There’s been this weird trend happening online for a while now where teens reply or comment on other people’s posts with one word:
Sometimes, they make it more specific in response to whatever seemingly desirable representation of happiness and extreme achievement was just shared:
It’s a freaking weird trend that demonstrates just how conditioned we’ve become to obsess over having goals, thinking that goals are a good thing — and that achieving these solid goals will definitely bring us lasting happiness and satisfaction when we achieve them.
I’m living proof that focusing on goals is the surest way to keep on suffering.
Le me explain.
A goal is a desired outcome.
To figure out a desired outcome, you have to analyze your current situation, identify what you don’t like about it, and then use your imagination powers to project a new and improved future version of yourself.
Too many self-proclaimed gurus in the business and self-help industries love to plug the SMART goal theory, which states that every goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Sounds pretty good, right?
There are just two big problems that most of us goal seekers never even think to become aware of before we get swept away in SMART goal land…
1. Goals are pursued out of a desire to control an uncontrollable reality.
2. No matter how many big and amazing goals you might achieve, it will never be enough.
We all like to think that by planning ahead and taking certain actions, we can maintain control over ourselves and the events that unfold before us, which is good, because control enhances our sense of certainty.
And as humans, we HATE uncertainty.
We deny the reality of uncertainty by telling ourselves stories that make us feel more certain, reminding ourselves of our beliefs that make us feel more certain, and using science to rationalize observations that make us feel more certain.
Paradoxically, the only thing that’s certain about life is uncertainty (and also death and taxes I guess).
So that’s problem number one:
Goals are stagnant and solid, but life is fluid and constantly changing.
Then there’s the issue of thinking that achieving even your wildest, most unimaginable goals will bring you to this state of what I like to call “enoughness.”
Enoughness is an illusion, because your ego always wants more.
It doesn’t take much to become aware of the sheer truth behind the above statement.
Think about all the talented but substance-abusing celebrities, brilliant but depressed artists, successful yet neurotic workaholics, and rich but regretful jackpot lottery winners who’ve achieved so much in their lives that we hear about all the time in the news just struggling to keep their shit together, or worse — ending themselves before nature does the deed.
I know that you, dear sloth reader, may not be an addict or a depression sufferer or a workaholic or anything like that, but my point in using these extreme cases as examples is this: a goal is not an ending when you finally achieve it — it’s the beginning of a whole new set of challenges.
And here we have problem number two:
Reaching a goal is never enough, because life doesn’t involve picking up heavy rocks that stay put once you add them to your rock collection.
Life is a freakishly inconsistent river you have to ride that’s made up of violent rapids and calmer currents.
This is why I don’t really create goals anymore.
When I lost weight and hit a new “goal” weight, I still didn’t look the way I wanted to look, and so I found more flaws to hate about myself.
When I added a new client to my clientele that brought me closer to my desired income goal, I didn’t realize it would take me so much more time to do the work, and I experienced burnout and depression because I was working too much.
When I got into a serious relationship with someone who satisfied my goal of being loved, I didn’t know that his genuine compliments wouldn’t cure my low self-esteem, and I became aware that I didn’t know how to be secure about myself on my own.
To hell with goals.
Here’s what’s working for me now, and these little tidbits of wisdom might just work for you too.
1. Focus on a process — a system of actions — based on vision.
Vision, as far as I experience it, is different from a goal.
Visions are fluid whereas goals are fixed.
You can practice visualization every day, which will naturally flow with whatever thoughts and emotions you’re having about your progress and current circumstances that day.
Goals, on the other hand, tend to just sit there in some imaginary future dimension, attached to some looming date or timeframe that taunt you every time you experience a setback or slow your progress.
A vision fuels your intention for the present so you can focus on a consistent but also flexible process where setbacks and slow patches are just a part of the pursuit.
Without attachment to an outcome, you don’t have to freak out about problems that slow you down.
Instead, you get to spend more time and energy exploring why the problems occurred and what they can teach you to become better.
2. Get rid of all your shoulds and shouldn’ts.
“This should be easier.”
“That shouldn’t have happened.”
