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The Opportunity in Adversity

By Eckhart Tolle

Life unfolds between the polarities of order and chaos. It is important at this time to recognize these two fundamental opposites, without which the world could not even be. Another word for disorder is “adversity.” When it becomes more extreme, we might call it “chaos.”

We would prefer, of course, to have order in our lives, which means to have things going well. We would like relative harmony in our lives. Yet, that very often is marred by the eruption of some form of disorder. And, usually, we resent that—we get angry, or despondent, or sad.

Disorder comes in many, many forms, big and small. When disorder comes it usually creates a kind of havoc in our lives, accompanied by strong underlying beliefs. “There’s something very wrong, this should not be happening, maybe God is against me,” and so on. Again, we need to understand that disorder, or adversity, is inevitable and is an essential part of a higher order.

 From a higher perspective, a higher level, the existence of order and disorder, or order and chaos, is a necessary part of the evolution of life.

 Many people have found that they experience a deepening, or a deeper sense of self or beingness, immediately after and as a result of having endured a period of disorder or chaos. This is sometimes called “the dark night of the soul,” a term from medieval Christianity used to describe the mental breakdown that many mystics experienced prior to awakening spiritually. There was an eruption of disorder, of destruction. Then, out of that, a deeper realization arose.

 And although that can be very painful, the strange thing is, it’s precisely there that many humans experience a transcendence. A strange fact is that it almost never happens that people awaken spiritually while they’re in their comfort zone. Or that they become deeper as human beings, which would be a partial awakening. It almost never happens. The place where the evolutionary shift happens, or the evolutionary leap, is usually the experience of disorder in a person’s life.

And so your life then moves between order and disorder. You have both, and they’re both necessary. There’s no guarantee that when disorder erupts this will bring about an awakening or a deepening, but there’s always the possibility. It is an opportunity, but often, it is missed.

 So here we are at this time, and our mission is the same: to align with the present moment, with whatever is happening here and now. The upheaval that we’re experiencing at the present time probably will not be the last upheaval that’s going to come on a collective level. However, it is an opportunity—because although this is a time for upheavals, it is also a time for awakening. The two go together. Just as in an individual life, you need adversity to awaken. It’s an opportunity but not a guarantee. And so what looks tragic and unpleasant on a conventional level is actually perfectly fine and as it should be on a higher level; it would not be happening otherwise. It’s all part of the awakening of human beings and of planetary awakening.

To learn more about Eckhart’s teachings on Conscious Manifestation, click here.

Join for free and receive upcoming articles, teachings, special announcements, and more.

The post The Opportunity in Adversity appeared first on Eckhart Tolle | Official Site – Spiritual Teachings and Tools For Personal Growth and Happiness.

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Stop Asking Couples When They Are Having Kids

“So, when are you having kids?” my aunt asked me soon after I got married. At that point, I had just been married for a few months. I didn’t even know *if* I wanted kids, much less *when* I was having them.

Caught off guard, I replied matter-of-factly, “I have not decided if I want to have kids.” Little did I realize that I would spend the next hour listening to stories of women who put off having children until it was too late, as well as women who had difficulty conceiving for various reasons, with the implicit message being that I was going to regret it if I didn’t hurry and work on producing babies.

This would be my life for the next few years, where I would receive constant questions around “When are you having kids?” from relatives and random people, followed by a routine, almost ritualistic pressurization to have kids.

Lest you think that it ends after having a child, it doesn’t. The people who previously tried to tell you to have “just one kid” when you were indifferent to the idea, will now tell you to have a second one, along with reasons why you should do so. It seems like this questioning process never ends.

The problem with asking people “When are you having kids?”

I understand why people like to ask this question. Find a partner, settle down, get married, and have kids. This is the life path that we’ve been taught to follow since young. This is the life script that we’ve been told is *the* way of life, that would bring us ultimate joy and happiness.

This is especially so in the Chinese culture, where having kids is seen as the ultimate goal in life. There are even sayings built around this notion, such as 生儿育女 (shēng ér yù nǚ), which means to birth sons and raise daughters, and 子孙满堂 (zǐ sūn mǎn táng), which means to be in a room filled with children and grandchildren, used to signify the epitome of happiness.

Multi-Generation Chinese Family at the Park

A multi-generation family, often used to depict a vision of happiness in the Chinese culture

So after you get married, people automatically assume that you should have kids. “When are you having kids?” they ask, somehow expecting you to give them a straight answer to what is really a personal question.

The problem with this question is that it’s rude. It’s presumptuous. It’s also insensitive.

1) There are many different paths to happiness

Firstly, everyone has their own path in life. Some people want kids, while some don’t. Some think that having kids is the greatest joy in life, while some see them as a burden. At the end of the day, having kids isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are significant ups and downs that come with having a kid, and for some people, the ups do not justify the downs. For these people, it may simply be better to remain childless, rather than having kids just to fit in or to fit societal expectations, and then set their lives up for unhappiness. To assume that everyone should have kids, just because you think that having kids is great and important, is rude and disregards that person’s own preferences in life.

For example, Oprah Winfrey is an inspiring woman and humanitarian who chose not to have kids, but has instead dedicated herself to her personal life purpose of serving the world. Oprah hosted her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show for 25 years, founded a leadership academy for girls and became a mother figure to the girls in attendance, and started her own television network. These are things that most do not get to do in their lifetime. Through the years, she has inspired millions and become a champion for people worldwide. As she says,

“When people were pressuring me to get married and have children, I knew I was not going to be a person that ever regretted not having them, because I feel like I am a mother to the world’s children. Love knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter if a child came from your womb or if you found that person at age two, 10, or 20. If the love is real, the caring is pure and it comes from a good space, it works.” — Oprah[1]

Is she not being a responsible or purposeful person or woman by choosing not to have kids? Definitely not. In fact, I dare say that she lives a much more purposeful life than many in the world, including some people who choose to have kids.

There are many famous celebrities who have chosen not to have kids as well.

  • Chelsea Handler is a talk show host who chose not to have kids. She has said honestly in interviews that she doesn’t have the time to raise a child, and she doesn’t want her kids to be raised by a nanny.[2][3]
  • Betty White is an actress and comedian who chose not to have kids because she’s passionate about her career and she prefers to focus on it.[4]
  • Ashley Judd is an actress and politican activist who chose not to have kids because she feels that there are already so many orphaned kids in this world. To her, her resources can be better used to help those who are already here, and I respect her for such a noble choice.[5]

And then there are others, such as Cameron Diaz, Chow Yun Fat, Marisa Tomei (the actress for Peter Parker’s aunt in Tom Holland’s Spider Man film series), Renée Zellweger, and Rachael Ray. These people choose not to have kids for different reasons, such as because they’re already pursuing paths deeply meaningful to them, because they do not wish to be tied down with a child, or because they just don’t feel a deep desire to have kids.

Not having kids has not prevented these people from being happy in life, and there’s no reason to assume why people must have kids in order to be happy. People need to stop painting this narrative that one must have children in order to be happy. There are plenty of people with kids who are unhappy, and plenty of people without kids who have found inner fulfillment in life through other ways. There is no one path to happiness, and people need to realize that.

2) You may well cause hurt and pain

Secondly, you never know what others are going through.

Some people may want kids, but maybe they are facing fertility struggles. For example,

  • Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan went through three miscarriages before having their firstborn.[6]
  • The Obamas had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF.[7]
  • Friends star Courteney Cox had a total of seven miscarriages before having her daughter, as she has a MTHFR gene mutation which raises the risk of miscarriage-causing blood clots.[8]

About 10% of women have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant,[9] while 13.5% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages, with the figure rising as the maternal age rises.[10]

For some people, the journey to conceive is fraught with deep pain, struggle, and losses as they experience miscarriages, undergo round after round of invasive fertility treatments, and wait in hope of the double blue lines on their pregnancy kit each month.

