With the New Year upon us, many individuals and couples will be placing their lives and relationships under a microscope, looking for the antidote to boredom and complacency and the secret to creating freshness and excitement. What usually becomes apparent at this time of year is how much we could all use a healthy dose of motivation to help shake up our lives (or a particular area of our life). It’s no secret: Motivation is fickle. Without attention and constant feeding, motivation can vanish without a trace, and before we realize what happened, we find ourselves trapped in our old, dusty habits and routines.
Fleeting motivation can be cruel, tempting us toward possibilities one moment, only to obscure those possibilities the next moment, when motivation lags. The secret to lasting change is learning how to sustain motivation.
Why Goals Often Miss the Mark
Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of people who have achieved their stated goals (financial success, marriage, weight loss) only to discover that despite their impressive goal achievements, the contentment they sought remained elusive. There are several reasons for this:
- The desired goal wasn’t as meaningful as anticipated—in short, the goal didn’t resonate with your most authentic desires (i.e., You believe you should want the goal due to some external standard or pressure);
- The anticipated benefits associated with the goal were not realistic/realized (e.g., “Once I lose weight I’ll be more popular…”; “Once I have a certain amount of money, I’ll be happy…”);
- Working toward and achieving the goal acted as a smokescreen for dealing with deeper emotional issues that remain unresolved (e.g., Over the years you’ve tirelessly advanced your career while never giving the time and attention to examine the grief that still haunts you over losing someone close).
What does all this mean for you and your goals for 2013?
A Different Type of Goal: A Deeper Relationship With Yourself
Meaningful goal setting/attainment arises from a foundation of self-understanding and self-connection—when you focus on the external at the exclusion of your internal world (the feelings, needs, desires and potential areas of ambivalence that may lie behind your consciously driven goals), your goals will remain shallow distractions, a strawman that offers little in the way of fulfillment.
This, of course, doesn’t mean you have to always know beforehand which goals will satiate you and which are mere mirages that will keep you in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. There are times when the only way to find this out is to reach your goal and see what happens. But what this does mean is that your self-relationship (the capacity for self-reflection and self-attunment to the intricacies of your inner life) is a vital launching point for creating a life punctuated with meaningful goals (for centuries philosophers have made this argument—the maxim “know thyself”).
Understanding the particular motivations for certain goals (or against certain goals) starts with one of the most important questions we could ever ask ourselves:
Why do I want that goal? (And why is it so important to me?)
Once you ask this question, other important questions will follow:
- Is this goal really for me, or is it for someone else? (A spouse/partner; a parent, a friend.)
- Is this goal about enhancing my status in relationship to others, or is it inherently meaningful to me?
- What will it ultimately bring to my life? Are there any potential pitfalls to reaching this goal? Am I over-estimating the potential benefits?
These questions (and others) should not be skimmed over: They require a process of self-reflection so that a deeper level of self-understanding can emerge. The answers to these questions can only germinate within a mindset of openness and self-directed compassion. The focus should be on your emerging self; this is no place for obligatory thoughts about what you should want. Letting shoulds intrude would only strangle you emotionally, creating further distance between the attitudes you’ve adopted from others and what is really meaningful to you.
And for many, the answer(s) to this level of self-reflection (what emerges from the recesses of our unconscious and conscious mind) may not arrive in a coherent, understandable narrative. Rather, fragments of feeling, bodily sensations or particular images may enter our awareness, each part of the evolving kaleidoscope of who we are and who we are becoming. Our job is to listen carefully to all that emerges (even if what emerges is silence… For example, you might ask yourself: Is it a lonely silence? A silence tinged with anticipation that something is on the horizon? A still, peaceful silence?).
This isn’t an easy task in a world that constantly pulls us away from ourselves. And, at times, we may not like the messages that emerge from within us, messages that may coax us out of the comfortable lives we’ve so carefully created.
So this year begin a new journey of listening carefully to yourself: To what moves you; to what scares you; to what excites you; to what makes you feel empty and lost. You may already give others this type of listening in your day-to-day life; for the New Year the greatest gift you can offer yourself is a deeper kind of listening, paying attention to the parts of you that have gotten lost along the pathways of your life.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro