Everything you decide to feel, think, perceive, believe and do has a motive, a goal of some kind, even if you yourself have no clear understanding of what you are aiming for. Where our mental and emotional life is concerned, we need to ask ‘What is this leading to?’ rather than ‘Why are we doing this?’ We always manage to come up with reasons and explanations aplenty, especially when it comes to making excuses. But few of us are used to examining our own aims and motives closely, to looking for the intention, the goal, of our behaviour.
Each of us pursues both positive and negative goals. For example, we would all like to achieve our full potential and we all try, consciously or otherwise, to reach that goal, the goal of perfection. Religious people strive to come closer to God. Companionship is another goal; nobody is really happy alone, even if they seem resigned to loneliness. Everyone strives for security, certainty and a sense of belonging to someone or something. In this context, even the so-called ‘drives’, such as self-preservation or preservation of the species, must be considered as goals.
All these goals are natural and perfectly acceptable, pursued in a positive way. The question to ask ourselves is: ‘What am l doing to reach my goal?’ Then: ‘Is my goal positive or negative?’ Negative goals are the ones that may hurt other people or, worst of all, can only be attained at the expense of others. We pay dearly for such goals; whether we attain them or not, they still lead to failure. It doesn’t matter whether we acknowledge our failure or claim it as a victory: we may have an A in Business, but we can still have an E in Life. Among these negative goals we need to differentiate between short-term and long-term goals. Long-term goals are deeply rooted in our earliest childhood and we may be almost completely unconscious of them, or at least not sufficiently conscious of them to understand what they really mean to our lives.
Let us pass over the short-term goals for the moment, and list some of today’s commonest long-term goals.
If you have been honest with yourself you will probably have found you have some, even many, of these goals. To make long-term goals less negative and more positive is very difficult and may require the help of a psychotherapist. In general these goals are so deeply entrenched in our minds, and we have had so much practice in striving for them, that changing them calls for more faith and courage than most people possess.
The mere desire to turn over a new leaf presupposes a self-awareness and self-dissatisfaction that constitute the beginning of a change from within; but only belief, powerful and consciously trained, can transform negative goals into more positive ones.
On the other hand, we can all learn to modify our short-term goals, especially as there are only five basic short-term goals that lead to anti-social or potentially harmful behaviour.
If we want to modify these goals, the first step is to discover which one is being pursued in a particular situation. Once we have identified the right goal, we can then ask ourselves whether, in a similar situation, we would still feel the need to pursue it. Usually we find that recognizing our goal allows us to see through our actions, and the moment we do this we will be much less likely to want to achieve the same goal with the same negative behaviour in the future.
Tackling our short-term goals can make a very important contribution to our efforts to improve our relationships with others, and is a wonderful way of achieving greater peace with our partners.