How ‘Goal-setting’ can play havoc with one’s  life?

In the early hours of today, I received a call from an ex-student of mine, who happens to be a motivational trainer.

Goal SettingI vividly recall that the topic of discussion in one of my navel-activation workshops was “how Goal-setting can play havoc with one’s life” and he is the same student who had expressed strong views against the subject. He said he called me today to validate my teachings about the futility of Goal-setting and invited my attention to a newspaper report about a trainer committing suicide as she couldn’t achieve the goal that she had set out for herself.

This is not an isolated incident. Nowadays, every morning newspaper carries headlines of such incidents, where we read about people taking the extreme step of putting an end to their lives on account of not achieving their goals. They include children, as young as early teens, to people in the evening of their lives.

The common link between all of them is the same, i.e. non-fulfilment of some goal/expectation that they had set up for themselves. The goal/expectation could relate to career, relationships, financial status etc. and that assumes the focal point of their lives.

When such single-pointed goal/expectation remains unfulfilled, their self-esteem or their very sense of self takes a beating and some of them even take the extreme step of ending their lives.

There’s a misconception amongst people, mostly fuelled by the so-called motivational speakers and modern-day corporate gurus, about having a one-pointed focus on the goal that one has set up for oneself.

The irony here is that sometimes the goal is not even set by oneself but by the so-called well-wishers, including parents, teachers, peer groups etc.

The most common example that is cited by them in this regard is that of Arjuna from the Mahabharata epic. Their followers are advised to be ‘goal-oriented’, just like Arjuna, who won the archery competition because, while in the competition, he could see nothing else apart from the target, i.e. the eye of the wooden bird, that was to be shot at by the competitors in order to win the competition. With a view to testing the concentration and skill of his students, which included all the Kauravas and the Pandavas, their guru, Dronacharya, had set up this target across the river.

These new age gurus/motivational speakers even refer to the Bhagwad Gita to make it seem that such a message is contained in the holy scripture to support their view that one should be steadfast and channelize all of one’s energy towards achieving the desired goal, leaving aside all emotions and overlooking even familial connections.

However, the truth cannot be further away from this. Without even understanding the essence of the Bhagwad Gita, these people are misleading their listeners/followers into making Goal-setting to be the primary agenda and sole purpose of their lives.

This is the reason why it has always been insisted that the Bhagwad Gita should be learnt from a master or an acharya, who alone can prepare us to be eligible enough to receive the teachings in the right context and essence. These teachings can be partaken of only in a state of absolute receptivity, which can only be achieved in the presence and with the grace of a master. Only then can one understand the actions of Arjuna in the correct context and realise that Arjuna was performing his actions in line with his dharma or calling.

Such ‘goal-setting’ advice is freely imparted not just by motivational speakers and corporate gurus, but even by one’s parents, teachers and the society at large.  Unfortunately, this is what is happening all around us, where either a goal is created for us or we are motivated to set up a goal and then maintain a single pointed focus on achieving that goal.

We are programmed to delude ourselves into placing the goal above everything else, including life itself. We don’t even realise that this goal-setting is a continuous process. There is never a finality to it. The goal is bound to keep changing. Even if one achieves the desired goal, immediately a new one arises in its place. This is how it is innately structured and one gets caught up in this vortex, which leads to nothing but an obsession of goal-setting. An ill-fated journey, for sure.

Here, one is reminded of the proverbial ‘carrot and stick policy’ which is a metaphor for the use of a combination of reward and punishment to induce a desired behaviour.

It is based on the idea that a cart driver might activate a reluctant horse by dangling a carrot in front of it and smacking it on the rear with a stick. The horse keeps pulling the loaded cart with an eye on the carrot that is dangling ahead of it, without realising that it will never ever be able to partake of the carrot. For, the carrot is just like a mirage. Like-wise, the constant goal-setting exercise that one undertakes in one’s lives is the proverbial carrot/mirage that is  dangling in front of us.

When the essence of the Bhagwad Gita is understood, one will realise that Arjuna was performing his actions in line with his dharma. At the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjuna was reminded of his dharma by his master, Krishna.  Arjuna’s actions were not motivated by any motive/carrot/mirage. He was simply flowing in his dharma, which he was able to unravel with the grace of his master, Krishna.

Understanding the Bhagwad Gita will help us to clearly distinguish between the concepts of 1) Dhyeya (Objective) and 2) Dhyas (obsession)

  1. ‘Dhyeya’ originates from an inner ‘Inspiration’ (out of a higher intelligence) or when one truly recognises one’s Dharma;
  2. ‘Dhyas’ is the outcome of ‘Motivation’ (arising out of a ‘motive’) and when one gets influenced by someone else.

To go deeper into these concepts, it will be useful to refer to the synonyms of  ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Motivation’. While the synonyms of ‘Inspiration’ are creativity, ingenuity, originality, revelation etc., the synonyms of ‘Motivation’ are inducement, incitement, goading, provocation, incentive etc.

Thus, ‘Dhyas’ entails following others’ ideas or getting impressed/motivated by others’ actions. It has nothing to do with one’s own dharma. It is dissipation of one’s life energy towards actions motivated by outside factors/persons and as explained earlier, this leads to an ‘obsession’ since the goal is never met, but it is always dangling ahead of us. Whereas, the essence of Bhagwad Gita is to recognise and follow one’s own dharma.

In fact, in the Bhagwad Gita, Krishna has warned “Paro Dharma Bhayavah”, which means that  following others’ path can be dangerous.  In other words, one’s actions should be ‘inspired’ by one’s dharma or inner purpose.

As per Spandashastra or Quantum Physics, ‘obsession’ is at the lowest scale of the frequencies. A person who operates out of such low frequency is bound to attract situations and people that resonate with or are at par with that frequency scale.

As a result, he creates disharmony in his life. This may stretch to a level where one can even put an end to one’s life when the desired goal is not achieved.


As mentioned earlier, Goal-setting is nothing but a continuous trap of a mirage and when one gets caught in this vortex, the resultant delusion leads to absolute loss of perspective and twisted reality.

To escape this trap, one has to pause and open one’s eyes and see the trap of the dangling carrot. Once the trap is seen for what it is, grace has already entered our lives.

One has to remain rooted in one’s being and operate from that being-ness. This is when our dharma will be revealed to us and then our actions will not be ‘motivated’ or influenced by outside elements/situations/people but they will arise out of ‘inspiration’ from our higher selves. This state of being is termed as “Sthitpragnya” in the Bhagwad Gita, which means a person who is rooted in his being, irrespective of the circumstances that one encounters during the journey of life.

This is when one has attained the maturity and understanding of one’s life purpose and then one performs actions in conformity with and towards fulfilment of those purposes. In fact, in many of the eastern teachings, one is advised to be in “samvartan” i.e. to live life in balance.

It is, therefore, imperative that such goal-setting should be avoided not just by people who are ‘spiritually inclined’, but also by anyone who aims to achieve growth in life.

This is not to negate the importance of goal-setting in so far as ensuring survival is concerned. This may be useful for example in acquiring a vocational skill or a professional degree for earning livelihood but it should not become a continuous and life-long trap in all aspects of life.

Generally speaking, such goal-settings should never continue beyond the age of 23 years. One should avoid the risk of the utility of goal-setting in ensuring survival from becoming a life-long obsession.

[Courtesy Bina Menon]