© Rostyslav Zabolotnyi | Dreamstime.com
“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as
something to aim at.”
Reading time: 20-25 mins.
This is a long post finalising our look at aim and objectives. I hope it will provide some food for thought as you go forward. Remember, that all the 31 suggestions exist as an essential part of each other. None of them come alive in isolation and all play a part in self-transformation.
Your aim must align to the best in yourself. It must ignite enjoyment over pleasure.
If you are an artist then your art must be deeply personal and passionately part of your being. When that happens, you will affect people. There are implications from your dedication to your aim. It will mean connections which initiate expansion for yourself and others. If you build your own narrative – genuine and sincere – it will click with others and they will play a part in the development and evolution of your aim.
Without that self-belief – because your aim and your objectives are you, if you’ve chosen correctly – the momentum is absent and the rotten fruit of failure will drop into your lap so many times that you’ll be forced to re-evaluate your plans. As long as the aim remains true, the distance and objectives along that trajectory can be adapted as many times as necessary. Failure is the whetstone upon which you build a razor-sharp aim that cuts through anything. This occurs by virtue of the fact is that it is TRUE and reflects the light of your intention.
Again, your aim and objectives will probably need work and will likely morph into something quite different depending on your field and focus. Go slow, step by step, that way you are much less likely to get disillusioned and/or create unnecessary obstacles. Often it is our anticipation and obsession with our aim that creates emotional static within which will repel constructive responses. Again, planning is about preparing the internal resonance so that the right response arrives in the outside world.
Do every objective for its own sake not for the perceived rewards. Even if your long-term aim keeps floating in front of you like a carrot on a stick, try to put it out of your daily mind while carefully arranging the system of objectives toward that aim. Every objective IS the aim. That way, instead of becoming impatient and miserable about your perceived lack of progress every completed action becomes part of that fractal process and overall vision, each giving birth to the other.
The manifestation of one’s final aim can’t happen overnight but it will happen.
In this post we’ll explore the notion of a personal system of consciousness and the process of objectives which can bring us creativity and flow, aligned to our primary aim.
Even though finding the right career is a noble goal, be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that true passion comes from a job you enjoy. According to Jon Jachimowicz, a social psychologist at New York’s Columbia University, he and his research team discovered that it is not necessarily passion that comes from pleasurable work that gives meaning and purpose that lasts, rather it is working toward what you truly care about – what resonates at your very core – that is likely to outgrow and persist indefinitely. For if we are to access that core desire then passion comes from doing what we feel matters not simply from what gives you a buzz, though this is not mutually exclusive. Therefore, our dream jobs may offer pleasure in the short-term but will inevitably be tied to the vagaries of the economy and all manner of influences subject to change. So, it’s about how our passion is pursued rather than what kind of job we end up with. (Again, what kind of system have we put in place). If we are to access that state of mind, and utlitse objectives to attain a system that cultivates a process …Then we come back again to the notion of self-knowledge and self-growth.
Just because you let go of the desired outcome doesn’t mean you don’t apply maximum effort within every individual objective that emerges within the system. Deliberate practice and persistence are crucial. Developing a system means that each objective within it is made up of small improvements. Instead of relying on a definitive “result” we are fully present to each experience we set in motion along that line toward any one goal. At some point they all join together to produce creative change for the long-term.
Having objectives assists in direction and momentum. But the moment you see these separate objectives on a linear point from A – Z leading to an ultimate aim of success, it is more likely you’ll get lost along the way, where passion turns to obsession.
Tender loving care; close attention and “the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.”
If you’ve read the Happiness-Unhappiness Seesaw you’ll see that by making every objective an end in itself offers an open door for happiness to enter. When objectives meet our overall aim because we are “indifferent” to in the end result, we are on the right track. If we rely on each milestone as a means to that ultimate aim rather than seeing it as that mountain peak that’s always out-of-reach, then we are more likely to enjoy what we do now and make greater progress overall. By saving it all up for one big future bonanza at the top of our pyramid of ideal living we’ll have lost the opportunity to be happy at all those pit-stops along the way.
