The Mastery of Self: A Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom (2016)

Chapter Eight

Goal Setting

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SETTING, WORKING TOWARD, and achieving your goals are another beautiful way to engage the Dream of the Planet. Doing so allows you to learn and experience new things, to reach outside your normal limits, and it can give you a positive feeling of accomplishment as you manifest your creative intent through the application of your will.

At the same time, the practice of setting and achieving your goals can also be a trap to pull you back into the fog. That's because in the current Dream of the Planet there is a widely held belief that the best way to achieve your goals is to whip, chide, or use some other form of self-deprecation to push yourself to get to where you want to go. As a result, many people feel that the best way to succeed at something is to employ the iconic drill sergeant character in your mind, which pushes you with negative self-talk to “be all you can be.” Seen in this light, it's not surprising how many of us have been domesticated to the idea that this type of self-flagellation is the only, and even the most desirable, means of motivation to get what we want. This motivation creates an obsession for an end result so that we no longer feel the pain from the spur of our own rejection.

One common way this method is applied is in the area of body image. For example, if you look in the mirror and decide that you don't like the way you look in some capacity—perhaps you think you are overweight, out of shape, etc.—the parasite will seize this opportunity and speak loudly, judging your existing beautiful body as insufficient. From this place, if you set a goal to lose a certain number of pounds or change your appearance in some way, because you are doing so in agreement with the parasite's judgments, implicit in that agreement is the condition that you will only love and accept yourself when, and if, you obtain that goal. The process happens so quickly that without awareness you don't even realize you have fallen into a trap. Of course, this practice of setting goals through conditional love is not limited to body image. As soon as you have an attachment to the outcome of your efforts, you've subjected yourself to conditional love. This can happen in any area of your life.

The problems with this type of approach are numerous. First of all, anytime you use negative self-talk as a means to achieve your goals, you imply that you in your current state are not good enough. This invites the voice of the parasite to come in and take over your mind, this time under the auspice that it is only trying to “help” you. This is yet another example of how the parasite can be sneaky, interlacing its negative banter with a conditional reward. But as we have seen in previous chapters, the parasite's methods always come with adverse consequences.

Secondly, pushing yourself to achieve your goals through negative self-talk leaves little room for self-acceptance and self-love if you don't reach your goal, setting you up for more internal berating in the future. This is the reason why not achieving a goal can leave you feeling worse than before you started. Anytime you use the voice of the parasite to motivate you, any failure to reach that goal just gives the parasite more material with which to berate you. If this occurs on a regular basis, the result is that you will become less likely to set goals or even stop setting them altogether, because on a subconscious level you are actually fearful of what your parasite will tell you if you don't achieve your goal. Anytime you stop setting goals based on fear of failure, it's because the parasite has berated you so heavily in the past that you don't want to go through that experience again. You would rather not try than face the fear of failing and hearing the judgment of your parasite yet again.

In addition, anytime you judge yourself for not meeting a specific goal, you also open yourself to being judged by others because you have already implicitly agreed with the judgment. This is also how the great majority of people interact with themselves and others, imposing goals and expectations onto one another and subjugating themselves to judgment if the goal is not reached. This method of goal setting is one of the primary ways that the illusion of conditional love spreads throughout the Dream of the Planet. In this way, you have rejoined the drama of the party and reentered the cycle of domestication and self-domestication.

Admittedly, the reason that setting goals in this way is such an effective trap is that sometimes it seems to work. The voice of your inner judge can be a powerful motivator, and it uses the tools of guilt, shame, envy, and a host of other negative emotions to push you to action. But even when this negative self-talk does seem to work, the success is short-lived. That's because when a goal is obtained through employing your parasite as your motivator, no matter what you accomplish, the parasite is never satisfied for long and will always raise the bar, making any self-acceptance through accomplishment gained this way temporary at best. That's why we say in the Toltec tradition that if you are waiting to be loved and accepted in the future, then you are not loving and accepting yourself in the present.

By tying your self-love and self-acceptance to a goal, your happiness corresponds to its achievement. When you reach your goal, your self-esteem rises temporarily; when you don't, you think less of yourself. This is using goal setting as a tool for self-domestication, as you have chosen to conditionally love yourself based on the success or failure of your obtaining this goal. Now the expectation of what “should be” controls you. The process looks like this:

1.    You decide that the person you are is not enough, so you set a goal to achieve something.

2.    You implicitly make an agreement with yourself that you will only be worthy of your own love if the goal is obtained.

3.    If you don't meet the goal, you judge yourself accordingly. If you do meet the goal, your inner judge raises the bar.

That is the trap that the Master of Self avoids, and the way to do so is by loving yourself unconditionally, seeing that you are already perfect in this moment and there is no goal you need to obtain to be worthy of your own love.

