In everything we do, there is an intention. The intention represents our desire to get from here to there, from one point to another point.
When we brush our teeth, we want to get from having dirty teeth to clean teeth. When we speak to another we are trying to get from having no common understanding to having common understanding. In starting a business, we are trying to get from being financially dependent to being financially free.
So why do some people struggle with reaching simple goals, while others manage to achieve great things? What makes someone more effective than another?
Ideally, we take the most direct route to achieving our goals. We go straight from A to B. Want a girlfriend, get a girlfriend. Want to feel valued and appreciated, feel valued and appreciated.
But things seldom happen that way. We procrastinate. We feel stuck. Sometimes we are lost, not knowing where we want to go. Worse, we sabotage our own efforts to get what we want.
Here are three ways we stop ourselves from getting from where we are (A) to where we want to go (B).
1. Not doing anything
Sometimes we don’t do anything to get to our goals, not because we don’t know what to do, but simply because we have already defeated ourselves in our minds. Perhaps we thought that the goal was impossible. Or we thought that we did not deserve it. Sometimes we don’t even dare to admit to ourselves what we really want.
For example, I have mostly been driven by my need to achieve. I wanted to prove that I was good enough for love and acceptance. Although my goal seemed to be achievement, the true goal had always been self-love and self-acceptance. Had I known that, I would have simply done the inner work necessary to remove barriers to my own self-acceptance. Because I did not even realise that was my goal, I did not pursue the right course of action.
Another example would be a writer who wants to write a great book. However, the writer is a perfectionist, and he finds that nothing he ever writes can adequately express what he wants to say. So he never begins on the book, because in his mind he has already deemed the task ‘impossible’.
When we don’t do anything about what we want, it could be due to self-defeating thoughts or even lack of awareness of the true desire.
2. Taking an indirect route
When we want something, we sometimes do not take the most direct path there. We make detours, distract ourselves, or fight ourselves. Despite our best efforts, we sometimes meet with counter-forces, and must expend energy to overcome our own internal resistance. Sometimes it feels like we take one step forward and one step backward.
Let’s say I want to go get lunch. On my way to the cafe, I come across a clothing shop. I stop and buy a shirt. Then I keep walking. I get tired and take a rest on the bench. It’s so comfortable, now I can’t get up. Oh, I see a friend! I chat with her for a bit. Eventually I make my way to the cafe and get my lunch. What could have taken me just 15 minutes took me 1 hour.
The detours are caused mainly by fears and ineffective methods.
Perhaps we fear failure, fear rejection, fear judgment, fear success, fear being wrong, and so on. We have to use our own energy and willpower to overcome that. These counter-efforts introduce friction into the process, and result in a lot of wasted energy.
For example, I had always wanted to be a coach, but part of me felt I was never good enough to be one. Also, I didn’t want to face constant failure when practicing coaching, because if a session did not go well I would blame myself. Also, I had to engage with another person, and there was also a part of me that feared connection. So instead of simply practicing until I was good, I avoided the pain altogether. I did everything except the one thing I needed to do. Eventually I became a coach, but I could have been faster.
Sometimes our methods are ineffective. For example, the right method to successful event is to invite 100 guests personally. But we don’t know that, so we post Facebook ads instead. We can eventually find the right methods if we are willing to learn and constantly correct ourselves. However, as long as we do not follow the right method, we waste a lot of energy as well.
Not knowing the right method decreases our effectiveness and performance. Methods for technical endeavours are easier to find. A problem like, “Where should I go to buy a fridge?” has an easy solution. A problem like, “How do I find fulfilment in life?” has a more complicated solution.
We must be willing to accept complexity and uncertainty in our search for the right methods and our personal life paths.
3. Vicious cycles or loops
Then there are times when we don’t make any progress. We are caught in vicious cycles of behaviour, also called loops.
Here’s an example from the Little Prince:
‘I am drinking,’ answered the drunkard lugubriously.
‘Why are you drinking?’ the little prince asked.
‘In order to forget,’ replied the drunkard.
‘To forget what?’ enquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.
‘To forget that I am ashamed,’ the drunkard confessed, hanging his head.
‘Ashamed of what?’ asked the little prince who wanted to help him.
‘Ashamed of drinking!’ concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into total silence.
This plays out in our lives too:
We isolate ourselves. We feel lonely. We feel distant from people. We isolate ourselves further.
We try halfheartedly. We fail. We lose confidence. We try again with even less conviction.
Plenty of vicious cycles keeping us stuck, preventing us from reaching our goals. In any area where we are not progressing, there is a loop.
Overcoming the barriers
Wherever we do not take the shortest path from A to B, there is an aberration. The aberration exists because of some psychological barrier or untrue beliefs we have about ourselves or the way things are.
Many of us are aware of the barriers because they appear to us as difficulties, counter-efforts, or fears. Those with strong willpower can overcome them, but constant effort must be made. Those with less energy or weaker will are unable to overcome the barriers.
To truly remove the barriers, we would have to dig into our psyches to find out what caused the barriers to appear in the first place. While people use various methods to get there, inner work is required to fully resolve the psychological hold our barriers have on us.