why a goal is good, part two

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SO NOW WE KNOW: Goals are very important. It's not just a nice thing. It's vital. Get yourself a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Look for something that fires you up, that you think is needed, that you feel is important, and that you can do something about.

If someone has no purpose at all, a small goal is a big improvement. But as the level of mental health increases, there comes a time when a full-on mission is called for as a context for your life.

You can still watch movies. You can still spend time conversing with your spouse. Walk in the woods. Go on vacation. But like a mantra you constantly return to, your definite purpose, your concrete assignment, is always there to give you a sense of purpose and meaning to your existence.

RIGHT NOW

Even if you have a large, overarching purpose, you can only take action in this very moment. It is an excellent practice to try to keep in mind one clear purpose for what you're doing now. And the question, "What is my purpose here?" can really straighten up and clarify your mind and your actions.

For example, if you are criticizing someone, ask yourself, "What am I after?" You may find what you're really after is to make the other person feel bad or punish them for something they did. That is an automatic, genetically-driven (and usually counterproductive) purpose. In other words, you didn't really consciously choose to pursue that goal. It happened without you. But now that you've asked the question, "What is my purpose here?" you can choose. You can think about what you really want in this situation. You may decide what you really want is that the person doesn't do it again. Then you'd have a clear purpose and a clear path for action — without games, without negative feelings. All you'd have is a simple request: "Please don't do that again."

Make it a regular practice to ask yourself what you want right now. What is your goal here in this situation? What are you after? What are you aiming for? Be clear always and consciously what your purpose is in this very moment. It is effective. It is therapeutic. It is healthy. And it will make you more productive.

One key to a strong sense of purpose is the practice of focusing only on what you want. When your mind wanders to other things, bring your focus back. Again and again. Your mind is very easily taken off track, so you have to keep noticing your attention has wandered and keep bringing your focus back to your purpose. When your mind starts worrying about problems that might happen, bring your mind back to your concrete assignment. When your attention becomes fixed on what you don't want, turn your attention to what you do want.

Keep your attention on the goal, and your sense of purpose will grow strong.

There isn't one "right" purpose which you must find and follow. Delete that kind of magical thinking from your thoughts forever! Any (constructive) purpose is better than no purpose and some are better than others. Some are good for now, but no good if pursued too long. The important thing is that you like the purpose and have a good level of accomplishment along that line.

SETTING YOUR COURSE

If you don't already have a strong purpose, how do you go about developing one? A high-quality purpose is more than something you feel you should do. That isn't good enough. A good purpose is something you feel a strong desire to do, even feel compelled to do, and something you feel is important — something you think needs to be done and ought to be done because it is right and good. Or something you feel strongly interested in, something that fascinates you and fills you with interest and curiosity.

If nothing comes to mind right now, that's not the end of the conversation. There is no such legitimate answer as, "I don't have one of those." Yes, you do. You may have forgotten it. You may never have dug deeply enough to find it in the first place. But you've got at least one. And all you need is one.

Most likely there was a time when you knew what your purpose was, at least in a general sense, but for one reason or another you discarded it; someone convinced you it was impossible or stupid, or you convinced yourself. It's now as if you've turned your back on it and are looking around saying, "I don't see any purpose I really want." No, of course not. It is behind you, so to speak. You've already picked it up, had it in your hand and then tossed it behind you where you are no longer looking.

Start right now with the assumption that there is a purpose which strongly compels you or strongly interests you, and commit yourself to finding it. If you don't already have a purpose, now you have one: Finding it. What interests you? What do you like to talk about? What do you daydream about? What do you think needs to be done? What do you think "they" ought to do? What do you "wish you could do" but know you can't?

A high quality purpose is concrete, challenging, and that you feel is achievable. That's where flow is. That's where motivation is. That's where confidence is. That's where ability is formed. That's where the fun is.

In a study at the University of Alabama, they found that people who considered their goal difficult but achievable were more motivated — they were more energized and felt their goal was more important than someone who had an easy goal or an impossible goal.