“I shouldn’t have to deal with this.”
“He should’ve acted differently.”
“Life shouldn’t be this hard.”
This is wha it sounds like to be in resistance to what is.
Most people are unaware of or unwilling to accept that whatever is happening in life is supposed to be happening.
How do we know that it’s supposed to be happening?
Because it’s happening.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that it’s not my external circumstances that are causing me so much pain and suffering — it’s my resistance to them that is.
If something unexpected or undesirable is happening, shifting to a victim state makes the experience unnecessarily worse.
Also notice that activating your victim mentality whenever something seems like it should or shouldn’t be happening (but isn’t) shifts your focused energy away from your originally positive pursuit.
If you focus on what you perceive is bad or wrong about what’s happening, then you’ll become a magnet for more experiences that seem bad and wrong to you.
You don’t have to get delusional by forcing yourself to think positively when something you clearly don’t like is happening, but definitely don’t resist it.
Acknowledge the “bad” stuff, put them aside, and find a way to move forward.
3. Trust that following your desires will bring you the deepest change you’re looking for.
When we want to change but we still want to maintain a sense of control, we turn to rules and guidelines that have worked for other people to bring us closer to what we want.
Us humans love rules that we know are good for us, but the thing is, we’re usually pretty bad at sticking to them over the long run because we have all sorts of, dare I say, “sinful” desires that are deeply ingrained in our thoughts and behaviours, which we perceive as being inherently bad, wrong, or evil — and that we have a hard time giving up.
Rules put us in a state of resistance to the reality of what we’re truly experiencing, ironically making us suffer even more as we try to muster up as much willpower as we can to deny our true desires while relying only on willpower to force ourselves to stick to the rules.
The problem is that having a logical understanding of what’s right or wrong or good or bad doesn’t create deep change.
If it did, all the major problems society faces — obesity, smoking, gambling, drug abuse, porn addition, etc. — would be cured just by giving books and courses and tools and Bibles to people.
To create change on the deepest level, you have to surrender to the reality of your desires and embrace the lessons that are learned through a combination of higher awareness and experiential uncertainty.
To be more specific, allow me to elaborate:
1.) Follow your desires (no matter how bad they may seem) while maintaining full awareness of what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, and without judging yourself.
2.) Recognize and accept that life may bring you closer to what you really want by putting you in the most unexpected and even harshest ways you could ever imagine.
If you’re trying to fix your health, you could simply stop denying yourself that pint of ice cream you crave every night by just following your desire to eat it — BUT while also maintaining total awareness of what you’re doing.
Eat that ice cream enough times while being completely aware of it, and eventually the reality of the situation will penetrate you so deeply that it becomes the driver for effortless change.
Highly conscious people do not stuff their faces to suppress their emotions and willingly put their health at risk.
On the other hand, you could just keep eating ice cream without maintaining any higher level of awareness at all (meaning that you subconsciously refuse to become aware of what it’s doing to your body or how it’s really making you feel) — to which life may respond to your behaviour over time by giving you metabolic syndrome or a serious life-threatening event like a heart attack.
These harsh life experiences, which are really just life lessons on a massive scale, are exactly what we often need to shake us to our cores and penetrate us deeply enough to realize our desire to change.
Following the rules may be clean, safe, and representative of a false sense of control — but it’s really just shallow mind-level knowledge.
Following the rules hardly ever leads us to that higher state of awareness needed to foster real, deep change, which can really only occur by consciously experiencing the true reality of the situation — or having to deal with a really harsh experience that life throws in our way to teach us a big lesson in awareness.
4. Notice your “fear of the future” for what it really is.
We tell ourselves that we’re afraid of the future because we don’t know what the future holds for us, but this is a complete lie we’re unconsciously repeating in our heads again and again.
We can’t fear what we don’t know — but we can fear what we think we know.
And of course, we’re all really good at telling ourselves stories and using imagery to trick ourselves into thinking we know how the future might unfold for us.
In other words, our fear is based on thought-driven fantasy, which isn’t real.
If you want to stop feeling afraid of what you think you know about the unknown future, first you have to recognize that your feelings are based on a projection of your mind, and then you have to change that projection to something more desirable.
