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Why do we set goals and targets for ourselves?
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
17 min
805 reads

Questioner (Q): We are too considered or concerned about our society or the people around ourselves. So, whatever they say, like, a particular thing is the best, so, we start thinking in that direction. We get so-called motivated by them to achieve that thing. So, I guess ‘A,’ make targets first, and ‘B,’ move forward to try to achieve that.

Acharya Prashant (AP): And, more?

Q2: You have said that we have been critically diseased and we don’t like being silent or at peace. So, when we are sitting idly, we just either think of ourselves making past or future. We want to go somewhere; we are not happy where we are. So, this is the main thing that I think that we are making goals for ourselves, we are thinking to go somewhere. We are not at peace, at the conditions we are in, we don’t have silence. We are in commotion to reach somewhere.

AP: Yes, yes all of that and more, I want somebody to hit the core.

Q: We actually don’t feel that we are at the centre of our mind, of our soul. So, that’s why we are always trying to find that origin in something outside ourselves.

AP: Yes, yes, nice, nice you are coming there.

Q3: We always feel incomplete or insufficient and we always crave to get something that we don’t possess. So, we always feel that we are not having something, we are incomplete.

AP: Right, right! Do you see, first of all, this, that the deeper is your sense of inferiority, the more you will want to become superior? Is this not obvious? Do you see this? The more small I feel, the more will be my urge to become big. Do you see this? You don’t see this? Do you realize this? If I am constantly feeling inferior, what will be one wish that will rule my mind? How to become superior, right? Don’t you see this? Speak.

Q: Yes (everyone)

AP: If I am constantly feeling ugly then I am also constantly wishing to become pretty. So turn the whole thing around. If I am all the time wanting to be pretty, then it is a proof that I am feeling ugly. If I am all the time trying to become superior, then it is proof that I keep feeling…

Q: Inferior

AP: If a man is desperately searching for a coin, isn’t it obvious that he feels that he has lost the coin, he is not having it? And if we are constantly searching and trying for something, isn’t it proof that we feel that we lost something? This must be obvious, just this much. And if you can remember this, then you need not remember anything else. You are done.

But there are people who do not know, and when I say that I do not mean great truths, I mean the simple straightforward facts of life. They are so deeply asleep that they do not see even the straightforward obvious facts of life. They keep on telling you that it is a mark of your greatness that you must have great targets. Don’t you see that this is a stupid statement? Don’t you see that this is a stupid statement to make?

If I am saying that I must reach that far, it surely means that I am thinking that I have been left this far behind, that I am still lagging far behind. Don’t you see this? You are not seeing this. The bigger is the target that you said, the deeper is your disease.

You see, another small love story. There was this fellow whom I knew and he didn't use to be very academically minded, he was not very scholastic type. So he was a schoolmate and then I went to IIT and he went to some other place. Then after his graduation we again got in touch, he was pursuing his MBA and he used to slog like mad. During graduation, he was a happy-go-lucky type of a man. As soon as he entered MBA he was slogging, madly; reading, studying, doing this, doing that. Now I knew this fellow, I knew that he hardly has anything for business or for money or for management, so I got a little curious. How is it so that he has become so dedicated to his MBA studies now? I asked him. He said, "There is this girl that I deeply love and she too loves me deeply. And she has said that she will marry me only if I am earning at least 50,000 per month. And she has said that it is out of her love for me that she is putting this condition. She says that 'Unless we have this much money, what will happen to our kids? What will papa say and what will society say? And how will we buy a car and how will we go for our honeymoon? So unless you earn 50,000 we will not marry'.”

Now, ten years back doing your MBA from some kind of a mediocre college, it was not really easy thing to be earning 50000/-. It was quite a difficult condition for a fresh MBA postgraduate to meet, it was almost impossible. The girl had put an impossible condition in front of him, a very huge target. And the fellow was saying that "It is out of her love for me that she has put this condition in front of me. Because she loves me and because I love her, so I must have a huge target."

So, I said that "You know, when I was a kid and when I would go shopping with my mother, when my mother would not want something, she would quote an abysmally low price for it. At the same time, I have also seen when the sellers do not want to sell something, they quote an unrealistically high price for it." I said that I saw that when I was 6-7 years old and that experience was enough for me to tell me about some fact of life. When you do not want the deal to happen, then you set an extreme price, don’t you? I don’t want the deal to happen so what do I do? I set an extreme price. I said, "Don’t you see what you are doing? You call it love?" He said, “No, but it has been happening with me since childhood.” I said, "How?" He said, “Papa had told me that if you love me then you should get at least 90% marks. Mamma had gone a step ahead, Mamma had said, 'if you do not get 90% then forget about love, you do not deserve my love. Not even 90%? not even 90%, you don’t deserve to breathe'.” He said, “It has been happening. Obviously, when you love somebody then you give him high targets and you say that the love is dependent upon the target. Now the same thing is happening. Now, my lover, my girlfriend is giving me a target, to earn 50000 per month.”

We don’t even realize that we set these targets out of contempt. We do not want the deal to happen. When we do not love somebody we give him a high target. When we do not love ourselves, we give ourselves a high target. We tell ourselves ‘I am not worthy of my own respect if I am not earning so much.' Have you seen that happen? You fall in your own eyes if you do not earn enough. You fall in your own eyes if your house is not big enough. You fall in your own eyes, if your percentage drops, your sense of self-respect, self-worth takes a beating, you cannot look at yourself in the mirror. “Oh my God! She got 82% and I got only 81.6. Can the earth please crack open and consume me!”

Love is unconditional, it does not put targets, it does not say that 'you are nobody and our relationship is over if you are not meeting these conditions, if you are not achieving so much.' Similarly, when you are convinced that you are beautiful, wonderful, and worthy of your own respect, then you do not set targets in front of yourself. Then you allow yourselves to move freely. Then you say, "Well, there is something that is nice, that is worthy of being done and I am doing it and that is all." It is the king’s pleasure to do what he is doing. The king is not doing all these to acquire more. He is already a king what more he can acquire? "I am studying, it is nice to study. I am not desperate for marks; I am not desperate for recognition, from others, I am not competing." And the wonderful part is when you are not competing then great things get done. When you are just acting in your joy, then it is the dance of creativity; then the unthinkable happens. Then targets become such a petty thing. You go far beyond the targets that you can set.

There were two exams that I was parallelly preparing for; the Civil Services Examinations and the admission test to the IIMs. I was more eager, far more eager to get into the civil services- to get into the IAS cadre specifically. So 98% of my energy, attention, and thought went towards the Civil Services exam. And there were my batch mates who were preparing solely for the CAT and they were as eager to go to an IIM as I was to go to IAS. Now see what happens. 15th of November I write my Civil Services exam, they get over on 15th of November. The CAT is scheduled for the 10th of December. For 3-4 days, I simply relaxed. Now I have 20 days at hand, 20 days in hand that is all I have. So I start solving the question papers, I start looking for what is going on and there was a test series that used to be conducted at IIT, I joined that. Once a week type of a thing, so three tests I got to write there. And when I would go to write those tests, full-length simulation of the CAT paper, I would find that if 200 or 300 IITians had written that test, then my rank would be between 50 and 100 or in that range, nowhere close to the top at least. That wouldn’t bother me because anyway my target was Civil Services and I had given all I could give to the Civil Services exam. This was purely for fun, you could say.

And there were those in IIT who had put everything at stake for going to an IIM, some of them had not taken up even a job offer, fine. So the CAT paper comes, 10th of Dec, I emerged from the examination hall and I had a sense that I had attempted fewer questions than I usually did. So I thought that you know, I haven’t done as well. In those days the CAT used to consist of 150 plus questions and I got an idea that I had attempted some 115 questions or something. I usually used to attempt 130-140 out of 180 questions. So, I come out and I find all these people around and it is almost like a condolence gathering. People are shaking, weeping, crying, sobbing and a few are ready to commit suicide. Somebody is tearing his clothes, somebody is tearing other's clothes. So all the crazy scenes that you can see, are all there. Two or three had fainted. So I asked what has happened. They said, "The entire pattern had changed." I said, "I felt something like that but did not particularly notice it because I anyway didn’t know what the previous pattern was. So how do I know that the pattern has changed?" They said, "The pattern has completely changed and we have not been able to attempt too many questions." I said, "What's so surprising about it? Even I could not attempt too many questions." They said, "How many did you attempt?" I said, "Some 115." They said, “We could not even attempt even 80!" And these were the toppers who had been preparing for a year. Nobody could attempt even 100 questions. Then I said, "Nice, good!"


