Finding your goals in life is important. But if you are like me, there are many things in life you can get excited for. Becoming rich or at least financially independent. Being athletic and/or ripped. A better dating and social life.
I have set myself many goals in life. Once I reached them, though… I would often lose the motivation to continue on my path. I was incredibly happy that I had reached the point I had aimed for – and stopped.
I was recently talking to a friend and thought back about the main points I worked for so far in my life:
When I was 8 – 9 years old, I wanted to buy a LEGO airport, for 99 DM (Deutsche Mark, an old German currency in the pre-Euro era – it’s around 99 Euro). I saved up my pocket-money in a special box. Once a day I would take out the coins, line them up and count them. Then I would line them up again to make sure I hadn’t overlooked a penny. And then a third time, just because… maybe 1,000 years from now, somebody will build a time machine and drop a coin in, and this coin would materialize in my room. You never know.
Then I bought the airport, played with it for several months, and then… I went on to other toys.
I wanted to study Biochemistry, but needed to get my mediocre C+ score up into an A+ score for that. Within two years. I sat around at home for hours and calculated points and grade averages, read massive amounts of books and solved a lot of exercises for each topic – and made it.
I went to University, studied biochemistry and chose that as my career until now.
After finishing my biochemistry studies in Germany, I went on to do a PhD in Developmental Biology at a big German research institution. I probably worked between 80 – 100 hours a week – I wanted to be able to get a research job wherever I wanted, and after 4 years and two major research papers, I was accepted in the lab of a noble prize winner at Princeton University. That was a dream coming true. I always had one picture in my mind, that of Albert Einstein sitting in his garden chair in Princeton… and in 2006, I was indeed sitting in my own garden chair in Princeton.
And then I did not know how to continue. I had reached my goal. Now what? You can’t sit in your garden forever.
I have often lost weight by rigorously restricting the amount of calories I took in.
I took part in a fantasy “Play By Mail” soccer competition named “ORC CUP” and brought my team to championship one year.
Oh, and I did “30 Days of Discipline” last year and have kept several of the habits in that book: for example, cold showers, getting up early, planning out my days. See also here for a recent review.
Then, once I had reached my goal, I would think “cool” and go back to my old ways. I had proved to myself that I could do it, but realized I did not have enough fire to continue further on.
Of all the goals I have reached, I have stuck with one out of six (roughly 17%) of them. 83% of my goals did not really become part of my life! The question then becomes:
Is this goal really what I want, or do I just want to prove to myself I can do it?
It’s incredibly easy for me to just run with a new idea. Sometimes the competitive part of my personality gets the best of me and compels me to just get along. And then I realize this was not really what I wanted, and I drop it.
Nothing wrong with that, I think, but it does waste a bit of time working on something that I don’t really feel happy with in the end.
So how can I figure out what I really want? To stick with the examples above, what is the difference between the “Biochemistry” goal and all the others?
Roughly outlined, there are four reasons that set that goal apart.
#1 – Community.
When I reached my goal of becoming accepted in Biochemistry at University, I became part of a community of like-minded individuals. Biochemistry is a topic in Germany that had a very rigid, school-like schedule, and there was not much wiggle room for choosing other subjects than lab work and chemistry, biology, math etc. All of us biochemistry students therefore became a pretty tight-knit social circle. We were always in this together and helped each other out.
#2 – Continuous goal-setting.
Many classes and lab courses had exams in the end, so the challenges did not stop once I finished high-school and started at University.
#3 – Solving a basic need.
I like to solve riddles and take on challenges. That’s my way of building something or “getting something done”. For that reason, I always loved science, and when I studied Biochemistry, I literally sometimes felt like I was in heaven.
#4 – Possibility of expansion.
Even the greatest profession where I get to continuously solve questions gets stale for me if I can’t really grow beyond a certain point. And in biochemistry, the sky appeared to be the limit. High school, University, PhD, Postdoc… always something bigger.
In my experience, all of these points have to come together for me to stick with a goal for a longer time. That’s why I stuck with biochemistry.
So how do you figure out what is important for you?
You may not need much community or continuous goal-setting after all. Maybe you can motivate yourself perfectly well on your own without a big community as in #1 above, but you always want to provide services for others (instead of solving riddles, see #3).
#1 – The Five Love Languages
A couple of months back, I stumbled over a book recommendation on Danger and Play. – “The Five Love Languages“ by Gary Chapman. Everybody gives and expects affection in one predominant way. Gifts, services, words of affirmation, quality time or physical contact. I myself love giving and receiving compliments. If someone helps me with a service, I am thankful, but it does not stand out as much to me as when that person acknowledges me with some nice words.
