Know What You're Moving Toward

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I believe it important to recognize what a goal generally is: relief from some form of pain. It may be psychological or spiritual, and then manifest itself as emotional and sometimes physical discomfort; as is commonly seen with trauma, or the anxiety associated with strained interpersonal relationships. The desired relief may also be directly related to a medical ailment or physical damage, like that of a torn meniscus, or the development of diabetes. Whatever the cause, whatever the solution, the goal is relief (preferably prolonged) from consequential suffering.

The paradox is that the pursuit of relief must be paid through meaningful suffering. The person who has developed joint pain and other medical issues due to developing an unhealthy weight must endure a different type of hardship to change their body composition to one which will provide relief. That hardship comes in the form of developing new skills (meal planning, attentiveness to eating habits, increasing nutritional knowledge, limiting intake, etc), which is disruptive to an individual’s routine and stability (and frequently results in frustration, anxiety, and demoralization). It also comes in the form of physical discomfort, so often associated with dieting. Conversely, a person who has decided that they would like to add muscle to their frame must also pay the price of their transition in pain and discomfort. Though theirs also includes the development of new skills and disciplines, the suffering itself is most often associated with muscle pain and exercising when they don’t feel like it.

What this means is each goal must contain a value proposition. The value of the relief must exceed the cost of seeking it, which is subjective. That cost is not only going to encompass the struggle of directly pursuing the goal, but also the sacrifice of other opportunities. Simply put, the pursuit of a meaningful goal requires an increase of energy, directed toward the solution that will move them from Point A to Point B. That pursuit requires the purposeful reorganization of an individual’s priorities, and a recognition of its cost.

We have a few basic facets of life: family, friends, education, career, personal, and mental health. The more energy that is put into one of these categories, the less that’s left over for the others. That’s the sacrifice. It’s going to be difficult for a person to lose weight while eating whatever they’d like. A student is going to find themselves frustrated while simultaneously attempting to earn a PhD and maintain a robust social life. They could probably do it, but the results of one (or both) of those pursuits is going to suffer, and they’re likely to be left feeling unsatisfied.

This is why clarity is important. We need to know what must be sacrificed and what work must be done to move forward. We must also ask ourselves whether the value of the goal outweighs the cost. To know these things, we need to identify the requirements for success: How do we know we did the thing? For some, it may be a metric as simple as the loss of 50 pounds, getting a particular job, or hanging a degree on the wall. For others, it may be more abstract and related to a general sense of well-being, or feeling more comfortable where they used to find insecurity and frustration. The question to ask is this: What has the person we’re attempting to emulate done, that we haven’t? To be more specific: What experiences have they had? What have they surmounted? What skills do they possess? What have they sacrificed?

The question of sacrifice begs attention, as it identifies requirements related to the reorganization of priorities. If it’s found that the pursuit of a given goal requires the unacceptable redirection of energies from a steadfast priority (like prolongedly sacrificing a family life), then perhaps that goal isn’t what was originally imagined, and needs reconsideration. The point here is to be careful what you wish for. You may regret it. Clarifying goals allows for the systematic elimination of undesirable alternatives, which then frees energy and attention to be reallocated toward those that are more compatible with a person’s value system.

So! How does this help us? We can now move backward toward our current selves. We know what the goal is and that it aligns with our values. We also know what the requirements for achieving the goal are. Next is to identify the disparities between the person who succeeds and who we presently are. Where are the necessary changes?  This is the development of the solution. Perhaps we may find a requirement for an increase in distress tolerance, negotiation skills, interpersonal consideration, or the ability to clearly articulate ideas. For weight loss, it may mean the requirements are to meaningfully cut calories, change the structure of a diet, increase nutritional knowledge, and to regularly track progress. They will be unique to each individual, as individuals themselves are unique.

Each requirement may be broken down into smaller components until daily, actionable tasks (exercises) are identified. They should be uncomfortable, but not overwhelming, and should require some amount of rest afterward. Small sub goals are created that allow for the realignment of efforts when necessary. An example here is aiming at losing .5% of my body weight per week (instead of the whole 50 pounds). If regularly under (or over) that, a reassessment of the weekly approach is necessary.

Identify your goals and move toward them. When faced with adversity, make what you believe to be appropriate changes, move forward, see what happens, and possibly do it again. Pay attention to what your goals ask you to invest and sacrifice. And always keep your ultimate goal in sight, while not overreaching for it (consider Icarus). Losing the image of what you’re trying to achieve leaves you vulnerable to inadvertently wandering off path and ending up somewhere you didn’t intend to.