And then there are people who cannot have their own biological children due to issues with their reproductive system, which could have been there since birth.

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and family

Barack and Michelle Obama had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF

While you may be think that you’re being helpful or funny by asking people when they’re having kids, your question may well trigger hurt and pain. As Zuckerberg said,

“You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”[6]

3) Not everyone is in a place to have kids

Thirdly, having kids is simply not a reality for some people due to their circumstances in life.

Some people may lack the financial resources to have kids, a reality in a place like Singapore.

Some people may be facing problems with their marriage, in which case their priority should be to work on their marriage, not to have kids.

Some people may be so burdened with caring for their dependents that they are unable to consider kids, at least not at the moment.

And then there are people facing chronic health issues, issues that you don’t know and can’t see, which make pregnancy difficult due to the toll it would take on their body.

4) Some couples could still be thinking

And then there are people who are neutral to the idea of having kids, like myself when I just got married. These people need time to think it through, because having kids is a permanent, lifelong decision with serious consequences. There’s no reason to assume that having a kid should be an automatic decision, because you’re bringing a whole new life into this world. This is a decision that will change your life forever, as well as the life of the child you’re bringing into the world.

For those yet to have kids, they need the space to figure out what they want, not have people breathe down their neck day in and out about having kids.

My experience

For the initial years after I got married, I just wasn’t thinking about kids. Firstly, having a child is a lifelong decision, and I wanted to enjoy married life with my husband before diving into a decision as serious as that. Secondly, both my husband and I were genuinely happy spending the rest of our lives with just each other — we didn’t feel the need to have kids at all, not in the way my culture obsesses about it. Thirdly, my husband was dealing with some personal problems, and I was fully focused on supporting him through these. These were issues that we needed to sort through before considering kids, if we were to want kids.

Yet I kept getting nudges to have kids, even though I never said anything about wanting them.

“So, when are you having kids?”

“This person’s baby is so cute, isn’t it? Why don’t you hurry up and birth a baby?”

It was as if I was some vehicle, some production machine to have kids, where my own views in the matter didn’t matter. The most frustrating thing was that I kept getting this question, while my husband would never get it (as a man), not even when we were in the same room together.

It was as if my sole reason for existence as a woman was to have kids, and until I had them, I was regarded as unworthy or incomplete.

The decision to have kids

Yet the decision to have children is a personal one. It is also a complex one. It is a decision that will permanently change the lives of the couple in question.

It is not a decision that one should be pressurized into making because their mom wants to carry grandchildren or their aunt wants to play with kids. It’s a decision that a couple should make because they genuinely want to nurture another life.

Because when a child is born, the people bugging others to have kids aren’t the ones who will be caring for the baby 24/7, whose lives will be set back by years (even decades) as they care for a new life, or who will be responsible for every decision concerning the child for the next 18-21 years.

It will be the couple.

And the people who aren’t ready, who were pressured into having kids because they were told that it was the best thing to do, may have to deal with regret as they are stuck with a decision they cannot undo. Because there are people who regret having kids, and we need to be honest about that. These people regret, not because of the child’s fault, but because they were simply not ready to have kids, be it financially, emotionally, or mentally. Unfortunately, the children are the ones who eventually suffer, from living in dysfunctional households to dealing with issues of violenceabuse, and anger.

We need to recognize these realities, and not make parenthood seem like it’s some magical band-aid that solves a lack of purpose or life’s pressures. Things don’t magically get better because people have kids; existing problems usually worsen as having a child puts a big strain on a couple’s lives. Digging into people’s plans to have kids, and pressurizing them into one of the biggest life decisions they can ever make, will only stress them out and perhaps push some into depression. As this redditor shared,

“I have a friend who went through 6 years of miscarriages and fertility treatments before the doctors figured out the problem and she had her son. The nosy ladies at her work and her in-laws questioned her constantly. The depression from that made it harder for her to conceive.”

Stop asking couples when they’re having kids

So, if you tend to ask others when they’re having kids, it’s time to stop that. It’s rude, insensitive, and it disregards people’s privacy. It’s also none of your business.

The reality is that if people want kids, they will work on having kids. They don’t need you to prod them about it.

If they don’t have kids, it’s either because

  1. they really don’t want kids,
  2. they are not in a position to consider kids right now, or
  3. they want kids but they are facing some struggles.

For people in group (c), they aren’t going to share such deeply personal experience over some afternoon coffee chat, and certainly not by you asking, “When are you having kids?”

The best thing you can do is to give people their personal space. Understand that having kids is a personal decision, and people don’t have to share or explain anything. Respect that others have their right to privacy. Respect that people are individuals on their own path, and this path may not involve having kids. And this doesn’t make them incomplete or lesser in any way.

Instead of asking women or couples, “When are you having kids?”, talk to them like how you would a normal person. There’s no reason why conversations should suddenly revolve around childbearing after marriage; it’s not like a person’s identity changes to revolve around having kids. A person still has their own passion, goals, and dreams. Talk to them about what they’ve been doing. Understand their interests. Know them as a real person, not some random being here to fulfill society’s checklist.

If you’re really interested in someone’s plan to have children, you can simply ask, “Are you and your partner planning to have kids?” If they wish to share more, they will do so. If they give a generic answer, then take the hint and move on.

Ultimately, having kids or not doesn’t change a person’s self-worth. A woman is complete with or without kids. A marriage doesn’t need kids to be deemed complete. Having kids should be a conscious choice, not a result of external pressure. Don’t judge people by whether they have kids or not. Some people will have kids, and some people will not have kids. Some will have kids early, while some will have them later in life. All of these are different paths and there’s nothing wrong with them.

For Me

For my husband and I, we eventually had a few discussions and decided to have a baby, and had our baby girl this year (2020). 😊 Yet other people’s comments and nudges to have children didn’t make me want to have children; it only annoyed me and made me want to avoid these people, because having a child is a personal decision between me and my husband, that has nothing to do with them. It was after we had the space to settle down and enjoy married life without kids, and took some time to actively pursue our goals and interests, that we finally felt ready to try for a kid last year.

In the meantime, I hope all of you are doing well. There are other things that I’m working on, other things that are happening that I look forward to sharing in time to come. Sending lots of love to you, and remember that whatever life challenge you’re facing, you have it in you to overcome it. I’ll talk to you guys soon! 🙂

Always adore everything about mindset

The Opportunity in Adversity

By Eckhart Tolle

Life unfolds between the polarities of order and chaos. It is important at this time to recognize these two fundamental opposites, without which the world could not even be. Another word for disorder is “adversity.” When it becomes more extreme, we might call it “chaos.”

We would prefer, of course, to have order in our lives, which means to have things going well. We would like relative harmony in our lives. Yet, that very often is marred by the eruption of some form of disorder. And, usually, we resent that—we get angry, or despondent, or sad.

Disorder comes in many, many forms, big and small. When disorder comes it usually creates a kind of havoc in our lives, accompanied by strong underlying beliefs. “There’s something very wrong, this should not be happening, maybe God is against me,” and so on. Again, we need to understand that disorder, or adversity, is inevitable and is an essential part of a higher order.

 From a higher perspective, a higher level, the existence of order and disorder, or order and chaos, is a necessary part of the evolution of life.

 Many people have found that they experience a deepening, or a deeper sense of self or beingness, immediately after and as a result of having endured a period of disorder or chaos. This is sometimes called “the dark night of the soul,” a term from medieval Christianity used to describe the mental breakdown that many mystics experienced prior to awakening spiritually. There was an eruption of disorder, of destruction. Then, out of that, a deeper realization arose.

