3 secrets about goal clarity that I didn’t know I knew

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I’ll be the last person so say that setting goals is easy – my life over the last 10 years has been as tumultuous as the life of a sock in a half-empty washing machine.

When we have to take a major turn in life – when we leave school, when we change career midstream, when we move countries – it is easy to feel utterly disoriented.

But it is undeniable that the day we stop dithering, the day we stop saying “I could do this, or I could do that”, when the humming and hawing ends, we lurch forward, taking ourselves, most of all, by surprise.

So how do we get from confusion to this state of goal clarity?

Shame – bad news – by hard work.

But take heart from my story of setting goals which dovetails oddly with positive psychology.

A long time ago, in my university lecturing days, in more stable and optimistic times, I was asked by a major multinational, whom you all make profitable on a regular basis, to be on a panel interviewing students for scholarships.

The company executive, who chaired the panel, asked every applicant the same question: what are the three things that you want out of life?

After the 10th candidate or so, I answered the question for myself:

  • I like to achieve.
  • I like to belong to something bigger than myself.
  • I like to have some comfort and style but I will sacrifice this for the other two.

So, I was somewhat amazed, some twenty years later, when my life had taken on the semblance of a sock in a half-empty washing machine, to learn that this is the scaffolding Martin Seligman suggests for positive psychology.

  • An engaged life.
  • A meaningful life.
  • A pleasurable life.

Seligman seems to think that most people waste too much time pursuing a surfeit of pleasure. I am not sure we do. I am not sure we spend most of our time pursuing pleasure, or do it very well.   But that is another story.

When we need to shrug off goal confusion and achieve goal clarity

It’s best to cut our goals down to 3, or at most 5, because that is all we can remember without looking up a list.

This three-fold schema is a good starting point.

  • The order of importance will be yours – there are 6 possible orders.
  • The weighting you give to each ‘life’ will vary – whether you go stark raving mad without it, or you would give it up for the others.
  • And the content will vary.

I’ve had to do some hard work rethinking what I want out of life in entirely new circumstances.

  • The order changed for me.  Meaning went up to No 1.  Pleasure went up to No 2.  And Engagement came in at No 3.
  • The weighting changed for each too. Order and weighting are intertwined a little.
  • The content changed slightly.  More on finding your content another day.

Achieving goal clarity for yourself

If you find yourself ‘humming and hawing’ and don’t have that sense of forward movement that comes of goal clarity, begin here.

  • What do you think about the three types of life?

And help me out a little:  Is it possible to think about these three lives beginning from the abstract principle?

That would be helpful for me to know, as I already thought that way before I heard the abstract principles.

More another day – probably on Wednesday!

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The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness

This strange expression has been made popular by poet, David Whyte, who heard it first from a monk, counselling him during a bad bout of professional burnout.

It seems cruel, doesn’t it, to be told to put some elbow-grease into it, at a time we are so tired, we literally can’t think straight?

How does wholeheartedness cure exhaustion?

We feel exhausted, we become exhausted, when we pursue conflicted goals.  We become like the mouse in a maze with cheese to the left and cheese to the right. Deary me – which way to go?   It is the dithering that is exhausting.  Or being greedy and trying to get both lots of cheese at the same time.

We feel relaxed and at ease when we make up our minds about what we want to do

We have a heap of expressions for the sensation of getting moving.

  • We cross the Rubicon (from which there was no turning back as Ceasar and his troops marched on Rome).
  • The universe conspires to help us (Who said that?   It means that suddenly it is easy to do what seemed hard only moments ago.  And that people seem to go out of their way to help you.)
  • Our path opens up as we take the first step (Paulo Coelho tweeting on Saturday).  The path only becomes possible when we are totally committed to moving forward. Totally committed – with no reservations.

Clarity of goals generates energy – moving toward a goal multiplies energy

Action becomes so easy and so natural. ‘Getting things done’ is not the issue – it is never the issue.

Setting goals is the issue. Making up our minds is the hard part.

Do you know what you want?

Until we can distill our goals to a set that our smallish inefficient memories can remember (3 and at the most 5), we dither, and we wear ourselves out.

But is what you want, right?

You do know, I hope, that we become impossible when we pursue goals.  The dithering mouse turns into a juggernaut trampling over everyone and everything.

We must make sure that our goals are the right goals.

More this evening . . .

Postscript: Tuesday 15 September 2009

@paulocoelho: Cloning Confucius: a bird sings because he has a song, not because he has an answer

Do have a look at the rhyme added by Whappen in the comments.