It’s not that you’ve ditched the long-term aim but you are fully focused on each objective that contains the present. An objective is just part of the process and the process defines the system you put in place. If you fail at any one goal it doesn’t jeopardise the overall aim because you are interested in what the process reveals. And it may just be that such openness to a reality that is extremely fluid creates exactly the outcome that want and need, precisely because you let go of anticipating a result.
Author James Clear states as much in an excerpt from his book Atomic Habits. Clear found that while he succeeded in achieving some of his objectives there were plenty where he didn’t. He believes that the results had little to do with the goals he’d set for himself and everything to do with the systems he followed. Setting goals (objectives) is about winning and claiming victory. But building systems is about continuing to play the game for the long-term and in ways that are not only sustainable but become gradually more achievable by seeing the system of objectives as an end in themselves (plus, I would say, a good dollop of of that trust and faith in the Universe). In Clear’s view: “True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.” And that means deliberate practice and hard work which becomes enjoyable because it challenges you.
He states further:
“Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. That’s the counterintuitive thing about improvement. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results. When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves. […] I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress. Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.”
“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing”
Fig.1 The Open Feedback System of Consciousness | © infrakshun
An Open Feedback System – Your narrative
Take a moment to view figure 1. above. Notice that we are units of consciousness naturally immersed in a society that is founded on a chaotic “balance” through states which are far from equilibrium – a managed chaos if you will – but give the illusion that we are exist in an ordered constant. At any moment however, chaotic eruptions of entropy could break through our carefully established cultural norms, be it from a random accidents or purposeful intrusions. Our job is to mediate between chaos and order by managing the resultant creative tension between those two poles. And we do that by expressing an aim that aligns to our authentic essence, our soul purpose.
Our open feedback system is a conscious, strategic enclosure designed to engage with reality in such a way that extracts information from our environment and social interactions and to process it through a mental, emotional and physical “filtration” according to set quality criteria. This slowly sets the integrity of the system (our psyche) for optimum experience in line with our aim. Like reality itself, integrity is maintained by paying close attention and learning to achieve balance between many polarities vying to push toward any extreme. This experiential learning is the friction needed to strengthen every function of the system. What determines peak experiences of creative “flow” is the third force between seeming opposites: hot-dry, active-passive, attention-day-dreaming, will-weakness etc. The aim is fulfilled when all of those objectives attain a workable balance produce through a consciously-directed process which is then reflected in the system as a whole. The results are an end in themselves and thereby make the process enjoyable and nourish the order and integrity of the system. Information (input) is transformed into knowledge as it passes through and back out into the world (output).
So, goals/objectives must come under the rubrique of system and process. Stable rules, clear goals, rules and limitations set up the correct internal process. The quality of “input” will determine the “output” much like the proper functioning of an electrical circuit. The latter ceases to function when the current is broken, it isn’t grounded or you’ve overloaded it causing shut-down. Which means we have to be very careful what type and quality of information and experience we let into the system for processing. We need to be precise about our objectives and how our atttitude and efforts effect the result.
Objectives establish how we accomplish our aim. In their totality, laid down objectives make up the constituents of the system serving the aim. Each is taken as equally important as the rest. Doing the washing up, watering our house plants, selling stuff on the net; baby-sitting for a neighbour may all seem to lead away from are more key objectives aligned to our aim. Yet, our attitude and approach to those various activities is vitally important as it encourages stability, self-regulation and self-control – or their opposites. Negative thinking and boundaries which are weak encourage psychic entropy from within the system itself and/or its matching signal from outside. We need to practice and hone our finer qualities for new and emerging instrinsic objectives more closely tied to our aim.
Remember the hot and cold systems from Practice Self-Control: “The hot system is rooted in the limbic brain responsible for the regulation of basic emotion and drives essential for survival. The hot system heats up through stress and reacts accordingly. Closely connected with the hot system is the cool system located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It is high order cognition, complex, reflective and slow to act. (This is another way to describe Daniel Kahneman’s model of system 1 = emotional instinctive = hot and system 2 = logical, deliberative = cool).”