Finding the Origins and
Seeing Its Manifestations

At some point in your childhood, you set a goal to get better at one thing or another. Maybe it was a subject at school, or a game on the playground, or an instrument or other activity. You soon realized that by training or practicing at it you did get better, because you focused your intent toward a possibility. This is a wonderful process, and it gave you the satisfaction of creating something in the Dream of the Planet.

But there also came a point in that process where you were introduced to the idea of using self-flagellation and self-deprecation as a means to achieve a goal. You were given the idea that you needed to browbeat yourself into achieving your goal, and that your results would be better if you did so. Can you remember when that occurred? For most people, this happened at such an early age it's impossible to pinpoint, but in hindsight this was that moment when performing an action for the sake of the action alone, because you enjoyed it, was no longer enough. Your self-worth and self-acceptance became tied to the outcome or achievement. Fear and consequence were brought into the mix, namely the fear that if you didn't achieve the goal, the consequence would be that you wouldn't be worthy of your own self-love or the love of others. The moment that fear entered the picture was also the moment that achieving a goal became a tool for domestication, and before long you took that fear and self-domesticated. Let's look at a simple example that many of us have experienced.

When you first learned to ride a bike, you likely did so because it was fun, it gave you a sense of accomplishment, and it allowed you to do something other kids were doing. You later went on to other things, and you probably didn't give much thought to cycling anymore. But for the sake of exploration, let's imagine for a moment that you became attached to the idea that “I must be the best bicycle rider,” and “I am only worthy of my own acceptance and self-love if I am the best bicycle rider.” Unless you happen to be a professional cyclist, this idea likely seems silly, doesn't it? You can see the absurdity of making your self-love and self-acceptance contingent upon your ability to ride a bike, yet so many people do this when it comes to achieving a goal with other things—a job, a hobby, one's body image, one's role in their family, or even advancement on a spiritual path. This is how something that began as a source of fun and excitement can later become a tool for self-domestication.

Self-domestication through goal setting can be very subtle, and spotting it in all its forms is what makes you a master. You may think of goal setting only with definable, everyday tasks, but the implications of this type of thinking go far beyond that. For instance, what goals do you think you need to achieve or obtain in order to be happy in life or to feel complete? Do you need to feel loved by a specific person? Do you need to make a certain amount of money? Do you need a certain amount of praise, recognition, or social standing in your community? Do you think you need to obtain some great spiritual realization? Do you need your body to look a certain way? All of these measuring sticks are subjective, and only have the meaning that you assign to them. But what they have in common is that if you make your happiness conditional on achieving any of them, you have also made them tools for self-domestication.

As a Master of Self, the way out is to remind yourself that you are perfect in this moment and you don't need to do or achieve anything in order to be complete. It's absolutely fine to want to accomplish things in the Dream of the Planet, to see what your strengths are and see what you are able to do; but as a Master of Self your priority is to love yourself unconditionally throughout the process of working toward any goal you have set for yourself.

Setting Goals with Unconditional Self-Love

This can be one of the most difficult habits to change, as most people have been domesticated so severely and so subtly to the idea that negative self-talk is necessary to achieve goals that they have never even considered another way—setting goals from a place of unconditional self-love. But doing so can radically change your Personal Dream and how you interact with others in the Dream of the Planet.

When you think about something you want to accomplish, or some goal you want to achieve, the first step is to remind yourself that this is something you want to do. You know that in truth, there is no place to go, nothing to do or achieve, because any seeking of perfection outside of yourself is actually a movement away from perfection. Furthermore, you remember that the world around you is a dream, and that you are simultaneously the creator and the created in this dream.

From this place of awareness and unconditional self-love, you acknowledge that in your Personal Dream there is something you want to create, change, or achieve. This is you playing in the dream for the sake of play alone. It is not an effort to fix yourself, or love yourself conditionally. Setting goals in this context is a beautiful and natural process, and the methodology you employ to making these goals emanates from the knowledge of your perfection. Now you are starting the goal-setting process from a place of unconditional self-love rather than fear, shame, or doubt. Any change you want to make or goal you want to achieve is undertaken because you really want to do it, not because of a feeling of inadequacy or not being enough. You aren't changing because of your past domestication or current attachment, but to instead enhance and evolve yourself within the dream with something you love to do.

A wonderful benefit of setting goals this way is that when you have unconditional self-love throughout the process, you'll find that a natural self-confidence grows within you as you move along the path toward your goal's achievement. This is a very different type of feeling when compared to pushing yourself from a state of fear, where you are striving to get better because you are afraid of failing. Striving to achieve from a place of fear or lack creates a Personal Dream clouded in negativity.

When your confidence comes from self-love, you find strength in the knowledge that you can perform to the best of your ability and you will enjoy the moment regardless of the outcome. Because your own self-love is not predicated on any particular outcome, it's actually this love for life that is the true source of motivation to give your best effort. As a result, you are now in control of each choice you make along the path. You are open to changing the goal if a change becomes necessary, and because you aren't judging yourself, when other people judge your progress or your abilities, you know that this is a reflection of their dream, not yours.

