Why I haven’t succeeded in reaching my goals (and maybe why you haven’t either)

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Why I haven’t succeeded in reaching my goals (and maybe why you haven’t either)

As a self-proclaimed improvement junkie, I have learned all the common productivity tips, SMART goals, and motivation hacks. Yet applying these techniques can take as much effort as working toward the goal itself. I often find myself getting caught up in the process and not actually achieving anything. Furthermore, if I had the motivation to honestly apply these techniques I probably wouldn’t need them in order to reach my goals, because I had the intrinsic motivation to stick to a technique as I would working toward a goal.

I am not entirely lazy. I have achieved many wonderful things in my life and am for the most part happy. There remains however some lingering goals that are permanently on my to-do list, as well as a sense of emptiness after all that I have done and become. During my latest episode of self-evaluation I have begun to realize why this may be the case.

I tend to group all of my goals into one single package – The Things I Want to Accomplish. I realized today that I must instead group my goals into different categories that must be treated differently. I will explain the three groups below and how they should be tackled.

 

Group 1: Goals that must become habit

This category includes all the lingering goals that are perpetually on my list: exercise, eat healthy, learn Italian… These are aspects of my life in which the goal is to make the activity a habit. There is nothing particularly measurable about these goals. Of course I could turn them into SMART goals: for instance squat 30 kilos by July, but once that milestone is reached I must create a new one in order to continue the activity in a measurable way. This is a perpetual state of walking a staircase with no top. To view these activities as goals is a mistake, as there is never any real sense of completion.

Instead of seeing these as large over-arching unreachable goals, I need to take these day by day by making small choices. I must be aware every day of the choices I make and whether they are in line with the habits I want to create. It starts with changing my thoughts – as the famous quote by Mahatma Ghandi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

Now it is only the chunk in the middle that I find relevant here, but I still use it as a motivating factor. Sitting on my bed and thinking I want to eat some ice cream instead of yogurt and actively trying to justify this action to myself will ultimately lead to the negative behavior. Making  a choice to actively justify eating healthily in those crucial moments will make the difference. It is only the small daily choices that will allow me to cross these “habit goals” from my list.

 

Group 2: Goals that allow me to live an interesting life

This is the group that I have always put the most focus on, and is the easiest for me to fulfill. These are the activities that are fun, unique, and interesting – usually known as “life experiences.” Examples include travelling, creating artwork, organizing events. These things make us feel great in the moment and have a sense of accomplishment when each activity is completed. It’s something we look forward to and usually enjoy planning.

Throughout my life I have put weight on these activities because the entire process is enjoyable and allows me to grow and develop throughout the challenges of completing them as well. An example I can take is planning a three-day workshop session with a co-trainer and two mentors. Through the ups and downs of the preparation and implementation I learned so much about myself, and felt an extreme sense of accomplishment and relief when it was finished. What I left with were skills and maturity that were invaluable and unlikely to gain in other situations. This is what life experience is for.

However there is something I have been noticing with these life experience goals. When the adventure is finished, it is behind you. It is a life lesson you have learned and have come out a different person, but it doesn’t necessarily take you anywhere. If you are lucky you gain some realizations about yourself that turn into motivating factors, but this isn’t always the case and it isn’t always directing. I have observed when coming home after a trip I had been looking forward to, the high from the trip lasts for a few days or weeks, but then I quickly begin to plan the next thing. I feel I am running on the wheel of collecting life experiences and I am not really going anywhere.

Because this kind of behavior is natural for me, I have to deal with this group with caution. I love to gather life experience and I want to continue in this way. However I need to be realistic in its effect on my future. This is something that will require more thought.