 And although that can be very painful, the strange thing is, it’s precisely there that many humans experience a transcendence. A strange fact is that it almost never happens that people awaken spiritually while they’re in their comfort zone. Or that they become deeper as human beings, which would be a partial awakening. It almost never happens. The place where the evolutionary shift happens, or the evolutionary leap, is usually the experience of disorder in a person’s life.

And so your life then moves between order and disorder. You have both, and they’re both necessary. There’s no guarantee that when disorder erupts this will bring about an awakening or a deepening, but there’s always the possibility. It is an opportunity, but often, it is missed.

 So here we are at this time, and our mission is the same: to align with the present moment, with whatever is happening here and now. The upheaval that we’re experiencing at the present time probably will not be the last upheaval that’s going to come on a collective level. However, it is an opportunity—because although this is a time for upheavals, it is also a time for awakening. The two go together. Just as in an individual life, you need adversity to awaken. It’s an opportunity but not a guarantee. And so what looks tragic and unpleasant on a conventional level is actually perfectly fine and as it should be on a higher level; it would not be happening otherwise. It’s all part of the awakening of human beings and of planetary awakening.

To learn more about Eckhart’s teachings on Conscious Manifestation, click here.

Join for free and receive upcoming articles, teachings, special announcements, and more.

The post The Opportunity in Adversity appeared first on Eckhart Tolle | Official Site – Spiritual Teachings and Tools For Personal Growth and Happiness.

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sad music

“Sad songs say so much”, sang Elton John in 1984 in one of his most beloved songs. The beginning of the song was like this:

“Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain

And ironing out the rough spots

Is the hardest part when memories remain

And it’s times like these when we all need to hear the radio

`Cause from the lips of some old singer

We can share the troubles we already know.

 

And it looks that way. We often choose to listen to a particular piece because that music conveys the same emotion that we are experiencing or because we identify with the text, we associate it with people or events that are real to us. In general, we can say that the music expresses a message in which we identify ourselves. If we feel sad, we will feel the need to share our sadness by listening to sad music.

More and more sad songs are written

In research conducted a few years ago by psychologist E. Glenn Schellenberg and sociologist Christian von Scheve on behalf of the American Psychological Association, the most important professional organization of American psychologists, more than a thousand of the most successful songs of the 1960s and 2000s have been analyzed. In particular, they focused on the Top 40 pieces (that of Billboard magazine) of the years 1965-69, 1975-79, 1985-89, 1995-99, and 2005-09. The rhythm of the songs was measured by beats per minute and their tonality was determined by musicians. In cases where a song presents both the minor and the major mode the song has been classified according to the predominant tonality.

What has emerged is that the lyrics of these songs have become increasingly negative and even the music has acquired an increasingly sad sound. With the passage of time the duration of the songs has increased and the songs in minor key, used for more sad and introspective songs, have more than doubled. If in the second half of the sixties the songs in minor key were only 15 percent, in the year 2000 they were almost 56 percent. Even the rhythm of the songs is slowed down, the songs that we can define uniquely cheerful have decreased and those that mix moments of joy and sadness have increased.

The slowdown in rhythm is more pronounced in songs in greater tonality, indicating a general decrease in uniquely cheerful songs and an increase in songs with varying emotional states and that mix moment of cheerfulness to sadness.

The research has shown that the lyrics of the greatest pop hits have become increasingly negative and focused on the ego but that even the music has acquired an increasingly sad sound and with greater emotional nuances.

The effect of a sad song on our mood

The psychologists and researchers Annemieke Van den Tol and Jane Edwards have conducted studies to try to feeling deflatedexplain why when people feel sad they are inclined to listen to melancholic music. It has emerged that the very onset of a state of mind of unhappiness gives rise to the desire to listen to these kinds of songs.

Their research examined the motivations described by people when they decide to listen to music they call sad at times when they experience negative circumstances and moods of depression and found that listeners choose sad music basically for four reasons:

  • sharing a state of mind, helps us in the process of acceptance, support and can have an empathic function. This often happens in a special way in teenagers who use music as a shelter to their mood. Moreover, knowing it is shared by several people (think for example of a concert) gives a sense of communion that helps not to feel alone in difficulties
  • the message contained in the song allows the negative sentiment to be reflected in a new way, for example by encouraging to react and to move on;
  • re-enactment of memories, relive memories and past moments;
  • aesthetic value, it also seems that people who experience a state of mind of sadness are inclined to prefer listening to music with a high aesthetic value. This would be explained as a form of distraction and cognitive revaluation; an emotional adjustment strategy that attempts to change the meaning attributed to the event that caused us a certain state of mind. After a negative event, one would then consciously seek music with high aesthetic value to improve one’s mood.

Conclusions

Sad songs help us to reflect unlike the cheerful ones that bring us carefree feelings.

They help us to face the difficulties of life. A bit like reading a book or watching a film that tells a dramatic story, beyond the feeling of melancholy, they always leave us a useful lesson.

Some scientific research holds that at the neurological and biochemical level try concussion stimuli the release of well-being hormones, such as oxytocin and prolactin. A reaction similar to the relief felt after a cry.

Other studies claim, instead, that listening to sad music is linked to a pure psychological pleasure that comes from having experienced the whole range of possible emotions, even those less pleasant.

The fact is, we like sad songs. Perhaps simply because they remind us how useless it is to try to always remove melancholy and how important it is to feel alive and, therefore, human.

%%focuskw%% | Sad songs say so much

Amazing I love method

If you’ve ever putzed around the internet, looking for why your relationships might all be screwed up (and screwed up in the same ways, I might add), then you’ve probably come across Attachment Theory.

Attachment Theory is an area of psychology that describes the nature of emotional attachment between humans. It begins as children with our attachment to our parents. The nature of this attachment, and how well it’s fostered and cared for, will then influence the nature of our attachment to romantic partners later in our life.1

Attachment theory began in the 1950s and has since amassed a small mountain of research behind it. Two researchers, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, found that the nature in which infants get their needs met by their parents significantly contributes to their “attachment strategy” throughout their lives.2

Your attachment style doesn’t explain everything about your relationships, but it probably explains a great deal of why your close relationships have succeeded/failed in the manner they did, why you’re attracted to the people you are attracted to, and the nature of the relationship problems that come up again and again for you.

The Four Styles of Attachment

According to psychologists, there are four attachment strategies adults can adopt: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant.3

Secure Attachment Style

People with secure attachment strategies are comfortable displaying interest and affection. They are also comfortable being alone and independent, and display a healthy level of self-confidence. They’re able to correctly prioritize their relationships within their life and tend to draw clear boundaries and stick to them.

Secure attachment types obviously make the best romantic partners, family members, and even friends. They’re capable of accepting rejection and moving on despite the pain, but are also capable of being loyal and sacrificing when necessary. They have little issue trusting people they’re close to and are trustworthy themselves.

Secure types comfortably form intimate relationships not only with partners, but also with friends. They have no trouble revealing themselves to and occasionally relying on others when the situation calls for it. And they are excellent caregivers.4

According to research, over 50% of the population are secure attachment types.5

Meet Secure Sarah

  • I find it easy to get emotionally close to my partner.
  • When I show my feelings for my partner, I know that they feel the same about me.
  • I know that my partner will be there when I need them.
  • I want to have my partner with me when I am upset.
  • I don’t worry about my partner leaving me.

Anxious Attachment Style

Attachment Theory: Anxious type

Anxious attachment types are often nervous and stressed about their relationships. They need constant reassurance and affection from their partner. They have trouble being alone or single. They’ll often succumb to unhealthy or abusive relationships.

