Are Your Goals Your Own?

I’m realizing how easy it is to delude yourself into believing that your goals are your own. Most goals come down to one thing — pleasing others, fitting in, checking off boxes. Do your goals excite you? Are they in line with who you are? Do they honor your interests, strengths, and values? If not, examine them critically to ensure they are not interlopers, others’ goals for you masquerading themselves as your own. I’m currently working on this.

When Your Goals Sabotage You

Do you allow your goals to sabotage you? I do often. Have you ever written a list of your goals, some easier, some much harder? I have. As you tick off the list, you notice that one or two of your goals are never any closer to being achieved because you are focusing on the easier goals? Once again, same here. And it’s usually the harder goals that are the most important? For me, always. It’s easy to rationalize and make yourself feel better when you’re reaching some goals, even if they’re the far-less-important ones. For instance, you might be putting off starting an exercise regimen. You’re currently a couch potato and know it’s imperative for your health that you exercise every day. You haven’t even started. You’re no closer to starting a daily exercise regimen than when you decided to start one. However, you assuage your guilt by telling yourself you got all those piles of laundry done today. The lesson is not to allow smaller, less important goals to sideline you from working on the more important ones. This is something I struggle with constantly and am struggling with right now. The ego boost from achieving small goals can honestly carry me for long enough to put off the bigger, more important goal for the rest of the day. How do other people deal with this? I’d appreciate some pointers!

Don’t Continue Down the Wrong Road

Many times I have been tempted to continue down the wrong path just because I had been on it so long and already committed to it so deeply that even the thought of leaving it was painful. Whenever I have given into this feeling, I have only ended up worse off than before. I did this with a masters program that I didn’t end up finishing. I now have massive amounts of federal student loans and will probably end up starting all over again in a new program. I did this with gym memberships. I had a year-long gym membership to one gym which I never used. I wrongly thought if I signed up and toured the gym, it would motivate me to actually use it. That wasn’t realistic, of course, and I ended up wasting a lot of money. Then a few years later, I made the exact same mistake and signed up at another gym. One year and hundreds of dollars later proved to be an exact repeat of the first time.

The lesson to be learned here is not to continue doing the same things you’ve always done if they don’t work for you — even if it means starting over or quitting something you’ve been working at a long time. Better to be a quitter at something that isn’t right for you so you can succeed at what is right for you. I’m not a gym person. I find them dirty and gross. I find them too loud, too bright, and intimidating. I don’t like working out in front of other people. These characteristics are not likely to change. Instead of continuing to try the gym route, I should find other ways of working on my physical fitness. And there are other ways — many of them.

Not everything is meant for you, and there is often more than one right way to achieve your desired outcome, whether it’s a career, weight loss, or any other goal you’ve set for yourself. Instead of making yourself miserable trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, be true to and gentle with yourself and find a strategy that works well for you. Don’t allow your ego to get in the way of admitting you were wrong and need to change something. And don’t allow other people’s opinions that you are “confused”, “don’t know what you want”, “flaky”, etc. to scare you away from starting something new. Fight the urge to give in to inertia. Realize that you’re worth the time and effort it will take to strike out in a new direction.

First Change Yourself

I’m trying to learn to take more responsibility for my life by changing myself before trying to change my environment. It is easier to change things under your control, such as restructuring your priorities or taking a different perspective on your situation, than to change other people or circumstances that arise outside your control.

In general, I am currently a pretty unhappy, dissatisfied person. There are a lot of things I feel are wrong or unbalanced about my life. But there are several small steps I could take to improve my life. For example, I currently live with my mother. Although we get along well, I feel uncomfortable with living at home at my age. I plan to get my own place. I also want to travel more often, get healthy, exercise regularly, look at screens (phone, laptop) less often, have more hobbies, and become more social. These are all relatively small changes I could make that I know would have a huge positive impact on the quality of my life. Making small changes or focusing on one goal at a time can be less overwhelming and less of a shock to the system than changing everything overnight or making radical changes.

I’ve often heard the expression that “no matter where you go, you bring your problems with you.” This I have found to be true throughout my life. Many of the issues that make us unhappy in life will not be changed just by moving geographic locations except for weather/climate issues; however, even these location-dependent issues are more likely to make us miserable depending upon our attitudes, reactions, and coping skills.

