Goals are for amateurs. This is true for many reasons, and one of them is that goals usually aren't ambitious enough. Making goals can be like adding a minor chore to your to-do list just for the satisfaction of crossing it off. We give ourselves the feeling of forward motion in life, without acknowledging that we're deliberately going as slowly as possible. Usually, when we think about going bigger, there's no reason why we couldn't. We balk because we can't imagine what comes next, and we'd rather control our rate of risk exposure.
Another problem with goals is that they aren't always the right goals. We choose worthy goals in order to disguise the fact that the really juicy ones are being studiously ignored. We feel resentment, confusion, or anxiety about particular goals, so we put a big mental 'N/A' over that sector. We don't know what to do, or we don't want to, so we do nothing, even if this would be the area of greatest benefit in our lives.
Probably the worst flaw in goal-setting is that we don't plan what we'll do after we reach the goal. WHY are we setting this particular goal? This is part of why we don't make progress more quickly. Lack of vision for the far horizon keeps us focused on the middle distance. Often, we reach our goals, only to backslide all the way to where we started, or farther. The goal itself hasn't satisfied the inner need and is then discarded.
This is how it works for the Big Three:
Lose Weight. Worst goal parameter ever. Why? How? How much? Then what?
Get Organized. What does this mean to you? What does it look like? How do you do it? How do you know when you're done? What comes next?
Get Out of Debt. Great, good job. Now you're only spending 100% of what you earn. What next?
This came as a big surprise to me, but: Successful people don't think about these goals. Elite athletes don't think about weight loss; they think about performance metrics specific to their sport. Accomplished people (artists, entrepreneurs, athletes) don't think about getting organized; they think about making art, making money, or setting records. Wealthy people don't think about getting out of debt; they think about getting rich. They don't have weight to lose, clutter to clear, or debt to repay. What we're doing when we set these "goals" is rolling the dice to get our pawns onto the first square of the game board. We're not at the end of the game, we're at the beginning!
Lose weight WHY? Get organized BECAUSE WHY? Get out of debt AND THEN WHAT?
Clarifying what would be More Awesome Than This can unleash a massive amount of energy. Suddenly we understand that the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can move forward into an enchanting new chapter of life.
I lost and gained the same 15 pounds at least six times. Unfortunately, at the low end of that range I was still 18 pounds overweight. When I finally made the decision to find out what it felt like to be at the "healthy weight for my height," curiosity drove me. The excess weight I had carried since I was a teenager was gone in four months. The last time I weighed what I weigh today, I was 12 and not yet at my full height. Of course, at 12 I couldn't run a marathon or climb a rope like I can as an adult. My REASONS for maintaining an athletic fitness level are that I can hike to staggeringly beautiful places that are only accessible on foot, keep going all day when I travel, and avoid canceling my plans due to migraine. At this point, I don't have to think about it anymore, because the way I eat and plan my day to support my new physique feels natural. I feel like myself, like the old me wasn't the Real Me.
Getting organized was always really tough for me, and I didn't figure out why until I was out of college. I read through a description of ADHD and realized that I checked almost every box. Aha! It was so liberating and validating. I wasn't alone, I wasn't defective, and I wasn't lazy! I read some books on attention deficit and started getting a handle on it. Now I stay "organized" because it helps me think straight and enables me to do fun things. I organize my luggage, my camping gear, my writing projects, and the occasional big party as part of the process of awesomeness.
I paid off my consumer debt in my early 30s. That was a big victory. Suddenly the money I had freed up enabled me to buy a new couch, go on vacation, and move to a nicer place. I maxed out my retirement contributions at work. Ten years later, I'm starting to realize that saving at that rate is not the only option. A trend line can be predicted for different ages, different savings rates, and different rates of monthly expenditure. Another way to put that is, how much Yee-hah do I want when I'm too old to work? Now my focus has nothing to do with getting out of debt. It has everything to do with not having to eat ramen when I'm 86.
Do it for Future Self. The thing about our Future Selves is that we create ourselves by aiming in particular directions. Or not. Many of the things that happen to us as we get older are the result of not planning to avoid them. I have to plan to avoid losing my umbrella because my tendency is to leave them all over the place, like Johnny Umbrellaseed. Likewise, we have to plan NOT to be poor, sedentary, overweight, or cluttered. Not very interesting in the long run, though. We have to plan TO create a real legacy: close friendships, admiring students, a thriving business, a body of work. Poetry doesn't write itself. Let's get over the speed bumps that are minor goals and start moving toward our real destinies.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.