Before You Set Any Goals…
Desire’s a contract you make to be unhappy until you get what you want. You become disturbed because you want something. Then you work really hard to get it and are miserable in the meantime. Finally, when you get it, you revert to the state you were in before you had it. It’s not like you achieve some peak level of bliss that you stay on forever. — Naval Ravikant
Goals seem like they’re a wonderful idea. And they’re so celebrated that they’re seldom questioned. Let’s review some pitfalls and provide some pointers so these goals become life affirming instead of confining obligations.
Luke Burgis, in his book “Wanting” details how most of our desires are influenced by those around us. You want something because others want something.
This isn’t always bad. You join a CrossFit gym and the idea of making time for your physical fitness everyday becomes a priority, because that’s what your new peers are doing. Everybody starts a hydration challenge and this gives you the push you needed to increase your daily water intake.
The flip side of this is you start obsessing over your CrossFit Open score — even though you’ve no interest in competition; you buy weightlifting shoes because everyone else is — even though you don’t care to get better at The Olympic Lifts; and suddenly you look down on those who wear Nanos because you’re a Metcon person.
Take away: Become mindful of which of your goals are actually yours, versus which ones are your groups.
Beware The Inner Critic
The Inner Critic is the insidious voice inside you that tells you you’re not good enough. And that you need to change very specific parts of you to become good enough and worthy. They can also tell you you’re not capable of even trying and foolish for thinking so.
Your inner critic loves comparisons, but it doesn’t do them fairly. It will select one aspect of your life — say your waistline or bank account — and compare that to someone else while ignoring all the other factors that make up your life.
It will remind you that unless and until you reach that goal, you’ll be less than, undeserving and unworthy. Essentially it’s a goal driven by self-hate, not self-love (or self-care if that’s too mushy for you.)
Another problem of letting your inner critic set your goal is that it most likely own’t be specific. Without a target or standard, you’ll always miss the mark and be a failure.
Take away: Ask if you’re creating a goal that will finally make you worthy? Is it an attempt to escape pain or to increase happiness?
So no goals then? What if you’re unhappy with a part of your life and would like to change?
It’s important to be making progress in our lives. It’s important to have a meaning to our day and our actions. And goals can give us a meaningful direction to our efforts. You get to decide what’s meaningful to you, what’s enough, and what effort you’re willing to put in.
What they cannot be is a standard of your worthiness. They’re not pass/fail of you as a dieter, salesperson, parent, scholar, partner, friend or even human being.
Take away: Ask if your goal is giving you meaningful direction?
Now that we’ve established that you can set goals that provide meaning and direction, and not because you’ll be unhappy until you reach them, how do we avoid falling into the trap of destroying our peace of mind in the pursuit of a noble achievement?
Instead of breaking yourself by exhausting all available willpower and fixing everything all at once, what would be a sustainable way of doing it?
What would the minimum effective dose instead of the maximum non lethal dose each day?
What could you do forever?
It’s never an imperative that you achieve your goals 100%. There’s so many factors at play that you cannot account nor control for. If you’re largely trending in the direction of who you want to be, what you want to do, you can feel satisfied with yourself.
No Pot of Gold At The End of The Rainbow
There’s no goal, no destination, no achievement that will completely satisfy you and leave you fulfilled for the remainder of your days. You won’t every hit a total and perfect dopamine hit. Nothing will ever be perfect. And that’s okay. It’s perfectly okay to be slightly discontent and unfulfilled.
Accepting that there will always be a little dissatisfaction and a slight void is liberating, as it frees you from the inevitable disappointment when things don’t turn out to be ‘perfect’
Inner & Outer
There’s two types of goals: Our inner goals — Peace of mind, self-assurance, equanimity… — and our outer goals — Fitness, finances, freedom…
Both ideally will reinforce and support each other, but they cannot compensate for each other. No quality of money in the bank account will compensate for feeling detached from yourself and others. There’s no body fat percentage and which self-acceptance will magically occur. By the same token there’s no amount of mindfulness meditations that will compensate for a fast food diet and a stalling business.
Work on both, or none, if you want. Knowing that there is no magical endpoint of achieving all your goals. You don’t need to create the crushing pressure to always be becoming more and achieving more. Set and spend your time on them if the process helps you feel as alive as you think the result will.