These two brain sub-systems sufuse the process and wrap around your emerging objectives, so it pays to know how they regulate or disregulate your open feedback system as a whole; it will determine the success of your aim and the integrity of the process you set in motion. When both systems are heating and cooling the psyche according to constructive, integrative principles the expansion and contraction can be likened to the process of heating and cooling metal. And this is where alchemical symbols enter in. Your aim can be anything that symbolises the transformation of the psyche (from lead to gold) be it learning to play the guitar or opening a bar.
The overall aim is always a symbol of deeper change, whether we consciously know it or not. And that deeper change can be viewed as your own personal narrative and the archetypes contained within it.
To make your narrative mythical i.e. ordered so that it becomes infused with heroic archetypes, is to align yourself to that which is as authentic and truthful as possible. Thus, your aim becomes representative of your personality essence and behind it the soul. It is what matters, what resonates with meaning and truth over transitory pleasure that really counts. This creates enjoyment. You engage with all the various aspects of social knowledge which have been coded in your behaviour. Maybe you play the role of villain, saboteur, victim or hero until you able to integrate those psychic elements toward a systemic narrative that creates regulation and union within.
Our aim represents our purpose, our intention and its desired outcome. This is the source of your will and motivation. It establishes the system of objectives and is nourished by faith and trust – not by anticipation. Our aim can be to tread the path of truth; to be the greatest belly-dancer or to become the best poker-player in the western hemisphere. Our aim – or set of aims – defines our meaning and purpose and imposes direction. It must be as true as an arrow if we wish to be successful. It is the anchor of the system with the process of objectives spinning around its central core.
And what is this system we are creating?
By definition: “A regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole.” Our “items” are the multitude of mental, emotional and physical objectives we set in motion in service to the aim. We can define this system’s attriubutes in a philosophical, structural and metaphysical sense. Our system is a single integrated model housing multiple views like an architectural template, holographic in state. This means it has may different sub-systems of objectives regulated (or not) by functional psycho-physiological and spiritual systems. The system is a collection of narratives which have a beginning, middle and an end, all tied into mini-cycles, in turn, dependent on our relationship to Time. How we manage time will either augment the possibility of flow within time strictures or if chaotic will ensure our perception of Time ruins are chances for productivity. These narratives must be sincere and REAL rather than the product of fantasies. The latter should have no place in a process of objectives which blossom from a stable present. We employ those objectives which are value-based not merely a product of our desires to get something. (Go read the metaphysical psedoscience of The Secret if that’s your bag). If we leave it ALL up to the Universe, then we don’t play our part.
What we want to create in our lives is a system of objectives which not only foster progress separately, in and of themselves, but make up a fluid structure that naturally moves toward your overall aim without undue pressure or force. That does not mean we sit back and let things be. It means effort is correctly applied through attention to the creation of a stable system. You might say these 31 ways to grow your life make up the components of an open feedback system of self-regulation and response-ability. That means we need to have a system that is healthy and strong. If we have too much psychic distintegration or entropy, then it will fail.
So, the integrity of the system means it must have a proper regulation of energy – an open feedback with an input and output which have a balanced relationship to external chaos that defines our world. If we are to engage with it an use its energy in a productive way and thus achieve our objectives and aim, we must establish order in the psyche and in the activities of our daily life. It means we must create careful order that also allows spontaneity a way in. (input/output). Therefore, our aim and our system must contain a process if we are to maintain an integration and the synergy of our objectives. This process contains our objectives and is the fluid structure that produces results. This process nurtures the trajectory of cycles of learning and experience which thrive on self-improvement which may create suffering along the way but ultimately produces wisdom. These are housed in the open feedback system of our psyche and guided by our aim. We must mediate between the outside world as is, and the new inner world that you creating within. The friction comes from establishing that mediation from those two realities.
Thus we see every daily activity potentially tied to our aim as it is necessarily part of our expanding system. It is not a slot-machine to produce the desired pre-packed ideal having willed it into being through mere desire and effort alone.The ideal that lasts comes about through deliberate practice and effort, safeguarded through self-regulation and the inner change which is reflected in our objectives, attiutudes and emerging balance.
