Goals. #lifegoals #squadgoals #couplesgoals #bodygoals. Our society is obsessed with goals. They are often the reason we put up with excessive stress, miss out on spending time with family and friends, endure sleepless nights, all in the name of successfully hitting a target. We often pick one goal, one area of our lives and focus all our time and energy to reaching that goal. Letting other aspects of our lives – temporarily we believe – fall by the wayside. We think the quicker we get there, the sooner we reach nirvana. Once we’ve hit that mark, we’ll be a happy and fulfilled human, with lots of free time to focus on all the other things that bring joy to our lives. So is that where happiness lies? At the top of a mountain hidden behind the clouds. Do we just need to bust our asses until we reach the summit, and then we’ll be rewarded with all that we seek?
Unfortunately no, we can scratch that idea off the list. The ‘arrival fallacy’ is a term coined by Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar which describes this false belief; that once we achieve our goal we will become, and also remain, happy. The truth is that even if that moment of achievement is truly wonderful, it’s short lived. Much like spending a romantic evening with a silver tongued charlatan who promises you the moon and the stars. You wake up the next day feeling hard done by, confused about where to go next and maybe even a little empty inside. So if we’re not trying to reach our goals, then what the hell are we all aiming for?
Don’t Achieve your Goals
The the answer is to strive, not to succeed. To nock your arrow, draw your bow and work on your aim, but don’t let go of the string. Shoot for the stars, but don’t actually get there. We need to start focusing on process, not any finishing line. Goals are great for getting us motivated and excited about a new direction, they help us set out on a specific path. They serve as a compass when times get hard, guiding us when decisions need to be made. But there is no rush, no pressure to reach anything. So slow down, take the blinkers off and look around. Relax your jaw and take a deep breath because you’re not in a race.
Awhile back I was listening to a man, an amazing pianist, on a radio talk show. He was in his 70’s, a very accomplished and recognised pianist in the musical world. He was recounting his journey, of learning to play the piano from the age of eight. He was getting lessons from a young teacher who he’d listen to play and wish that some day he’d be able to play like that. He so desperately wanted to be that good. Within a few years he had outgrown that teacher and found someone more accomplished to take him to the next level. Again this new teacher would cause the young student such emotional distress when he heard the teacher play, the longing to be that good. So he practiced and practiced, and got better and better. Gaining himself a scholarship in an acclaimed musical college where he was surrounded by the most incredible musicians. He was so desperate to be as good at them, he would play for hours, dedicating all his time and energy to becoming as good as the other students and teachers in the college. He recounted other stories throughout his career of meeting people with unbelievable talent and ability, and how he would always strive to be as good as them.
But now here he was, a man in his 70’s, better than every one of those people he had set out to become equal with, but still there was Mozart, Beethoven and all the other greats that he would never be as good as. And he realised that he had missed the point. He had missed out on all the enjoyment of playing the piano for so many years, realising that he was always where he wanted to be. He was ‘good enough’ because he was dedicated to something he loved, he worked hard and was constantly better than he was the day before. But he hadn’t allowed himself to feel proud of those internal milestones. He believed there was something out there, some exact point that he would reach and say ‘now I am a great pianist.’ But really for true fulfilment he needed to look inwards, for internal validation, to say yes today I worked hard and I improved, I know I’ve done my absolute best, I don’t need anything outside myself to validate that or me. That’s where true happiness, worthiness and joy comes from.
Not a #Goal, but a #Path
A better name for what we all crave is a specific path. Without doing anything, we are all currently on a path, we’re actually all on a number of different paths. One for our health, our relationships, a career path, a self improvement path or maybe a self declining path. What will help us live more fulfilling lives is to focus on our different life paths. To examine where exactly we are on those each one. Do they have an upward trajectory, are they flat or have they been declining over time.
Maybe your gut reaction is that you don’t want to look at these things, maybe you’ve already come up with a tone of reason not to. These things can seem a little scary and not looking, a much easier option right now. We can mistakenly think that what we see is out of our control or permanent. We believe who we are today is the finished product. Even though we’re different from the person we were 10 years ago, research has shown we hold a false belief that we think we won’t change in the future. But we are ALWAYS a work in progress. We are changing everyday. So don’t worry about where you are right now. What’s important to focus on is our trajectory.