So I served my condolences. I said, "No, no, it is too bad, may you get well soon." And while coming back from the examination center I was wondering, "How is it possible? These people used to do significantly better and they had slogged like mad, crazy, their preparation levels were far better, for them everything was at stake."

Soon the results were announced and now it was my time to get totally shocked. I found I was the all-India CAT topper. So for some time, I kept wondering that there is some mistake in the assessment and maybe they will inform me that this is not the case. That did not happen. I kept wondering how did this happen. I could not forget the faces of my batch mates. I know they were brilliant people. Some of them were JEE Rank 25, 80 very sharp brains, sharp brains who had slogged. How is it possible that I had done better than them? But soon I got my answer. I got my answer when the civil services results came out. Now there was no surprise left. In spite of slogging so hard, I found that I could not make it to the top 100 in the civil services. My all-India rank was 184 which was not good enough to get me the IAS cadre. I was getting other services which I refused to take.

Targets, you know, targets! You leave the target, you just dance, and the unthinkable happens. And you kept wooing the targets and the target acts pricy like in courtships, like girls do. You leave her alone and she will come after you, you chase her and she will act very pricy. No, no gender bias here, men too do the same thing. All my academic life and otherwise also I have done best when I have not had the pressure of targets. I was able to see that, thankfully, quite quickly and hence go beyond the concept of having goals, chasing targets. I realized it does not do any good. The more you are focused on the result, the less you are present to the happening. The more you are thinking about what will happen next, the more you are available to what is happening now, and when you are not available to what is happening now, obviously what is going to happen next will get spoiled.

So, there is no point. And you do not require a Kṛṣṇa to tell you that you don’t have any right over the result; karmanyeva adhikarasthe . That ‘*Phal*’ (fruit) is not something that you need to be concerned about. ‘*Phal*’ is the result, future, don’t think about it, forget it, ‘karma’ karma is the happening, the now, the present, right now, be into that, not with seriousness but with immersion, playfully.

Those of you who want to say that, “But sir, whatever we have achieved, we have achieved with targets.” To them, I want to say that is not even one percent of your potential. Drop the target and then see what comes to you on its own without chasing. With target you are a beggar chasing this, chasing that. Drop it, allow yourself to act in freedom, allow yourself to dance freely, to act in love, and then see what happens. Whatever is significant, whatever mankind can call its glory did not come to it because somebody was aiming for it. It just happened. Think of it, a real innovation, how can it happen as a result of target. If it is really new, can you target it? Can you target the really new? You can only make a target out of that which you can imagine. So new discoveries or innovations, that too cannot happen because you had a target. It happens when you are just wandering around with nothing to do, relaxed and you come upon something great. Only in relaxation does the great happen, does the great descend, otherwise it doesn’t come. The great doesn’t come to tense minds.

In science, in medicine, in philosophy, in spirituality whatever is truly great, comes when you are relaxed. Don’t be addicted to tension, target is tension. Don’t be addicted to tension. Some of us cannot work if they are not tensed. Have you seen such people? They are either loose - and looseness is not freedom - they are either loose and they will be just fooling around and then will remember, "Oh my God! Something to do", and they will become very serious and tensed and they will work. So they can work only when they are tensed. Do not become like that. Let not tension become your engine.

For most of mankind, it is this way. It works because it is motivated by tension and fear. Otherwise, it won’t work. You go to any corporate office and you see what is happening. There are only these motivations that people have— Fear, targets, goals, a carrot or a stick. Is it good to work like that? “You could either dangle a carrot in front of me and I will run after it.” Have you seen the image of that donkey? The master is sitting on its back dangling a carrot on its front, the donkey is running, and it never gets the carrot, obviously. Or the donkey is being spanked from behind and the donkey is running. Either fear or greed, these are our motivators. Both are tension, fear is tension and greed is tension. Learn to work as if you are playing, as if you are freely dancing. Work that way, not chained, not target bound.

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