People who thought their goal was easy weren't as motivated. And people who thought their goal was impossible weren't motivated either. Remember, difficult but achievable. Not achievable in some abstract sense, but something you feel you could achieve. And something you feel challenged by.

John French, Jr., director of the project, did a study of 2,010 men in twenty-three different jobs, trying to find out which jobs were the most stressful. What they found was kind of surprising. The most stressful jobs were the most boring and unchallenging. These were the jobs that produced the most physical and emotional illness.

Says French, "One of the key factors in job satisfaction is self-utilization — the opportunity to fully utilize your abilities on the job, to be challenged, to develop yourself. Frustration and anxiety over not being challenged can have physically debilitating effects."

A big, challenging goal, if you feel up to it, will awaken the genius within, bring out your latent talents, give you satisfaction, and make the world a better place. Beethoven's goal was to create music that would transcend fate. Socrates had a goal to make people happy by making them reasonable and just. These are big goals, but they brought out the best in these people and wrote their names in history.

 

THE KILLER OF PURPOSES

Probably the biggest killer of purpose is all-or-nothing thinking. "I want to sail around the world," says a young man. But he is married and has a new baby. Obviously he can't go sailing around the world. Or can he? If he's thinking in all-or-nothing terms, he will, of course say "No, I can't go sailing around the world unless I want to be a jerk and leave my wife and child." But that's thinking in one extreme or the other, and life very rarely needs to be so black-or-white.

He wakes up one night with a realization. He has been blinding himself with all-or-nothing thinking! He comes up with a plan. He will set aside twenty dollars a week in a Sailing Fund. As he does better at work, he'll increase that amount. But for now, he uses the money for sailing lessons and boating safety classes and books on celestial navigation, always leaving aside a little to accumulate for the purchase of an actual boat. He learns about boat design.

It takes him three years before he learns enough to decide what design of boat he wants to get. It takes him another year to figure out what course he will chart, what places he will visit, etc. As his son gets older, they go sailing together on rented sailboats. His son learns how to sail. The father teaches him how to reef the sails, how to steer, how to navigate by the stars.

By the time the son is fourteen, the family decides to go for it. They sell their house, buy a sailboat, fill it with supplies, and what do you know? His purpose wasn't silly or impossible after all. It may be, in fact, the highlight of his life.

Another thing that kills dreams or prevents the development of a strong sense of purpose is that interest dies. But here you have to be careful. Did your interest die because you actually lost interest now that you know more about it, or did your interest die because of the way you're explaining setbacks to yourself?

There are certain ways to explain setbacks in your life that will kill your enthusiasm, destroy your interest, and prevent the development of a sense of purpose. If your interest has been killed by a feeling of defeat, you can revive that dormant interest and fill your life with purpose and meaning.

It's important that the goals you seek give you a sense of meaning — that they aren't only about material gain. It's true that any goal is better than no goal, but it's also true that if you have a choice, you ought to choose high-quality goals, goals that will give you a great deal of satisfaction and even meaning.

Susan Krause Whitbourne did a long-term research project, starting in 1966. She saw a particular psychological measurement steadily decline over the years. It's called "ego integrity," which is a composite characteristic having to do with honesty, a sense of connection with others, a sense of wholeness, and a feeling that life has meaning.

Between 1977 and 1988, ego integrity took a universal dive. The life-satisfaction scores were as low as they could go on her measurements. "People got caught up in chasing the materialistic dream," says Whitbourne, "They got recognition for their achievements, yet don't feel that what they are doing matters in the larger scheme of things."

SIMPLIFICATION OF PURPOSES

John is a waiter, and he discovered a fundamental principle of life. When he only has one table, he isn't stressed at all. He can concentrate and do a good job, and it is no problem. Two tables, okay. Still no problem. Three tables, and he has to start really paying attention, because it's like juggling — the more balls you have in the air, the easier it is to drop one. When John gets up to seven or eight tables, it becomes stressful. The juggling of tasks becomes too complex to handle well.