Anxious types have trouble trusting people, even if they’re close to them, yet excessively rely on others for their emotional needs and to resolve their problems. Their behavior can be irrational, sporadic, and overly-emotional. They’re the ones complaining that everyone of the opposite sex are cold and heartless. And probably bursting into tears while doing so.

This is the girl who calls you 36 times in one night wondering why you didn’t call her back—let’s call her Anna. Or the guy who follows his girlfriend to work to make sure she’s not flirting with any other men.

Women are more likely to be anxious types than men,6 but it’s okay, there’s still plenty of insecurity to go around.

Meet Anxious Anna

  • My partner is reluctant to get as emotionally close as I would like.
  • When I tell my partner my troubles, I feel like they don’t really care.
  • I find it hard to forgive my partner when they let me down.
  • I often worry that my partner doesn’t love me.
  • I fear that our relationship will end.

Avoidant Attachment Style

Avoidant attachment types are extremely independent, self-directed, and often uncomfortable with intimacy. They’re commitment-phobes and experts at rationalizing their way out of any intimate situation. They regularly complain about feeling “crowded” or “suffocated” when people try to get close to them. They are often paranoid that others want to control them or box them in.

Attachment Theory: Avoidant type

In every relationship, they always have an exit strategy. Always. Avoidants often construct their lifestyle in such a way to avoid commitment or too much intimate contact.

In surveys, avoidant types score uniquely high on self-confidence and uniquely low on emotional expressiveness and warmth. They not only reveal themselves far less to their partner and friends, but also tend not to rely on others, even when they should. They score lower than other types as caregivers, meaning they’re not to be relied upon when in a pickle.7

It’s a sad fact that relationships tend to be controlled by those who care least. Therefore, avoidants tend to be the ones in control in both friendships and romantic relationships, as they are almost always willing to leave. This is opposed to anxious types, who let themselves be controlled in both.8

This is the guy—we’ll call him Alex—who works 80 hours a week and gets annoyed when women he dates want to see him more than once on the weekend. Or the girl who dates dozens of guys over the course of years but tells them all she doesn’t want “anything serious” and inevitably ends up ditching them when she gets tired of them.

Men are more likely than women to be avoidant types,9 but as always, there’s plenty of neuroses to go around.

Meet Avoidant Alex

  • I prefer to keep to myself when I’m around my partner.
  • I don’t talk to my partner about my feelings.
  • I don’t give my partner the chance to let me down.
  • I don’t want to be around my partner if I’m feeling upset.
  • I wouldn’t care if my partner left me.

Anxious-Avoidant Attachment Style

Anxious-avoidant attachment types (also known as the “fearful or disorganized type”) bring together the worst of both worlds. Anxious-avoidants are not only afraid of intimacy and commitment, but they distrust and lash out emotionally at anyone who tries to get close to them. Anxious-avoidants often spend much of their time alone and miserable, or in abusive or dysfunctional relationships.

Anxious-avoidants are low in confidence and less likely to express emotions, preferring to suppress them.10 However, they can have intense emotional outbursts when under stress.11 They also don’t tend to seek help when in need due to a distrust of others. This sucks because they are also incapable of sorting through their own issues.12

Anxious-avoidants really get the worst of both worlds. They avoid intimacy not because they prefer to be alone like avoidants. Rather, they avoid intimacy because they are so terrified of its potential to hurt them.13

According to studies, only a small percentage of the population qualifies as anxious-avoidant types, and they typically have a multitude of other emotional problems in other areas of their life (i.e., substance abuse, depression, etc.14).

Meet Anxious-avoidant Aaron

  • I want to get emotionally close to my partner, but I worry about them hurting my feelings.
  • I want to feel close to my partner, but I also don’t trust them to want to be close to me.
  • I can’t live without my partner, even though being with them isn’t working.

As with most psychological profiling, these types aren’t monolithic qualities, but scalar in nature and somewhat independent.

For instance, according to the book Attached by Amir Levie and Rachel Heller, I scored about 75% on the secure scale, 90% on the avoidant scale, and 10% on the anxious scale. And my guess is that 3-5 years ago, the secure would have been lower and the anxious would have been higher, although my avoidant has always been solidly maxed out (as any of my ex-girlfriends will tell you).

The point is, you can exhibit tendencies of more than one strategy depending on the situation and at different frequencies. Although, everyone has one dominant strategy. So Secure Sarah will still exhibit some avoidant or anxious behaviors, Anxious Anna and Avoidant Alex will sometimes exhibit secure behaviors, etc. It’s not all or nothing. But Anxious-avoidant Aaron will score high on both anxious and avoidant types and low on the secure scale.

How Attachment Styles Are Formed

Like I said previously, our attachment styles as adults are influenced by how we related to our parents (or one parent/primary caregiver) as young children. As helpless little babies, this is our first and most important relationship of our lives, so it naturally sets the “blueprint” for how we perceive all relationships as we mature.15

We use this relationship blueprint as we age into late childhood and adolescence, when we typically start to form important relationships outside of our immediate relationship with our parent(s). Our peer group takes on a larger role in our lives as we continue to learn how to relate to others. These experiences further influence our attachment style as we eventually become romantically involved with others, which, in turn, also influence our attachment style.16

So while your early experiences with your parent(s) do have a considerable influence on how you relate to others, it’s not the only factor that determines your attachment style (though it’s a big one) and your attachment style can change over time (more on this later).

Generally, though, secure attachment types regularly have their needs met as infants. They grew up feeling competent among their peers, but were also comfortable with their shortcomings to a degree. As a result, they exhibit healthy, strong boundaries as adults, can communicate their needs well in their relationships, and aren’t afraid to leave a bad one if they think they need to.

Anxious types, on the other hand, receive love and care with unpredictable sufficiency as infants. Growing up, they have positive views of their peers, but negative views of themselves. Their romantic relationships are often overly idealized and they rely too heavily on them for self-esteem. Hence the 36 calls in one night when you don’t pick up your phone.

Avoidants like Alex would have got only some of their needs met as infants, while the rest were neglected (for instance, Alex might have gotten fed regularly, but wasn’t held enough). So Alex grows up holding a negative view of others but a positive view of himself. He hasn’t depended too much on his romantic relationships for his needs and feels like he doesn’t need others for emotional support.

Anxious-avoidant Aaron, though, would have had an abusive or terribly negligent childhood. He grew up having a hard time relating to his peers. So as an adult, he seeks both intimacy and independence in romantic interactions, sometimes simultaneously, which, as you can imagine, doesn’t really go well.

Adult Attachment Styles and Relationship Configurations

Different attachment types tend to configure themselves into intimate relationships in predictable ways. Secure types are capable of dating (or handling, depending on your perspective) both anxious and avoidant types. They’re comfortable enough with themselves to give anxious types all of the reassurance they need and to give avoidant types the space they need without feeling threatened themselves.

Anxious and avoidants frequently end up in relationships with one another more often than they end up in relationships with their own types.17 That may seem counter-intuitive, but there’s order behind the madness. Avoidant types are so good at putting others off that oftentimes it’s only the anxious types who are willing to stick around and put in the extra effort to get them to open up.

For instance, Avoidant Alex may be able to successfully shirk Secure Sarah’s pushes for increased intimacy. After which, Secure Sarah will accept the rejection and move on. But Anxious Anna will only become more determined by a man who pushes her away. She’ll resort to calling him for weeks or months on end until he finally caves and commits to her. This gives Avoidant Alex the reassurance he needs that he can behave independently and Anxious Anna will wait around for him.

Often these relationships produce some degree of dysfunctional equilibrium as they fall into a pattern of chaser-chasee, which are both roles the anxious and avoidant types need in order to feel comfortable with intimacy.

Attachment Theory: Anxious-avoidant

Anxious-avoidants only date each other or the least secure of the anxious types or avoidant types. These relationships are very messy, if not downright abusive or negligent.