 

Group 3: Goals that open new doors

It was only today that I realized how these goals are distinct from the ones in Group 2. The goals in this group are the ones that have the ability to directly improve my future in a measurable way. Examples I can use from my life are when I opened my own photo retouching business and when I paid off my credit card. These are goals that must be worked toward, and the process isn’t always fun or exciting. However the result is the most significant as it provides an opportunity to live a better future. This morning a friend asked me, “What are your goals?” and I had to take a moment to think about it. I have plenty of life experience goals, and habit goals, but I realized I am lacking some “door opening goals.” It is partly due to my current situation, but I was able to identify that this is probably the emptiness I have been feeling.

Upon writing this I just realized that I do have one current goal that could fit into this category: obtaining my Italian citizenship. Once this has been achieved it will open new doors as to where I can live, work, and travel; it will as well be a symbolic statement of my commitment to my new family.

It is this category of goals that I believe require the most steadfast focus and dedication. Unlike the small every day choices of Group 1 and the fun easy planning of Group 2, goals in Group 3 necessitate hard, steady work and sacrifice but have a big payoff. It is here where I can apply the techniques I have learned through all my self-development reading and measure incremental success.

 

Do you believe I have left out a crucial category? Where do your goals fit into these groups and what methods do you believe are best to tackle them?

Vagabond Love

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As I may have mentioned before, I have been living the life of a vagabond for the past five years. I am currently in Sweden, and although this has been my home base for a while now, in some ways I still feel like a vagabond because of all the travel I get to do, and the fact that most of my friends are also vagabonds who are leaving Sweden as quickly as they enter.

One of my first experiences abroad was five years ago when I lived for four and half months in Germany. There I became close with many people, and when it was my time to leave, I was really torn. I thought, how can I go on with my life without these people? Even ones with whom I didn’t spend so much time were a part of this “family” that I would miss. Aside from a few sparse reunions in the years following, I am only in regular contact now with one person from that experience: my husband who I met there. After some reflection and maturity I have come to the realization that many people, no matter where I live, come in and out of my life in the same way. Only the ones with whom I have a deep connection manage to last.

Now, when people are crying as they say goodbye to me, when we have only spent a few partying nights together, I understand their feeling of loss, but in experience I cannot feel the same way. I know that in a few months I may miss their presence, but I doubt there will be a deep sense of longing in the same way I may miss a family member or best friend.

Yet there are a few people, those precious few, that their absence leaves me nearly devastated. Some people with whom I only spent a few nights. These ones that make me question my vagabond lifestyle. The ones who give me tears even months after they leave.

I now sit here and question my friendship levels by using these people as a threshold. How can I enjoy my current circle of friends when I know that this deep connection is not there in the same way as the ones who are countries away? And with the ones here to whom I feel really close, I am dreading the time when we must part, which will definitely happen in the coming year or two. A solution of course is to enjoy the moments, the now. But my highly emotional core never forgets.

And I sit here, with my heart in pieces across the world, almost with the fear of not giving any more pieces. But it is not that simple. It is not a choice. I cannot resist the magnetism of a person with whom I can feel totally comfortable to be myself. These people land in my life without notice, and there will certainly be people in the future doing the same, that I haven’t met yet. Luckily my heart does not get smaller as I give pieces away. The few people that get a piece never lose it.

The Shame of Having Emotions

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In the past it has been hard for me to admit my flaws, which I think is a normal characteristic of many people. We try to present the best versions of ourselves as much as possible, and when a bad part sneaks out we try to camouflage it, deny it, or become embarrassed. Furthermore, I have believed (and I think I am not alone) that having a mental flaw or bad personality trait is worth covering up more than a physical flaw, which may be more obvious. It is hard to hide a broken leg when you have a cast and crutches or wheelchair, and even yet, it is not necessarily embarrassing to admit that you have a physical ailment that needs healing. But I find it to be quite rare to meet someone who openly states that they are taking antidepressants or seeing a therapist, as this implies they have some taboo flaw that must be suffered and treated in secret.

Emotional distress is not something that can easily be seen, and shouldn’t have to be a source of shame, just as you wouldn’t be ashamed to have the flu.

