An Alternative to Goals
A goal is a way to describe something that’s wrong with the way things currently are. It describes a better alternate reality and promises a boost in happiness once you get there. But can that happiness ever be obtained or is it always out of reach?
There are 2 possible outcomes for a goal:
1) You achieve it.
Well done, you’ve improved your situation. The hard yards are behind you and you’re now in that better reality. What now? Let me guess…set another goal? You describe what’s wrong with your new situation and start all over again? The grass is always greener on the other side.
If you repeat this process for 20 years do you end up living a happy life? Granted, 20 years of accomplishing goals will probably leave you on some pretty green grass, but exactly how green does that grass have to be for you to be happy?
The other possible outcome for a goal:
2) You don’t achieve it.
You blew it and didn’t accomplish your goal at all. You’re still stuck with the reality you failed to change but now you’ve also got some guilt added to the mix. That doesn’t leave you happy at all! You’re on green grass, but it’s not as green as it could be.
Achieving (or not achieving) your goal ultimately leaves you unhappy with your current situation. The answer is to let go and be content with your life. Can you look at the things that are “wrong” and say “that’s good enough for now, I’m happy with this”? If you’re able to get somewhere else then that’s great but if you don’t then that’s also great.
Do you have some weight to lose? So what! Most of us do. Can you be happy with yourself now the way you are? Do fewer pounds make you a better person? Does it really matter?
Have some debt to pay off? Does it really matter? Does your bank statement really define who you are? Does a higher balance make you a better person?
An Alternative To Goals – Setting Direction
Consider setting a direction instead of a goal. Unlike a goal that’s specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based – a direction is a vague description of where you want to go. There are no deadlines or timelines. You can be happy with what you have now and you can be happy if you’re a few steps closer to the direction you want to go. Either way, you win.
An Example. We’ve written earlier about tidying your pantry. A goal would be stated something like this…
I want a tidy pantry by Thursday next week. All items will be in rows and columns and categorized. The next step is to decide on where things will go in the pantry.
A direction sounds something like this…
A tidy pantry would be nice.
There’s a world of difference between a goal and a direction. There are lots of ways to fail at the goal. You don’t achieve your goal at all. You achieve it but miss your deadline. You achieve parts of it but not the entire goal. This leaves you with feelings of guilt or inadequacy.
Conversely, there’s no way to fail the direction – it’s simply a statement. As it stands right now, the pantry is good enough, but it would also be nice if it were tidy. It’s all about progress, not perfection. Just get it one step closer to your direction and leave it at that.
Goals have their place. I find them good when there is structure and predictability. They’re great at work but I find they don’t work as well in some parts of my personal life. Where life is just too random and chaotic I choose to set directions instead of goals.
It would be nice to be fit but I’m not going to lose sleep over that beautiful dinner I just had. It would be nice to be debt free but when we have to spend money on repairing the car then so be it. It would be nice to be financially independent but in the meantime I’ll be going to work and try make a difference. I’d be pleased to have these things in my life, but I’m also happy with where I am today.
With this kind of thinking the next 20 years will be happy ones.
Photo courtesy of Hamed Saber