When Goals Get in the Way

I admit, I’m pretty motivated and driven to accomplish some goals in my life. That doesn’t mean I live and breathe every moment for those goals. It does, however, mean that I make tough choices so that I’m making my goals a very high priority, as they should be.

Why do we set goals? Obviously, we hope to make our lives better in meaningful ways. Some goals have the potential to radically improve our lives, while others may just offer a little happiness or a bit of sunshine in an otherwise monotonous or bleak existence.

Though, I’ve learned that goals are not accomplished through good intentions alone. You must take action. But taking the first step isn’t even enough. The first step is completely wasted, if not followed by another. Obviously, it’s important to keep making progress when trying to accomplish an important goal. Seeing your progress will be motivational and that kind of motivation is a good thing. But there is a caution that goes with trying to achieve a big goal. Every once in a while, it can have unwelcomed consequences.

An Unexpected Nemesis

Okay, I guess it’s time for a little honesty. Time for me to admit one of my own weaknesses. I have almost no social life. Is that a weakness? I guess it depends. But I value having a social life, which makes not having one a behavioral flaw, in my perspective. I value going places and doing fun things. When I imagine myself living my idea of a “perfect” life, it’s filled with wonderful people and interesting places and doing exiting things. My wife and I both have sort of an adventurer’s gene, though it goes largely unfulfilled. Why? Because of our goals.

It turns out that sometimes being driven or hyper-motivated to achieve your goals has a down-side. It seems a bit crazy to be saying this, but it’s true. I have programmed myself to stay focused on my goals so that I’m constantly making progress with them. Which is great, of course. However, even though working hard to reach my goals is helping me move forward, it’s also causing me to slide backward at the same time. It’s a double-edged sword; two conflicting behaviors that are at war with each other.

A Double-Minded Man

Ever hear of the term cognitive dissonance? It’s the feeling of anxiety caused from holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. There’s a little bit of this at work here. Basically, I want to stay focused on my goals because I want to achieve them. If I spend too much time watching TV or surfing the Internet, I am less likely to accomplish my goals. And that’s also why there are so many miserable people in the world.

People who want to make big changes in their lives get inspired and all pumped up with motivation and work hard for a week or two. After they’ve knocked the easy stuff off their To-Do lists and they’re no longer sure what to do next, or maybe the pain that pushed them forward to begin with has lessened, their enthusiasm fizzles out and they’re back to their old behavior of watching TV until their eyeballs bleed, or praying to the gods of Online videos. That’s not for me.

Where it gets complicated for me is that I resist the urge to be led astray to the point where I can no longer justify making time for friends or going out for an afternoon to do something enjoyable with my wife. Not to mention making time for hobbies that I thoroughly enjoy or even just household maintenance like mowing the lawn…which I pay someone else to do for me.

Free Your Mind

One of the keys to a happy life is having meaningful connections with friends. And while I value my Online connections via social networking, it’s not the same as hanging out with friends for an afternoon at the coffee shop, taking in a movie or a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway (which is practically right in my backyard!).

Yes, I admit it…sometimes I struggle with balance. Taking the time to get away and free my mind is definitely a good thing. Working toward my life-changing and meaningful goals is absolutely a good thing. When I’m doing one of these two things, I’m not doing the other. If I’m spending time with friends or my wife and I are driving across the state on a secret mission, that means I’m not working toward my goals and I feel a bit guilty. When I spend hours and hours of my weekend pouring my attention into my goals, I feel a little cruddy (adjective: feeling like poo-poo) because I get over-saturated with goal stuff and feel like I’m neglecting my social life. Guilty as charged. But this is not the goal-striving behavior I want for myself. There needs to be balance in all aspect of our lives and our habitual behaviors tell the story about how close we are to living a balanced life.

There are some things I can do that will help me with this, like restarting my meditation practice, or taking yoga or Tai Chi classes (which gets me out of the house). But, again, it gets hard to justify doing anything that takes me away from working on my goals. It’s a catch-22.

Beware of Goals

Being goal-oriented is something I’m good at, and maybe you are too. But as you can see, there is a hidden danger in striving so single-mindedly toward reaching your goals. What I’ve learned from experience is that in the future, I may need to also include a plan for achieving my goals that will inject balance into the process.

This is me, course-correcting. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this situation. So, today I’m not going to conclude with tried-and-true strategies on how to solve this balance problem. I know that if I make some time for sorting this out, I will…but again, I’m having trouble making the time to even do this. So I would like to open up the conversation to you. Perhaps you’re having this issue also. Tell me about it. Maybe you’ve struggled with this in the past but got through it. If so, I’m interested. If anyone has any suggestions or insights to share, drop a comment here.

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