Tag: self improvement

Why we fail to reach our goals and what to do about it

If you’ve ever read a personal development book, I’m sure you’ve come across the importance of goal-setting. Everyone and his brother seems to lament the importance of setting big goals, shooting for the moon and going all in.

This might be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

Not only does this not work, but it is actually counter-productive and demotivating according to this study.

Humans are creatures of habit, and our habits are most often based on what’s easy for us to do. What this means is that if we want to accomplish anything, we need to make sure our goal is something which doesn’t take an enormous amount of effort to do, and that it is mostly within our own control.

For instance – you can’t control whether or not you become the next Jimi Hendrix, but you can control whether you practice playing the guitar for 30 minutes each day. Playing for 30 minutes each day is achievable, within your control, and adds up over time, and those elements are the keys to achieving anything worthwhile, so let me repeat it for good measure.

If your goals are achievable and within your control they will add up to a lot over time. The reason why so many fail to do this, is because we overreach – we want to achieve our goals tomorrow, and become the greatest in the world within an unrealistically short time frame.

This is also the reason why we’re so fascinated by the people who achieve outsized success, because we subconsciously recognize that what they have achieved is super-human, insofar that they have had to circumvent their natural wiring in order to get to where they are today.

While we may not see the thousands of hours in the gym, or the frustrating hours in front of the computer trying to write something worthwhile or excel at making spreadsheets (sorry), we recognize that the people who have truly mastered a given subject have put in an immense amount of effort in order to do so, and the whole point here is that so can we – as long as we take sufficiently small steps, and practice our craft diligently and persistently

You might already be at a point in your career where you are well on your way to mastering a subject and you just need a little nudge to make the final leap to complete mastery. Or maybe you are in the beginning of your journey and you’re feeling all jittery or excited, or maybe you’re in what Seth Godin calls the Dip – the point where you’ve achieved some progress and then stalled, because the effort required to reach the next level is more than you’re able or willing to put in right now.

Whatever your case, keep in mind that making your goal achievable and within your control is the first step to making enormous progress, but it is going to take a long time, and we must realize this if we want to achieve anything worthwhile.

As long as we’re stuck in the mindset that we have to achieve large goals in a short period of time, we will keep falling into the same trap and give up every time we encounter adversity, because we feel like we should be able reach our goal almost effortlessly.

In reality however, overcoming adversity is one of the best indicators for high achievement, but that’s a subject for another post.

For now, suffice it to say that when you know what you want, you have to figure out one action you can repeat day in and day out that will move you closer to your goal.

Do you have the right stuff?

If you’re a millennial like me, you’ve most likely grown up in a world where our basic needs were cared for.

We didn’t have to hunt our food, and we were pretty certain where our next meals were gonna come from. This has left some (most?) of us with a profound sense of longing and wishing for something more.

Many of us wish that there was somehow more to life than going to work and coming home and watching Netflix. This is not a complaint – it’s an outcry against the hollowness that many of us feel from our daily routines.

The words “There has to be something more than this” echoes in the back of my mind like an almost constant choir of haunting voices.

In my brief career I’ve managed to hold more positions than some people do in a lifetime because of this echo, and I know I’m not alone.

I know that many people feel this emptiness in their hearts and minds, and we all attempt to fill it in different ways – some with social media and TV, others with food and wine and some with exercise. There are people who foster children and yet others fill their hours with work to the exclusion of almost everything else.

When our father’s fathers and their fathers were young men, there was something to fight for.

A country, an ideology, an idea, a belief.

I envy the founding fathers, because they had an idea worth fighting for and an ideology worth dying for. They were willing to sacrifice themselves and die for the freedom we now have.

According to legend, John Adams aspired to be a politician, so that his children might be mathematicians, philosophers and poets.

And here we are.

With all the freedom to become anything that our hearts desire, but that very freedom is crippling.

It is suffocating.

It turns into FOMO.

