Fulfilling Your Purpose Means Giving Up Your Goals
What are you fighting for?
The fact that you even showed interest in this article means that something is nagging at you in the back of your mind. You want something to change. You’re looking something to help you live more purposefully, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re trying to completely upend your life. Perhaps you just want to follow a passion that you’ve kept hidden from friends and family; or you want to learn a new trade; or get in better shape; or be a better friend/partner/parent/sibling. Your purpose doesn’t have to mean ‘the thing you do until you die.’ It can simply mean that you want to create something new. And kudos to you, because that’s a beautiful thing.
In order to flesh out what this new thing is, we would suggest that you just do a free write first. Get something on paper - anything. It’s not real until you do. If it’s just lingering in the back of your mind and nagging you, that’s exactly where it will stay until you write it down. Why is it important to you? How might doing this thing make you feel? What would be the effects of trying this new activity? Who the hell cares?
Seriously, write it down. It might feel cheesy, but do it anyway. Quit being so hard on yourself and just get messy, get creative, and write whatever.
What is your goal?
Okay, now you’ve got something on paper. (Don’t you lie to us now. Pics or it didn’t happen.) What’s next? Logically, it’s time to take the mess you’ve just written and bring it into focus in the form of a goal. And if we want to talk about goals, we should consult the master: Zig Ziglar.
His Infamous Seven Steps For Goal Setting
- Write it down (if you’re already free written like we suggested, consider this your V2)
- Put a date on it (realistic, but not too generous…you need to sweat a little)
- List any and all obstacles you’ll need to overcome
- Identify the people, groups and organizations you’ll need to work with (short or long term)
- Spell out a plan of action
- Identify all of the benefits to you
- And do it now
So, let’s say in your free write, you decided that you want to write something else for fun - something creative - a short story maybe. You’re great with words, and you’ve written things here and there in the past, but they've never amounted to much. You’ve forgotten them. Now, in order to achieve your goal of writing a short story, what’s your due date? Six months? A year? What obstacles will you need to overcome? Time? Fear? Vices? Who will you eventually need to work with? No one? A literary agent? A small publication? A friend who might be game to help with editing?
Now, what’s your plan of action? To write every day? On the weekends? On the train during your commute? Your lunch hour? Where do you start? An idea? The outline? Research on other short stories? Diving straight into Part One? Next, outline the benefits. How will you feel once you’ve completed a story that you’re happy with? Would you feel like Rocky at the top of the steps? Who would you tell? How might your confidence snowball from there? Do you have bigger aspirations? Do you want to win a competition, or even become a famous author? Either way, it’s not ridiculous. It’s admirable. Why not you?
Now walk away for a bit. Come back tomorrow and read over your goal. Who cares whether or not it seems “realistic.” That’s the fear talking. The important question is, does it excite you?
Okay cool, now forget that goal ever existed.
That's kind of a dick thing to say, right? What the hell was the point then? The point is, the goal was merely the catalyst you needed to create a process - a new process that will help you improve at whatever you’re trying to do - and yes, fulfill your purpose. Without a process, you might as well throw in the towel now. But you’re not giving up that easy.
Take your goal sheet, seal it in an envelope, and lock it away. Because if it’s in your face every day, then every day you’ll be constantly reminding yourself that you haven’t achieved your goal. And why would you want those kinds of Debbie Downer thoughts scrambling around in your head? In this sense, your goal is already holding you back.
Instead, focus on the process. What do you need to do every day, week, month, and year to even have a shot at achieving your goal? This is going to be the foundation of your process, or system.
Jeff Haden, author of The Motivation Myth, had a great take on goal setting in this article from Inc. He argues that goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress, and that you should let go of the need to see immediate results. Instead, focus only on what you can control. He adds, “For example, if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results? I think you would.”
Achieving specific goals won’t make you happy or feel fulfilled in your purpose. Because guess what? Life moves on even after you’ve achieved them. When that coach wins the championship, sure, he or she will enjoy it for a bit, but then what? Quit? Say,“Well, there’s nothing left for me to do. Guess I’ll go sit on a beach and guzzle margaritas all day and become a fat drunken mess.” No. You move on. You stick with your process, and you get back to it without overthinking or celebrating too much (a few days of margarita comas are enough, right?).
Sure, you can set a new goal. But the process is what’s important. If you can find joy in the process, and in the act of learning and measuring your improvement, then the goals will take care of themselves.
Your process will be the deciding factor. Actually, it’s all you can control.
A book we highly recommend is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In it, he outlines that habits are a three step loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward. But you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and the reward stay the same.
How can we apply this to fulfilling your purpose through a creative endeavor? Let’s say you’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano. You even have an old keyboard under the bed, but you don’t use it. You tell yourself, “Meh. That thing’s a piece of junk. I need something better before I can start practicing. Plus, it’s trivial. There are so many more pressing things to do each day.” So, instead of becoming a piano player, you don’t.
What’s your routine instead? Or think, what is your cue for not playing? Maybe you have to cook dinner and get the chores done and get the kids settled and scroll Facebook and catch up on your shows - all in the precious few hours of free time you have before it’s time to go to bed and repeat the cycle. But you have to realize: even 10 minutes a day of targeted practice can make all the difference if your goal is simply to play. (If you want to be a famous jazz pianist, then sure, 10 minutes might not cut it. But it's all relative to your goals.)
So how do you squeeze in that 10 minutes a day? Maybe you make a deal with yourself: If I want the reward of watching my show, I have to play the piano first. Just 10 minutes. My cue is when the kids are in bed, or when I’m done eating dinner.
It’s going to be hard to convince yourself that you don’t have 10 minutes. You know that’s bullshit. So you have the same cue - after the kids are down or your belly’s full; and the same reward - you get to watch your show. But between those two things, there is a new habit - 10 focused minutes of piano scales. And maybe, once you start noticing progress, it becomes more exciting and less tedious, and you start making discoveries, and that 10 minutes balloons into 20 or 30, or 60, and soon you forget your shows because you’re having more fun being creative.
Might that not work?
Lastly, you have to start today.
If you don’t have 10 minutes to dedicate to your goal today, you don’t want it bad enough. Consider repeating these steps and find a new goal.