Where Do Goals Come From?

What gives rise to your goals? What determines whether you even set goals at all?

I believe the answer is your context. Your context is your collection of beliefs about reality. It’s the soil in which your thoughts grow.

For example, if you have very materialistic goals and have become skilled at achieving them, then you probably have a very materialistic context. Your beliefs about reality are rooted in materialism.

This is just common sense, right? You will tend to take actions that seem reasonable to you. And the question of reasonableness is answered by your context. What is reasonable to you depends on how you happen to view reality.

You don’t actually make any decisions based on reality itself, do you? You make decisions based on your interpretation of reality. Your sensory input, your memories, and your thoughts and beliefs comprise your map of reality. You ultimately base your decisions on this map.

So where does context come from?

For the most part, we inherit it. We learn our contexts by absorbing the contexts of other people. We’re conditioned by our upbringing, education, family, community, government, media, the Internet, etc. The people we meet, the books we read, the things we see on TV — these all contribute to our context. They help us determine how to interpret reality. Even this web site is making a small contribution towards shaping your context.

For example, what is marriage? Is it a legal arrangement? A religious sacrament? A connection between soulmates? Dependent on the couple? How you answer this question will depend on your context. Ask different people and you’ll get different answers.

After reaching adulthood most people don’t change their context much. It’s possible that you may set and achieve many goals but barely question your context at all. It’s like being a farmer who grows crops year after year in essentially the same soil, the same plot of land. It seems very natural and normal to do this. It’s simply a matter of doing what you’ve always been doing.

You can achieve some interesting results in life just by living within your current context. But if you learn how to manipulate your context as well, you can gain access to an even greater field of experiences.

Every context is a lens through which you view reality, and each lens will enhance some parts of your life and weaken others. The problem is that most people have grown so used to their current context that they forget they have one. Thus, they mistake their context for reality itself rather than seeing it for the lens it is. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to help you to better understand your own context and to give you the tools to make changes at that level.

Sometimes external events can jolt you into a new context. After 9/11 many Americans experienced a context shift. Others were largely unaffected. Have you ever intentionally undertaken a context switch, however? Have you ever intentionally changed your interpretation of reality just for the experience? For example, do you ever say to yourself, “I’m going to try a different religion this year?”

Switching contexts in this manner is something I’ve been doing for more than a decade, and later this week I’ll share some things I’ve learned along the way. I think you’ll find it interesting.