But don’t get me wrong – I’m not an activist.

I’m not a radical.

What I want is for you to fight for what is yours. I want you to find an occasion to rise to. You have to find a challenge you can meet.

Live up to the ideals that made us who we are.

We must all strive to be better humans. To make a difference. To be bigger than just ourselves. To create something meaningful for others, however small.

That is how we move ourselves and each other forward.

That is how we silence the constant inner chatter.

That is how we show that we are made of the right stuff.

This too shall pass

Sometimes life gets in our face. Sometimes we have to face up to a challenge not of our own making. Sometimes we have to battle discomfort, disease and adversity. That’s how it goes, and we all have battles to fight from time to time. Your battle might feel insurmountable, but I’m here to tell you that even the hardest battles can be won. Even the hardest opponents can be conquered. But sometimes they can’t. And that’s okay too.

The Stoics have a saying: “Memento Mori” remember that you are mortal. Remember that you will die eventually. This means that there are very few things which we should take gravely serious, and when our time has come, the best thing we can do is to accept it with grace, and become like the ripe olive which drops from the tree after a long and satisfying life in the sun in the words of the great emperor and stoic Marcus Aurelius.

The point of this short essay is simply to remind you that whatever you are facing in the moment, keep in mind that this too shall pass. The very nature of life is transitory – nothing lasts forever. Don’t grasp on to things which are bound to pass or wish for things to pass faster than is their nature. Don’t wish for things to be what they are not.

Let things happen as they must, and be fully in the moment while it lasts. This way you can enjoy the moment, and gain strength for the battles you must face.

A curious mind is the best mind

When we are children, we question the world around us constantly, because it is new and exciting. As we get older we tend to ask fewer questions, because we start taking the world around us for granted.

This is a shame, because the world is an incredibly beautiful and interesting place if we care to look a little closer. This goes for everything in everyday life – even things that might seem mundane, like work.

If we stop to notice how things work and ask questions when we don’t understand, we will learn so much more about how the world works and how we fit into this beautiful place that we are living in.

Marcus Aurelius continuously makes a point in Meditations to point out the fact that we are simply traveling through the world. We come with nothing and we will leave with nothing – everything is simply borrowed.

If we accept this argument then we can look at things with less gravity and more detached curiosity – a curiosity which can cause us to ask more and better questions – more thoughtful questions.

The better questions we ask, the more we will be able to understand.

Ask more questions.

Ask better questions.

Stay curious.

Keep learning.

Forget about Big and Hairy – set Small Micro goals

Can you do one push up today?

Great.

Go and do it right now.

You’ve just accomplished the first step in your new fitness routine.

Do it again tomorrow and you’re well on your way to starting a fitness habit.

Do you think you can write five sentences about what’s on your mind today?

I’m sure you can.

If you can – and you did – you’ve accomplished the first step to becoming a writer.

Too often we get caught up in these long term goals – I want to be a millionaire by 30, I want to make partner at Deloitte by 35. These goals are all well and good, and if they turn you on and inspire you to show up and put in the work each day, then all power to ya. But I don’t believe this is how humans are wired. I believe humans are by nature short sighted, and I have the science to back it up. Kahneman & Tversky won the Nobel prize in economics by proving that humans are inherently biased, and one of the main biases we suffer from is myopia – short-sightedness.

That’s the reason why I believe that unless you are very un-average – which by the very nature of the word most of us aren’t – you won’t be turned on by long term big hairy and audacious goals. In fact it might be holding you back.

What we humans are really good is doing things on a day to day basis and most of us can do one thing today, as long as it’s not too overwhelming.

In the interest of illustrating my point, let me tell you about the time I went to fat camp. Today I’m smack dab in the middle of the fitness spectrum, and I would consider myself in fairly good shape. I’ve run a marathon (slowly) and can lift a fair amount of weight, but I started out barely being able to walk for 15 minutes. But in fact, that was just what we started with. Walking for 15 minutes, until it became routine. Then walking for 20 minutes until that became routine. Then we’d start going for short runs. Before we knew it, we were exercising and eating healthily as a matter of habit, and it all started with the tiniest of habits – the most manageable of tasks.

