No life is perfect, and facing that reality causes pain. It’s our natural tendency to run away from pain. We all have our drugs of choice to avoid pain.
Some of us use recreational drugs. Others use alcohol, cigarettes, or caffeine. The new generation prefer their gadgets.
A Socially Endorsed Drug
There is another drug that is not only socially acceptable but also encouraged, especially by the personal development industry.
That drug is having big hairy audacious goals. I’m not against setting goals. On the contrary, I encourage you to set goals and work toward them.
I subscribe to the idea that happiness comes from working toward a worthy goal. There is a pitfall when setting a goal though. Your goal might be a distraction to avoid facing your reality.
Audit Your Approach to Goals
There’s a simple test you can take to figure out whether your big hairy audacious goal is a vision or a distraction.
Just answer these simple questions.
- Which actions did you take yesterday, last week, or last month toward your goal?
- Which progress did you make yesterday, last week, or last month toward your goal?
- What is your plan and your milestones from now until the accomplishment of your goal?
If you can answer these three questions with specific, realistic answers, you have a vision. If you can’t answer them or your answers are vague, then you have an illusion.
Evaluate Your Answers
Write down your goal and answers on a piece of paper. Stand up and walk around a little. Come back and pick up that piece of paper. Imagine the goal and the answers on that piece of paper belong to another person.
- What would you think about that person?
- Is that person realistic?
- Do they have a good chance of realizing their goal?
- Or are they fooling themselves?
Correct Your Course If Necessary
If you took this test and you figured out that your goal is more of a distraction than a vision, don’t worry. You can always correct your course or adjust your goal.
If you need some course correction, the posts mentioned in this thread might be a good starting point for you.
Let’s do another exercise on your goal. Suppose that you have accomplished your goal. Then what?
- What’s going to change in your life?
- How will your days, weeks, and years look like?
- How will you feel?
Keep asking the same “then what” question until you run out of answers. The “then what” exercise is similar to the “five whys” exercise. In the “five whys” exercise, we go back in time. In the “then what” exercise, we go further in time.
The Unmet Basic Needs Behind Your Goals
If you do this exercise, you’ll end up with some basic needs. Here’s an example.
- I want to make ten million dollars.
- Then what?
- I’m going to retire.
- Then what?
- I’m going to have enough time to rest.
- Then what?
- I’m going to feel good.
The basic need you’re aiming for is feeling good. If this sounds familiar, I have two questions for you.
- What keeps you from feeling good now?
- What makes you think that you’ll feel good when you have ten million dollars in the bank?
Take Responsibility Now
Most of the time, we avoid taking the responsibility to take care of our basic needs. We postpone them to the future. We associate them with some big hairy audacious goals so that we don’t have to deal with them now.
If you want ten million dollars in the bank, because your basic need is security, I have bad news for you.
When you don’t feel secure now, you won’t feel secure with ten million dollars in the bank. You’ll always find something to be anxious about.
Your feelings determine your perception, not the other way around.
A person with a million dollar net worth might think that they’re rich, where else another one with ten million dollar net worth considers themselves middle class.
Fear of Success
We’re all aware of the fear of failure. Deep down, you might also be afraid of success. The best way to find that out is to do the “then what” exercise above.
- Suppose that you want financial freedom.
- Then what?
- You’ll have a lot of time and money on your hands.
- What are you going to do with that extra time and money?
Think about what you do with your extra time and money now. How does it feel to do that on a 10x scale?
If you don’t do anything interesting with your extra time and money now, how will you motivate yourself to work toward that 10x extra time and money?
If you indulge in drinking, partying, and drugs in your spare time, you might be afraid to do that on a 10x scale.
If you waste your spare time with distractions, you might not want to have that extra time and money, because your current job is more meaningful than that.
What If I Lose It All?
You might be afraid of success because you might be afraid that you’ll get used to the lifestyle, and it would feel much worse if you lost it all.
To clarify your mind about what success means for you, do the “then what” exercise. Write it out in detail. Write down your life story from the accomplishment of your goal until your death.
In other words, write your obituary.
- How do you feel about your story?
- Is it a congruent story?
- Do some parts contradict each other?
It’s natural that we have desires that contradict each other. That doesn’t mean that we have to let go all of them. You can do the obituary exercise for each desire.
Suppose that you can live as many lives as you want. Your task is to optimize each life for one of your desires. If you had multiple lives, how would you live each of them?
Don’t underestimate this exercise. It helps you set aside your limiting beliefs. As a result, you can come up with some exciting ideas to realize your goals.
When you complete the exercise for multiple desires, merge them into a single life story by making some conscious choices to let go some of your conflicting desires.
Happiness comes from working toward a worthy goal. Yet, you might use your goals to distract yourself from facing your reality.
To see if that’s the case, audit your approach to goals using the exercise explained in this post. If your answers don’t satisfy you, you can either upgrade your approach or modify your goals.
Sometimes, we postpone our basic needs by associating them with our goals. You figure out which basic needs you avoid by doing the “then what” exercise.
We think that our life situation creates our emotions. In reality, it is the other way around. Therefore, we need to take the responsibility of our emotions first.
Even though it sounds absurd, we might also be afraid of success. That could happen if our vision doesn’t inspire at all. We might be afraid of the realization of our vision, or succeeding and then losing it all.
In either case, the first step is to come up with a compelling, congruent story about our future.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.