The problem with goal-setting

It’s a new year, and I am sure many of us would have already made our goals and resolutions for the coming year. While we assume goal-setting is right, it has its downsides too.

Whatever goals you arrive at, they are all in some way within the limitations of what you already know, or maybe a little exaggerated versions thereof. Is it not tragic to spend a whole year trying to achieve what you already know? My intention is things that you do not know should happen to you. Things that you have never imagined should enter your life. Only then will your life be truly enriched. What is the point of only doing things that you already know?

There was a time when you could be happy with one dollar. Now for the same happiness, you need a million dollars. That’s called inflation. That’s not enhancement of life. All that you do with life is create inflation. Inflation is neither good for the economy nor for your life. Now you are consciously causing inflation in your life – that is not an intelligent way to go about it. By setting time-bound goals, you may achieve a few things, but it will be of no consequence to the life that you are.

This is no different from how the caveman was, how hunters and gatherers were – “gather as much as you can.” On a material level, it looks different, but fundamentally, it is the same rudimentary thought of accumulating things. Anything that you gather, whether it is your knowledge, your wealth, your relationships, or whatever else, is only of value for the current transactions. If you keep it active, it will facilitate a few things for you. It has social consequence, but it has no life consequence. Instead of setting goals, it is best you find ways to nourish this life that you are. If you are nourishing this life, you only have to measure the growth.

Whatever goals we may set, on some level they are within the limitations of or exaggerated versions of what we already know. To get from where we are to where our goals are, we create tension, and it merely causes an inflation of existing things. The unwanted increase of current things can limit us from experiencing new things in life.

To simply live here goal-less is what a spiritual process is about. That does not mean being lethargic and lax. A spiritual process means to live in intense involvement with what is there right now but with no goal. If you have the courage to sit here in such a way – “Wherever the hell it goes tomorrow is fine with me, but right now I will do my best in whatever I am doing,” you will naturally be spiritual.

Life works best when we throw ourselves into doing things with absolute involvement without bothering what we gain out of it. Goal-setting ruins this element of life as it merely shows the means to an end. We must consider things as an end in itself by being more process-oriented and less goal-oriented.

Instead of setting goals for the whole year, just set this one thing: By the end of the day, you must be a little more joyful, a little more enhanced, a little better. This will not work as a goal – it is better to look at it in retrospect. This is not about you being joyful or peaceful. This is about you being conscious of as many aspects of your life as possible. You will do your best about whatever you are conscious of. Most of the nonsense happens because you are unconscious about so many things.

The real key to effective goal setting lies in developing a vision of how we want our lives to be.  If we would tell ourselves, “My only goal is to live a happier, healthier, more joyful and more loving life” – and actually mean it – we’d find that realizing this goal is as simple as making it the defining vision that guides our lives.  We would no longer need to concern ourselves with incremental, New Year’s Resolution style goals that don’t address our true character.  Instead, we would see our lives naturally moving towards the direction of our visions.

If you’re currently struggling to build your life around the tiny, fractious goals you believe will make you a better person in some way, just stop.  Stop worrying about whether or not the future you want is attainable based on where you are today and instead, set a clear vision for what you’d like your life to be.

That said, here’s another perspective on goal-setting.

Having goals is a pain in the neck.

If you don’t have a goal (a corporate goal, a market share goal, a personal career goal, an athletic goal…) then you can just do your best. You can take what comes. You can reprioritize on a regular basis. If you don’t have a goal, you never have to worry about missing it. If you don’t have a goal you don’t need nearly as many excuses, either.

Not having a goal lets you make a ruckus, or have more fun, or spend time doing what matters right now, which is, after all, the moment in which you are living.

The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run.

It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact… those people have goals.

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Perception supercedes expression

I came across an interesting article that talked about a yogi’s perspective on marketing. Our education system and the internet has made today’s world the age of expression and not perception. We are enhancing our activities without is trying to improve our capabilities. As a result, we live in a world where confidence rules over clarity.  Our adverts are an example of this.

We have been taught to be too goal-oriented, and consequently, we consider everything as a means to an end and not an end in itself. Goals must be a side effect of the process and not vice-versa. If we become too goal-oriented, our goals are decided by other’s capabilities. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes the norm, hence. We will never think of the other possibilities we could have done. Instead, we merely follow what our neighbors do. Since marketing focuses on people’s wants and not the needs, we had to do ‘marketing.’

