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Goal Setting For Increased Flow

Goal Setting For Increased Flow

Goal setting brings with it a range of positive outcomes, from increased productivity to heightened present-moment awareness.

Numerous studies have shown that simply by setting a definite goal around any given task our effectiveness at completing that task automatically increases and so does our productivity - by up to 20%.

That's a significant gain on the back end for a very small input at the front.

Moreover, nothing brings our attention into the present moment better and more consistently than working towards meaningful goals.

And a life rich in present moment awareness is what it's all about, isn't it?

So I want to share the goal setting stack I've learned recently from Stephen Kostler's Flow Research Collective.

It's the best approach to goal setting I've ever come across.

Here it is:

1. Transcendent goals

This level corresponds to your overarching mission or purpose here on Earth, and relates directly to your 'dharma', your innate qualities and deepest values.

If you were to imagine your being spanning many human lifetimes (belief in transmigration is not necessary here, it's just an imaginative exercise), then your transcendent goal is the mission you'd be working on across the long-term arc of a number of lives.

It also involves you in collaboration with many other beings.

It's more than is possible in any one lifetime, or for any one individual. That's what makes it transcendent.

Restoring biodiversity across the Earth is an example of a transcendent goal. Ending world hunger is another.

So take some time to get clear on your Transcendent goal. That's the first step.

2. High, hard goals

At this level are your long-term goals attainable in this life.

Crucially, these high hard goals need to be directly aligned to your transcendent goals.

In this way, by working towards your high hard goals you are working towards your transcendent goals, and infusing your life with the meaning, purpose and joy that comes from living your dharma and contributing towards a positive transpersonal outcome.

These should be set at 5-10 years out from where you are right now (the 'high').

And they should be well-defined and binary - meaning that at any point you know whether you've achieved them or not - (the 'hard').

You want to have 1-3 goals at this level.

Buying 1000 acres of overgrazed upland and preparing it for re-wilding is an example of one high hard goal directly related to the transcendent goal of restoring biodiversity on Earth.

Take some time to formulate 1-3 high hard goals. This is step 2.

3. Yearly goals

These are your big steps along the way to reaching your high hard goals. You create these at the start of every year.

What can you do this year to move significantly closer to hitting your high, hard goals?

Get clear on as many achievable yearly goals as you can. This is step 3.

4. Quarterly goals

You create these at the start of every quarter.

Simply chunk down each of your yearly goals into achievable quarterly goals. This is step 4.

5. Monthy goals

You create these at the start of every month.

Simply chunk down each of your quarterly goals into achievable monthly goals. This is step 5.

6. Weekly goals

You create these for the next week at the end of every week.

Simply chunk down each of your monthly goals into achievable weekly goals. This is step 6.

7. Daily goals

You create these for the next day at the end of every day.

Simply chunk down each of your weekly goals into achievable daily goals. This is step 7.

8. Clear Goals

Now here's where it all gets especially juicy, in terms of heightened flow.

In step 8 your daily goals get broken down into bite-size chunks.

You create these at the start of every day, spending 5-10 mins going through each of your daily goals, thinking through exactly what is involved in each task, and writing down each tiny step.

This might seem excessive, and probably sounds like a waste of time, but in terms of flow it's one of the most important steps.

There are several reasons for this.

The power of clear goals

1. Having a list of clear goals completely eliminates cognitive load - the mental space and processing capacity taken up by holding things in mind.

With no cognitive load your whole capacity can be brought to each task on your list, increasing present-moment attention and opening the door to flow.

2. When we accomplish even a small task the brain releases dopamine - its primary reward chemical.

If that task is meaningful then the amount it releases is bigger - and if you've done the work of building out your whole goal stack from the top down then you know that everything on your clear goals list is directly relevant to your transcendent goal, and so inherently meaningful to you.

The act of checking off completed tasks from your clear goals list therefore gives you a nice boost of dopamine, which not only makes you feel good in the moment but also makes you more alert - that's part of what dopamine does.

More alert, you're more focused in the present moment, and better able to perform the next task on your clear goals list, on completion of which you get another boost! And a positive feedback loop begins which is a big part of the runway into deep flow states.

3. You always know exactly where you are and what to do next. This means that there is absolutely no uncertainty or ambiguity around what you're doing, so there is no room for distractions or superfluous tasks to enter in.

Again, this undistracted focus is big part of the runway into deep flow states.

And so the 5-10 mins it takes to create your clear goals list at the start of each day pays for itself many times over, in increased cognitive capacity, dopamine, focus, and flow.

Time well spent

The time it takes to build out your whole goal stack is time well spent. It could be the most valuable investment of time you'll ever make.

It may seem paradoxical that bringing a lot of intention to the art of goal setting actually creates more access to present-moment awareness – but paradox is often the gateway to deeper understanding.