To be clear, this doesn't mean that all the goals you want to achieve will come easily; they actually may require a lot of hard work! The difference is that by setting goals from a place of unconditional self-love rather than fear and self-flagellation, you are more likely to create real and lasting change as well as enjoy yourself in the process of working toward your goal. To explain this further, I would like to share with you an example from my own life.

A few years ago, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Miguel, you are perfect. I love you exactly the way you are, and I want you to be healthier and enjoy life, so you are going back to running again.”

In years past I had run quite regularly, but I had not done so in some time. I had always enjoyed running and it had never been that difficult, and I assumed I could reach my old potential again with ease. Consequently, I dusted off my old sneakers and went for a run. My goal was to run five miles, but I only made it about two-thirds of a mile before I had to stop. I could feel my heart pounding, and I was surprised by my heavy breathing.

For those of you who are reading carefully, one word in the last paragraph shows you the exact moment I started down a perilous path. I made an assumption that I could easily run five miles after taking such a long break, and of course there was no way I could simply pick up my old running shoes and achieve this goal. By making that assumption I placed an expectation on myself, I set a goal that wasn't achievable. When I stopped running after going less than a mile, self-judgment immediately filled my mind as the voice of the parasite yelled, “Miguel, you are such a lazy bum.” Upon hearing this my awareness kicked back in and I realized the old ways of self-domestication were attempting to regain their foothold.

At that moment I had a choice: I could berate and judge myself, or I could remember that this was just my starting point, and that as a Master of Self I will love myself unconditionally through the process. “Be gentle with yourself, Miguel. This is where you are today, this is my truth at this moment.”

My goal, with practice, was to be able to run five miles without stopping by the end of May. It was January. So I began my running routine, and like any busy father and husband, there were many days that I had to miss my run, or not run as far as I had planned. But I didn't beat myself up for any of this, and I continued to love and encourage myself through the process. On some days it took every ounce of my willpower to go out for a run, but I am happy to report that before the end of April I'd met my goal. While I was happy when this occurred, my self-acceptance or self-love was not contingent upon it. It felt really good, so I continued to run. Two years later, I finished my second marathon, and I am currently training for my third. I have been evolving my craft with passion while still balancing all that life throws at me.

My point is this: when you use unconditional self-love as the starting point when setting any goal, you remain aware that perfection is not tied to the end result, but rather the reality of the present moment. You were perfect at the onset and you are perfect now; you are perfect throughout. You are aware the entire time that the end result won't define you. It is through the practice of awareness that you are able to see the perfection that exists in yourself, which also lets you see perfection in the world around you and in each being in it.

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Grounding Practice and Mantra

When you first begin to break free from old habits and old ways of thinking, you will likely find that both domestication and self-love are present simultaneously. In other words, you may focus your intent on setting goals from a place of unconditional self-love, but you may still hear the voice of the parasite attempting to push you through negative self-talk as you do so. Many times simply the act of being aware of the parasite will silence it, but here is a practice to re-center you when the parasite persists.

As you work to achieve a goal that you have set for yourself and you hear the voice of the parasite attempting to berate or introduce doubt in your mind, the first step is to take a break from what you are doing and go inside. Bring your awareness to your breath, focusing on the life-giving process that moves air in and out of your body. Next, feel your feet planted firmly on the ground below you. With your mental perception, imagine how you are connected to everything in life through your breath and the ground beneath you. Scan your body from head to toe, as doing so takes you out of your head and reminds you of what it feels like to be in your body. You are so much more than the voice in your head. Next, remind yourself that you are performing this particular action because you want to. You are already perfect, and you surrender yourself to the outcome. Repeat the following statement over and over until your ally regains control of your mind:

I, ____________, am perfect and complete right now, I love myself no matter what.

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Visualization

In the Toltec tradition, we recognize that the mind is a powerful tool for helping you achieve your goals. Here is an exercise that can help you harness the power of your mind and focus your intent on creating what you want. Do this exercise daily, preferably in the morning, as you work toward a goal.

Find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes. Close your eyes and consciously send unconditional love to yourself. Feel gratitude for being alive in the present moment. Feel gratitude for your body and mind, for they are what allow you to experience the Dream of the Planet. Next, turn your thoughts to the goal that you are working toward. Envision yourself achieving this goal, and concentrate on the feelings of gratitude for having done so. The key here is to feel gratitude as if the goal has already been achieved, as doing so makes this experience real in your mind. After a few minutes of focusing your intent on gratitude for already having achieved your goal, bring your awareness back to the present moment. Open your eyes, and go out and enjoy the process of working toward your goal.

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Setting goals with awareness can be a helpful tool to create and co-create in the Dream of the Planet, and remembering to love yourself no matter the outcome is the key to enjoying yourself throughout the process. Of course, there will be times when another human being stands in the way of you achieving your goal. The question now becomes, how will you react then? That is the subject of our next chapter.