Making our gut smarter

More often than not we keep hearing that “trust your instincts.” While that works sometimes, what is important here is to make our instincts or guts smarter. Then, it makes sense to trust our instincts. So, how can we do this?

The more we practice something, the better we become at doing that thing. Similarly, we need to practice listening to our instincts often enough, so it gets smarter over time. Here are some ways to making our guts brighter:

  1. Practicing in private making a judgment call on something. Blogs are a great way to do this. They are also, free.
  2. Volunteering for a non-profit is another excellent way to do practice making judgments. It’s extremely low risk.
  3. Finding out a peer group to sharing and talking through your instincts so that they are no longer your instincts.

Competence triumphs passion

While we have been taught to dream, aspire, have ambitions, be passionate, and set goals since childhood, not many of us have been taught to focus more on cultivating our competence and skillset.

Our education system is to be blamed for this as it churns out “educated” people to serve a larger economic engine by making us all cogs in the machine.  The system is too much goal-oriented and it enhances our ego and desires but, never encourages us to keep learning to improve our competence and aptitude. As a result, we feel stressed out in the competition. A competent person will never feel stressed out amidst the competition.

Passion and desires without the necessary aptitude and competence will burn us down eventually. It will make us feel envious towards other successful people and is not helpful to us in any way.

It’s always a better strategy to work on constantly outsmarting ourselves instead of simply being passionate. It follows that working right is always better than finding the right work.

 

The lie of diversification: What woodpeckers and chai wallah’s know

Just like how we must choose to work right instead of finding the right work, we must choose to commit to one journey rather than diversifying our options frequently.

To make a journey, we must not keep changing directions often.

This is something that we can learn from woodpeckers and the chai wallahs of India – the art of unwavering focus.

A woodpecker can tap 20 times on 1000 trees and get nowhere but stay busy or he can tap 20,000 times on one tree and get dinner.
When faced with a dip, many individuals and organizations diversify. If you can’t get to the next level, the thinking goes, invest your energy and learning to do something else. This leads to record labels with 1000s of artists instead of focused promotion on just a few. It leads to job seekers who can demonstrate competency at a dozen tasks instead of mastery of just one. Hard-working, motivated people find diversification a natural outlet for their energy and drive. Diversification feels like the right thing to do.
Yet, the real success goes to those who obsess. The focus that leads you through the dip to the other side is rewarded by a market place in search of the best in the world.
If you make adversity your ally, you would insulate yourself from the competition.
A wallah is one who performs a specific task.  A rickshaw wallah drives the rickshaw, a dhobi wallah washes clothes and the chai wallah, you guessed it, makes chai.  Chai wallahs are everywhere in India.
Diversification is hence, a lie.
Diversification is a lie because self-determination (pursuit of happiness) is only possible with individual control and diversification inherently diminishes one’s ability to control its diverse elements. For every degree that diversification increases, one’s ability to control those elements decreases.  This decrease in your ability to control inherently undermines your ability to choose how that ownership satisfies your will defeating the purpose of having ownership.  Inability to control also inherently diminishes your ability to specialize and achieve excellence in whatever it is you do.  From economics 101, we learned that it is this specialization that provides a competitive advantage.
Then, why do we choose to diversify? It could be the monotony of crossing the dip and sometimes, even the fear of missing out (FOMO).
It’s tempting to diversify, particularly when it comes to what you offer the world.

Focus works. A sharp edge cuts through the clutter.
One more alternative, one more flavor, one more variation.
Something for everyone.
We get pushed to smooth out the work, make it softer, more widely applicable.
More breadth, though, doesn’t cause change, and it won’t get you noticed.
It’s so tempting to do a little bit of everything. All the tools are there, a click away. Or you can be a wallah. Someone who does only that one thing.
It’s a reminder that his success lives and dies on the performance of just one task.
When you go all in, it focuses your attention and effort, doesn’t it?

Hard work must be incisive – precise, and calibrated – to reap rewards. In order to make our efforts targeted, we must choose a journey that’s worth committing to no matter what.

In a world where the dip dominates, diversification is a lie. Quit lots, until you find a dip you can beat for the right reasons.
Quitting requires you to acknowledge that you’re never going to be #1 in the world – at least not at this.
So it’s easier just to put it off, not admit it.
Be a lot choosier about which journeys you start.
Know before you start whether or not you have the resources and the will to get to the end.
If you can’t make it through the dip, don’t start.
If you’re going to quit, quit before you start.
Don’t play the game if you realize you can’t be the best in the world.
Reject the system.
To be a superstar, find a field with a steep barrier between those who try and those who succeed.
In a state of joy and clarity within yourself, you must choose what you wish to do, then do only that. The mind and emotions are capable of leading you in circles and changing direction every day. If you change directions too often, you are obviously not interested in getting anywhere.

