Sometimes we hear we should do “whatever it takes” to achieve our goals.
That has always struck me as somewhat curious advice.
I tell my patients we have two components to our internal guidance systems: our goals and our values. We get feedback from both of these components via our feelings.
Our goals are the stuff we want. They represent the people, places, and things that send surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine through our brains, which in turn spurs us into action.
Goals represent the stuff we want to move toward, day by day.
Our values represent things we find important. Most often values are described in terms of concepts or ideas or principles. We can value truth, balance, achievement, justice, kindness.
Values represent the limits by which we choose to live, so we can sleep at night.
We need to be committed to both our goals and our values. Insufficient commitment to either is a recipe for low self-esteem and lack of fulfillment.
When it’s said we should do “whatever it takes” in order to achieve goals, however, this neglects the “values” side of the equation.
Attention to BOTH goals and values is essential if we’re trying to create happiness that endures and expands.
The pursuit of goals that is not guided and bounded by values is a recipe not just for difficulty sleeping at night…it probably won’t lead to the satisfying achievement of those goals, either.
Our culture really, really likes talking about goals. I really, really like talking about goals, too.
Goals are fun to think about. There’s a reason why imagining the stuff we want lights up our central nervous system like a Christmas tree. We’ve been evolutionarily programmed to seek out shiny objects that enhance our happiness and survival.
There’s not a thing in the world wrong with wanting stuff and going after it.
Our culture is less hot about talking about values.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Much of the discussion on social media these days does seem to be about values, at least superficially. We love to post and react to posts about who is and isn’t a good person, and whether the things people think, say, and do fall in line with values we agree with.
The thing is, those discussions seem to revolve mainly around the limits we’d prefer placed on other people— not us.
Relatively rarely do we see deep discussion about how values limit what WE should think, do, and say.
We see lots and lots and lots of content posted about how we wish other people would be limited by our values…but I can’t remember the last time someone posted something about how they were personally wrestling with the limits their values place on their pursuit of goals.
It’s almost as if many people want to have their cake and eat it, too.
They want to be able to pursue the things they want, and not be limited by the things they value.
All of which isn’t exactly my point here. My point here is that you should not, in fact, do “whatever it takes” to achieve your goals.
My point is that you should do those things to achieve your goals that are consistent with your values system.
My point is also that you should do everything you can, within that values system, to achieve your goals.
Goals and values are important because they are the building blocks of who we are and how we impact the world. They define our very existence. “Who are you” is a question that fundamentally asks what you want and what you value.
Successful living requires a great deal of thought about both goals and values.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing we can sacrifice either one in the service of the other.
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