Most of us set goals for ourselves to do things that are difficult for us to do. Instead, how about setting goals to work hard at something that is actually a pleasure?
It’s clear that the deep, fulfilling experiences in life are when we are very focused at what we really enjoy doing. So goals should start with that premise, and aim to create more of that in our lives. Here are five steps to create goals that encourage you to do more of what you love.
1. Stop thinking about the goal, and start thinking about the process.
The things that matter most for success in life is how hard you work at what you want to achieve, according to research reported in Scientific American. So formulate goals that focus on working hard at something you like working at.
For a lot of us this means we need a bit of self-discovery. What are we great at? What do we love doing? If you are not spending a lot of time and energy on what you think you should spend it on, then maybe that’s not quite right for you.
The act of being lost in this world is actually the process of figuring out what are appropriate goals for ourselves. Where should we spend our time developing our talents?
2. Discover your best goals by watching what you like to practice.
One of the most disappointing pieces of news for all pushy parents is that innate talent is never enough–there's always a need for practice. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt explain in the New York Times that the most successful people who have extreme talent also had an extreme love of practicing, which enabled them to cultivate that talent.
Dubner and Levitt use musicians to illustrate their point. But A-Rod is also good example of the idea that it’s a passion for practice that makes someone great, according to reports from Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. A-Rod was obsessive with the details and goals of his practicing from an early age — focusing on the process of greatness as much as on the result.
So focus on the process when you pick your goal. Stop thinking about the end goal just for a minute so you can test yourself — would you really enjoy the life that would require all that practice time? Find something where the answer is yes. Because you will naturally restructure your day to accommodate that process if you are aiming to be great at something you love to practice.
3. Take action where your passion lives, and the other stuff will follow.
I don’t have a link for this. But I’m sure of it. Because positive psychology coach Senia Maymin has spent hours on the phone explaining to me that if you just start living a conscious life, you can start meeting lots of disparate goals, not particularly related to the area you focus on for raising your own level of consciousness.
I have blogging goals. I want to go back to posting four times a week. But really, what I love, is sitting down with a block of time and a bunch of quiet, and writing whatever I feel like writing. So my goal needs to be to change my schedule so I lose myself in those moments more often. The extra blog posts will come naturally from me loving what I’m doing.
4. There is only one, real goal. So acknowledge it.
The moment when you reach a goal is so short, and almost immediately deflating. Because it is our nature to want something else, next. And that is not about crossing an item off a list.
The goal of taking care of one’s body, or sitting down to write is really the goal of being more of your true, best self. It’s about finding your best self — always changing, always elusive.
And any goal worth having is a goal to change your life to suit that best self.
5. Aim for flow
There is a state that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about called flow. It’s when you are so involved in what you’re doing that you don’t think about anything else, and you are performing at your highest level. To get to this state you need some degree of mastery in what you are doing, and a large degree of passion. Arguably, the two go together in a world of practice.
But when your goal is to practice what you love to do, you are generally happier than if you have a specific, end goal. Here’s how Csikszentmihalyi says that flow is related to happiness: “Being happy would be a distraction, an interruption of the flow. But afterward, when the experience is over, people report having been in as positive a state as it is possible to feel. Autotelic persons, those who are often in flow, tend also to report more positive states overall and to feel that their lives are more purposeful and meaningful.” (Here’s the link. Sort of. Click the second reference.)
So flow is about a process, not a goal. You can set a goal and then be in a state of flow every day as you try to meet that goal.
When you restructure your day you get more self-discipline spread all over your day. And when you put yourself into that state of Flow every day, then your body gets used to that, and you elevate your whole life to one that sort of demands that state on a regular basis.