step 2: dissecting a goal
If my first step to understanding discomfort is confronting existing mindsets and changing them, what should the next step be? Putting that mindset to work.
The trickiest part about shifting mindsets is building the strength to turn those hopes and aspirations sitting in my head into something tangible. Having a positive outlook on life won't change anything if I don't take the necessary steps to sustain a positive lifestyle externally. In my last post, I wrote about perception in relation to the quote "Things outside you are a projection of what's inside you, and what's inside you is a projection of what's outside" by Haruki Murakami. The same outlook applies to my life - the things I eat, the things I do, my economic privileges and limitations, the content I consume, and the ideologies it follows. All these external factors are an extension of myself, and they form a feedback loop with my thoughts and perceptions.
As I've previously mentioned, the mindset I’ve found the most success with emphasizes appreciation, intentionality, and accountability. To build an environment that cultivates this way of thinking, and to measure my success in sustaining this view of life, I need to have goals. The goals I set for myself, the way I attain them, and whether I even attain them or not — these are my best indicators to benchmark my progress.
The anatomy of a goal
I've spent a lot of time trying to perfect the way I see goals and how I should reach them. I'm extremely results-driven as a person. For that very reason, I never looked at goals as just milestones. My goals defined me, and along the way, I reduced my self-worth to nothing more than my ability to achieve goals. If you think about it logically, that's a pretty unsustainable way to go about your life.
As I graduated college, entered the workforce, and got my first real taste of life beyond the comfort of a "student" title, it became even more apparent that my goals as a young adult weren't going to be attained as quickly as my goals in college. It took a lot of courage to tell myself that my goals were going to take a lot of time, and I may not even reach them at all. If I were to only take myself seriously every time I hit a milestone, I wouldn't have much to be happy and confident about for a majority of my time alive on this planet.
I used to look at goals as a destination, but I've learned that goals are a journey. In my eyes, a solid goal is made up of three things: an understanding of current circumstances, a self-driven desire for something better, and a realistic path to change.
I always tell myself that there's a difference between a goal and a dream. A dream is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Having a house like Dakota Johnson's for example is a dream. A goal is something I can do right now to get there. It's setting aside x amount of money every month for the next y amount of years so I have a realistic shot at owning a house in the near future.
My goal takes into account the fact that I may not accumulate as much income as Dakota Johnson or have the time to maintain that standard of living with more rigid corporate jobs. It does, however, give me the opportunity to accumulate what I can and reach the closest version of a dream I can get.
I've learned that the most important part of setting a goal is giving it enough room to adapt and fail. It might seem counterintuitive to set a goal up for anything but a success, but I look at it as an opportunity for the smarter allocation of emotional resources. I think it's unproductive to build a plan around a set outcome when society today is such a catalyst for change. Goals are a reflection of who we are as people, and they change and grow as we change and grow. The fluid nature of personal, communal, and organizational goals is exactly why we should be so careful about them. As people, we look to reinvent ourselves all the time (Case in point, I've tried to change my ~ vibe ~ every other month during quarantine). It's important that we pause to rethink and realign our goals as we grow to prevent them from becoming an unintended outcome. A perfect example? Think about what Facebook has become versus the idealistic future of social interaction that Mark Zuckerberg initially set out to create. An unrealistic assumption of existing social and economic circumstances in a capitalist world turned his goals into a monster far bigger than he could contain.
What influences a goal?
Goals change as people do, and as people, we tend to change for a variety of reasons. Self-improvement and a better quality of life for my loved ones are some of the more uplifting idealistic driving factors of change. Unfortunately, it's not always that clear cut. The world we live in today promotes wide-scale communication and competition, in both healthy and unhealthy amounts. As we grow in an increasingly visual and content-saturated digital environment, we've become hyperaware of all the little details in the lives of people we've never even met.
We're constantly consuming new information about others - their success stories, their failures, their habits, and likings. It's never been easier to blur the lines between what we truly want for ourselves and what would bring us closer to the idea of someone else. There has been no other era in history where humans have been this connected to each other, and somewhere along the way, a lot of us have lost our sense of individuality. On many occasions over the past few years, I've confused motivation with replication — instead of encouraging myself to learn from the values of those who succeed, I fall into an unhealthy cycle of comparison and competition stemming from my desire to achieve exactly what someone else has achieved.
So, before I decide on a goal and how it's going to impact my life, I put extra thought into making sure a goal is actually mine. Real long-lasting progress is made with self-driven intentions supported by values that are true to the heart. My goals should push me toward a better version of myself — that's the right intention to hold onto. If my intentions are not for myself but instead driven by a need to be somebody else, my goals hold less weight and become less sustainable. Goals help us keep ourselves accountable, but we can't do that if we're caught up in the way other people live their lives.
As I sit down to end another day, I tick "write a new blog" off my list of weekly goals. There are lots of little things on there — clean the house, take time for me, read a book, try a new pasta recipe. They're all goals to me, not just to-do's, and they work together to support my new outlook on life. Even a list as simple as that holds enough weight for me to wake up and end the day happier. I know now more than ever to stop and think and to never take a goal for granted.