Know Thyself: Goals, Context, and Purpose

A few months ago, I thought I’d found the answer to my motivation problems. A tweak to my purpose, thought I, and all would be well. As usual, things weren’t that simple… it helped, but after the initial surge of enthusiasm wore off, I discovered that it didn’t make enough difference to keep me moving.

Earlier this week, while working through my read-it-later list, I came to an article that perfectly described the problem:

Goals do need a context as well; otherwise, they’re irrelevant too. A goal without a meaningful larger context is pointless.

One context that makes goals matter is human need, branching from the basic root need of survival. […] But if all our goals occur only within the context of physical and emotional needs, then all we really get out of life is survival and mediocrity. […] The second problem with having need as your only context for goals is that you’ll have a hard time pushing yourself beyond the point where you feel your needs are already satisfied. […] for most people, at some point that context of need runs dry. You can tell if this has happened to you if, when you think about big goals, they just don’t seem to matter; they appear to be more trouble than they’re worth.

When I read the sentence that I’ve highlighted in bold, I felt something akin to an electric shock run through me. That’s exactly the problem that I’ve been having! I don’t have anything in particular to fear anymore. I have achieved financial security, which in itself eliminated most of the fears that drove me most of my life. And I have the freedom to do pretty much anything I wish, which was my second-largest desire. Project X, which seemed so compelling to me since my teenage years, seemed the perfect path to fame and fortune… but since I’ve realized that I already have enough fame and fortune, it has lost a lot of its allure. I still want to do it, very much, but the reasons that fueled that desire have lost a lot of their strength.

When you reach this point of stuckness, it’s time to move beyond the context of need. […] if you’re now living in a situation where your needs are adequately met, and you don’t seem to be getting any more mileage out of need-based goals, then you need a new context for goal setting. […] The next context beyond need is purpose.

Nice idea, but I thought I already had a purpose: dealing with problems. Project X is an attempt to preemptively deal with a whole class of problems, knocking out hundreds of birds with a single stone. But if it doesn’t inspire me to action, then what does that mean? That Steve Pavlina is wrong? While that’s certainly possible, a lot of the articles he’s written have been a perfect match for my own experiences, and take their ideas even further than I have. If he’s wrong, then I probably don’t have much chance of finding a solution. Assuming that he’s right though, the only answer is that I haven’t discovered a purpose that inspires me yet.

The more I think about it, the better that idea looks. I have some thoughts on where to look for one, which I’ll describe in a later posting, after I’ve had a chance to explore them further.