list” yourself!)  

goal setting

From where I am now, I find it quite painful, but also very illuminating to look back at the years of struggles.  As many of you, especially those interested in some form of self-actualization or spiritual work, will know, this sort of ego efforting is ultimately futile, because the ego is never satisfied. There is never enough. There may be momentary relief from the striving, the push, the pressure and the pain, but soon there will be another round of not enough and the goal setting will begin again.  

But what if there’s some other kind of goal setting possible? Is goal setting a bane or a boon?  What if I am just open to the potential, to the moment, to possibilities, to the arising and sense of what’s needed, in my life, in my community, on my planet?  What if I am attuned to where my heart calls me?   Seems like I can then focus on what steps can you help me move or will lead me in this direction, and maybe even make a list or set a goal from a very different starting place. Maybe I can set goals, and take small steps toward them, from a deeper, more real, caring, even an enthusiastic, authentic place. Now THAT would be a boon! What do you think? I’d love to hear. We’re in this together.

goal setting

Apropos small steps, Kaizen is a Japanese term about the art and magic of small steps Here’s a book that has a really useful summary of the ideas.:  One Small Step Can Change Your Life.

In closing, a beautiful story about this theme of small steps:

The Daffodil Principle. (author unknown)

Several times my son had telephoned to say, “Dad, you must
come see the daffodils before they are over. I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead. “I will come next Tuesday,” I promised, a little reluctantly, on his third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised,
and so I drove there. When I finally walked into Jake’s house
and hugged and greeted my grandchildren, I said, “Forget the
daffodils, Jake!  The road is invisible in the clouds and fog,
and there is nothing in the world except you and these children
that I want to see bad enough to drive another inch.”

My son smiled calmly, “We drive in this all the time, Dad.”

We piled the kids in the car, left, and after several minutes
I had to ask, “Where are we going? This isn’t the way to the

“We’re going to the garage the long way,” Jake smiled, “by
way of the daffodils.”


“Jake,” I said sternly, “please turn around.”

“It’s all right, Dad. I promise you will never forgive yourself if
you miss this experience.”

After about twenty minutes we turned onto a small gravel road
and I saw a little church. On the far side of the church I saw a
hand-lettered sign “Daffodil Garden.”

We got out of the car and each took a child’s hand and I
followed Jake down the path. Then we turned a corner of the
path and I looked up and gasped.

Before me lay the most glorious sight. It looked as though
someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it down
over the mountain peak and slopes. The flowers were planted
in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep
orange, white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, saffron and butter
yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted as a group
so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own
unique hue – Five acres of flowers.

“But who has done this?” I asked Jake.

“It’s just one man,” Jake answered. “He lives on the property.
That’s his home.” Jake pointed to a well-kept A-frame house
that looked small and modest in the midst of all that glory.

We walked up to the house. On the patio we saw a poster:
“Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking” was the
headline. The first answer was a simple one: “50,000 bulbs,” it
read. The second answer was “One at a time, by one man.”
“Two hands, two feet, and very little brain.”  The third answer
was “Began in 1958.”

There it was – The Daffodil Principle. For me that moment was
a life-changing experience. I thought of this man whom I had
never met, who, more than 35 years before, had begun one
bulb at a time to bring his vision of beauty and joy to an
obscure mountaintop.  Still, just planting one bulb at a time,
year after year, had changed the world.

This unknown man had forever changed the world in which he
lived. He had created something of ineffable magnificence,
beauty, and inspiration.

The principle his daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest
principles of celebration: learning to move toward our goals
and desires one step at a time — often just one baby step at
a time — learning to love the doing, learning to use the
accumulation of time.

When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of
daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent
things. We can change the world.

“It makes me sad in a way,” I admitted to Jake. “What might I
have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal 35
years ago and had worked away at it ‘one bulb at a time’
through all those years. Just think what I might have been able
to achieve!”

My son summed up the message of the day in his direct way.
“Start now,” he said.

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, andgrowth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Follow me on Twitter, let’s be friends on Facebook. 

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