This is something I genuinely believe in, however I don’t practice non-shame based on social rules. I have to admit it is not comfortable to hear an acquaintance talk about an emotional problem that goes beyond what is expected—of course someone would feel grief if a parent dies, or nervousness to give a speech—what I am talking about is to openly admit a fear of failure or obsessive lust. Meeting someone who reveals these deep inner characteristics so leisurely invokes an awkward “TMI” moment and makes me think they don’t understand social boundaries and the “onion effect” of relationships.

Part of the reason I write on this blog is to help me overcome my flaws by giving them shape and form. The thoughts are forced into words and phrases which come out of my fingers and I can read them in front of me on my computer screen- yet I present them in a public forum so I must edit them based on what I am willing to reveal about my flaws. Part of social intelligence is understanding where those boundaries are. But I also want to push those boundaries and be able to let a little more of myself show, as I have considered one of my personality flaws in the past as not allowing people to see the deep parts of me. At least here on my blog, only people who are truly interested in my thoughts will read this, instead of it being plastered on my Facebook friends’ newsfeed or said out loud to someone who may not receive the information well.

 

I felt like I needed this disclaimer before writing what I really wanted to talk about.

 

I had my first panic attack about 7 years ago. It took me a little while to realize what was happening to me, and after some weeks I was able to go back to my normal life, and after several months of various treatment I was able to avoid having a panic attack altogether. Now, I am proud to say I have found a method of controlling my anxiety without cost, therapy, or medication.

My baseline of controlling any general feelings of anxiety is that I have completely eliminated caffeine from my diet. This means I do not drink coffee, tea, soda, or any kind of energy drink, including those that contain guarana. Additionally, I do not eat chocolate. Even small flakes of chocolate in some desserts have been taken off my list for the simple fact that part of my anxiety has developed into anxiousness over feeling anxious. Therefore the psychosomatic aspects of the disorder give me panic just by eating tiny amounts of chocolate that wouldn’t normally have the caffeine content to produce any effects had I not known I was consuming it.

You can imagine that completely eliminating caffeine has not been easy. Not only has the internal struggle of dealing with cravings been difficult, but the constant offerings from people around me reminds me what I don’t allow myself and often forces me to give an explanation as to why I’m refusing. I’ve also had to deal with uncomfortable refusals such as my husband’s grandmother making a special tiramisu just for me and I have to pretend I am not hungry. After almost daily practice, I’ve learned that the easiest way to refuse caffeine is by saying I’m allergic. It almost immediately gets people to stop offering things to me. Only with close friends or people I can sense would not judge me I will reveal that I’ve chosen to give up caffeine to avoid anxiety attacks. Even when occasionally someone will ask “what happens” when I take caffeine I simply say that I cannot breathe (which is true, when I’m having an attack) but I do not elude to any emotional disorder.

Why am I so ashamed to admit that I have an emotional problem that I treat, while covering it up as a physical problem? For some reason, an allergy that is not my fault is less shameful than a panic disorder that is not my fault. Even though I have it under control now, it is viewed by society as I have some kind of defect just because it cannot be seen with the eye or be explained by scientific research (maybe there is some research of nerves in the brain but I think if there was something conclusive there would be a known cure or definitive treatment). I have found my own treatment: eliminating caffeine along with breathing, controlling stress levels, and practice in erasing bad thoughts. I am more proud to say that while admitting I have a “defect” than sharing my cold remedy. And I cannot even remember the last time I had a panic attack….years ago for sure, although I still occasionally feel some panic feelings that I am normally able to efficiently suppress within seconds or minutes.

Although it is cliché, instead of feeling shame for this I have decided to feel proud; I have overcome a challenge and have been able to transfer those techniques into other areas of my life and become a more effective and strong person because of it. It worked for me, and might I suggest trying to gather the strength to eliminate something in your life that is doing more damage than comfort?

Color Combinations

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