What all of this adds up to, which is the same conclusion I propose in my book, is that in relationships, insecurity finds insecurity and security finds security, even if those insecurities don’t always look the same.18 To put it bluntly, to everyone who has emailed me over the years complaining that all of the people they meet are insecure, or have trust issues, or are needy and manipulative… well, let’s just say I have some bad news for you.

What’s Your Attachment Style?

If you don’t have an idea of what your attachment style is yet and want to take a test, you can take this one. It’s a great resource that will give you an idea of your attachment style across different relationships—parents, friends, romantic partners.

I also really like it because you can track how various aspects of your attachment strategy change over time.

If you don’t want to take the test (takes maybe 10 minutes), the gist of it is this: if you’re consistently avoiding commitment, avoiding your romantic partners, shutting them out, or not sharing things with them, then you’re probably pretty avoidant.

If you’re constantly worrying about your partners, feel like they don’t like you as much as you like them, want to see them 24/7, need constant reassurance from them, then you’re probably anxious.

If you’re comfortable dating people, being intimate with them and are able to draw clear boundaries in your relationships, but also don’t mind being alone, then you’re probably secure.

Note, however, that there are some individual differences in how strongly we might identify with each attachment style. For example, you might be securely attached in most areas but have some anxious or avoidant tendencies in other situations.

That said, most people typically have a predominant attachment style they tend to fall back on in their close relationships.

Can Your Attachment Style Change?

The good news is that your attachment style can change over time—although it’s slow and difficult.

Research shows that an anxious or avoidant who enters a long-term relationship with a secure can be “raised up” to the level of the secure over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, an anxious or avoidant is also capable of “bringing down” a secure to their level of insecurity if they’re not careful.19

Also, extreme negative life events, such as divorce, death of child, serious accident, etc., can cause a secure attachment type to fall into a more insecure attachment type.20

For instance, anonymous man may be more or less secure, get married to Anxious Anna, bring her up to a more secure level, but when they run into money trouble she falls back to her anxious level, cheats on him and then divorces him for all of his money, sending him into a tailspin of avoidance. Anonymous goes on to ignore intimacy and pump-and-dump women for the next 10 years, afraid to become intimate with any of them.

If you’re beginning to think that anxious and/or avoidant behavior corresponds to the fake alpha syndrome and other insecure behavior I describe in men in my book, then you’re correct. Our attachment styles are intimately connected with our confidence in ourselves and others.

Psychologists Bartholomew and Horowitz have hypothesized a model showing that one’s attachment strategy corresponds to the degree of positive/negative self-image, and the positive/negative image of others.21

Attachment Theory: The four types of attachment

Secures exhibit both positive self-images and positive perceptions of others. Anxious types exhibit negative self-images, but positive perceptions of others (hence their needy behavior).

Avoidants exhibit positive self-images and negative perceptions of others (hence their arrogance and fear of commitment), and anxious-avoidants exhibit negative perceptions of just about everything and everyone (hence their inability to function in relationships).

Using this model as a roadmap, one can begin to navigate oneself to a more secure attachment type.

Anxious types can work on developing themselves, creating healthy boundaries and fostering a healthy self-image. Instead of constantly looking for “the one” who will magically solve all their problems (and then calling them 36 times in one night), they can look for things that will make them a better, healthier person both in body and mind.

One of my most common pieces of dating advice is for men to find something they’re passionate about and good at and make that a focal point of their life rather than women. Needless to say, the same goes for women as well.

Once they’re content with who they are, anxious types can then work to become more aware of their tendency to seek partners that reaffirm their negative self-image.22

Remember what I said about insecurity finding insecurity? Anxious types will do well to break out of that cycle and surround themselves with people, friends and lovers alike, who lift them up, rather than knock them down. And to deepen those relationships. The positive emotional experiences they get from healthy relationships, especially profound ones like with a spouse, will re-shape their view of the world, reduce their anxieties, and help mold them into more secure types.23

Avoidant types can work on opening themselves up to others, and enrich their relationships through sharing themselves more. Research shows that simply not avoiding relationships can help avoidants move away from their avoidant tendency.24 And similar to anxious types, avoidants should stop seeking to reaffirm their view of the world with every single person they meet—not everyone is untrustworthy or clingy.

Another one of my most common pieces of advice to people is that it’s your responsibility to find something great in everyone you meet. It’s not their responsibility to show you. Become curious. Stop being judgmental.

For the unlucky few who find themselves both anxious and avoidant, they can follow the advice for both types above. Focus on getting to know themselves, their fears and insecurities, embrace them, and learn to work with them, rather than against them. A few simple tools to help them do this are journaling and meditation. Professional therapy can also be effective.25

And of course, some of you may be reading this and thinking, “I like being alone and being able to sleep with whoever I want. I wouldn’t change a thing.” And it’s true—many people lead happy, successful lives as avoidant or anxious types. Some even have successful long-term relationships as an anxious or avoidant.

But research shows secures are consistently more happy and feel more supported,26 are less likely to become depressed,27 are healthier,28 retain more stable relationships, and become more successful29 than the other types.

And I can tell you from my personal experience, I’ve felt myself drift out of a strong avoidant (and slightly anxious) attachment type to a more secure attachment type over the past six years of working on myself in this area. And I can unequivocally say that I’m happier and more fulfilled in my relationships and with the women I date now than I ever was back then.

I wouldn’t trade it back for anything.

Footnotes

  1. Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1990). Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(4), 644–663.
  2. Ainsworth, M. S., & Bowlby, J. (1991). An ethological approach to personality development. American Psychologist, 46(4), 333.
  3. Bartholomew, K., Kwong, M. J., & Hart, S. D. (2001). Attachment. In Handbook of personality disorders: Theory, research, and treatment (pp. 196–230). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.
  4. See this study for how “Secures” score in an interview across 15 personality aspects. Those not mentioned here include: balance of control in romantic relationships and friendships, crying frequency, and warmth.
  5. Mickelson, K. D., Kessler, R. C., & Shaver, P. R. (1997). Adult attachment in a nationally representative sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(5), 1092.
  6. Ciocca, G., Zauri, S., Limoncin, E., Mollaioli, D., D’Antuono, L., Carosa, E., Nimbi, F. M., Simonelli, C., Balercia, G., Reisman, Y., & Jannini, E. A. (2019). Attachment Style, Sexual Orientation, and Biological Sex in their Relationships With Gender Role. Sexual Medicine, 8(1), 76–83.
  7. Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226–244.
  8. Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226–244.
  9. Ciocca, G., Zauri, S., Limoncin, E., Mollaioli, D., D’Antuono, L., Carosa, E., Nimbi, F. M., Simonelli, C., Balercia, G., Reisman, Y., & Jannini, E. A. (2019). Attachment Style, Sexual Orientation, and Biological Sex in their Relationships With Gender Role. Sexual Medicine, 8(1), 76–83.
  10. Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226–244.
  11. Shaver, P. R., & Mikulincer, M. (2002). Attachment-related psychodynamics. Attachment & Human Development, 4(2), 133–161.
  12. Maunder, R., & Hunter, J. (2012). A Prototype-Based Model of Adult Attachment for Clinicians. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 40, 549–573.
  13. Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226–244.
  14. Caspers, K. M., Yucuis, R., Troutman, B., & Spinks, R. (2006). Attachment as an organizer of behavior: implications for substance abuse problems and willingness to seek treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 1(1), 32.
  15. Chris Fraley, R. (2002). Attachment Stability From Infancy to Adulthood: Meta-Analysis and Dynamic Modeling of Developmental Mechanisms. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6(2), 123–151.
  16. Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Hazan, C. (1994). Attachment styles and close relationships: A four-year prospective study. Personal Relationships, 1(2), 123–142.
  17. Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Davis, K. E. (1994). Attachment style, gender, and relationship stability: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(3), 502–512.
  18. Vicary, A. M., & Fraley, R. C. (2007). Choose Your Own Adventure: Attachment Dynamics in a Simulated Relationship. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(9), 1279–1291.
  19. Arriaga, X. B., Kumashiro, M., Simpson, J. A., & Overall, N. C. (2018). Revising Working Models Across Time: Relationship Situations That Enhance Attachment Security. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 22(1), 71–96.
  20. Davila, J., Burge, D., & Hammen, C. (1997). Why does attachment style change? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(4), 826–838.
  21. Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: a test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226.
  22. Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1990). Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(4), 644–663.
  23. Epstein, S. (1980). Self-concept: A review and the proposal of an integrated theory of personality. In E. Staub (Ed.), Personality: Basic issues and current research. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  24. This longitudinal study finds that avoidants who initiate new relationships during the study are less likely to remain avoidant than those who do not.
  25. Research shows that compelling emotional experiences that result from a strong professional relationship with a therapist (not a romantic one, mind you) could help change one’s existing model of the world.
  26. Ognibene, T. C., & Collins, N. L. (1998). Adult attachment styles, perceived social support and coping strategies. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15(3), 323–345.
  27. Roberts, J. E., Gotlib, I. H., & Kassel, J. D. (1996). Adult attachment security and symptoms of depression: The mediating roles of dysfunctional attitudes and low self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(2), 310–320.
  28. Feeney, J. A. (2000). Implications of attachment style for patterns of health and illness. Child: Care, Health & Development, 26(4), 277–288.
  29. Blustein, D. L., Prezioso, M. S., & Schultheiss, D. P. (1995). Attachment Theory and Career Development: Current Status and Future Directions. The Counseling Psychologist, 23(3), 416–432.

