Understanding the deep, emotional meaning of your Goals and Dreams (the things you want and strive for) Can Help You Achieve Personal Happiness and Relationship Closeness.

This guide will show you how to do that.

The relationship between surface goals and deep goals

Surface goals are things like – Get married. Have a tidy house. Lose weight. Volunteer abroad. Get a university degree. Become a psychology PhD. Have thousands of twitter followers.

Your Deep Goals are the deep emotional reasons why your surface goals are important to you. They’re the things that make your surface goals matter to you: What you’re hoping to gain, at a deep emotional level, from achieving your surface goals.

Deep goals aren’t “better than” surface goals. To achieve your deep goals you need to do that through surface goals. What’s important is choosing surface goals that will logically help you fulfill your deep goals and not ignoring important deep goals (which will cause you to feel unfulfilled).

Here are some examples of deep goals.

To understand yourself.
To feel confident.
To be appreciated.
To create something of value to the world.
To be proud of yourself.
To improve the lives of other people.
To have a sense of calm in your life.
To feel secure.
To test the limits of what you can do.
To contribute to the direction your society or community is taking (in the local or global sense).
To be a good caretaker of planet.
To have your voice heard and respected
To explore new ways of thinking or doing.
To experience fun.
To explore your spiritual or sexual side.
To have you life’s work be meaningful.
To be understood.
To be adored, cherished, and respected.
To have the sense you’re not alone in the world.

The list above is just a list of examples. I haven’t covered everything, and which deep goals are personally important to you (or not) is a very individual thing. Your deep goals are an important part of your psychological identity.

How to Uncover Your Deep Goals.

There are two approaches to understanding your deep goals. One is to brainstorm your deep goals (or use the list above) to identify the deep goals that are most personally important to you, and then jot down the different ways you’re pursuing those deep goals. This method will help you see if you’ve been sweeping under the rug any of your most important deep goals. If you’re doing this, you probably feel some sense of lack of complete fulfillment in your life.

The other method for uncovering your deep goals is to pick apart your surface goals.

How to understand the deep goals underlying your surface goals.

Any surface goal usually has multiple deep goals lurking behind it.

Say your surface goal is to lose weight.

The reasons losing weight is emotionally meaningful to you could include things like:

1. you think you’ll feel proud of yourself and respect yourself more if you’re in control of this aspect of your life,
2. better physical health,
3. you think you’ll be perceived more positively by other people,
4. you think you’ll be more confident socially and sexually (e.g. you think you’ll feel sexier and more attractive).

Deep goals often come in more than one layer.

To get to your true deep goals, you need to ask yourself why a goal is emotionally meaningful to you and then repeat that process until you reach a dead end. I’ll explain.

Let’s take feeling sexier.

psychology PhD: What’s important to you about feeling sexier?

Client: If I feel sexier, I’ll become more adventurous in the bedroom and my husband would like that a lot.

psychology PhD: You said your husband will like it if you become more sexually adventurous. In what ways is becoming more sexually adventurous important to you?

Client: I think it’ll make me feel closer to him, and I want that. But, also, I’d like to explore my own sexuality, I’d like get to know what kind of stuff I like that I haven’t tried before.

Going through the process above has revealed two further deep goals which indirectly are associated with the surface goal of losing weight (enhanced relationship closeness and exploring sexuality). The great thing is that once you know that these are your deep goals, you’ll often realize that you don’t need to wait until you achieve the surface goal to progress with your deep goals. There are almost always many different ways you can achieve your deep goals. But, when you’re not conscious of what your deep goals are, it’s easy to miss these opportunities.

The link between understanding your deep goals and happiness.

In a previous post I wrote that happiness is a combination of

1. The extent to which you feel positive emotions in your life on a day to day basis (i.e. how frequently you experience emotions like joy, awe, pride, calm/serenity, gratitude, and love), and

2. Your sense of whether your actions are moving you in your “valued life directions” in general.

To be happy, people need to be pursuing paths that are moving them in the direction of their deep goals (“deep goals” is essentially an alternative term for “valued life directions”).

Your surface goals won’t necessarily change when you understand your deep goals, but they might.

Why is understanding Your Deep Goals Important

1. Understanding your deep goals will help you make better choices about which surface goals to pursue and how to go about pursuing them.

2. Understanding your deep goals will help you persist with surface goals that relate to important deep goals during the times when persisting with the surface goal is difficult.

3. Sometimes, it will help you relinquish surface goals that on reflection aren’t a particularly great way of achieving your deep goals.

4. Truly close relationships (romantic or friendships) are about understanding each others’ deep goals. You won’t communicate the deep meaning of your goals clearly until you understand them thoroughly yourself.

5. Being able to communicate your deep goals is important for relationship closeness.

For example, in relationship therapy, there is a concept called “dream within an argument” which is about understanding each others’ deep goals when your surface goals aren’t meshing (i.e. understanding what your partner’s deep goal is when they want something you don’t, or vice versa).

6. Not everyone will understand or be interested in your surface goals but deep goals are universally relatable.

7. Once you understand your own deep goals, you’re likely to be more curious about what other people’s deep goals are. Being able to ask people about their deep goals, in a way that’s appropriate for the type of relationship you have with them, is a skill that will make people want to be around you. It’s good to be alert to when other people are telling you about a deep goal because it’s an opportunity you shouldn’t miss for showing them you’re really listening and are interested in what’s important to them.

8. Because deep goals are universally relatable, being aware of them can make you feel a sense of universal connection with the world, which makes it seem like a much nicer place to be in.

9. Sometimes people get stuck on surface goals that aren’t working out. For example, you wanted to get in to Grad School and it didn’t happen. Since there are multiple ways to achieve almost any deep goal, this can help you put unfulfilled surface goals in perspective and heal the hurt of unfulfilled surface goals.

10. Sometimes a way to get unstuck with a surface goal is to abandon it and choose another surface goal related to the same deep goal.

11.The idea of deep goals can help you choose what relationships you want in invest your time in e.g. choose your friendships and romantic relationships. You want relationships that help you achieve your deep goals. This might involve choosing different relationships or, perhaps more commonly, repairing existing relationships so that they’re more nurturing of your deep goals.

Thanks for reading.

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Head over to this page to read more posts about Psychology, Happiness, and Relationships from Dr Alice Boyes, Clinical psychology PhD, Christchurch, New Zealand.