There is something humourous about the nature of our aim as we direct our focus and attention toward self-growth. We might have a number of aims and a system of objectives characterising our daily lives. With self-growth as the higher aim behind them all, it tends to deliver something that is quite different to what we imagined. A person might spend years working two jobs to save enough money to enrol on a prestigious course – a primary objective toward his aim of owning a booking-keeping business. Yet, on that course he meets the love of his life and ends up running a hostel in Tenerife. He never realised that he had a talent for management and interpersonal relations. He just needed someone else to unlock that potential. Yet, the close attention to objective reality, being present to life instead of fantasing about the future made his effort in establishing the “signal” create the proper process-based results. Within an open-feedback system the groundwork is laid for optimal experience not just for yourself, but for others too. The aim lies behind our daily life but does not dominate.
Ultimately, this system is a state of Being transmitted into everyday life. It is this effect which shapes outer reality. We are learning to create order in our consciousness which maintains healthy boundaries between inner and outer reality. We are constantly mediating to create beneficial balance.
This is characterised by:
- OPEN FEEDBACK SYSTEM which…
- …supports, protects and nourishes an AIM…
- …that structures a functional PROCESS…
- …which contains activities of OBJECTIVES.
There is a missing binding agent to this alchemical brew, however. How to create synergistic relationship to all four components that make up consciousness so that our aim remains true? Our consciousness is a mini-eco-system of values, beliefs and psychic states. How do we make sure that system doesn’t devolve into the many traps to disorder thus scuppering our singular aim?
pixabay.com | infrakshun
Flow and optimum experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s classic work on achieving happiness through the attainment of Flow is helpful at this point. After decades of research into the nature of meaning, purpose, happiness and creativity, Csikszentmihalyi made a huge contribution to how we can achieve states which offer what he terms “optimum experience”, a state of creative flow which combines high order pleasure, meaning and purpose in one package.
According to the psychologist, optimum experience is the opposite of psychic entropy or disorder. When the feedback from our goals is positive then we are encouraged, building faith and trust in the system we have created. Energy flows effortlessly when our objectives match our aim and the process by which we frame those objectives deliver results.
Conversely, when our energy is fully invested in sorting out psychic disorder and perceived threats to the self, little energy is left to focus our attention on other possibilities. When we can organise our consciousness to facilitate flow regularly, then it becomes easier to access the state where we are “in the zone” and fully present to the moment of creation. It becomes a meditation of sorts, uncluttered by thoughts and emotions that drain energy away from that aim.
The battle is to cultivate enough disciplined concentration, self-control and economy of energy so that we experience this optimal flow more regularly and as a way of life. As Csikszentmihalyi mentions: “The battle is not really against the self, but against the entropy that brings disorder to consciousness. It is really a battle for the self; it is a struggle for establishing control over attention.” . In achieving this state more often, people report greater mental and emotional strength and a more confident outlook.
“Flow” is where you are “in the zone”; fully enjoying in the present | Image: pixabay.com
When we experience flow in our lives, it means we are undergoing a change toward more complexity. To get there and to encourage flow however, we often have to simplify our lives in order to invite the promise of more complexity so that our overall system can cope. With more complexity we can say that we are experiencing self-growth. The result of such growth is from two ways of being: differentiation and integration. Differentiation seeks individuality, intrinsic self-worth; personal ambition and uniqueness. Integration seeks group endeavour and ideas which take place beyond our own personal evaluations. (In a simplistic sense, we might even ascribe conservatism as differentiation’s natural persona and seeking integration as a left-liberal’s personality traits).
When we are in a state of flow we become more differentiated, both in terms of our own self-worth and enhanced capabilities and also from the dominant culture which prefers more compliant, unthinking sleepers. We become more integrated when, in order to achieve the outcome that denotes self-growth and succcess we need to make sure that the autonomous, separate parts within our psyche, (our open feedback system) are in good working order so that the aim, the process and objectives within that system is integrated into a cohesive whole, a balance and harmony of working relations that is reflected in every aspect of our lives. That way, every aspect in some way contributes to overall success.