Who else? <3method

Back in 2010, I set a bold goal for myself. I took one of my websites and decided that I wanted to publish over 100 articles on it that year. I decided that by doing this, my goal was to accumulate more than a million readers by the end of the year.

To do this, I decided to take what, at the time, had been a modestly successful blog, and turn it into a kind of men’s magazine for millennials. I found half a dozen people to write articles for me. I redesigned the site. I created a pipeline of content that would feed directly through me and be posted every other day. In my mind, I was building the foundations of my empire, a new brand to appeal to the sensibilities of the young, internet-savvy male.

It didn’t even take three months for me to shut the whole project down. I deleted half of the new content written by others. I reverted the website back to the old blog. And I continued publishing at a meager pace.

Most would look at my abandonment of my goals that year as an unmitigated failure. But I look back and see that as one of the most valuable goals I ever set for myself. I will explain why later in this piece.

There are a million articles on the internet about how to set goals and how to achieve them. And sure, I will cover some of that here.

But I want to propose something far more subtle yet far more important: Often the strategic failure of our goals can be far more valuable than their achievement.

Most people see goals as golf balls that you tee up and whack the shit out of, hoping to hit your mark. But goals are far more complicated than that. Sometimes it can be advantageous to set goals you know you are unlikely to achieve. Sometimes it is better to give up or change goals midstream. Sometimes it’s actually better to have no goals at all.

This article will break down the complexities of goal setting—when to set them, how to set them, and how to know when to give them up.

How Goal Setting Can Help You

Unless you’ve been living under a rock your whole life, you know that goals can be a great source of satisfaction and purpose in our lives.1,2 Goals give us something to look forward to, they give us direction. Goals help us track and measure our progress and understand our shortcomings. Goals are popular for a reason: they work.

But it’s important to understand exactly how goals benefit you first.

Specific Goals Are Best for External Pursuits

Probably the most popular way to use goals—and the way you’ve used them in your own life—is to pursue a specific result.

I want to be an author, so I set a goal to write a book by the end of the year. I want to have financial freedom, so I set a goal to be debt-free by 2022. I want to look good naked, so I set a goal of losing 20 lbs before beach season.

Setting specific, measurable goals works extremely well in helping us achieve tangible, external achievements. This is actually one of the more robust findings in the research on goals and it applies to individuals, groups, and organizations across many different cultural backgrounds, in many different settings, and across all time horizons studied to date.3,4

Specific goals act as a sort of GPS for your life. And just like the GPS on your phone needs a specific destination to be useful, external goals really only work when you have a specific outcome in mind.

For example, “save more money” is the goal equivalent of telling your GPS you want to go to California. Where exactly in California do you want to go? San Diego? San Francisco? Yosemite National Park?

No, no, no. You want fried shrimp tacos from Mariscos Jalisco taco truck on Olympic Boulevard in LA (trust me, you do). Now your GPS can tell you exactly how to get there, turn by turn, down to the number of feet until you sidle up to the window and order your three tacos and maybe some ceviche with hot salsa (not too much though—I’ve warned you).

When you set specific goals, they become measurable and actionable, which then allows you to track your progress. These are sometimes referred to as “SMART Goals.”5 SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

So, instead of “save more money,” you could say, “save $5,000 by December 12th.” Now you know exactly what you need to do. If you start saving on January 1, you have 345 days to save, so that’s:

  • $14.50 per day
  • $101.45 per week
  • $416.67 per month

This allows you to know exactly where you’re at with your goal throughout the year too. By day 57, you should have $826.50 saved up. By week 18, you should have $1,826.10 in the bank. And by July, you should have $2,916.69 holed away. Any deviation from these benchmarks is an indicator that you should change your approach (or perhaps change your goal—more on that later).

Another benefit of setting specific goals is that they help you focus on the outcomes you want while ignoring all the extraneous distractions you’re bound to encounter.6,7 It’s easy to know what to cut out of your spending when you know exactly how much to save. It’s easier to know what foods to cut when you know exactly how much weight you want to lose, and so on. Specific goals, when worked towards, can be a source of energy,8 motivation, and persistence.9

General Goals Are Best for Internal Pursuits

Alright, so throw a fucking parade for specific goals. They got us to the moon, built the pyramids, invented Disneyland. What’s not to love about specific goals?

Well, specific goals are great. The problem is that sometimes what we want is not specific.

For example, if I want to be a better writer, how do I actually measure that? Website traffic? Book sales? Glowing emails in my inbox telling me what a Grade A badass I am?

This is where we get into trouble with goals. Because if I decide that “website traffic = being a good writer,” well, there are a lot of shady ways to build website traffic that don’t involve good writing.

You often see a similar phenomenon with people who set weight loss goals. They lose weight… by doing terribly unhealthy things like starving themselves or living off nothing but pretzels and carrot juice for a year. Sure, the weight comes off. But they’re arguably in much worse shape than they began—i.e., their specific goal hurt them rather than helped them.

This is where general goals come into play. It’s not enough to simply want to lose 15 pounds, you also want to be a healthy human being. It’s not enough to want to sell a bunch of books, you want to sell books because you’re a better writer. It’s not enough to make a million bucks, you want to make that money in a way that is ethical and sustainable.

General goals like this—be healthier, have more financial freedom, improve at a skill—are in many ways more useful than specific goals because they are endless and internal. You can never finish “being healthy.” You can never fully achieve “being a better writer.” There’s always something you could be doing better.

And it’s this endless nature to general goals that keeps us honest and satisfied with specific goals. As we’ll see, over-reliance on specific goals can actually harm our mental health. Mixing in general goals can counteract that. Not to mention, they can actually produce even better results.10

This shows us that the best goals are the ones that help us enjoy the process instead of focusing too much on the outcome. You need both general and specific goals to do that. You need the specific outcome to get you excited (“I’m going to earn a million dollars!”). But you also need the general goal (“I’m going to become better at my work”) to stabilize that specific outcome and keep your self-esteem intact.

Because, if you don’t. Well… things can get ugly. And fast.

How Goal Setting Can Harm You

There’s a dark side to goal-setting that is rarely discussed. And if you’re not careful, you may succumb to it.

dark side of goal setting

The reason goal setting works so well is that by focusing on one particular pursuit or measurement, you become better at shutting out the things that don’t matter or don’t help you.11

But, like anything in life, you can take this to an extreme.12 Think of the hotshot lawyer who doesn’t recognize her own kids because she’s too busy working 90-hour weeks. Or the college student who has no friends because he’s obsessively studying all day, every day. Or the guy who tries to climb Mt. Everest on stilts because… well, because it’s his goal to climb Mt. Everest on stilts.

When we obsess over our goals, we can easily sacrifice what makes those goals meaningful in the first place. 

Not to mention, obsessively pursuing specific goals can encourage people to rely on unethical behaviors. Studies have found that people who focus their energy on specific goals are more likely to lie or cheat to attain them.13

There are two pitfalls to watch out for when goal-setting. The first is setting goals that don’t align with your values. The second is choosing ineffective goals in the first place. Let’s break them down.

Setting Goals That Aren’t Aligned With Your Values

One of the biggest traps people fall into is holding onto and pursuing goals that don’t serve their core values.

Some people value achievement and self-improvement. Others value their intimate relationships. Others value having an impact on the world or creating communities. It’s important to figure out your values before you start setting your goals so you don’t screw yourself up.

That might sound obvious, but I’ve seen people who value their intimate relationships spend most of their time trying to make more money because they somehow think that will lead them to the intimate relationships.

I’ve seen people who want to make an impact on the world get obsessed with self-improvement and fitness and optimizing everything in their personal lives to the point where they almost forget anything exists outside of themselves.

I’ve seen people who value independence and autonomy get bogged down in high-paying jobs they hate because they believe the high status they get from their jobs will give them more power to control their time.

And then all of these people wonder how on Earth could they be so miserable? They’re doing this goal thing. They’re fucking crushing it, accomplishing goals left, right, and center. Yet, somehow everything feels off.

The problem is that the goals they’re chasing aren’t in line with their values. And this is a recipe for misery.14,15

The most common reason that we fall for this trap is because we let others dictate our goals to us. We look around and we see people making lots of money or vacationing in Bora Bora or working out three times a day and looking like they auditioned for Baywatch. And we think, “Well, they seem happy, so we should do what they’re doing.”

baywatch goals
#BaywatchGoals

It’s in this subtle way that we let others choose our goals for us. We try to make more money or we try to go on cool vacations or we try to do a million burpees a week and eat kale-wrapped sea bass dipped in onion water or whatever without thinking about, you know, if we really want any of these things.

Fuck other people’s goals. Live out your values.

You need to make sure your goals are for yourself, not for others. Many people confuse what they value for what others around them value. They are not the same thing. And if you confuse them, you very well may spend many years of your life pursuing something that makes you feel worse.16,17

Setting Goals That Create Worse Outcomes

Another mistake a lot of people make is setting goals that actually make their problems worse, not better.

One amusing example I sometimes come across is when people say something like, “I want to start my own business so I can work at my own hours and not be stressed by a boss.”

These people don’t stop to consider that it’s three times more stressful being the boss. You are responsible for every decision, every failure, every oversight, every error of judgment.

And yes, you get to set your own hours… but when you’re working 12 hours a day, there’s not a whole lot of options on how you can set them!

Many goals are self-defeating. Like people who buy an expensive car on credit because they want to feel rich. Or someone who dates people they don’t like because they want to have a relationship. Or someone who loses weight by starving themselves because they want to be healthier.

The means with which you pursue your goals are often just as important, if not more important, than the goal itself.

If you pursue a goal and accomplish it by torching your entire social life, alienating your family, and destroying your reputation, did you really accomplish anything? I would argue no.

How to Pursue Goals Intelligently

Balancing Specific and General Goals

The kinds of goals we set can have a big impact on how satisfied we are if and when we achieve them.18

Focusing exclusively on external, specific goals can make you feel like shit because they are value-neutral. The goal to make lots of money is fine, but that goal doesn’t explain why you’re trying to make money. Therefore, any happiness you gain from it will be short-lived.19

That’s why we need to balance out external, specific goals with internal, general goals. Your external goal could be, “I want to have a six-figure income.” The internal goal could be, “Because I want to have financial freedom and not feel stressed about money.”

Now your external goal is oriented in a value (freedom) and you’ve set up guard rails for yourself in pursuing it—i.e., you won’t pursue a six-figure income in a way that creates less freedom for yourself.

I think one reason we focus so much on extrinsic goals is because they are easy to measure. A supposedly golden rule of goal setting is being able to measure progress towards your goal as precisely as possible. But it turns out the goals that are easiest to measure—external goals—are often the ones that bring us the least satisfaction.

It’s easy to see whether or not you hit your financial goals. Just look at your bank account. It’s easy to see whether or not you hit your fitness goals. Just look at the scale and your workout history.

But it’s a lot harder to track your progress towards autonomy, non-judgement, and finding a sense of community. And yet, these are the types of goals that we’re more likely to stick to and the ones that bring us a lot more satisfaction.

Balancing Difficult Goals With Easy Goals

Similar to the way that our external goals need to be balanced by internal goals, our incredibly difficult and ambitious goals need to be balanced with simpler, smaller goals.

There’s a bit of a Goldilocks phenomenon with goal setting in that if we choose a goal that’s way too difficult or improbable (“I want to visit the moons of Jupiter”) we will quickly lose motivation because it will feel impossible to make any progress.

On the other hand, if our goals are too small and easy (“do three push ups”) our satisfaction will be short-lived and the goal will soon feel meaningless after we’ve accomplished it.

This is why it’s best to take an ambitious goal and then break it down into easier, more attainable chunks.

Years ago, I had an ambitious goal to be a New York Times bestselling author. That was a huge goal that took many years to accomplish. To help me do that, I created a number of smaller, easier “sub-goals” to go along with it:

  • Build a popular blog based on my writing.
  • Get a book deal with a publisher.
  • Write over 100,000 words to be used for a draft.

These goals were also difficult. But each could be accomplished within a year or two. Even with these, I would often break them down into smaller, simpler goals, such as, “Write 1,000 words every day for a month” or “Submit book proposals to ten agents.”

Putting It All Together

So we’ve learned that we should ground our external, specific goals with internal goals that reflect our values. We’ve learned that we should break down difficult, long-term goals into more attainable micro-goals. And we’ve learned that our goals should be ambitious but not so ambitious that they seem unattainable.

Putting it all together it would look something like this:

Specific and general goals diagram

Think of your specific goals as a pyramid with your big, ambitious goal on top, and then all of the sub-goals underneath. In this case, the big ambitious goal is to lose 40 pounds in a year. In order to do that, you will have to work out three times per week and cut out 1,500 calories (these are made up, by the way—I’m not a health professional).

Underneath those goals are even smaller, more easily attainable goals—learn ten healthy recipes, buy a food scale, hire a trainer, etc.

But notice, the pyramid of specific goals is enveloped in a circle of more general, internal goals: “I want to have a healthy lifestyle,” “I want to have a positive body self-image,” and “I want more energy and stamina.”

This way, your goals are oriented by your values (general goals) and are broken down into smaller steps that can keep you motivated over a long period of time.

So, how would you create these goals from scratch? Easy. The process would look like this.

  • What are things you value that you wish you had more of in your life?

    Confidence, loving relationships, financial freedom, etc. These are the values you wish to pursue.
  • What general goals will help you maximize those values?

