August 17, 2010 at 5:33 am | Posted in Goal Progress, Links | 1 Comment

In this post from The Simple Dollar, Trent urges his readers to start — to stop dreaming and act. In his exordium, he urges us to spend two hours today working towards achieving a dream. How wonderful, I thought. I will do that right now.

I ground to a halt before I got started, however, when I realized that I don’t actually have any dreams right now. I mean, I want to have a more normal life, with friends and so forth. I’m so focused on the details of survival — getting into the climbing gym, practicing yoga, cooking rather than starving myself, showing up to appointments with my shrink, not drowning at work, and so on — that I couldn’t really tell you what I’m working towards. In other words, I don’t know why I want to be healthy.

That’s unlike me. I am usually the personification of goal-directed behavior. While it could be argued that thrown myself behind some dubious goals — getting a Ph.D. in an obscure field from an elite university comes to mind — it’s unprecedented to find that I’m marching briskly in no particular direction. In fact, I think that this has been the case since I left academia.

There’s a difference, I think, between intending to engage in particular activities regularly and setting a goal. “I want to climb three days a week” is not a goal in the way that “I want to climb an eight” is (climbing routes are rated between 5.5 and 5.12). Goals may be specific, measurable, and so forth, but they also culminate in a one-time event (filing a dissertation, say). Climbing three times a week isn’t a goal, since I’m not going to stop or set a new goal once I’ve done it. Instead, it’s a routine. Funny that I never saw this before.

OK, off to shower and get ready for work. Perhaps my way of following Trent’s advice will be to spend two hours developing a few goals.


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  1. Excellent post. Victorian cultural critic and philosopher John Stuart Mill is among the most eloquent and perceptive writers on “happiness” — I believe it’s the fifth chapter of his Autobiography that’s most relevant here. Mill was raised by the Utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, and little J.S. was quite a prodigy, studying classical languages at an astonishingly young age. He was taught to associate his own happiness with the general good, and only after a serious breakdown did he realize that such a mechanical way of setting one’s goals in life had led him to despair. To paraphrase, “Knowing that a feeling would make me happy if I had it did not give me the feeling itself.” His answer was one that might have pleased the romantic poets he turned to: do something you find meaningful in itself, and the byproduct of your activity will be some measure of happiness. Make happiness your direct goal, and you won’t get there. “Ask yourself if you are happy,” he wrote, “and you cease to be so.” Of course, it’s pretty hard NOT to do that, but J.S. was right on target about the effects of doing it.

    Right now, I find my cycling workouts very worthwhile. There are some goals attached to it — this week, for example, I want to go riding five times, pick up the fancy new racing bike I just plunked down good money for and learn how to ride it properly, and get down to an ideal weight of around 170 lbs. Some “affect” and intensity are associated with those goals, but I think the whole scheme would quickly collapse if I didn’t find the cycling in itself worthwhile — something I just plain want to do and should be doing.

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