The more flow we experience the more complex our mind-body awareness becomes. The more we differentiate and integrate as an ascending spiral we come closer to being an integral system and thus more useful and approachable to others.
And like all things, any kind of success combines elements of those two ways of being in order to gain the best possible adaptive response to our environment and with whom we connect. We need to apply that awareness and amplify it in our lives. Disintegration through resistance and a denial of needed healing is a step to establishing order within that system so that we have a mind-body worthy and ready of greater advances later on.
Disorder and the meeting of obstacles defines the nature of what we will become and our attitude to those challenges will determine whether we grow or atrophy. If we try to make external reality fit our objectives then we might eventually obtain success…for a while. But if one hasn’t paid much attention to one’s inner landscape then those gaps in awareness will demand payment. If however, we pay close attention to intrinsic goals and change how we experience external reality we adapt and remain fluid to life thereby increasing the chances of multiple success along mutliple lines.
We don’t create reality in this regard we change the nature and focus of our relationship to reality by letting it guide us to points of transition.
Again, we can do both. There will be times where we must be decisive, where force is necessary to push through barriers. Other occasions will require complete passivity. The trick is to know when so that action and awareness work together at the right time. Our own alignment to enjoyment occurs through the unpredictable and unexpected. Such a state is beyond the pleasure of instinctual gratification, though a natural part of life. Enjoyment however, is often hard won and derives from a meeting with the chaotic unknown. It is imbued with meaning as a collorary to purpose.
Csikszentmihalyi discovered 8 elements or components to the phenomenology of enjoyment and its manifestation in daily life. I’ve produced it in diagrammatic form to make it easier to commit to memory:
The 8 Elements of enjoyment and dimensions of “Flow”
Fig. 2 The 8 Elements of the “Creative Flame” – “FLOW” | © infrakshun
Notice by adopting the open feedback system of aim, process and objectives the elements of this flow eventually signal a transformation of the Self. So, let’s have a deeper look at these 8 elements.
1. The confrontation of tasks which offer a real chance of completion. And yet we need to find and develop new skills through deliberate practice and the effort to find that sweet spot or golden ratio that provides sufficient challenge and reward. With skills and challenges nicely balanced we can expect to advance. We have to choose wisely so that we on’t underestimate our capabilities nor overestimate them. Passive entertainment leads nowhere. New skills encourage new growth.
2. The ability to concentrate on these tasks. When you are really enjoying a task you tend to forget all your worries since you are completly absorbed by it. There’s no room for any thoughts which interfere with this object and its mini-processes of creation. This is when Time seems to slip away; an hour feels like a minute and an afternoon might feel like an hour. The ability to concentrate comes naturally, not only because we have a vested interest in the outcome but enjoy the journey to that completion.
3. And concentration is possible because the objectives we have chosen to take on are clear and simple. When your objectives are crystal clear then your mind and body will adapt to them. When they are muddled and vague so too the process and results. Clarity and will go together; when one is weak the other is handicapped.
4 Clear objectives provide immediate feedback which faciliates momentum, motivation and the confidence to achieve higher goals.
5. Deep involvement with the task at hand to the point that action and awareness merge. Flow is in operation when what we are doing suddenly seems effortless and instinctive; automatic and spontaneous. There is no excess energy left over. You are one with the activity, be it rock-climbing, counselling or composing a musical score.
6. When it becomes enjoyable this increases our ability to exert more control over our actions. Or rather, it allows us to worry less about losing the control we are so used to fearing in normal life. With deep involvement, anxiety about failure fades into the background as flow takes over. But Csikszentmihalyi makes an important point regarding respondents who report a sense of control during the optimal experience of flow: “…what they are actually describing is the possibility, rather than the actuality of control. The ballet dancer may fall, break her leg, and never make the perfect turn, the chess player may be defeated and never become champion. But at least in principle, in the world of flow, perfection is attainable.”  This also extends to thrill seekers of extreme sports who seem to take their life in their hands in reckless ways. Their “addiction” is in their ability to potentially control dangerous forces that threaten their life and the immense achievement they feel when conquering such a threat. It’s not the sense of being in control, Csikszentmihalyi goes on to say, “…but the sense of exercising control in difficult situations.” This delivers a sense of mastery and thus meaning. 