    Examples: “I want to live a healthy lifestyle,” or “I want to attain financial freedom,” or “I want to be a good mother.”
  • What is an ambitious, external, specific goal that will help you achieve that general goal?

    Examples: “Lose 40 pounds,” or “Save up half a million dollars by the time I’m 50,” or “Spend at least 10 hours a week doing something enriching with my kids.”
  • What are smaller, easier goals that will make the ambitious goal more attainable?

    Examples: “Work out three times a week,” or “Save 25% of my paycheck for the next five years,” or “Schedule two hours each evening to be with the kids.”

Write that shit down. Pin it up somewhere that you can see it regularly. And get to work.

The Secret Weapon: When Failing Is More Valuable Than Succeeding

Let’s be honest for a second. We are bad at knowing what will make us happy. We are also bad at knowing what is doable and what is not. We’re bad at predicting what sacrifices we’re willing to make. And we’re bad at accurately determining our own abilities.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that we’re going to be bad at choosing goals that actually serve us.

Sometimes our goals end up being way more effort than they’re worth. Sometimes goals we thought would be doable turn out to be impossible. Sometimes we get close to achieving our goals only to discover that we don’t enjoy our goals at all.

This is why it’s sometimes more valuable to fail at a goal than to succeed—the failure teaches us what we should be pursuing instead.

To go back to my website back in 2010. I failed miserably at growing a men’s online website. I essentially transformed my job into that of a magazine editor without realizing that I would hate it. I alienated thousands of readers who only visited the site to read my writing, not others’. I completely altered the business model without realizing it and found that I’d soon have to depend on advertising revenue if I was going to make money (gag me with a fucking soup ladle).

So, I quit.

All my big, ambitious goals for that year, I just pulled the plug. I let all the writers go. I reverted the website back to its blog form. And I started over a few months later as if the whole thing had never happened.

By all accounts, I quit and/or failed every single goal I set for myself at the beginning of that year.

And I was so much better off because of it.

The value of our goals is not in what we accomplish, but in the direction they give us. Goals orient us towards what we’d like in life and give us a little kick in the ass to start moving towards it. But if we discover on the way that actually, we don’t want that goal in our life, then we should drop it!

A lot of people get upset about this. They feel like a failure. So what? Failure is normal. Failure is how you learn. Better to fail sooner and pick a better goal now than to spend the next year of your life pursuing something that sucks.

Each year, I set 4-5 goals for myself that year. I then break those large yearly goals into quarterly and then monthly goals.

Generally, by the time I get to June, half of my yearly goals have changed in some way. By the end of the year, I’ve typically abandoned at least one of the goals because I learned along the way that it wasn’t what I wanted. Hell, sometimes I get to August and I come up with new goals entirely.

People who show flexibility in their goals turn out waaaaaay better than people who rigidly pursue their goals, especially when those goals aren’t working out.20,21

Abandoning goals that are either unattainable or just not serving you well has all sorts of benefits, like less stress in your life,22 feeling more competent,23 fewer health problems and better sleep,24 and fewer depressive symptoms and more positive feelings.25

Remember, goals are just made up markers in your head. No one is grading you. No one is punishing you if you don’t hit them. They’re only as valuable as the benefits they bring to your life. So if they’re not benefiting you, then drop them!

The truth is, we won’t know if they’re right for us until we try them on. We often don’t know what we want until we get it, or try to get it. We often don’t know what we value until we try to live out those values.

Goals are just the experiments that help us test these things out. If we realize along the way that a goal isn’t serving what we want and what we value, there’s no shame in letting go of your goals and finding new ones.

Footnotes

  1. Klug, H. J. P., & Maier, G. W. (2015). Linking Goal Progress and Subjective Well-Being: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(1), 37–65.
  2. Sheldon, K. M., & Kasser, T. (1998). Pursuing Personal Goals: Skills Enable Progress, but Not all Progress is Beneficial. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(12), 1319–1331.
  3. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265–268.
  4. Just to give you a quick sampling, there are studies on how setting goals helps with business growth, cost cutting, student performance in business/engineering/science, managerial training, driving, dieting, learning, chess, weight-lifting, reading, brainstorming, mathematical tasks, and even a color discrimination task done by children.
  5. Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.
  6. Rothkopf, E. Z., & Billington, M. J. (1979). Goal-Guided Learning from Text: Inferring a Descriptive Processing Model from Inspection Times and Eye Movements. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71(3), 310–327.
  7. Locke, E. A., & Bryan, J. F. (1969). The directing function of goals in task performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 4(1), 35–42.
  8. Sales, S. M. (1970). Some effects of role overload and role underload. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 5(6), 592–608.
  9. LaPorte, R. E., & Nath, R. (1976). Role of performance goals in prose learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 68(3), 260–264.
  10. Seijts, G. H., & Latham, G. P. (2001). The effect of distal learning, outcome, and proximal goals on a moderately complex task. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22(3), 291–307.
  11. Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (2006). Enhancing the Benefits and Overcoming the Pitfalls of Goal Setting. Organizational Dynamics, 35(4), 332–340.
  12.  Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265–268.
  13. Schweitzer, M. E., Ordóñez, L., & Douma, B. (2004). Goal Setting as a Motivator of Unethical Behavior. Academy of Management Journal, 47(3), 422–432.
  14. Brunstein, J. C., Schultheiss, O. C., & Grässmann, R. (1998). Personal goals and emotional well-being: The moderating role of motive dispositions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 494–508.
  15. Baumann, N., Kaschel, R., & Kuhl, J. (2005). Striving for Unwanted Goals: Stress-Dependent Discrepancies Between Explicit and Implicit Achievement Motives Reduce Subjective Well-Being and Increase Psychosomatic Symptoms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(5), 781–799.
  16. Latham, G. P., Mitchell, T. R., & Dossett, D. L. (1978). Importance of participative goal setting and anticipated rewards on goal difficulty and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 63(2), 163–171.
  17. Sheldon, K. M., & Kasser, T. (1998). Pursuing Personal Goals: Skills Enable Progress, but Not all Progress is Beneficial. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(12), 1319–1331.
  18. Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90(1), 125–152.
  19. Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Be careful what you wish for: Optimal functioning and the relative attainment of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. In P. Schmuck & K. M. Sheldon (Eds.), Life goals and well-being: Towards a positive psychology of human striving (p. 116–131). Hogrefe & Huber Publishers.
  20. Brandtstädter, J., & Renner, G. (1990). Tenacious goal pursuit and flexible goal adjustment: Explication and age-related analysis of assimilative and accommodative strategies of coping. Psychology and Aging, 5(1), 58–67.
  21. Brandtstädter, J. (2009). Goal pursuit and goal adjustment: Self-regulation and intentional self-development in changing developmental contexts. Advances in Life Course Research, 14(1), 52–62. 
  22. Bauer, I., & Wrosch, C. (2004, July). Unattainable goals and subjective well-being across adulthood. Presentation at the 18th International Society of Behavioural Development, Ghent, Belgium.
  23. Wrosch, C., Scheier, M. F., Miller, G. E., Schulz, R., & Carver, C. S. (2003). Adaptive Self-Regulation of Unattainable Goals: Goal Disengagement, Goal Reengagement, and Subjective Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(12), 1494–1508.
  24. Wrosch, C., Miller, G. E., Scheier, M. F., & de Pontet, S. B. (2007). Giving Up on Unattainable Goals: Benefits for Health? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(2), 251–265.
  25. Wrosch, C., Scheier, M. F., Miller, G. E., Schulz, R., & Carver, C. S. (2003). Adaptive Self-Regulation of Unattainable Goals: Goal Disengagement, Goal Reengagement, and Subjective Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(12), 1494–1508.