One of the most common blocks people have in getting what they want is pursuing goals they see as burdens, rather than gifts they would LIKE to have, in their own interest.
It’s easy to see why this is backwards. Assuming you’re an adult with a reasonable degree of freedom, whatever goals you are setting should be for yourself or some extension (a family you love, your belief in giving back to the community, a desire for improvement, etc).
But oftentimes, we don’t see it that way. We believe we “should” or worse, “have to” do something. This kind of thinking is very demotivating in the long run.
People that use this kind of language (have to’s and shoulding) are essentially treating themselves as defiant children, who need to be disciplined and forced into things. They implicitly assume they won’t move forward without tricking themselves or getting a bit of a beating.
What if we could lose the language of obligation and start thinking in terms of choices and possibility? The next time you find yourself thinking you ought or must do something - the motivational equivalent of straightjacketing - take a step back and ask yourself, what could you do, given your desires and the present situation?
This logic extends to goal setting. The next time you set a challenging goal, run a motivational quality check. Ask yourself what’s in it for the home team. Does the outcome seem positive and rewarding, or is there something bigger, or completely different, that you would like to see?
Maybe you’re thinking, that's all well and good, but I have a lot of obligations I take seriously, and there are certain milestones I need to hit. To this I say, I’m glad you’re committed to something.
But assuming we aren’t in danger and have our basic survival needs met, we actually don’t need anything. This isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact. You commit to things because you value them OR because you believe you are somehow insufficient or lacking. There are people who survive and thrive in awful conditions. And you think you need to really wow your stakeholders in your next presentation? You don’t really need anything. Because most people reading this have always had things and suffer from a serious case of loss aversion, it’s difficult to fully understand this. Once we do it is incredibly freeing.
To sum it up, if your goals or day to day activities involve a lot of “have to’s” and “shoulding,” apply simple rewording. Ask yourself what you would like to do, given the circumstances. In treating goals as gifts, and reminding yourself that you have choices, you will be much more likely to get exactly what you are seeking. No carrots or sticks needed.
I was working the front desk at a local yoga studio* the other day when a young woman entered just as class was about to begin. I glimpsed her lingering outside the studio as class started, but I didn't give it a second thought as I helped some other students and prepared to head out for the day.
As I exited the studio area I was surprised to spot her again. This time she was by the main entry. Minding a foot injury I rushed downstairs as she stepped out onto the street.
I needn't have rushed. She was still lingering. She seemed lost, contemplating the world of potential distractions in her iPhone and the abyss of an hour unexpectedly freed.
“You're not going in?” I asked curiously, breathlessly.
She spoke softly, something about interrupting, that she was late.
Ah, yes, my gut instinct was correct.
Why do so many women hesitate to assert what they want and take up space?
This isn’t just women, obviously. It's also some men, and it's also somewhat “midwesty.” Well-intended courtesy spills into discomfort with confrontation or inconveniencing. Women in particular are fluent in "Sorry." I would know, since I used to apologize compulsively (I still do sometimes actually).
I'm not a huge fan of courtesy when it comes from a place of self-questioning. Which for too many women tends to be the case. If courtesy has generous, empowered intent, great. Inconveniencing others because you're absorbed in your own concerns is aggravating and disruptive, as victims of repeat offenders will attest.
The way this young woman slunk away suggested this wasn't the case. Her body language was small and shrinking.
So I invited her to claim more space with the truth as is my tendency. I acknowledged her for not wanting to inconvenience others, but that they could handle themselves if she came in late. That I used to come late sometimes for yoga classes (super true!), and that everyone was there to support their own wellness, just like her.
It must have moved her because she didn't hesitate. She beelined right back into the studio with the most energy and conviction she had shown that day.
I consider myself to have been very lucky that day. Lucky to cross paths with this young, self-questioning woman. Because I have been there, and while I hope I never lose the compassion in my courteousness, unlike my younger self I will always strive to combine it with confidence in my intent and in my place. For the more sensitive and courteous among us, that is strength.
*I got involved with Vision Yoga & Wellness after losing my regular yoga practice temporarily due to a foot injury. The community and yoga connection has been great.