In the same way, the number of purposes you have is directly related to your stress hormone level. Depending on how you handle your goals, a strong sense of purpose can help you manage stress well, or it can make your general stress level much worse.

The problem is that the natural drift for people is toward complication. In other words, if you don't try to do anything about it, your life will get more and more complicated; you will collect more and more purposes. So you have to make a continuous effort to simplify your purposes. Your life will naturally and constantly drift toward complication, just as a rose bush will constantly try to sprawl. You must continually prune. You can't prune once and for all. You have to keep pruning.

For example, John wanted his guests to be happy. That was one of his purposes. He also wanted to get along well with his fellow waiters. And he wanted to please the cooks so their interactions were pleasant. And, of course, he wanted the managers to be happy with him. And so on. Too many purposes. His attention is scattered in too many directions. If he knew about simplifying purposes, he would have trimmed his purposes down to something manageable: To make the guests pleased with his service. That's enough to concentrate on, and that would keep his tension level lower, because it is manageable.

Manage your purposes. Make a list. What are the really important purposes? Trim the list down to something manageable; something simple enough that you can manage it without stress. Get few enough purposes that it feels good.

Be aware that after you trim your purposes, complexity will gradually creep back in. Simplifying your purposes is something you'll need to do once in awhile for the rest of your life.

Keep your purposes strong and clear, simple and heartfelt, and you will find the most powerful source of self-generated happiness that exists in this world. As George Bernard Shaw said, "the true joy in life is being used by a purpose recognized by yourself to be a mighty one." Experience the true joy in life. Be used by a mighty purpose. Find yourself a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment and get to work.

 


 

"The need for meaning in life goes far beyond the mechanical techniques of selecting a goal to be achieved by positive thinking. If a person selects a goal just to satisfy the demands of others he will quickly revert back to self-defeating trap circuits. He will rapidly lose ambition, and though he may try to appear as if he is succeeding in what he is doing, he will feel miserable because he is not really committed to this objective. All the success seminars in the world will not make a potential Mozart or Monet content to be president of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Positive therapy strives to help people acquire a deeply positive orientation to living by enabling them to recover a long-buried dream or to implant firmly the roots of a new one. This need for deep personal meaning has been succinctly expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche: 'He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.' The phenomenon was directly observed by Viktor Frankl in Nazi concentration camps. Those prisoners who had a deeply rooted reason to survive — a meaningful project, a loving family — best withstood that prolonged torture without reverting to counterhuman patterns of behavior."

- Allen Wiesen, psychologist

 

"Morita therapists emphasize that it is important to find suitable constructive purposes and hold to them, thus guiding behavior in a positive direction. The other side of that coin is that all behavior, positive or negative, is purposeful. Whatever you do there is an aim to it, a goal toward which the behavior is directed. The goal may be destructive or constructive or mixed. For example, the shy person may avoid social gatherings in order to prevent the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness that he feels in such situations. In a sense Morita guidance asks the client to select constructive purposes and positive ways of achieving them instead of the already purposeful, but destructive behavior. Finding the purpose behind destructive behavior can be a useful undertaking because sometimes the original purpose can also be fulfilled in a positive way."

- David Reynolds
founder of Constructive Living
leading Western authority on Morita and
Naikan therapies, the two most popular
forms of therapy in Japan

 

"Frequently, success is what people settle for when they can't think of something noble enough to be worth failing at."

- Laurence Shames

 

"Man is by nature a productive organism. When he ceases his productivity — whether he is producing a pail or a poem, an industry or an ideology — his life begins to lose its meaning. Though he may be finally buried twenty years after his death, the person who has no raison d'être is not really alive. He is merely the ghost of who he once was or might have become."

- Allen Wiesen, psychologist

Author: Adam Khan
author of the books, Self-Help Stuff That Works and Antivirus For Your Mind
and creator of the blog:
Moodraiser
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