Joyful Goals

Steven Barnes
4 min readJan 4, 2024


It is hard to remain equanimous when you know people are lying to you. “But still they do what’s hard to do,” the Buddha said in the face of this. To resist the reflex to strike back and instead respond with kindness and compassion is a difficult practice. Yet it can be done. Regardless of the facts on the table, the quality of our own response in any situation is the measure of our wisdom and understanding.

— Dhamma Wheel

(Tricycle Online Courses)

The goal of Buddhism is freedom from suffering, that strategy being the “Eightfold Path” of right action and right thought.

The Three Gates are, in many ways, a simpler version of this same notion. It is not a matter of Guilt, Blame, and Shame. Those who feel that in connection with it are primarily fear-driven.

The other perspective is one of stepping into the light. The PRECISE same action can be viewed as an escape from pain, or a movement toward joy. The difference is the perspective, but the results are massively different.

So…if “I is intention” then a goal, ANY goal can be shifted into a step of personal evolution simply by connecting it with the actual path of human growth, which can be most simply expressed as:

  1. Escape pain
  2. Embrace Joy
  3. Evolve to service.

Look at this from the viewpoint of our core three: MAGIC, 3 Centers, 3 Gates.

Have a goal in each of the three basic arenas: body, emotions, mind. Say fitness, relationship, and money. Let’s get real, shall we?

Minimum goals could be the Five Tibetans, or even a single Sun Salutation for the physical. The Five Minute Miracle (60 seconds diaphragmatic breathing every hour) for emotions. And re- reading your career/money goals every day. I know for a fact that Octavia Butler, Bruce Lee and Jim Carrey were on this path, and it paid off massively.

If you ask your brain to find ways for you to be fitter, more emotionally healthy, and more abundant, it will start finding you answers. But you will probably feel struggle and pain in association with them. So simply adding “and have FUN in the process” will trigger an entirely different searching strategy.

I develop a powerful yoga practice that creates a lean, healthy body I’d be attracted to…AND HAVE FUN IN THE PROCESS

I release the demons of stress and fear…AND HAVE FUN IN THE PROCESS

I increase my income by 1% per week…AND HAVE FUN IN THE PROCESS

Get that? You are moving away from pain, yes. But you are doing it by focusing on joy. Same action, different emotions, and therefore you will sustain that effort once you get any momentum at all. Initially, it will be discipline. But then it will be HUNGER. Flip that switch, and you are in a different world. Same “chop wood, carry water” with a completely different impact on your mood and lightness of being.

The next step would be seeking service. That’s another subject.

First, move away from pain while seeking joy. Solve that one, and you’re ready for the next step. So create your goals, one in each arena, see how they help you escape pain, and how they can increase joy. THAT is your step.

Your ultimate goal always…is joy. Admit this to yourself, stop denying your own needs, and get into the real game.



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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.