2013 delivered a big lesson: One should let go of goals. It's been a long thought gestation to get here so let me walk you through a year’s worth of thoughts and learnings :)
THE 3 SELVES
The year started with a long reflection and quite a lot of research into happiness. In short, the importance of an unconditional happiness became obvious. If your happiness hinges on someone else doing something or something else happening, you’ve got it all wrong unfortunately.
But for this insight to crystallise, an multiparty inner conflict needed to be surpassed. As Freud (and personal experience) points out, you are one of three selves at any given moment:
- ID aka the reptile - "the un-organised part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives" (Wikipedia). This is the part of you that made sure you’re here. It’s the product of evolution. Vice, lowly sexual desires, gluttony ... the seven sins all stem from here. Most of the time, when your willpower isn’t hindered you’ll be able to repel it.
- Super-ego aka the goal-driven self - "reflects the internalisation of cultural rules, mainly taught by parents applying their guidance and influence" (Wikipedia). This is your goal driven self. It is the one that keeps you on track on a daily basis. If you procrastinate (the reptile), this is the self that gets you back to work.
- Ego aka the observant self - "Its task is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality while satisfying the id and super-ego." (Guess the source) This is the part of you that observes, at any given moment the reptile and driven part of you. It's the self that comes out when you're sitting on your own, reflecting about your progress and your life. Unfortunately, you use it the least.
Practical example: You want to lose weight or move beyond meaningless relationships but your reptile self draws you to the dark side and you end up over-eating or kissing a girl in a night club and the conflict creates sadness. The Reptile and Driven Self are in a constant war which the Observant self needs to observe, resolve and ultimately transcend. Compared to a hypothetical Buddhist Monk, it looks like this:
n that war between the driven self and the reptile self however, it's not so much the war itself that needs to be transcended as the underlying problem: Goals. Why try and lose weight ? Why try and aim for meaningful relationships ? Wait, wait, it'll get clearer in a second :)
The epiphanic insight into the uselessness of goals emerged from my health journey. From my readings, research and experiments, it appeared those who reached their fitness goals were the ones who weren’t aiming for a weight goal but rather who had achieved a health style. Scott Adams, Dilbert Creator, writes:
To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.
If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize that you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or to set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent pre-success failure.
Goals introduce the concepts of regression and progress which are the wrong metrics. Goals open a door to self-defeat and self-sabotage due to ego’s moping and regression gives rise to guilt. What is the right metric then ? Well "no metric" is the best metric :) As the upcoming “Happiness Formula” series will make clear, one should enjoy the process. It comes down to a single question: Do you feel time passing by during any given day ? For ultimately, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” (Annie Dillard) and the more you lose yourself in the moment on a daily basis, the surer you can be you’re living life to its fullest.
STYLE OVER GOALS
"We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you" Hunter S. Thompson’s
Imagine you stuck to your goals unconditionally. I wanted to be rich when I was a kid. Then I grew up. Had I still been stuck in that goal, I would've been on a trading floor today :( Goals are limiting. They need to be flexible. Goals are for direction. They are not a destination. And rather than goals, one should opt for a way of life or a lifestyle:
"A man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance. So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.
And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for for something better? I don’t know—is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice." Hunter S. Thompson’s
Hunter was 20 years old when he wrote this ... Goals set limits. Style equates with limitlessness. More so, style is a catalyst of better introspection. Take fashion for example. Some will fix a goal of getting new fancy clothes this year. But the trick to being a happier dressed person is to understand who we are and choose clothes that resonate with that inner self (upcoming "Happiness formula" series).
Statically, style means better introspection. Dynamically, Style means enjoying who we are and what we do at any given moment. TO LOOK means to understand oneself. understanding who we are helps us make better decisions and choices. Since bad choices are the biggest cause of sadness, a simple shift from Goals to Style will help you dig deeper within you and eventually make you happier.