Questions, always questions. Setting goals is absolutely no guarantee that we will fulfill our dreams. Hopes, wishes, desires, and all the rest are states of mind that spur us to action. Achieving goals requires that we have the right stuff to stand on the three-tiered podium at the end. At the Olympics, finishing fourth puts us at ground level. Merely making the effort doesn’t count. Medals are precious because rare; they aren’t given out for sweat, good intentions, excuses—for anything less than peak performance.

Mental events, too, are won by those who have bested their rivals. Striving, competition, cooperation, and comparison are at the heart of our mental activity, conscious selves, and engagements with the world. From observations of my own mind, I find that comparison between goal and attainment, or past and present achievement, generates a signal as an urge in my brain that sets a particular engagement off on yet another round of action, which triggers another round of both perception and judgment. That urge gradually fades only to the degree it brings me closer to my goal.

Our engagements driven by perception, judgment, and action are more circular than linear or, more accurately, helical like a coiled spring or inclined plane wrapped around a drill bit in that our rounds of mental exertion never bring us back to exactly where we were when we started, but somewhat displaced; hopefully, closer to our goal.

Mental comparisons generate signals in proportion to the disparity between goals and accomplishments, between where we were and where we are now, between remembrance and current perception.

With consciousness, the gap’s the thing. The gap between images cast on the retinas of our left and right eyes, giving rise to depth perception. Between sounds as heard by our left and right ears, producing a sense of distance and direction. Between motions in opposite directions as told by sensors in our left and right semicircular canals when we turn our heads, generating a sense of a counterbalance within a gravitational field so we don’t topple over.

Consciousness—what we are aware of—is not found in neural signals themselves but in the disparity, discontinuity, or discrepancy between two signals in, say, adjacent cortical columns. Comparison between columns creates a polarity or duality that tells the difference between them, consciousness residing precisely in that gap along a scale of what might be expected for good or for ill. For bringing us closer to or farther away from our goal.

So do we achieve tier one, two, or three on the podium, our reward for the care and effort we put into our engagements, the Olympic event we call life.

 

370. Do We Make it or Not?

November 29, 2014

Setting goals is how we guide ourselves in getting ahead, how we navigate this life of ours day-by-day. But gauging how close we come to attaining those goals is another matter entirely. To head off in a particular direction makes for a good start; but to arrive where we want to go is not a sure thing.

Do we make it or not? Do we even come close? That is the question. Either we do or we don’t. If we aren’t there yet, do we still have a chance? Do we have enough time, money, energy, and stamina to keep going? If not, what then? Set a lesser goal? Retreat? Call for help? Give up?

As it turns out, setting goals is only a hypothetical beginning. The real show is what happens in pursuit of that goal. It’s easy to make New Year’s resolutions, something else again to stick to them. Of the thousand entrants in a marathon, only one will be first across the finish line. Politicians are hesitant to enter races they may not win after all, risking the raising and spending of millions of dollars for the privilege of defeat.

In seeking goals, follow-through is crucial. Sticking with the challenge, even as it intensifies and we grow weary unto exhaustion. And then adapting to situations we didn’t anticipate. Life is spent modifying and renewing our commitments, hoping we get a second and third wind, pushing on as best we can.

Proximity to our respective goals can make a big difference by renewing our dedication to the task we have set for ourselves. Do we have what it takes to go all the way when the going gets tougher and tougher? We’ve trained to be at our best at the start of the race, but what about near the end when we discover how young and powerful the competition is, and how painful every stride that we take?

 

We live by setting goals and striving to achieve them.

Roughly speaking, our first life goal is to grow into competent human beings. Our second is to discover who we are and what we hope to accomplish. Our third to make a livelihood for ourselves by developing and practicing our skills. Our fourth to find a partner and establish a family. Our fifth to support the community that in turn supports us. Our sixth to reinvent ourselves in our maturity to fill the gaps we may have missed. Our seventh to go beyond what we have achieved to see just how far we can go before we die.

To live such a life, we set a series of goals, then strive to achieve them through a course of successive approximations. We probably won’t end each stage where we thought we would, but we’ll reach some equivalent we had not imagined for ourselves. We pull ourselves up and ahead by working as hard as we can, stage after stage, always within the situations we meet along the way. The steepness of our climb may vary, but we advance in proportion to the attention we focus on our personal journeys, and the effort we put into our daily engagements.

To achieve our grand life goals, we work toward lesser goals day-by-week-by-month-by-year-by-decade. Our days are largely consumed in setting and trying to meet the expectations we impose upon ourselves from morning to night: getting out of bed, taking a shower, getting dressed, fixing breakfast, getting kids off to school, going to work, making appointments, attending meetings, shopping, and so on.

Our daily routines are based on deciding on and then attaining the goals we set for ourselves on any given day as a matter of course. In this, we are primarily responsible to ourselves in conducting our life activities according to the master route map we have drawn up for living our lives, which in practical terms we live one step at a time.

Our life is our life, the one we have imagined for ourselves and then work to achieve. Lived not on some grand, idealistic scale, but worked out detail-by-detail in one project after another, all adding up to the life we actually live through a series of engagements to which we devote our attention and effort as best we can, hope after worry after wish after bias after desire after want after need after duty after whim after commitment after question after doubt after whatever motivates us at a  particular time and place.

So do we invent ourselves one step at a time, each slip, stride, leap, or shuffle adding to the journey of a lifetime.