The one reason why goals don’t work.

Every year we love to set new personal goals. We want to finish writing that book, get that promotion, learn a musical instrument, or lose those extra vacation pounds. We have financial, personal, family or even spiritual goals. We begin every year with a lot of enthusiasm and passion. We want to do something amazing and reach that elusive state of happiness and fulfillment.

We start off strong and follow our new routine for a few days, and everything is going great. Yet, slowly and surely reality catches up with us. We lose our motivation and begin to slack off. We become bored and distracted. We don’t get an immediate reward for putting in a decent amount of effort, and we begin to question it all.

Sometimes we bounce back and say, “This year it will be different”. Though deep down we have a nagging fear, “What if it’s not different? What if I miss all my goals again, like last year?”

And often, we do. Every year the same story is repeated. I have a friend who runs a local gym. He tells me that every year, the membership soars in January and gradually falls as the year goes on. As the year begins, everyone is excited about getting in shape, but lose their motivation  after a few months.

Why does this happen? We think that ignoring the voice at the back of our mind and pushing ourselves along with optimism should do the trick. Perhaps, more hard work is required. Has it worked for you? For me it certainly hasn’t.

Sometime ago, I decided to confront that nagging doubt in my mind. It felt like, as long as the doubt existed, there was no way I would actually go beyond this invisible barrier. So it was time to face it head on. To face something doesn’t mean that we superimpose the negative emotions we are having with positive ones. Superimposing the negative, only creates more negative. It’s like trying to purify murky water by adding pure water to it. No matter how much pure water you add, what’s impure will still be impure in the end.

So I just looked at what the doubt was telling me. Why don’t I feel like I was going to accomplish my goals? What was going wrong every single time? Was there something wrong with the way I was setting my goals, or was there something deeper at work here which I had never seen.

What are goals?

Simply put, they are a future imagined state of greater pleasure and fulfillment. If I lose those 10 pounds, I will look beautiful. If I write that book, I may become influential. If I get that promotion, I might make as much money as my friends. If I start that business, I may just become financially independent. Most of our goals, are always about getting more gratification of some kind.

Now think about that for a minute.

What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with a promise of pleasure after hard work?

Let me ask you a question. If someone offers you a free reward in these two ways, which one would you choose? This is the only information they give you.

Option A : $1000 guaranteed cash right now, no questions asked.

Option B : $10000 cash, probably, after one year.

If you’re like me, you will take Option A. Anyone would right? Even though Option B is ten times more, it makes no sense if the odds are very low. It is not guaranteed.

This is a very rational decision.

Now, our goals are often like future rewards, in exchange for giving up some things. Try to remember how we motivate ourselves to pursue our goals. We imagine being more attractive, comfortable, relaxed, empowered, or carefree. To get there, we are willing to make sacrifices. This means, getting up early, eating the right things, exercising regularly, practicing an art for five hours everyday, or working long hours in the office. These sacrifices require us to wait, with no guarantee of success.

Is this sounding to you more like option B? If it is, then you are right.

Whereas, sleeping in late, eating junk food, not showing up for practice, or avoiding work can be quite comfortable and relaxing. If pleasure is what you seek, you have it right here, right now, guaranteed. This is your option A.

Why would you work hard to possibly get more pleasure in the end, if you can get pleasure right now, for sure, without putting in any work?

Don’t you think our brains are making the obvious choice without our knowledge or permission everyday?

As long as our goals are set with a hidden desire of seeking self gratifying pleasures, they don’t stand a chance compared to option A. Our mind will always chose the easier way of getting pleasure.

The mind monologue

 Why should I work so hard to get more pleasure one year from now, if I can just lay back, relax and get that pleasure right now! I will never pursue those goals for long. Forget about it.

If you really want me to do something this year, give me a goal which you feel responsible for. Do you feel deeply responsible that you need to become healthy? If so, let’s lose those 10 pounds, even 15 if you like. I won’t lose them if you just want to look good in the mirror, but if you want to feel healthy, I am in.

Do you feel a responsibility to express your mind? If so, let’s write that book. If you are going to do it for more money or influence, forget it. If responsibility to write, is what drives you, and not pleasure, I will help you like no one else will.

Do you want to develop spiritually so that you can feel superior to others? Is  that why you have meditation goals? If so, I can’t pursue them for long. Or do you feel responsible for your state of mind, and want to find peace and clarity? If yes, then I will meditate for you, and together we could move mountains.

Finding Insight

Responsibility is a stronger motivating factor than desire for pleasure or fear of pain. Fear of dying of high cholesterol can motivate you to workout, but is it really the fear of death or your responsibility to stay alive for your family, that keeps one going?

Desire for pleasure is something you feel in the brain, responsibility is something you feel in the gut. ‘Pleasure’ says I could possibly get there, ‘Responsibility’ says, I must get there.

Responsibility is a special emotion because it takes into account the hardships required to finish a goal. It does not look for temporary pleasures but finds meaning and purpose in accomplishing the goal. It reaches deep inside our psyche and activates latent energies which are stronger than fleeting desires. It will make sure that you don’t give up when it really matters. It makes sure that small successes don’t make you complacent and small failures don’t leave you disappointed.

Find what you are responsible for, and you will know what you are meant to do. That is the only way, to work with yourself and not against, and perhaps one day, you could move mountains.

Have you set any goals this year, which you couldn’t achieve before ? Let me know in the comments.

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Image courtesy of Amit | Finding Awareness

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