“If a man knows not to which port he is sailing, no wind is favorable.” — Seneca
Having goals doesn’t mean that we will achieve them; nor can they act as a source of motivation (at least, not by themselves). The purpose of a goal is not motivation, nor is it a primer to the mystic “law of attraction.”
Its purpose is to generate focus.
To have an end in mind is to see the big picture — as the expression goes, “to see the forest for the trees” — without giving up the ability to zoom in when and where it is needed.
In another life, I was an anthropologist. I studied that most bizarre of animals, the life-coach. It amazed me how, like a vizier from mythological Persia or a philosopher from ancient Greece, one of these beings could make a living doing what most of us do for free: telling others how to solve their problems.
(Blah blah blah, I can hear them already: “a good coach doesn’t give people solutions, but helps them find solutions,”; another common feature of the species is its abundant sense of humor with regard to others, and a complete lack of it in relation to themselves.)
One of the favorite rituals of these strange beings is what they call “the pizza of life.” They practice this ritual frequently, sometimes even several times a month, but they swear that it is most important to do it at least once a year! It looks something like this:
A “pizza of life,” as typically designed by the Lifus Coachus species (Portuguese).
The goal is to give each of these important areas of our life a score from 0 to 10, but as numbers are a scary thing, the life-coach opts for a visual representation, a “coloring-in” of each slice. I tried the practice a few times, and I didn’t like it; it felt too much like a high school self-assessment, and if my studies in philosophy and neurology converge in anything, it is in the certainty that self-assessment is one of the things that we, human beings, are least capable at.
The segmentation into specific areas, however, interested me.
The first step in solving any problem is to formulate it correctly. The second step is to make it specific, or to divide it into specific parts. Dividing our lives into several areas of action helps us in two ways:
It makes us aware of balance and unbalances in our lives and areas of focus.
It makes us define what we want in a more concrete way.
From this observation, I started the practice of, at the beginning of each year, making a “wish list,” with 1 to 3 items per area. At this stage, I focus on “what I want to happen” and not so much in “how can I make it happen.” These are not “New Year’s resolutions,” but rather an identification of wishes and problems. The distinction is subtle, but important.
A resolution is a “I’m going to do this.” But a “I’m going to do this” without a purpose behind it is doomed to fail. The purpose of this exercise is for me to decide what I want — or have — to change; the mechanisms through which to effect that change, those are for another exercise.
Here are some observations about the categories I use, and the questions I use to generate desires and ambitions:
Health – The cornerstone; without health, nothing is achievable. How would you like to find yours at the end of this year?
Career – Different from money; many people are satisfied with what they do, but are unable to pay the bills; others have everything they want but hate their job. What would make you feel accomplished, professionally, this year?
Money – Not just a number. How will your relationship with money evolve over this year? “Becoming good at investing.” is a common ambition.
Love – What is missing from your love life? To find, build, or maintain a relationship with that special someone? How would it feel to do so?
Family and Friends – What do you want from your relationships with those closest to you?
Contribution – What could you do that would improve the state of your neighborhood, your city, your country?
Personal Development – What would you like to learn this year? What are you going to become a master at?
Hobbies and Social Life – Time for fun! What would make you sure that you enjoyed life to its fullest?
Peer Group – What kind of people and groups would challenge and support you to maximize your growth? Who do you want to be around?
Personal Leadership – What would have to happen to make you feel more independent and fearless?
Life Purpose – What are you doing here? How can you do more of it this year?
Spirituality – What can you do to be closer, more integrated with the world / universe? (Religion is optional.)
Again, these are not resolutions. The question is “what?”, not “how?”
The plan was that I would avoid new things, so as not to get carried away by current trends and, instead, be able to properly appreciate things that were no longer under the limelight.
The project failed badly, at least as far as video games are concerned. Here is a brief account of my failure, and an analysis of why I failed.
When it came to books, everything went well. I spent the year reading several books that were waiting for me, some of them decade-old. (Favorites: “Life and Achievements of Alexis Zorbás” and “Christ, Recrucified” by Nikos Kazantzakis.)
Regarding cinema, I admit that I completely forgot about my decision, but damage only happened come December, when I received a free trial period for Disney+, which I used to see the last season of “The Mandalorian” and the new Pixar film, “Soul,” with my wife. I had spent the previous months exploring Netflix’s archive, without feeling any major loss.
Life clashed with my plans in the video game landscape. It turns out that my friends (and brother) convinced me to resurrect a long-dormant project, ene3cast; ene3cast was the first Portuguese podcast on video games.
The goal this time was to finally turn the hobby into a business. We set up a subscription system, and went to work generating content. It quickly became clear to me that the Portuguese market is not big enough to support a program focused on the “games of the past” niche. Whether we like it or not, selling an audio program — especially when competition is free — requires one to be up to date on current trends.
And that was how 2020 ended up not being a year in which I played only older games, but in reality, became one of the years in which I played the most recently released games.
All in all, it was a good decision. Sometimes projects come into conflict, and we have to choose which to proceed with. In this case, what I gained — a source of alternative revenue, many hours of fun recording with friends, and the experience of setting up a micro-business — far exceeded the satisfaction that fulfilling my initial decision would bring me.
Don’t be afraid to change course. Sometimes, more attractive destinations appear.