September 3, 2016

How Non-Goal-Oriented People can Accomplish Goals.

I have goals.

Goals come in all kinds of packages. There are small ones and grand ones. Some require a lifetime, while others tuck nicely inside a moment. Your goal or goals may involve a career objective. You might have taken on a lifestyle goal that involves fitness or diet. Maybe you want to quit smoking, or complete your novel, or just get through your rounds of chemotherapy in one piece.

I like goals. When I realized I wanted to write about achieving goals, I suddenly felt a bit cheesy and even more self-conscious.

I felt cheesy because this topic has been written about to a nauseating extent. In fact, I can still picture the stacks of “How to Achieve your Goals” type books scattered around my home as a child. Does anything else say 1980s like this topic?

I felt self-conscious because I am not an NFL player, or famous actor, or Silicon Valley billionaire—so who am I to instruct the world on this topic?

Then I remembered a few things.

Firstly, this topic is important and deserves further exploration. Our goals matter.

Secondly, I have actually achieved many of my goals.

Lastly, my aim here is not to convince you to subscribe to my approach. I only want to share three insights I have gleaned along the way. I mean, we are all in this thing called life together.

So here they are:

1. I never keep my eye on the goal. I fix my gaze on progress and the plan. I am an avid cyclist. I have completed close to 100 triathlons and a myriad of other related events. At one point, my brain said, “Let’s do a century ride.” I agreed and adopted that as a goal. I was terrified. 100 miles is a long way to go.

At the start of my first century ride, I was ready. Not only physically, but I had adopted the prevailing goal-achievement-advice that was so prevalent. I was going to keep my eye on the goal.

After several centuries, I was fascinated by some of the realizations I stumbled across. I found focusing on a finish line that lay 100 miles down the road was demoralizing, exhausting and defeating. It was too distant, and the task at hand too large when taken as a whole.

Instead, I focused on my progress. I would tell myself early on in the ride, “You have ridden a half-mile. That means you no longer have a 100-mile ride in front of you.”

I found when I celebrated my progress, it put fuel in my tank, and I went forward.

I wrote a novel. The only reason I finished it was because I completely planned it before I wrote. It took four months of daily planning before I was ready to write the first word in the first sentence.

I learned that the old adage to “keep my eye on the goal” should have been written this way: “Keep your eye on the goal while you plan, but keep your eye on the plan after that.”

I plan wisely and thoroughly. Then I trust my plan. For me, the vision of a completed novel was overwhelming and crippling. But I could always do the next thing in my plan.

2. Quitting is always an option. I was raised to believe quitting equated to losing. Winners never quit and quitters never win, right?

I have come to two realizations about quitting.

First, if it simply isn’t working, or life sets fire to my plan, or I find myself being bludgeoned by the dream, or my goal is no longer important to me—should I persist?

I found myself a slave to not wanting to be labeled a loser. Often, I persisted even if the cost was greater than the reward. In time, I found that philosophy to be the definition of foolishness.

Second, I began to notice that many successful people had quitting as an important part of their story. They quit projects or teams or ideas when they reevaluated goals, and in wisdom decided quitting was the right thing to do.

I am okay with quitting now.

3. Help others. This is a cornerstone to everything I attempt.

When I was moving toward my triathlon goals, I started a running club at the elementary school where I taught, organized an actual triathlon for a church youth group, taught friends and colleagues how to ride their bikes, and stopped during races to help people put on bike chains or change flat tires.

While I was completing my novel, I started a creative writing club at my school, tutored budding writers during the summer for free, and offered feedback and coaching on the writing of friends.

I have found that when I allow my individual efforts to bleed into the lives of those near me, I continue my forward motion.

It is a peculiar kind of fuel. In my mind, it looks like this: gratitude and love and kindness and camaraderie of spirit fill me like a balloon. Then—just as I am ready to explode—their power comes rushing out of my mouth and propels me forward. Just like a balloon let fly at a party!

So, there you go.

Should you adopt these ideals as your own?

I can’t say—but what I can say it is that if you find yourself drawn to one or more, they have likely been part of you all along.

Now, as I tell my students—go and be great.


Author: John Geers

Image: Instagram @elephantjournal

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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