I wrote this piece as a response to a commenter on my recent post about expectations, titled, "Letting Go of Expectations." They wanted to know how a person can still go about wanting to do certain things in life without desires. So, the following is my response, which I decided to make a post from in case others had the same question, because I did when I was first starting out on the Dharmic path: I think desires aren't necessarily "bad" but rather the attachment to them is what causes the suffering. The idea that we can't be happy without the constant fulfillment of our desires. It's a cyclical trap of suffering.
Instead of desires, I think a more skillful approach is to have goals. Goals are about setting achievable and realistic outcomes based on a flexible plan; grounded in the reality that not every detail might work out the way it was planned. So, that from the beginning you know that you might have to adjust those goals as you go along—in other words, with goals, you’re prepared for revisions.
Whereas, desires are based on pure craving and expectations, which demand a particular outcome to be happy. These expectations are unreasonable and will always let us down. And having placed, so much energy into the desired outcome we are devastated when they don't come true--and we suffer greatly. Again, with goals, we are ready or prepared for set-backs and have a back-up plan on what to revise in that instance. So, we aren’t as attached to a particular outcome with goals. We temper your desires in this manner.
The whole meaning of a desire is to dream big and have HUGE expectations that those dreams will unfold EXACTLY how we desire them to.
So, set manageable goals with back-up plans and you should be less driven and attached by desired expectations. That’s the way I understand the difference and how to go about planning and living life without being pulled into the unmanageable cravings of desire. I’m not a teacher though and I struggle with desires versus goals daily but I have picked up a small bit of knowledge and experience in my years of practicing Dharma. But I’m not an expert by any means. Still, I hope this advice helps.
~Peace to all beings~