Sunday, October 2, 2011

Goals: Why Is It So Easy To Set Them And Yet So Hard To Fulfill Them?

Why is it that we humans are so capable of living completely at odds with ourselves – desperately wanting to be smarter, thinner, richer, healthier, nicer, more compassionate, charitable and efficient – and yet we can spend every day doing things that feverishly undermine all of that?

Personally, I'm very good at making lists: On any given day, I can produce 10-year plans, 5-year projections, annual goals, weekly priorities and daily tasks that I read with gusto, eager to get cracking!

But there always seems to be distraction. For example: is it a "goal" to clean out your Inbox of the 1200+ emails that include 8-month-old ads for affordable life insurance and expired Groupons to The Olive Garden? Since I've lost entire mornings wandering this vast wasteland of ghosts from emails past and I did manage to delete several back issues of The Economist as well as a slew of Discussion Posts from the many LinkedIn groups I'm following, I must be entitled to feel some sense of accomplishment.

So I fish one of the many lists from my purse and after the fact scribble the words, "Clean out INBOX." Then with a firm grip on the pen, I cross through the entry and place a big checkmark next to it in triumphant splendor. I'm such a doer!  A few times I've actually written, "Get dressed" on the list just to have a goal I knew I would achieve. Other days I congratulate myself for replacing the toilet paper roll rather than lazily perching it atop the empty spindle like I usually do.

In the area of self improvement, I'm not much better. I want to be more spiritual. I want to read more. Why do I seek these things so desperately in my heart and mind – even beat myself up over the lack of it – and yet my decades-old copy of A Course in Miracles sits pristinely on my nightstand beneath an empty tissue box and next to a copy of an equally pristine (and as yet unread) copy of a 3-week-old New York Times?

I almost never read the New York Times. There, I said it. I only took the complimentary copy left at my hotel room door while on a weekend trip – with full intentions of reading every page – because I want to be like those people on the Times commercial, lounging around their glassy penthouse wearing Egyptian cotton robes and drinking freshly brewed espresso from a $2000 Saeco while casually turning the pages of the esteemed New York Times. They smile as one reads an interesting tidbit from the "Arts" section while the other nods with interest and snaps open the stocks page. No doubt these two own stock and in spite of the slagging economy, it's gone up. Why? Because such are the kind of people who read the New York Times: Winners. Doers. And as I watch the couple in the commercial, I obediently think, "I want to be a doer…" So I grabbed my free copy of the Times, visualizing my perfect Sunday morning as my fingers brush its pages. And so three weeks later it still sits on my night-stand, waiting to fulfill its destiny of transforming my life.

So much for intellectual development, which would be fine if I could lean on my athletic prowess as an achievement barometer, but in the goal-setting category, exercise proves no better. The "As-seen-on-TV" Shake-weight I bought last summer made it out of the box and enjoyed a few mornings of the "six-minute workout" before I cleverly propped it against  that pesky bedroom door that always swings shut, and it's been dutifully holding it open ever since.

Ah, and then there's motherhood. There's nothing like babies, in all their cooing cuteness to highlight just how out of sorts, inefficient and unorganized we are.  A very wise woman once said, "Motherhood is the most important boring job you'll ever have – like sorting God's socks." Motherhood has immeasurable rewards, but there's definitely a learning curve. And for me at least, another chance to question the level of control I have over my own life and over that annoying rainbow we forever chase called, the "work-life balance."

Simply put: I knew I was a "mom" when, finally through with breastfeeding, I enjoyed a long-missed glass of wine and accompanied it with Cheerios. Note: People do not have House wine and Cheerios as an afternoon snack. At least not the kind of people who read the New York Times. They have a nice Barolo with prosciutto and imported Spanish cheese. People who order a House wine and absent-mindedly eat Cheerios from a plastic disk in the bottom of their purse are the same kind of people who use books as pedestals for Kleenex and Shake-weights as door-stops (And I guess they make a lot of lists, too).

I don't know why some people are Times people and some are not. For those of us who are not, I don't know why we eat the cupcake, light the cigarette, take the drink, watch the reality show, text too much, sleep too late, or do so many things.

And I don't know why we don't eat better, exercise more, read a book to the end, talk to each other, listen better, put down the remote, meditate, practice yoga, and finally be the person we really and truly want to be.

I don't know why we humans self-sabotage.

But I do know that with all the lists I make and in spite of the many silly things I write on them, I somehow manage to get things done eventually. Sometimes I really do go jogging. And sometimes the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the air is so overpowering that I jog straight into the bakery fifteen minutes into my run. And I STILL have the guts to take out my list and cross through the word, "jog" with great satisfaction. And then beneath it, to set myself up for a day of achievement I add the word, "shower." Who says I'm not goal-oriented?

Next on my list: "Give myself a break."

Stephanie Maier is an international political, democracy and media consultant of fifteen years, and in spite of being goal-challenged, she's worked in twelve countries, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Cambodia, Haiti and throughout The Middle East.  Stephanie is an enthusiastic mom of two small children and still occasionally enjoys wine and Cheerios.

Thanks to Stephanie Maier / The Work At Home Woman

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