Ego Vs Mastery: Understanding Why You Struggle With Achieving Your Goals


I understand a lot of people are frustrated with goal setting.

It seems to be the stock in trade of motivational speakers trying to sell people on something that appeals to their vanity but not practical in reality.

How many times have you heard it? You need to set more goals! You need to be persistent! You need to make things happen! Yet things remain the same.

You are done with this motivational mumbo jumbo. You are through. You despise personal improvement seminars now. You despise inspirational literature. They just excite and then deflate you.

Wait a minute! What if it’s not true? What if what you have been taught wasn’t the accurate picture?

My studies on goal setting is beginning to reveal some insight as to why people fail at goal setting.

The problem really starts with the kind of goals they set.

If you set the wrong goals, the achievement of it is likely to be difficult or the satisfaction of it short-lived.

Understanding two types of goals

The kind of goals you set determine the level of satisfaction you get out of life. I have come to understand that people set two kinds of goals – ego goals and mastery goals.

Ego goals are intensely outcome oriented, feel good, feel better goals. They are goals that are set in comparison to others. They have an external focus. They cater to our vanity and our need for external validation. Little wonder people are disappointed when they don’t achieve such goals.

People with ego goals are not happy until they have achieved their goals. This is because their goals are relative to others. They feel good when the achievement of their goals make them win over others, look better than others or can be compared to others.

These goals can include earning a higher income, driving a faster and bigger car, a bigger house, climbing the corporate ladder while sacrificing the things that matters. It can even be having a bigger church or ministry.

It’s a performance for others. We are hoping to achieve in order to appeal to our audience –others and secondly our own vanity.

The consumerism mindset, the love for vanity we find in society today is because people have only ego goals. The media is ever there to celebrate this. We measure our lives by what our favourite celebrities are doing, wearing or flossing and how we compare to them.

Social media also means people can now be their own media publicist to celebrate the achievement of their ego goals – the hot body, the eye candy girlfriend or athletic boyfriend, the new flashy ride, the expensive wrist watch on Instagram, Facebook speaks to our ego goals.

The achievement of such goals doesn’t produce lasting satisfaction because you later ask – is this all there to it? Beside what if the audience is not impressed?

Mastery goals on the other hand are character-oriented. They are aimed towards gradual self-improvement. The satisfaction from such goals comes from mastery – becoming the best one can possibly be in a particular area of life.

Mastery goals don’t focus or compare itself to others. The benchmark is our God-given potential. It measures itself relative to our own potential and not other people’s.

Mastery goals are process-focused. The end is the process and not the outcome. It reminds me of what Jim Rohn would say that that becoming a millionaire is not as Important as who you become by the process. Character development is the real prize, not the money or the medals.

In mastery goals, Improvement is gradual and realized not seen. This is why people don’t set them because they don’t appeal to vanity.

What I find interesting is that those dedicated to mastery goals are running a different race, are more stable, have more depth and meaning in our lives.

Have more mastery goals than ego goals

Here is what I advise about goals – have more mastery goals than ego goals. One of the deepest satisfaction I have had this year was making this shift from ego to mastery goals.

I desire to make more money, yes! But it’s not my primary focus. My greater focus is on gradual self-improvement and the maturing of my soul and character. I now evaluate my goals based on what I am becoming rather than what I get.

I’m learning to build my satisfaction around the process rather than the outcome.

When I set a goal of writing 100 articles this year, it was about mastery. To some, 100 articles could make me look awesome. To me, it’s about the discipline, the character, mastery of the art and excellence that I would develop, having attained it. This for me is where the satisfaction lies.

Life is about the maturing of your soul

There are some goals I have achieved this year that makes me happy and not because of what I have gotten from them. What makes me happy is the feeling of knowing I have become a better person as a result of having dedicated myself to them.

I have also learnt invaluable lessons from the process more than the outcome.

I have learnt that nothing makes you stupid as success. I have learnt that my difficulties, struggles, pain and discipline are what matures my soul. If the process of pursuing your goals make you encounter these, you are on course. They will serve you better than the results you achieve.

Reality check – It’s not about speed

Another problem I have observed is that we have no idea how long it takes to achieve truly important goals. We have no idea of the cost in times of time, money and effort.

When things don’t happen fast like we have been sold in the media and movies, we give up. We give up because our ideas on goal achievement were based on fantasies and not reality.

We forget that the media never celebrates gradually but suddenly.

What we need is a long time perspective – the ability to think and plan our lives with the long range in view and the discipline to align our actions in the present to guarantee the vision of the future.

This is what I remind myself because I’m still tempted to focus on outcomes.

The process is the end not the achievement of the goal

I want to say it again. The most important aspect of achieving a goal is the process and not the outcome. It is who you become by setting the goal and not the achievement of the goal that matters.

Dedicate yourself to constant and never ending improvement. Seek to grow in wisdom, knowledge, character, love for others. Keep honing your skills. Keep developing yourself.

The only audience you will be performing for will be yourself, your conscience and your God. These are the audiences that matters because they are not fickle.

Does these seem like worthwhile goals?


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