What If Your Goals Are Wrong?
Post written by Sean Meshorer.
Not getting where you want fast enough? Maybe your goals are wrong? Do you have the right goals for the right reasons? These are all questions worth getting the answers. So allow me to help you.
A key aspect of motivation is goal selection. Choose the right goals and two things happen: first, you are positively inspired to attain those goals in a timely fashion. Second, once you attain them, your life has improved in some tangible way.
If you’re just setting out on a particular path, now’s a good time to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction and not about to waste a lot of time, energy, and possibly money. Or, perhaps, you’re already in process but find yourself struggling to keep up with your goals. You’ve set them but you don’t quite ever find the time, effort, or enthusiasm to reach them. Maybe worst of all, you’ve diligently plowed ahead, shoulder to the grindstone, reached your milestone, only to wonder why you don’t quite feel as triumphant as you imagined.
Choosing the wrong goals or even the right goals for the wrong reasons can have dire consequences, leaving you feeling confused, dispirited, and depressed.
Wrong & Right Goals
In our society, it’s pretty common for people to flat-out choose the wrong goals for themselves. We live in a confused world. It’s likely that many of the goals you’ve absorbed through society, teachers, family, friends, co-workers, and the media aren’t necessarily beneficial or healthy. For example, you might want to be rich, famous, beautiful, or powerful. Lots of people believe that great wealth and the luxuries that it buys are the pinnacle of achievement. Or that fame will boost your self-esteem. It turns out this isn’t true at all. There’s abundant scientific and spiritual evidence that all of these goals are not only worthless, but pursuing them makes our lives worse. Wealthy, beautiful, famous, and powerful people aren’t happier or more fulfilled; in many cases, they are significantly less happy than “normal, average” folks. So if these are your goals, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. There is no emotional or spiritual payoff, only heartache.
If you’re lucky, you already know this. You’ve chosen high-quality and meaningful goals for yourself. Alas, by itself, that doesn’t mean you’re good to go. Why you’ve chosen your goals is just as important as the goals themselves.
Wrong & Right Reasons
Maybe you have the “right” goal but if it’s for the wrong reasons. You’re as equally bound to be disappointed as you’d be in having the wrong end-goals. For example, maybe your goal is to cure cancer. That sounds noble and will certainly benefit millions of people if you achieve it. But if you’re primary motivation isn’t really because you feel deep empathy for the suffering of humanity, but mostly because you see curing cancer as a vehicle to achieve lasting fame, get named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” make a killing on the patents, or change the course of human history, you’re in deep trouble.
Why can the right goals for the wrong reasons be such a trap? First and foremost, when our reasoning is wrong, we are much less likely to stick to our plan. Take our fictional person who wants to cure cancer for the wrong reasons. All endeavours come with challenges. The bigger the goal, the bigger the challenges we’re likely to face. If our cancer researcher is primarily doing it for the fame or money, she will be much more likely to quit once the going gets tough. Or, she’ll be easily distracted. The moment a new, seemingly easier path to fame or riches appears – say in this case, change course and become a cancer oncologist with a huge salary– she’s more likely to jump ship and head for greener pastures. If we don’t feel genuine enthusiasm, stimulation, and even joy for the process in itself –that is, what we’re actually doing and experiencing on a daily basis in pursuit of our goals – we are significantly more prone to jumping from project to project and scheme-to-scheme, always looking for the easiest route. It’s like having goal ADHD. The more we flit around, the less likely we are to achieve anything of note in any field.
Just as importantly, holding onto the wrong reasons in pursuit of our goals likely means we are very unhappy inside. We are missing the sense of true passion and purpose that is part of what makes life fulfilling. Focusing on the wrong kinds of reasons for pursuing the “right” goals come with tremendous cost. For example, there is abundant scientific evidence that pursuing fame, wealth, sex, beauty, power, and the like actually makes us anxious, depressed, insecure, fearful, angry, and generally unhappy. So even if we achieve our apparent goal of curing cancer, the fame and money that would come with that will leave us dissatisfied and unhappy. In contrast, if we had pursued that goal for the right reason, the fame or money that might come with such a breakthrough would be merely a secondary benefit, not our main focus.
Right Goals For The Right Reasons
The right kinds of reasons for the right kinds of goals leaves us with feeling a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction, not just when the end result is achieved but even while the process unfolds. We should feel that our lives are meaningful and connected to something larger than ourselves. There can be no true happiness or fulfillment without an accompanying sense that there is deep, personal meaning to what we’ve achieved.
Other “right reasons” might involve a genuine desire to help others, or even society at large. We needn’t all pursue a cure for cancer to feel like our life has meaning and purpose. Whatever we are doing, even working as a sanitation engineer, can be imbued with meaning and joy. An actor might want to reveal something about human nature that adds insight into our lives. A journalist might want to uncover truths that help democracy stay protected and the electorate make informed decisions. An automobile factory worker might want to create beautiful, safe or affordable vehicles so that others can get where they need to, how they want to, so that they too have the ability to more easily fulfill their life purpose. A hair stylist might want to help someone feel good about themselves, or draw out their inner radiance. A CEO might want to create products that are aesthetically beautiful and improve the lives of those who purchase them.
How Do You Know?
The only way we can truly know if we’ve embraced the right goals for the right reasons is by engaging in introspection. We must take time to ask ourselves important questions, question and reflect upon our decisions, and take responsibility for our own lives. Make sure you’re living your own, authentic life and not just the one that society, your parents, friends, co-workers, or the media tells you to.
Ask yourself some important questions.
- What activities give you joy?
- If you could teach one topic or skill to a group of people, what would that be?
- If you were on your deathbed, looking back on your life, what would you regret having done or not having done?
- Are you excited about what you’re doing or trying to achieve as a pursuit in and of itself? (In other words, do you truly enjoy doing what you’re doing or do you merely do it because it’s a way to gain some other benefit such as money in your bank account?)
If you can’t think of good, satisfying answers to why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s a sure sign that you’re on the wrong track. If you don’t feel challenged, stimulated, joyful, or other positive emotions while engaging in the daily process of working towards your goals, that’s another huge tipoff that’s something’s wrong.
This doesn’t mean every moment of every day of your journey will be celebratory. As noted at the beginning of this article, anything worth doing will come with at least occasional difficulty. It’s feeling that deep sense of purpose and worthiness in our pursuits that carries us through the rough patches and enables us to persevere long enough to turn the tide and achieve our goals and highest potential.
So if you’ve been struggling to attain your goals, or have attained them without reaping the full spectrum of rewards you expected, take some time to reflect. When there is an alignment between the right goals for us, chosen for the right reasons, you are not only more likely to achieve these goals, but you’ll feel happier, freer, and more deeply connected at every step along the way. That in itself may be the most worthy goal of all.
Sean Meshorer is a spiritual teacher and New Thought minister based in Los Angeles, as well as Spiritual Director of a non-profit organization. He graduated from Stanford in 1993 with a degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies. He spent fifteen years meditating, studying, practicing, and living in an ashram and spiritual community in Northern California. He is the author of The Bliss Experiment: 28 Days to Personal Transformation (Atria Books).
photo source: linuxadvocates.com