Chasing your goals
A constant struggle
January 27, 2004
Well, we have officially entered the New Year with
which, most people expect and hope to gain new levels of achievements
in various possible aspects of their lives. What kind of new year's
resolutions have you set for yourself for 2004?
happens to be the Chinese Year of the Monkey. I was out buying
a Christmas gift for one of my friends when I passed by a little
Chinese store; I walked out of there with an ornament consisting
of three little monkeys attached to each other horizontally.
to why I bought what I did, well, when I asked the store keeper
about the meaning behind these monkeys, he explained to me that
each of them was declaring a new year's resolution of sorts.
The first monkey was covering its eyes, the second
one its mouth, and the third, its ears. This gesture of theirs
is supposed to
inspire its owner to achieve the following in the new Chinese
year: "See no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil". Therefore,
of our origins, nationalities, or celebrations, we all strive
to set some kind of a goal for ourselves; something which, will
us a kind of higher meaning in life or some minor satisfaction.
While talking to several of my friends about their
resolutions in the past and present, I noticed something very interesting.
They were either setting very common goals for themselves, such
as losing weight, or had completely given up on the idea of setting
resolutions which according to them would only lead to failure
in the end.
Only a small minority of people I have spoken with
have actually given me a completely thought-out and original resolution.
So the question is what is the motivational factor behind these
different types of goal-setters? What can be said about the different
strategic methods these people employ in reaching their endpoints
or in some cases not reaching them?
To start off, it is important to talk about the
concept of self-regulation and what theorists such as Baumeister
and Heatherton suggest as
being its successful ingredients. Self-regulation is defined as
"the capacity to alter or over-ride one's typical way of responding".
three ingredients which are necessary in order to avoid self-regulatory
failure are as follows: standards defined as abstract notions of
what you want to accomplish; monitoring, which consists of checking
ones progress in order to obtain accurate feedback; and last but
not least, strength, also known as will power.
this, it is also important to differentiate between self-determined
goals reflecting one's own interests and values and non self-determined
goals mostly being caused by feelings of guilt, or other external
What category do you see yourself falling into?
That is the question one needs to be address when forming initial
thoughts about these
resolutions. Because let's face it, a lot of the goals that
we set for ourselves - whether at a young age or later on in life
- are based on the desires which have been implemented in our minds
by our elders or superiors.
Do you really want to quit smoking
or is it something which has been sung into your ears for so long
that you felt pressured to finally give in? What about that resolution
of spending less time with your friends and more time with your
family? Is that really something you want or is it just guilt creeping
up on you? Not only do you have to ask yourself this but you also
have to make sure that you spend enough time structuring your goals.
What do I mean by structuring?
Well, it's important that
you specifically know what you want to achieve. Don't just
say to yourself that you want to be more communicative in your
relationship. Instead, set a goal to write each other at least
once a day; or talk more on the phone at nights before going to
bed. Not only that, but you must also make sure that you have some
kind of a back-up plan.
Don't limit yourself because I can
tell you with complete certainty that you, just like the rest of
us, will encounter obstacles which will try and set you off from
your path. In such cases, you need to be flexible and mobile enough
to just walk around those obstacles or right through them. So,
the more specific you get, the more you can actually think about
the different ways, through which, to accomplish your goals.
Alright, so far so good! But there is something
else which is overlooked at first glance, yet when pointed out,
seems very obvious when
forming such ideas in our heads. It's very simple. Challenge
yourself! If you do not, then what is the point of putting so much
time, attention and effort into something which will not give you
any kind of reward in the end?
Research seems to also give a lot
of evidence for the insertion of implementation plans into one's
goal intentions. What exactly do I mean by implementation plan?
Simply, when, where and how your responses will get you to your
desired end-point. This will force you to actively focus on the
commitments you set for yourself and actually pay attention to
As funny as it may sound, if we set a resolution
for ourselves which will not require us to actively participate
in, then we will
lose track of what we are doing and where we are going with it.
This also connects well with my next point which has to do with
Transcendence was a concept first developed by Plato who
defined it as "the rising to a state beyond sense experience" but
was later further developed by German philosopher Immanuel Kant
who reserved the term transcendent for entities such as "God
and soul which are said to be beyond human experience and unknowable".
The key phrase here is "beyond human experience",
which in connection with the idea of human motivation simply means
focus beyond the proximal situation, to more distal and long-term
I was recently having a little discussion with someone
who mentioned to me that we have a tendency of overanalyzing
our goals and desires. What is the point of always asking this
"why"? Why not just go with the flow and see where it takes
us. Well that
sounds pretty good because overanalyzing certain things can
lead to anxiety, but isn't something being overlooked here? We
need to think about the "why" because that will lead
us to ponder the long-terms effects and consequences our actions
Why is that a good thing? Well, imagine you had
set the goal for yourself to become more independent from your
(e.g. move out) and if you were to only focus on its short-term
effects, I don't think that you would necessarily be motivated
enough to go through with such a plan let alone get it started.
It's not easy to know that your actions are hurting
your family members who might have become dependent on you in
some ways. However, if you were to focus on its long-term consequence,
of finally being able to make your own decisions in life,
you would find enough motivation in yourself to achieve
such a goal.
So, if you are thinking about your new year's resolution,
you still have enough time to make alterations to it. Make
sure your goal is specific, challenging, transcendent, and
intrinsically motivating. Pay enough attention to it so that
it does not
an automated task, but rather something which will provide
you with insight into your own intentions and also let you
you are doing.
Now having said all of this, I will end
with the mention of a new year's resolution, which I found to
be pretty creative and out of the ordinary. Someone had set
resolution for themselves to party more, or in other
have a more
active social life. This person happened to be a hard-working
student. What kind of problems will she encounter while
trying to achieve
this goal of hers? How successful will she be in the
end? You be the judge of that.
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