Are you planning on moving to alleviate your woes? Be honest about your motivations for wanting to move. Is your quality of life really going to be improved by your new surroundings? Are the deep issues that plague you going to resolve themselves? Or can you do the important work that needs to be done first, before moving? An unwell mind is not one which should be depended upon to make big decisions like a move.

It is sometimes easier to flee when we feel frozen than to start making less-dramatic, smaller changes. It is tempting to do something big and dramatic in order to force yourself out of your misery, but reacting this way is reacting like a caged animal.

Something I struggle with a good deal is impulsivity. It is a well-researched fact that impulsivity is a common trait of people with mental illness and can be found in the diagnostic criteria of several mental disorders. I find, personally, that while being rash often feels great in the moment and delivers instant gratification, it almost always screws me over in the end. And it’s when I’m feeling my least emotionally-stable that I act impulsively. When I’m feeling depressed and anxious, I don’t have the energy to plan and strategize the best course of action.

It is also a well-researched fact that mental illness and trauma negatively affect the executive functioning of the brain, making thinking and planning harder. However, planning an action before executing it usually ends with more desirable results.

I think we have a lot more control over how happy we are than we imagine. We have the power to enact many of the changes needed to improve our own lives.

Should You Share Your Goals With Others: The Pros and Cons

There are both pros and cons to sharing your goals with others. It’s important to consider them, as choosing wrongly can sabotage your success.

One pro is that you’ll be held accountable. If you know that people will be asking about your progress, you’ll want to be able to tell them you are succeeding instead of failing in what you’ve set out to do. Another pro is having the chance to obtain helpful advice from others about how to accomplish your goals. For example, someone you know might have succeeded at the same goal or might have education or training in that area and can increase your chances of succeeding. Knowledge is power. Yet another pro is that telling others your goals will help you maintain excitement and motivation about meeting them. A fourth pro is that you will inspire others who want the same thing for themselves and might join you in striving to achieve the same results. It can be fun to make a friendly competition out of it. For example, the first person to lose 20 pounds is bought a new outfit.

One con relating to sharing your goals is that doing so makes it feel like you’ve already accomplished them. Research has shown that simply talking about meeting them gives a serotonin boost similar to that felt when you’ve already accomplished something. Another con is that people might dissuade you. For example, you might be told you don’t need to lose any weight, even though you know you’d be fitter and healthier if you lost 15 pounds and toned up. Yet another con is that it creates external motivation sources instead of internal. Outside praise and kudos shouldn’t be the driving force behind meeting your goals. It’s important even if you tell others your goals that you still focus on the more important, lasting, and deeper reasons for keeping your commitment — creating a better, happier, healthier you.

Do you have any experience with this? Do you find it easier or harder to achieve your goals after telling others about them?

New Years’ Resolutions

This is the time of year when people often feel the urge to set personal improvement goals, with the closing of a year, spring right around the corner, and, this year specifically, a new decade emerging. After all, what is more futuristic and motivating than the year 2020, when we all thought we’d be driving flying cars, visiting Mars for a weekend, and wearing space suits and stardust eyeshadow as every-day fashion? However, why is it that the commitments we are so serious about on Jan 1 are all but forgotten by April 1? How can we ensure that our motivation holds up throughout the year so that we can claim victory instead of defeat come Jan 2021?

First, don’t set too many resolutions. It will spread your energy and attention thin. What are the three most important? Be a master of some, not a jack-of-all-trades, and you’re more likely to realize big success. For example, if you’re very overweight, have $4 in your savings account, and have no job, perhaps make those things your focus, not learning to paint or how to play the piano. This is the “R” in the SMART acronym for making sure your goals are “Relevant”.

Second, build on what you’re already doing. Perhaps you got a good start on last year’s resolutions and can take off from where you left off. For instance, perhaps you lost 50 of the 75 pounds you had resolved to lose last year. Resolve to lose the last 25 this year. Or perhaps you resolved to clean one room of your house every day. Maybe this year along with cleaning each day you could add cooking one healthful meal, instead of eating out or having a pre-packaged meal three times a day.

Third, keep your goals reasonable. Telling yourself you’ll lose 150 pounds or that you’ll be in shape to run the Boston marathon if you’re still an overweight couch potato in January is not realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic resolutions. This is the “A” in the SMART acronym for making sure your goals are “Attainable”.

Fourth, go into it with the right attitude, not ready to beat yourself up when you backslide. You’re doing this because you love yourself enough to ensure you reach your full potential, not because you want to punish yourself.

Fifth, make sure your resolutions are specific (the “S” in the SMART acronym), so you’re clear about what you want the desired outcome to be. For example, “I will walk 30 minutes a day”, not “I’ll take a walk every day”.

Sixth, make sure your resolutions are measurable (the “M” in the SMART acronym), so that you know whether you’re reaching your goal. So not “I will lose weight”, but “I will lose 50 pounds this year.” Putting it the first way means you technically succeeded even if you only lost 1 pound the entire year (probably not an achievement worthy of writing home about).

Seventh, set a time frame (the “T’ in the SMART acronym ). With new years’ resolutions, this is generally assumed to be the entire year, but it doesn’t have to be. Giving yourself a time frame will help you know how to pace yourself and keep your motivation and anticipation high.

Eighth, understand the difference between steps, goals, and vision. A goal is the desired outcome: “I will lose 50 pounds this year.” Steps are what must be done to accomplish the goal: “I will cut out simple carbs, walk 30 minutes a day, and drink only water.” Vision is what you expect to happen from reaching your goal: “I want to live a longer life so I can be there to see my children marry and have my grandchildren, and I want to be healthy enough to do some traveling.”

Ninth, focus on the point behind your resolutions. Always prioritize the big picture and not arbitrary numbers. While it’s important, as stated above, to set specific, measurable goals, don’t feel like a failure if you set out to read 50 books this year, but read 40. It’s still an achievement in its own right.

Tenth, decide whether to tell others about your goals upfront. There are possible pros and cons to both, which I will cover in another post soon.

Did I leave anything out? Does anybody have anything they would like to add on the topic of making and keeping New Years’ Resolutions, or on the topic of New Years’ Resolutions, more broadly? Please leave a comment!

“Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!”

No wiser words were ever spoken than these from the author, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Several years back, I began feeling a strong desire to simplify my life. At the time, I had been using retail therapy to help fill the void in my life while simultaneously feeling emptier and emptier. I realize now that the more stressful moments of my life are also the times when my life is artificially full with activities, people, and things that don’t add meaningfulness or value. It is when my life is going well that I also am practicing simplicity. This is not to say that my life needs to be uneventful, boring, or lacking in order for me to be happy, but rather that I fill it with the right kind of activities, priorities, and goals.

For example, many people feel pressure to get married and have children because that is often the message sent out by society, in the forms of television shows, advertisements, job benefits, tax credits, would-be grandparents, etc. Children can be a blessing, but they also require a lot of time, money, and exasperation. Thus, the decision to procreate should not be taken lightly. Likewise, some feel the need to amass certain items or reach certain goals they feel they need in order to “make it”. These could be a new car, home-ownership, or a certain amount of savings in the bank by 30 years old. The problem isn’t the things themselves or having goals. It’s the fact that they come from an inner uncertainty about ourselves and whether we are good enough, in-and-of ourselves.

A simple life isn’t about lack. Instead, it’s about removing the undesirable noise and chaos, regardless if others tolerate the noise and chaos in their own lives. It’s about realizing how precious time and options are and putting thought into decisions (especially large ones like parenthood) before making a decision based on societal expectations. It’s about understanding that every decision for something is by default a decision against something else.

I think about my own problems and those of people in my life, and I can’t help but find most of them are self-inflicted. Many are as a result of not just one bad decision, but a sequence of them. With exceptions such as a debilitating genetic disease or being born in a war-torn country, we have a lot of power over the way our lives will go. And slowing down and figuring out what is vitally important to us will also make crystal clear what doesn’t actually matter at all. I am still figuring out what is important to me and what is not. I have a lot of it figured out already, but still struggle to hear my own voice over those of others telling me what I should do, believe, think, buy, and spend my time on. I just know for most of us life doesn’t have to be hard if we don’t make it hard. “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

Not Finishing Books (or Other Things) We Start

I’ve loved books since before I could even read, starting when my mother read to me as a baby. I used to feel bad about not finishing a book I had started. However, as I got older, I realized how fleeting time is and how many books exist, and began to “quit” some books early. It might not be that I quit some forever, but rather that I pick them back up at a later date when the time is right and they are ready to “speak” to me. Some may never have anything to say that I want to hear (here’s looking at you, As I Lay Dying, third time did not end up being “the charm” :-/). Do you stop reading before the end of a book if you’re not enjoying it/getting anything out of it? Could this concept of putting it down to perhaps pick up again later at another time in your life apply to other endeavors you “quit”, as well?