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Why You Should Set Fewer Goals
The more you want something, the harder it is to get it.
When I started writing, I had all these fancy-schmancy goals for how I wanted my career to go.
I wanted to have this many views, that many followers, and I needed it all by whatever random date that I had set in my head. I thought that my desired metrics would equal lots of cash in my bank account.
For a while, I became so obsessed with the goals themselves that I had actually no idea what I really wanted to achieve. The goals had taken over my identity like a parasite, and as a result, my capability for peace, happiness, and creative improvement was limited.
This is the story of how I differentiated my goals from my limits and became the happiest writer and athlete that I’ve ever been.
What is a limit?
Last week, I accidentally did that thing again where I completely run my body and mind down well past their limits.
I was on (I think) my 12th straight day of hard Jiu-Jitsu training, and I’d been writing and working and teaching as well the entire time while I was on this “Jiu-Jitsu bender”. Then, Tuesday night, I started feeling mildly sick.
I woke up Wednesday morning, went to the gym, sat in the parking lot for 2 minutes, and then I did something I’d never imagine myself doing: I just went home.
I was so freaking tired.
Once I got home, my symptoms kept getting worse. I actually thought I had Covid again for a minute. I had severe body aches. I had chills so bad that one of my hands went numb.
At 2 pm that day, I went to bed. I woke up twice. Once, at 8:30 pm to take a rapid Covid test and a PCR that my friend brought for me (he runs a testing site), and the next time at 8:30 am the next morning when I woke up with no symptoms.
My PCR and 2 rapid Covid tests were all negative, and within 48 hours, I finally was feeling like a human being again.
What I experienced last week is called a limit.
Now, let me tell you about a very different kind of “limit” — the kind that you should avoid.
The wrong limits.
When I started doing martial arts, my goals were very, very small, especially for something who worked as hard as I did.
It’s important to have “attainable goals”, but the problem that many people run into is that as they progress in their skill development, they don’t change their goals to fit their output and their abilities.
In my early days of Jiu-Jitsu, my goal was to “get my blue belt”.
To achieve this goal, I trained for around 4 hours per day, nearly every day, for about 6 months.
In comparison, the average person with the goal of “getting their blue belt”, will train once per day, a few times per week.
I had the work ethic of someone who wanted to be a high-level martial arts competitor or a world champion, but my mindset was that of someone who just wanted to progress in the belt system and have some fun.
Because I had this perceived limit in my head — I thought of myself as someone who was “just learning” and not as someone who was training to fight — I struggled in all areas of martial arts and I felt constantly out of place.
It took me about a year to really figure out what I wanted out of training.
My solution to my anxiety and disconnection from my goals was a period where I temporarily removed all of my goals.
Let me explain.
No goals mean no limits — except your actual limits.
The freest that I’ve ever felt in my life was the period where I was competing in Jiu-Jitsu with hardly any concrete competition goals.
I was too anxious to set specific goals, so I just said that I wanted to be “the best that I could be”. This was a really good idea for me.
It sounds corny, but “the best that I could be” also happened to win a lot as well.
This mindset taught me a few really important lessons about human potential, but the most important lesson it taught me was that my potential was previously limited by the scope of my mental limitations.
In all sports and activities that I’d previously been part of, I was a serial underperformer because I could not see myself as someone who did things incredibly well. I was never a champion because I could never see myself as a champion.
Sure, there were still times during my “goal-less” days when I lost, and that was a bummer, but these losses didn’t frustrate me so long as I felt I’d given everything I could the experience. Failure was just a roadblock, and I navigated it as such.
This mindset can be used in anything you do.
Instead of trying to achieve your specific goal of being a successful writer or a wealthy writer, just try to see yourself as the best version of yourself — while writing. Don’t strive for victories, publishing deals, or cash, just strive.
I get it. It’s corny. Life is corny sometimes.
Corn Flakes aside, this mindset is the easiest way to avoid chronic frustration on the difficult road to peak performance.
Nowadays, I’m back to setting goals again.
I no longer have a negative relationship with goals because of the reset I did, and I’m able to set goals without the goals breaking me down or making me anxious. However, in some aspects of my life, I still try to avoid setting so many goals. In my relationships, for example, I try to stop setting goals for how I want my partner to look and act and think, and I’m just trying to be more present.
The thing is, the more goals you have, the more desires you have.
The more desire you have, the unhappier you become, and it’s the happiest people who usually end up achieving their goals.
Learn to become happy, and then you can learn to be better at whatever you do without it claiming your peace.
To me, there’s no goal that’s more worthwhile.
“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” — Naval Ravikant
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