Chalk it up to the “you create your own reality” idea (because at least you do in your own head).
5. Turn your obsession for being certain into an obsession for being curious.
Desiring certainty requires that we be in a closed state.
Desiring constant learning through curiosity, however, is a state in which we’re always totally open to all possibilities.
It’s the difference between saying: “I want to know so I can think specific thoughts that only make me feel good,” and “I want to learn openly and keep on growing by learning more.”
Openness leads to higher awareness, and higher awareness is what heals and naturally dissolves every problem we think we have.
We can’t ever be certain of anything.
To try and convince ourselves that we can be certain would mean using our thinking minds to shut ourselves out from the nature of reality.
Our minds are built to think that by becoming more certain of something, the pain will stop and suffering will go away — but it won’t.
Questioning literally everything you think you know — and being okay with not knowing anything for certain — is the key to openness, a higher state of being, and peace of mind.
6. Shift your focus to the positive aspects you’re experiencing in the present.
There is no greater source of fuel for your fire (a.k.a. motivation, action, and momentum) than gratitude and appreciation for what you genuinely love about what you’re experiencing this very moment — not tomorrow, or in a few weeks, or next year.
Since good and bad and right and wrong are just thoughts created by the mind, everything in reality is just perfectly neutral — it’s the way that it should be and it’s the way that it simply is — and therefore we have the choice to think about what we want to think about.
We all want to naturally think positively about our current situations and future projections, but this takes mindful awareness, which is a skill that needs to be developed.
Maintaining higher awareness is exceptionally hard and basically impossible for the average human being whose mind is going a million miles an hour during almost every waking moment of their lives, and if you’re convinced otherwise, then you might as well stop reading this now if you’re not open to this.
I recommend setting up a daily meditation practice to develop this skill.
We can acknowledge that our minds interpret certain events or circumstances as seemingly negative, but we can also push those negative thoughts aside so that we can consciously maintain thoughts about what we perceive as good and desirable.
7. Take care of yourself.
Finally, I can’t say enough about the importance of self care when you’re trying to foster deep change.
It’s easy enough to assume that this is some kind of wishy washy trend for super sensitive, lazy people, but it’s actually the exact opposite.
Engaging in soothing, rejuvenating activities when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or energetically drained is the recognition and acceptance that you are a vulnerable human being (and we all are).
Remember that your body is built to protect you by triggering your flight or flight response in threatening situations while clinging to physical, mental, and emotional “set points” that it knows are safe for you based on what you’ve been doing all along.
Fostering deep change is a balancing act that requires adequate allocation of your resources, proper restorative efforts, and of course time and patience.
Burning the candle at both ends would mean going against pretty much everything I’ve written above by way of maintaining a low state of awareness, amping up your ego, and trying to be superhuman by denying your vulnerabilities.
You don’t need fixed goals when you’re aware and accepting of how life simply flows, carrying you along with it.
By all means, have vision for yourself and use your imagination to create future projections — but for the love of absolute realness, DON’T attach yourself to a desired outcome.
Ride the rapids.
Drift with the current.
Don’t paddle against it, looking for rocks to save you.
Do it openly and wholeheartedly, and you’ll never experience the pain and discomfort of trying and failing to grab onto something solid in the river of uncertainty ever again.
- 30 glorious snippets of wisdom worth knowing by the time you’re 30 (or any age, really) - December 31, 2016
- The divided self: Why we care way too much about what other people think - August 14, 2016
- What everyone gets wrong about “being authentic” - July 3, 2016
- 7 eye-opening ways to forget about your goals so you can let happiness flow - June 20, 2016
- Why you won’t do all the things you want to do this summer - June 13, 2016
- 50 everyday things you can give up to make time for more important stuff - April 30, 2016
- How to go from waking up miserable to exhilarated every morning - April 18, 2016
- How to align your mind to get exactly what you want - April 3, 2016
- Why we’re so bad at sticking to good habits (and what to do about it) - March 19, 2016
- 6 useful tips for dealing with an all-around bad day - June 30, 2015