Goals: Are You Stressed Out?

Goals: Do We Have It Wrong?
If you have listened to any motivational speaker, you know the importance of goals. Goals are an activating force, a power that aims us at something we desire, want, and sometimes need. 

This post is not about that goals are wrong or bad. If I have learned anything, not having a goal or something to aim at, is like a piece of flotsam and jetsam bouncing up and down in the water, going in and out with the tide. This is definitely something we don’t want to be like, or feel like. Without a clear goal, we can feel out of sorts, much like static on the TV. For those of you who don’t know what static is on the TV, pull out your cable that’s hooked up to the TV, that’s static. 

So then, what is it I am saying about goals?
I don’t know about you, but I think somewhere I read and heard that you should focus on your goals. That is, to use your mind, and visualize what you want. This meant to me, putting all my energies behind achieving the goal. I thought I heard “Write out your step-by-step plans to achieve the goal and but always focus on the goal.” 

Where I believe I went wrong, after some twenty-five years is, I never lost sight of what I was aiming at. In a sense, I became obsessed with the goal. This meant I was living in the future in my mind. This is a huge statement that has serious implications. I was living in the future in my mind. I was in a constant state of being or better—becoming. I was living in future.

Living in the Future
Living in the future, in case you haven’t noticed is hard to do. Downright impossible. But in your mind? Well, in your mind, anything is possible. If you are like me, until I reformed, (truth is, I am attempting to reform—I am part of the way there—I will explain in a minute), then you too are thinking about, acting as if, planning for, and perhaps even obsessing about the future. And this is creating the future in the now. 

This is important because the future in never now. The future is the future.

The danger in living in the future in our minds, is we become split. Our minds become split first. From here our bodies start to perform the way our minds tell our bodies to perform. Our actions and behaviors come from our thinking. If we are constantly thinking about the future (tomorrow and tomorrow and the tomorrow the day after) we are creating a tremendous amount of stress on ourselves, and ultimately others around us. To tie this important point together—you and I know the future is the future—therefore it is impossible for our bodies to be in the future. In our minds we are acting “as if”—as if we are actually living in the tomorrow. Because the goal is positive, we don’t think about the stress we are creating by living as the goal was achieved. 

Think about those words in the last sentence: the goal was achieved. The goal (future state) was (past stated) achieved (past state). That hurts my brain. It hurts just looking at that sentence.

We cannot live in some future state. And we certainly can’t have lived in the future. 

Causing Friction and Burn Out
This splitting of the mind causes tremendous stress on the body. It causes friction between what is occurring and what we what. When there is this kind of friction, we become frustrated, impatient, hostile, and angry. 

Conjure up the image of a car, spinning its wheels and not moving. The driver has his foot on the brakes, and he is revving the engine at a high RPM. The wheels are rotating faster and faster, but the car remains in place because the driver has his other foot on the brakes holding the car in place. The rubber from the tire spins on the pavement causing friction and smoke. The subsequent result from this is what some kids call “burn out.” Isn’t that an appropriate term for us too? The rubber from the tires soon disintegrate if held in that state too long. And we are like the rubber on the tires.

Are you getting the picture? Does this mistaken idea of how to set goals sound like anyone you know? Do you see yourself anywhere in this picture?

So where did we go wrong? I mean goals are important after all. Didn’t we hear “Focus on your goals”? Even the term “future oriented” comes to my mind as something I learned related to goals, as in “We have a bright future.” 

There are even some great quotes by some very famous people that tell us to focus on the future:

“If you don’t think about your future you can’t have one.” John Galsworthy

“Control your destiny or someone else will.” Jack Welch

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Abraham Lincoln

Taking Action and Making Corrections
Where are we going wrong? Here’s where we are going wrong. We should have goals and we should make step-by-step plans for achieving them. Our focus should be in the moment, when we are working on the activity—the specific thing we have to achieve today—no—this moment. It might be as simple as typing a few words to finish that report or book. It might be picking up the phone to call someone for an appointment to make a sale. 

What you and I should do—that I missed along the way—is not focus on your goal, but focus on the activity—the specific action in front of us—the thing we can do right now. This will save you from becoming split. This will save a tremendous amount of wear and tear on your body. 

Here’s the analogy: a mountain climber looks up at the peak. He maps his course of action from the peak down to where he is standing. He then does the opposite, he maps the way up from where he is standing to the peak. In his mind he goes both ways. He maps out the route in his mind first for sure. He may even visualize the steps along the path. The difference, however, what we can learn from the experienced mountain climber is, when he starts out on the climb, he no longer looks or stares up at the mountain. He is looking at the path in front of him. He is looking at where he is in the moment and taking specific action in the moment. He is looking at where to place his foot with each step. He knows if he missteps, there could be serious consequences. As he continues this journey, he does glance up at the mountain peak, as a source of orientation, and some inspiration (reminding him of what he wants to achieve).
The climber is also flexible. If he visualized a certain path, and he finds the path has a huge rock in front of him, he has to be present to think about and consider how to traverse around the rock or take a different path to the top. He goes around the rock or takes a different course of action. He is not stuck. He doesn’t command the rock to move. He doesn’t get angry at the rock. To the climber, the rock is not something to become frustrated with. It’s just a natural occurrence.

Focus on the Effort Not the Goal
From the climber we can learn to keep our attention on the next step in front of us. Each step get us closer to the goal, our peak. It’s the step we have to focus on, not the peak. It’s the steps in the journey that make the goal memorable—not the goal itself. We lose the moments if we are focused on the end. It is not a race to the end—that’s death. It’s not a race to complete the the journey, it’s the moment to moment obstacles and successes that we need to savor. 

Our focus should be on the effort in front of us.

Here’s something to remember: “The successful climber goes from peak to peak over time. But he goes feet to feet during the climb.” 

Stay present. Stay in the moment. Do what you can from where you are right now. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Focus on the day, the moment. At the end of the day, review what you accomplished to make sure you are climbing. And glance at your goal when you need that orientation or motivation. 

I learned something very valuable from a psychiatrist who taught some of the most successful traders on Wall Street. He said, do one thing each day toward your vision. And over the course of ten and twenty years, they add up to be a lot. But stay focused on the effort.

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