Goal Setting and the Daruma Doll

DarumaDollIt’s hard to believe it was nearly twenty-five years ago that I took the plunge and moved to Tokyo to teach English: a decision that has shaped my life in immeasurable ways. Among the many Japanese traditions that have since become a part of my personal ethos is the dedication of a daruma doll whenever I set an important and meaningful goal for myself.

A daruma doll is a traditional Japanese icon modeled after a legendary Buddhist monk who spent nine years in devout meditation. A typical daruma doll is made of wood or papier-mâché, and has no arms or legs…only an ovoid torso and head, and a face with blank eyes. To dedicate a daruma doll, the left eye is filled in to signify one’s devotion to the resolution. When the task is complete or the goal achieved, the right eye is filled in to celebrate the accomplishment. Many Japanese people celebrate the New Year or commemorate significant resolutions with the dedication of daruma dolls, and each year, soon after the New Year celebration, festivals called Dondo Yaki are held throughout Japan, during which bonfires are kindled with cast off New Year decorations and fulfilled daruma dolls.

Goal-setting plays a major role in my everyday life; so much so that I begin each day with a list of goals, both miniscule and monumental, that I vow to complete before I lay my head on my pillow at day’s end. My list of daily goals might include something as simple as sewing on a missing button, or something as significant as booking my next vacation. But when it comes to major goals, I always dedicate a daruma doll to the cause and place it on my desk. There’s nothing quite so compelling as a daruma doll, staring at me day after day with that one good eye, reminding me to stay the course; and nothing quite so fulfilling as coloring in the other one to celebrate a triumphant fait accompli.

This year, I’m dedicating three: one for my career and financial goals, one for my health and fitness goals, and one for that dream house with the ocean view!

Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu!

CelesteHeiterFZBioCeleste Heiter is the author of Turn Your PC into a Lean Mean Freelancing Machine, the creator of the LoveBites Cookbook Series for Kindle Fire, and the author of Potty Pals , a potty-training book for children. She has also written ten books published by ThingsAsian Press; and spent eight years posting her recipes, food photographs, and film reviews on ChopstickCinema .

Visit her website, and her Amazon Author Page.

4 thoughts on “Goal Setting and the Daruma Doll”

  1. Celeste! I love this tradition. One of the biggest problems I have is physically remembering and staying dedicated to an intangible goal. I need those touchstones that keep the goal present and cheer me on. So count me in on the daruma tradition! And thanks for sharing.

  2. Celeste,

    Thanks for writing about the daruma doll. I’ve never heard about it before and it’s such an interesting concept.

    I love that it’s such a concrete, tangible commitment to the goal.

    Are most of these dolls dedicated to a year-long goal, specifically, to a new year’s resolution?

    What happens if someone doesn’t meet his goal during the allotted time period? Does he save the same doll until he achieves it?


  3. Diana,

    I’m not sure about the particulars of the the daruma tradition with regard to the duration of the resolution. I do know that the New Year in Japan is the most important annual celebration and that it’s much like our tradition of ‘out with the old…in with the new’. I also know that many Japanese students dedicate daruma dolls when they begin studying for important entrance exams or sports competitions. And once they’re fulfilled, they are cast into the dondo yaki bonfires.

    As for me…I hang onto mine until I succeed, no matter how long it takes. And once I fulfill one, I put it away as a souvenir of my accomplishment.

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