That may be the reason why I thrive with friends around me.
If you are someone who likes physical contact, then choosing a goal where you don’t interact with people all that much will probably not make you happy. On the other hand, focusing on an area where you strengthen personal relationships could be the right direction for you.
If you like to give and receive gifts, then establishing yourself as someone who organizes parties or even installing a habit where you send a nice little gift to your loved ones in regular intervals might be a goal for you that truly makes you happy. How about a website that helps people send each others gifts?
If you like to be of service to others, then learning a profession or establishing a habit where you provide advice to others or help them with their chores could be best for you.
And lastly, if you value quality time more than anything else, chose an aim where you are not on a tight schedule. That way, you can always take as much time as you want with your friends. Learning meditation could be a great goal that you will become really good at, because presence in the moment is likely important for you.
#2 – Are you always looking to expand? Or do you just need your basic needs met?
I am actually a very laid back person. I am competitive, but I am also very lazy. Chances are, once my basic needs are met, I am not thinking about doing much more.
I personally would love to drive a Bugatti or Lamborghini, but I know myself – the novelty of an exotic car would wear off pretty fast. I would probably rent one for the holidays or special occasions, as Aaron Clarey suggested in Bachelor Pad Economics – but paying good money to keep an exotic car running over several years? Nah. All I need is some nice time with my friends and the possibility to travel around the world to meet them. Maybe being able to afford business class on flights, but beyond that, nothing crazy.
It’s important to ask yourself what kind of person you are, because maybe you don’t need to dream quite as big to be happy. Maybe even my concern about sticking to only 17% of my goals (see above) is unfounded. Maybe I just am that way – proving myself I can do it, but not needing to gain more beyond that experience.
#3 – Paint a picture of your ideal day
This has already been suggested by a lot of different people, for example Mike from Danger and Play. Basically, imagine what your ideal life would be if money was not an issue. Then ask yourself if the goal you try to reach conforms to those images. Only follow those goals and establish those habits that are in line with your ideal vision.
#4 – Accept that you will never be 100% certain until you reach your goal
The above guidelines will help you in making your decision, but the most important thing is to get going. Once you reach your goal, you will know for certain whether this goal is something you’d like to stick with – or whether you’d rather abandon it. That’s life. It has happened to me multiple times. Why did I actually study biochemistry once my high-school grades were good enough, but did not have as much drive to move forward once I was accepted in Princeton? I think a big part is what I have outlined in all those points above, but the truth is: I will never really know why. Such is life!
Summary of Day 17
Below you will find
(a) a quick description how I fared on my main goals – losing body fat, working on my blog, installing good habits;
(b) my thoughts for the day;
(c) how the rest of the program went and whether there were any irregularities or other noteworthy points.
Losing body fat
Body fat down to 22.1%. It’s getting ever better
No regular food today, just several snacks – cheat day today.
39 good form push-ups + 81 in ok form (half way down). Getting to 39 was goddamn hard, but I made it (if with a few breaks where I would just hold my body in place.
120 squats in good form.
120 sit-ups in good form.
Working on my blog
I wrote this blog posts here.
(a) Emotional Health: I kicked back and watched several episodes of American Horror Story.
(b) Spiritual Health: I continued the Happiness Habit. What was I grateful for?
1. Taking it easy today.
2. Being motivated to retire early.
3. Having friends and supportive people.
(c) Mental Health.
10 ways to save time.
1. Get enough sleep.
2. Collate activities. for example, you can read on the commute.
4. If you are writing, draft the chapter first, then fill in the details.
5. Produce in bulk. E.g. cook once for the next three weeks.
6. Ask for advice before being stuck forever.
7. Do the big items first and then fill the gaps up with smaller stuff.
8. Focus only on the 20% that give you 80% of results.
9. Focus on finishing an activity.
10. Focus on one topic completely, you gain momentum to becoming faster.
Thoughts for the day
What did I do well?
I just relaxed today.
What do I want to improve?
I am writing this blog post a bit late.
How will I improve?
I will start writing my blog posts earlier, on the weekend, and then just edit them before publishing under the week.
Even though today was my cheat day, I stayed with most of the disciplines from the list.
Video Summary Day 17
To check the description of the “One Year of Discipline” challenge, click here.
To see yesterday’s post, click here.
To get back to the homepage, click here.
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