It’s so easy to look far off into the distance at those big audacious goals. We forget about today. We underestimate the power of the daily small improvements that are so important. We think that massive change or improvement in our lives needs massive instantaneous action. James Clear has a great article on the power of tiny gains. He’s done the maths! Starting from a position of 1, if you get just 1% better each day for a year, you’ll end up over 37 times better than you were, on the day you started. On the flip side, if you get 1% worse each day for 1 year, you’ll decline down to nearly zero.
What starts out as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more. So let’s take control of the paths we are on. A 1% improvement in a chosen area of your life is so small you know you can do it. Focus on today, on that one tiny thing you can do today. Once that’s done, you know you’re on the right track. Pat yourself on the back, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Let go of Unattainable Goals
Unattainable goals can seem so alluring, so motivating at first. “Dream Big” and “Anything is Possible” are great advertising slogans. They feel like such positive messages to be spreading, especially to kids. So we start daydream of glorious days just around the corner, dismissing all the wonderful things right in front of us. We dream of being supermodels, movie stars and millionaires. When we get a little older we might set more ‘realistic’ goals; a brand new car, a bigger house, a more luxurious holiday.
Everything we get is not enough, we always want more, more, more. When does it stop?! And are we all the happier for it? Unfortunately this way of thinking and living is a set up for disappointment and unhappiness. Either you spend your life chasing something you never reach and so waste your one precious life. Or you reach it and you find yourself in ‘arrival fallacy’ and we already know that’s pretty empty.
Let’s get a bit of perspective for a second: Today 629,021,175 people live in EXTREME poverty, they live off less than $2 per day. At the same time there are now 2,208 billionaires in the world, according to Forbes’ 2018 rich list.
My point here isn’t to make us feel bad or guilty. Looking on google for the above photo gave me a heavy heart. I felt helpless and wanted to look away as soon as possible. It can be too hard to think about the sadness and suffering in the world. It’s so much easier to look at all the shiny things celebs have and set goals to be more like them. But this is an empty pursuit. We glorify greed by calling them goals.
So what can we do about this damaging social norm in our every days lives? Firstly, be grateful for everything we have. No humans in history have ever had it so good. So let’s be grateful for a warm house, hot running water, every choice of food imaginable at our fingertips, family, friends, all the small things. The practice of gratitude isn’t some hippy dippy waste of time, it has been scientifically proven to improve the quality of your life. We also need to realise that there is no point in the future where you will have ‘enough’. You are enough right here, right now. These can seem like empty words if you don’t feel that. So maybe there’s a goal worth setting. To figure out how to feel good enough right here, right now. Do this instead of chasing something empty in the future that we already know won’t give you what you are looking for.
Do it for you
“In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is an act of rebellion.” I love this quote! Keeping this in mind, if you do decide to set goals or create paths for yourself. Let’s make them intrinsically valuable to you, today and everyday. For easy explanation, let’s say you’ve set your goal as ‘I want to be the best tennis player in the world of all time.’ You train and commit your life to it, you’re improving and getting better every day but you’re always comparing yourself to something you can’t control – other players. Then maybe you make it, you’ve beaten all previous records and are named best tennis player of all time in World Tennis Magazine. You’ve Made It!
Now what? Are you done? What happens if you don’t feel it? What about all the greats that came before you that you’ll never be able to play against, maybe they were better than you. And as you get older and new talent starts to creep up and nip at your heels, do you stop playing in fear of being beaten? It feels like it’s slipping through your fingers, you’re losing the very thing you’ve dedicated your life to, the thing that defines you. You start to consider giving up the very thing that you love, just to hold on to that original goal you set so many years ago.
But what if that original goal was changed in a way that seems so subtle at first. What if your new goal was a path you could walk every day – ‘I want to be the best tennis player I can possibly be every single day.’ It doesn’t sound so impressive to be honest, but it does have this funny quality in that it can be true today but still be something you’re always working towards but never reach. After a brutal training match, on a miserable day, with a strained hamstring, where you played your guts out but lost by a few points. You can still go to bed and ask yourself ‘Was I the best possible tennis player I could be today?’ And taking in every factor from the day and the situation, you and only you will know the answer to that question. No regrets, no comparison to others, just you and your truth.
Make it Real:
Philosophising over ways to live happier more fulfilling lives is a nice luxury. It’s not the worst way to spend your free time. But actually putting these ideas into practice are what will allow you to see the positive changes in your life.
So next week’s ‘Friday Feelz”, will include some simple and actionable ways you can make improvements to your life, that might just add a bit of happiness and joy.
Have a wonderful weekend everyone.