7. And perhaps most importantly, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically, the sense of self emerges stronger when the flow experience is over. When you are experiencing flow you are wholly within the present and your “system” of consciousness is open to the world. The sense of separateness is gone and your own ego with it. That does mean that loss of self, only a loss of the consciousness of the self. Your open feedback system of the psyche has connected to something bigger than yourself by doing something to the best of your ability and enjoying it. You are now part of a greater system. Order has not been imposed but it has been achieved via a particular aim. There is no energy left over for self-scrutiny. There is no sense of threat or survival because that requires psychic energy and there can be none available for your mind to be propelled into the future or the past. You are in a state of meditation. Skateboarding, solving a mathematical problem, playing chess, cooking a cake – it doesn’t matter because it has become automatic; the kind of automatism that is at the opposite end of type discussed at the beginning of this post. Here you are fully conscious, there, you are deeply asleep and unconscious. Optimal experience involves the whole self -active and present.
8. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered or transformed. The objective of enjoyment over transitory pleasure allows channels to truth – personal and collective – which delivers us to key junctures in Time of which we take full advantage because they are condusive to and a by-product of our aim.
The sum total of all these elements produces the enjoyment of flow as an optimum experience and which increases the amplitude of our open feedback system of meaning.
To summarise further, the ingredients we need and which naturally appear are:
- Objectives which are realistic and achievable
- Objectives which are clear and simple
- Objectives which offer immediate feedback
- An ability to concentrate
- An ability to exert control
- Merging of action and awareness through deep involvement
- One’s subjective experience of Time changes
- Focus on self disappears; sense of self emerges stronger
We might suggest that this 8 element cycle are the sparks of quality that – given enough constancy, will and determination – help to ignite the creative flame that lies at the heart of all the constituents of an open feedback system of our mind and body, as represented in fig.1 above. This flame burns brightly when we are in a state of flow and fully in the moment. A word off warning however: this is a condition which is bound by the same rules as anything else and must be kept in balance otherwise, such a state can become addictive and move toward overidentification and obsession. Flow is as open to distortion and fixation as anything else. Balance and moderation is a life long task.
As you progress with your aim and if it incorporates conscious self-development, then when flow is achieved, self-consciousness is incrementally reduced thereby allowing the creation of a solid concept of self untied from societal constraints.
Creativity and its enjoyment is ultimately spiritual freedom.
If there’s one thing you take away from these couple of posts on our highest aim and objectives, it is to cultivate the will to persist. Our dreams usually take longer than we imagine but that’s how it should be. It’s an individual and sometimes very personal quest. But as you create the right balance of aim > process > objectives housed in a central system of openness and strength you’ll connect with other people who have built similar psychic systems that will interlock with your own. This is the emergence of self-organised systems of consciousness; co-linear in quality and direction. This is when group aim is defined by the health and integrity of individual goals – group conscious but independent. This is when great things can be achieved for society. As George I. Gurdjieff mentions: “common aim is stronger than blood.”
The zone of flow willl be discussed further in no. 27 – “Be curious and encourage your creativity”. Meantime, we’ll go to the next number on the list which is deeply connected to our aim and objectives.
Taking short-cuts can pierce our system like a needle to a balloon.
 ‘Igniting Passion from Within: How Lay Beliefs Guide the Pursuit of Work Passion and Influence Turnover’ By Jon Jachimowicz, Christopher To, Jochen I. Menges,Modupe Akinola. December 07, 2017. | https://psyarxiv.com/qj6y9
 p.40; Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly Flow – The Classic Work On How To Achieve Happiness (1992; 2002 updated edition)
 Ibid. p.60