How we do anything is how we do everything: On working right

More often than not, we are obsessed with finding the right line of work and we forget the most important part, which is working right. When we hate our jobs, we try to switch to a different job or even a different career path but, we do not tend to think of the possibility of us working in the right manner irrespective of the job we have. 
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport writes a story about a Rabbi who wakes up early every single day to master Judaism. With rigorous self-discipline over the years, the Rabbi managed to gain a lot of knowledge on Judaism. A layman would ask what is the use of this knowledge. However, it’s not the knowledge per se that’s important it’s the effort that went in order to acquire that much knowledge that matters and the years of persisting a processWhy? Because, how we do anything is how we do everything
 
What we do doesn’t matter but, why we do matters. What we do is simply a reflection of the times we live in (for example, if Vincent Van Gogh was born today, he wouldn’t have become an impressionist painter) but, why we do something goes deeper into our own values and belief systems. It’s a direct reflection of who we are. We just happen to do the ‘whats’ because our ‘whys’ need an expression.
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck emphasizes the very same idea by bringing in the theory of growth mindset where effort is given more importance than talent and ability. Practice and hard work are the key components of a growth mindset. 
The magic happens when we obsess about the process and not the outcome (a trait of the craftsman mindset). That’s when the transferable skills are formed. Once we form the transferable skills we can apply them in any domain we want to excel. Success would then be a byproduct. We keep track of all the wrong, superficial things. We mistake the byproduct for the actual effect and that’s why there are only a few successful people in this world.
 
Similarly, Tim Ferris in one of his keynote talks about the DSS strategy for learning anything. This strategy is universal and it validates the point of how we do anything is how we do everything. 
 
 
Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quid’s recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.) —Sir Henry Royce

Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.

But we are always so busy thinking about the future, we don’t take enough pride in the tasks we are given right now. Too often we phone it in, cash our check, and dream of some higher station in life. Or we think, This is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.

This is foolishness.

Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar—even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.

Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.

 

An artist is given many different canvases and commissions in their lifetime, and what matters is that they treat each one as a priority. Whether it’s the most glamorous or highest paying is irrelevant. Each project matters, and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of giving.
 
We will be and do many things in our lives. Some are prestigious, some are onerous, none are beneath us. To whatever we face, our job is to respond with:
  • hard work
  • honesty
  • helping others as best we can

We should never have to ask ourselves, But what am I supposed to do now? Because we know the answer: our job.

 

Duty is beautiful, and inspiring and empowering. Because all we need to do is those three little duties—to try hard, to be honest, and to help others and ourselves. That’s all that’s been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters, too—each is a snapshot of the whole. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances.
How you do anything is how you can do everything. We can always act right.
P.S: I did a syntopical reading/listening of the following people’s body of work (books, interviews, talks). The idea of why working right always triumphs finding the right work is a common theme. 
1. Cal Newport
2. Ryan Holiday
3. Carol S. Dweck
4. Simon Sinek
5. Tim Ferris
6. Seth Godin
7. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Process vs. events

Anything that’s worth doing takes a long time. The outcomes that we are proud of are results of processes we followed over time. They are not events.
Therefore, success is a process and not an event. The process over the years gives birth to an outcome, which we mistakenly see it as an event. The truth is the efforts or the process we have been following over the years eventually catches up.
This theory applies to everything in life. The relationships we bothered to care about when things were rough pays off over time in the form of real friendships. The music lessons and practice sessions we attended when we didn’t feel like going and wanted to play video games instead, pays off over time making us good musicians. All the early morning runs we went for when the whole world was sleeping and when we didn’t feel like going, pays off in the long-term in the form of an athletic body. All the healthy food habits we cultivated by saying ’no’ to processed food and beverages over time pays off in the shape of a great body, great skin, and excellent health.
Processes eventually catch up. If we are unhappy with the outcome, chances are it’s a result of bad habits and behaviors over a long time.
What this means is that, if we want to become the kind of person we could be proud of five years from now, we need to start today and persist until we see the intended results. We often overestimate what we can achieve in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in five.