Feeling Burned Out? Unhappy About Your life? You May be Suffering From Goal Fantasy
The forced pursuit of goals puts you on the fast-track to frustration and failure
There was a time, not too long ago, when I constantly told myself there were things I needed to do — tasks I should accomplish.
Knowing the importance of having written goals, I added each new ambition to my list of objectives, then reduced them into small, achievable steps. These became must-do tasks that would eventually take me to my goal.
Finally, I scheduled a reasonable amount of time for their completion. But at the end of the week, these new must-do items were still on the list, unfinished.
“No problem,” I told myself. “It was a busy week. I didn’t have the time. Other responsibilities got in the way. I’ll just move the objectives forward and raise their priority.”
I’m sure you know what happened.
At the end of the following week, those tasks remained incomplete. Still convinced of their importance, I rescheduled them again. And then again.
The result? After a month or so, I began to feel a sense of dread and frustration every time I looked at my daily planner.
There’s a reason we accomplish some things and not others.
If you’re continuing to procrastinate over starting a new project or find yourself putting off completing the next step toward a specific goal, it could be your subconscious telling you it’s the wrong direction, or the wrong choice.
Self-defeating behavior — delaying, re-scheduling, postponing — are symptoms of a mismatch, a disparity between what you’re telling yourself you want and what your inner-most self really needs.
NLP therapists call this an ecological incongruency. Despite this pretentious, profession-specific description, it actually means something important. Many of the symptoms we’re all familiar with - frustration, confusion, and yes, procrastination - can be indications of a subconscious conflict. And in general terms, the greater the degree of conflict, the more obvious the symptoms.
Think of it as your brain’s way of letting you know it’s time for a little heart-to-heart chat about your life, your direction, and how you’re spending your time.
Personal Ecology Explained
The concept of Personal Ecology is based on compatibility — creating goals that are congruent with existing objectives, as well as being in harmony with an individual’s beliefs and values.
This mental gatekeeper is poised to raise a red flag whenever we try to pursue a goal or activity that isn’t in alignment or is in outright conflict with our pre-existing choices, responsibilities, personality, and character.
For example, let’s say you’ve created a life-plan with five specific outcomes. That’s great, but before you begin devoting time and resources to accomplishing your objectives, you need to determine if the activities necessary to achieve your goals are compatible.
Can you realistically obtain your commercial pilot’s license while studying to become a doctor? Can you run for city council (and have any chance of winning) if you maintain your current travel schedule as an international business consultant?
These might be extreme examples, but the concept is just as valid with less obvious conflicts. Let’s say you’ve decided to finish your degree by taking a few night classes at the local college. You’re committed. Determined. This time it’s really going to happen.
You make it to the first class. You arrived a few minutes late, but you got there - prepared and ready.
The second week, your boss gave you a project that had to be done by Friday, so you had to miss class.
The third week, your husband was out of town on business and the babysitter arrived ten minutes late. By the time you drove to campus, the class was half over. So you sat in the car - tired, angry, and frustrated.
“Why can’t I make this work?” You say it out loud, even though you already know the answer.
Your current responsibilities have pre-committed your time to other activities.
And those “other” activities aren’t optional. Your family and work responsibilities are important, and you’re not willing to subordinate them to a lesser priority.
The scheduling conflict has made it obvious: Returning to school at this point in your life is not realistic.
Pursuing a task that doesn’t ultimately fit within your personal ecology is like trying to win a race by running in the wrong direction. You’ll collide head-on with the parts of your life that are moving forward and in alignment with your pre-established priorities and values.
Want to bring more congruency to your life?
Evaluate the goals and objectives of your life-plan by asking yourself these questions:
Does the objective have anything to do with money? Money is a monstrous motivator. And like other addictions, it can initially mask its repercussions and negative influences with the lure of symbolic power. Doing anything — just for the money — gets old fast. For long-term satisfaction, there should be other reasons compelling you to take action.
Yes, money is important. But when it’s the only motivation, it’s easy to lose track of other life priorities.
What objectives continue to remain on your list, while you make little or no progress toward their completion? Anything that remains on your to-do list week after week is, by default, of lesser priority than the other things you actually get done.
While you may wish you could accomplish those tasks, they don’t carry the weight or importance of your other goals and objectives — otherwise, you’d already be working on them. Many of us have ambitions that, if accomplished, would give us bragging rights or look good on a resume. But if you decided to take them off your list, would it be the end of the world?
Scrutinize a questionable goal by asking who will benefit from its completion. Are you doing it for yourself, or someone you care about? Did you originate the objective? Or was it adopted from someone who asked you for a favor?
We constantly do things for others. Some of those activities may be inherent in generating our income and livelihood. Others may fall under our responsibility as a supportive spouse, parent, family member, or friend.
But there’s a limit. And when the needs of others overshadow the responsibilities we have to our own success and happiness in life, we may need to re-evaluate how we’re spending our time.
Which goals are most responsible for keeping your life out of balance? Keep in mind that our lives are seldom in perfect balance at any point in time.
However, when we look back at larger blocks of time — three, five, or ten years — we should see the “averaged” use of our time allocated over the areas of our life that are most important to us.
Is the timing right? As life changes, so must we.
The things you thought you wanted five years ago may not generate the same level of excitement or motivation today. While it may have been your point of focus back then, things have changed.
You have changed.
Granted, giving up on what used to be an important goal is like saying goodbye to a dear friend from the past. But it also opens up the time and possibility of something new—a goal that is more appropriate and just right for you—now!
Conventional advice recommends pushing through the deadlock of procrastination. But forcing yourself to take on additional activities that are incompatible with your pre-established goals and values can do more harm than good.
At best, you’ll struggle with time and scheduling conflicts. And if you continue to force the issue, you’ll likely produce a lot of stress and very little progress.
Coming up next in The Takeaway:
In case you missed the previous article …
Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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