Goals are all very well. When you were (slightly) younger than you are now, your career advisor probably told you to have some (or at least one). You probably got some version of this: “You need to set the bar high in order to achieve”. Or what about this one: “You need some direction in your life or you will never amount to anything”. Or my favourite – “But what do you want to do with your life?” “Be happy” was entirely the wrong answer!! So was “run a bookstore”, “have a family” and “have a lovely garden.”
The right sort of answer apparently was to set all sorts of material goals such as being a millionaire by a certain age or having a stellar career or being famous. You are supposed to have ‘ambition’, whatever the hell that is.
My objection to all of this is that I think these are the wrong sort of goals for people to set for themselves. Those sort of goals just require people to run on a treadmill for 30 years and then be disappointed that they never made it.
We could set goals for ourselves like:
“I want to be happy when I hit 40″
“I want to have heaps of great friends”
“I want to be of value to other people”
Why don’t we get advised to do this? because goals like that don’t encourage you to get a mortgage, multiple credit cards, furniture you can’t afford and slave for a corporation until your hair is grey and you need bypass surgery. So the system we live in doesn’t encourage ‘wishy washy’ goals like happiness, no matter how vital they are to our health and wellbeing.
Step outside the system, step outside the web of the expectations that other people have of you, and then you can really start to set what I would call proper goals for your life. Being happy, for instance, is largely a matter of choice. If you make a concerted effort to be positive, to do and say only positive things, it will become a matter of habit.
Helping others is something which is not only of value to the people you are helping, it has positive benefits for your own wellbeing and creativity as well.
Changing the way you set goals for yourself has a flip side too. You need also to be able to set limits. Sure you might choose to have a lofty goal like having a clean house for more than 30 minutes at a time. But in reality, you have to set limits on the amount of housework you are prepared to do.
Oddly enough, setting limits will actually increase the amount of work you are able to achieve. If you have, say, a large writing task to achieve, 30 mins a day of high quality work that needs minimal revising is worth more than 8 hours of continuous rewrites. A time limit means that you will spend far less time on procrastination tasks and more on the actual project at hand.
I know, for instance, that 30 minutes or a bucketful is about my limit when it comes to weeding my garden. But I can do that twice a day, every day. If I push on to more than my limit, then I don’t want to be out in the garden for a week. Do the math.
Setting limits to your activity also allows your brain some time to work out solutions to your problems. Doing something else for a time is the most productive thing you can do when you get stuck. Listening to your inner voice when it says that it’s time to take a break is a great way to avoid accidents, mistakes and general *uck-ups that then take time, energy and money to fix.
One of the practical ways that I do this is right in front of your eyes. This article, like all my articles, will sit here in draft form for at least a week and maybe more. When I think of it and I’m already on Facebook, I’ll put up a link to one article at a time, but I will proof read and alter it first. The last time I did that, I realised I was actually trying to write two articles at once. So I split the text, added to each one, and now there are two articles where there was one. But without a week’s break from reading it, some very confused text would have been the result.
So give it a try and set some limits for yourself. You’ll be amazed at how productive doing less can be.
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