That’s why I propose that instead of making a plan to become Mister Universe, make a plan to do a push up a day. Instead of making a plan to become the next Ernest Hemingway, make a plan to write a few sentences every day.

Once you lay the foundation for a solid habit, you can build on top of that day by day. Small chunk by small chunk.

Big and hairy has nothing on small micro goals.

When should you quit?

When I just finished high school, I was dead set on becoming a lawyer, so naturally I applied to law school. The way the system works in Denmark – where I’m from – however, is that you must also pick a second priority, so that if you don’t get into your first choice of school you have the option to do something else.

I chose general humanity studies, which is comprised of history, languages, psychology and philosophy – not exactly law school, but something I still found interesting, and figured I’d be good at.

After a year of this I was bored to tears, and decided I needed a change of pace – so I switched to the study of religion because I was really into Buddhism and Zen philosophy at the time. Whenever people asked me what I wanted to do once I graduated however, I never knew what to tell them, and I was also bored to death in this program. After 6 months of this, and after 18 months in total of dicking around after high school and not knowing what to do, I decided to quit.

I decided I needed to get my head straight and my shit together, so I dropped out of university for the second time in two years, and decided to take a complete break from school.

That was the best thing I ever did. I started working in telemarketing, loved it, worked my butt off, figured out I needed to work in the business world and figured out what I needed to do to get the degree I wanted to get the job that I wanted.

I took two additional courses in math, and started studying economics in the summer of 2011 and finished with a masters degree four and a half years later. I’d found my calling, and I haven’t looked back since.

The reason I tell you this story is because it illustrates the power of strategic quitting. A lot of us have been raised with the dictum “winners never quit and quitters never win” but that is simply not true.

Sometimes in order to win, you need to quit what you’re doing now, in favor of doing something which better serves your interests in the long run.

There is a caveat to this however, which is that I’m not saying quit just because it’s hard. When it gets hard is when you need to show you really want it. You need to decide before it gets really hard if you truly want it or not.

If you do, you can’t let anything pull you away from that, but if your answer is a lukewarm “maybe” then you need to figure out what really makes you tick, quit what you’re doing now, and pursue that instead.

Sometimes you need to quit strategically in order to find something that makes you want to work hard.

What’s your most valuable skillset?

We all have skills. Most of us have more than one valuable skillset, meaning a range of skills which we can utilize to accomplish any number of things. A skill set which sets us apart in a massive way when we use them or where the practice of that skill comes more easily and naturally than our peers. This is sometimes referred to as talent – other times it’s referred to the intersection between work and play.

What I’m getting at is that we all have areas where we have more natural aptitude than others. Some people are gifted with a wide range of areas where they have natural aptitude, and others have a more narrow range of skill sets. Whichever bucket you fall in, rest assured that simply due to the fact that you are reading these words, you have skills that the market is willing to pay for.

I would argue however, that what truly makes a skill set valuable is when we find an area where we enjoy the work itself, and where we do better work than our peers at a similar level.

Maybe you have a natural aptitude for math, languages, writing, solving complex problems, human psychology, sports or any other area where specialized skills command a premium.

My point is that most of us tend to somehow undermine ourselves and work in areas where we don’t use our best skills. On the flip side we try to be good at everything and work on our weaknesses. In sports this is a terrible idea – if Leo Messi all of a sudden tried to become a defensive player he most likely would have never made the pros, but if he had followed the conventional wisdom of working on his weaknesses that would have been the outcome. It works the same in every other area. Focus on your strengths.

Answer the question

what is my most valuable skillset?”

When you answer that question, you will know where you need to focus your efforts.


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