The zen of New Year's goal setting; or how to set goals when there is no future

Here is a new old twist to New Year's goal setting. It's a koan of sorts. How do we set goals when there is no future?

This week many of us mark the turn of a new year by taking stock and setting new goals for 2010. To that end, the First Gentleman of Michigan, Dan Granholm-Mulhern, encouraged his readers to "lay claim to a picture (of ourselves at the cusp of next year) that delights us." He framed this challenge in terms of "the Now," saying, "This instant is all you ever have." The chatter on his blog that ensued was worthy of thought and note.

A business coach named John Agno provided one of the first blog responses. In light of respecting "this instant," Agno noted physicist Julian Barbour's findings that "time is an illusion." Apparently the human brain is hardwired to experience a series of nows, which creates an illusion of linear time. Barbour pointed aspirationally to the stillness at the center of apparent ongoing time.

What a wonderful idea to frame our future goal setting in terms of what delights us and within the only reality -- which is the present. Listen, the idea of time as illusory is not a new one. As a matter of fact, speaking of things that delight us, one of my favorite quotes is this from Albert Einstein: "Reality is but an illusion, albeit a persistent one."

So then, how do we set goals when there is no future? I love the idea of gearing goal setting toward what delights us. It elevates the exercise above desire and makes it potentially far more powerful than the usual "What do I want," or "Where will I be?"

To that end, meditation or prayer could be helpful; we can pray to be present and intentional on the path of Emet (truth). Then, the now that is all there is can be about as perfect as a human can hope for.

On long trips in the car my daughter (like every other child) would chirp from the back seat, "When are we gonna be there?" My response was always the same. "We're always there, kid."

Happy New Year. May it be whole.

Fehrman is a legal skills professor at California Western School of Law.

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2 UserComments
Chip Keyes 12:03pm January 2, 2015

Thanks much for a timely reminder. Pun intended.

don 8:33pm December 29, 2009

Good post. Exactly what is the sound of one hand clapping sort of thing. How to make goals, when you shouldn't have goals. Very zen. don