A Unified Framework of Goals



Over the past few months, I have been struggling with the process of goal setting. Each time I set out on a goal, the path forward looks unclear. My thinking would be better exerted on the project itself, rather than the what and how of its achievement. Therefore, I have set out on a rather ambitious project – A Unified Framework of Goals.

Disclaimer: My penchant for rigor has led me to write up the article in a highly analytical manner. To skip ahead to the framework, refer to the summary at the end.

1. Problem with Existing Frameworks

The rise of the self-help industry, accelerated by the Internet, has led to countless books addressing the subject. Almost every framework presents a number of arbitrary steps to be followed, providing no further justification for them. If a general framework of goals exists, there must be one that’s the best, the most optimal one. As it moves out of the sphere of generality, to a subjective non-comparative space, the framework is not one regarding goals anymore. It will be a framework of goals subjected to certain constraints, perhaps concerning a certain demographic, say artists or entrepreneurs, or the individual constraints of the author themselves[efn_note]For Example, goal setting for Entrepreneurs[/efn_note].

Every such framework is vaguely similar. Variants of a fundamental structure. Isomorphisms of each other, if you will. Wouldn’t it be ideal to strip them down to their basic structure and leave further modifications to the individual? Before that, however, one must ask the question: what goals are valid?

I cannot tell you how to live differently. If I did, you’d still be living by some other’s design. Maybe I could give you a thought.

Friedrich Nietzsche, from the movie When Nietzsche Wept

2. What are Valid Goals?

Valid goals are ones that align with meta-goals[efn_note]Meaning and Meta-Goals. Niranjan Krishna. (2023, March 7). Retrieved April 8, 2023, from https://niranjankrishna.in/2023/03/07/meaning-and-meta-goals/[/efn_note]. A Meta-Goal is the maximization of any virtue that you, the individual, may have. The set of all meta-goals constitutes the meaning of life i.e. the Ubermensch. For instance, one virtue that I have identified in myself is Creation.

What justifies the validity of valid goals, you ask? Because meaning is the supreme ethical directive. If life has meaning, the rational choice is to follow it. As I’ve argued previously[efn_note]In Meaning and Meta-Goals. Cited above[/efn_note], an idea of meaning grounded in reality, as opposed to platonic other worlds, does exist.

This means that many commonly accepted goals are no longer valid, such as making money. If someone wants to build a business of revenue x dollars, the goal cannot be an end in itself. Rather a means to the meta-goal, or set of meta-goals, comprising entrepreneurship.

3. The Stripped-Down Abstract

To create the framework, we must eliminate all redundancies, leaving only what’s essential. Clearly, the Goal and the Process are necessary. Furthermore, the focus is to reach the goal in an optimized manner. Since the possibility of a sub-optimal process remains, there must be a way of finding the optimal one. At least, to improve the sub-optimal, approximate it, to the optimal.

What are we optimizing for? The Goal. To make comparison possible, the goal has to be quasi-quantitative. Ideally, it has to be numeric but even consistent subjective evaluations will work. Time also exists as an independent metric. If two goals are achieved, both of the same quality, the faster one is preferred.

Denote the Goal, \(G\) as

\(G = (E, T) \)

With \(E\) being the evaluative metric and \(T\), the time constraint. Consider the set of all processes, say \(P\). Let the optimal one be \(p^{*}\). Before setting out on a process, it’s wise to research what it might look like. This includes advice from people who have done it or general guidelines. Let this pre-optimized process be \(p^{‘}\). Feedback, or \(F\), is a metric representing the distance between \(p^{‘}\) and \(p^{*}\). Hence, the feedback loop is born.

The Abstract
Loop (Process -> Feedback) until Goal

4. Recursive Division

A useful addition is applying recursion here. Breaking up goals into sub-goals and processes into sub-processes. This is a common theme in self-help content. But, the question remains: how small should the sub-goals be?

Why break up a goal? Oftentimes, we lack the patience to stay focused until the end, so it’s helpful to achieve smaller goals that motivate us. So we choose the largest interval of time such that we don’t lose focus.

\(S_{t}\) Sub-Goal Threshold: The largest interval of time such that the individual can maintain focus on a goal.

Thus, the base condition of recursion becomes achievable sub-goals relative to the sub-goal threshold.

5. Bonus: Software Recommendation

This is mainly about how to use the algorithm effectively. It can be subjective, and I don’t like that, but if you need a flexible digital solution, I recommend using Jira. It lets you plan sprints (which are work periods with a specific timeline) and create different boards. The boards are basic, with three default categories: to-do, progress, and done. To increase clarity, you can divide the to-do section into smaller parts for different project aspects.

6. Conclusion

  1. Existing self-help frameworks lack justification and often have arbitrary steps. A general framework of goals must consider individual constraints and align with meta-goals to have meaning.
  2. Valid goals align with meta-goals, which are the maximization of an individual’s virtues. The supreme ethical directive is to follow the meaning of life.
  3. The stripped-down abstract of the framework includes the necessary components of the goal and the process, and the focus is on reaching the goal in an optimized manner. The feedback loop is essential to improve and approximate the sub-optimal process.
  4. Recursive division is useful to break up goals into achievable sub-goals relative to the sub-goal threshold, which is the largest interval of time that an individual can maintain focus on a goal.
  5. Jira is a recommended software solution for using the algorithm effectively. It allows for planning sprints and creating boards for increased clarity.

[Credits to ChatGPT for the summary]

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