🌼How to Think About Goals and Perennial Habits(HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
Being, Going, and Doing
What do you think about goals? Are you a New Year’s resolution maker? In a recent conversation with my good friend Brandon Tumblin from The Strong Stoic Newsletter, we discussed when and how to think about making goals. Specifically, we discussed three questions:
Where you are (areas for improvement)?
Where you’re going (the goal)?
What you’re doing (the process)?
The conversation got me thinking about traditional goals compared to perennial habits. By perennial habits, I am referring to practices like meditation, contemplation, prayer, etc. As many of you know, it is often said that goals for these types of perennial habits only get in the way. As the Roman statesman, Cicero pointed out, “Virtue is its own reward.” The same notion applies to perennial habits; simply doing them is the goal.
In my interview with Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko, the authors of The Good Life Method, Prof. Blaschko explained,
Today we often think of contemplation in ways that can be valuable and important. But really aren’t the way that the ancients thought about contemplation. Aristotle thinks contemplation is the highest thing in us. In almost mystical terms by this point, in the Nicomachean Ethics.
When Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor on the front lines leading Rome through challenging situations, he didn’t use contemplation as a momentary relaxation to be more effective, suggested Blaschko. He used contemplation to retreat to think about what makes life worth living and valuable.
The point I’m attempting to make is that when it comes to setting goals — it is essential to distinguish what type of goal it is. Although we can and should make goals for perennial habits, the focus should be solely on the process (or doing). For example, meditating ten minutes a day (six days a week) could be sufficient since the practice is not about improving or striving to achieve something.
However, it does make sense (for some) to think about traditional goals (weight loss, running a 5K, etc.) in a slightly different way.
Before embarking on a fitness-related resolution, it is wise to reflect on “where you are” or what is your current fitness level. Then it is also wise to ponder “where you are going” or what you would like to achieve. Answering these types of questions help shape the process (and creates clarity).
But it is essential to remember the most critical step is the process or system you put in place. In the best-seller Atomic Habits, author James Clear writes,
“It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.”
We do not rise to the level of our goals, according to Clear. We fall to the level of our systems. When we fall in love with the process rather than the product, observes Clear, you don’t have to wait to permit yourself to be happy. You can be satisfied when you are doing or simply following the process.
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What are your goals? What is one thing that could significantly change the way you navigate the coming year?
Please take a moment to think about it…
If you’re like me, you probably didn’t consider being a better friend to yourself as necessary and connected to achieving your goals. Why? When Seneca was asked about his progress toward wisdom, he responded,
“I have become a better friend to myself.”
We might forget about being kind to ourselves as critical because it seems small or insignificant. But according to Clear, small is the name of the game,
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful, it is actually big. That’s the paradox of making small improvements.”
If you decide to make new goals, perennial habits, or continue existing ones. Integrating kindness for yourself into the process could be more helpful than you realize. For example, how will you handle instances when you veer off the path? What if unforeseen events hinder the process you put in place?
The role of kindness is critical in any relationship, especially the one with yourself. My interview with Dr. Ron Siegel (author of The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary) revealed how we are hardwired to focus on self-evaluation.
Dr. Siegel explained,
“Nearly everyone is preoccupied with self-evaluation and rides this sort of roller coaster. Why? Because, I’m sorry to say, we humans did not evolve to be happy. The propensity to evaluate ourselves and compare ourselves to others, once useful for survival, is actually hardwired into the human brain.”
This hardwiring traps almost all of us in unnecessary self-focused suffering while cutting us off from the pursuits that could actually make us happier and healthier. This year, incorporating kindness for yourself could be the most crucial step, regardless of your goals or habits.
Thank you for reading; I hope you found something useful.
CONTRIBUTED BY — J.W. Bertolotti
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