The Case Against Goals – #6

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Goals Aren’t Fluid, But Life Is (… Like Traffic) – #3

In the last article, I suggested that if we would simply take note of our mindset as we go about driving from place to place, we can apply some of those discoveries toward success in other areas of life. I said I’d share some of my observations in subsequent articles (starting here), but I also gave an assignment.

Did you do it? Did you take a few days to observe how traffic “behaves” and how you “behave” in traffic? Over the course of three or four days, the average driver will experience traffic in more than one scenario – start-and-stop, rural, freeway, etc. In the last few days, what was your mindset as you went from here to there? In this and the next article, we’re going to discuss a few of the ways our travel in traffic is like life. The focus of the discussion in this article is on just one thing: decision-making. 

(And in case you’re wondering what all this has to do with making the case against goals and/or making the case for something better, you’ll have to trust me. If we go on this journey together, step-by-step, I promise that you’ll find that replacing goals & goal-setting with something better is exactly what we’re doing.)

So, as we look at driving and decision-making, let’s consider a few questions:

When you’re out on the roads, do you view every other car and truck out there as a potential obstacle to you getting where you want to go? Do you find yourself getting irritated about things that are not at all under your control? Do you immediately seek an alternative route at the first sign of slow traffic? When the light goes from green to yellow, are you more likely to push on the accelerator than the brake?

In my humble opinion, if you didn’t say, ‘Yes, sometimes’ to at least one of those questions, you’re either a horrible driver or you’re a liar. My point here isn’t to encourage you to be a more conscientious and patient driver, although patience is always a virtue.

Good drivers know that it’s best not to view the other vehicles out there as our opponents and/or obstacles. It’s usually best to go with the flow. The opposite mindset can lead to unintended consequences. Also, there are times when good drivers do indeed consider alternative routes if the road ahead doesn’t look good.

And yes, when the light above the intersection turns bright yellow, hitting the accelerator is absolutely the right thing to do … sometimes. Not all the time, but some of the time.

The point I’m getting at is that good drivers make decisions. They decide in advance that the circumstances that are out of their control may dictate some of the action choices they make (taking a detour when there’s construction, for instance). 

But they also decide in advance that they’ll do their best to keep a cool head if another driver does something stupid. For example, if I decide in advance that I won’t blame the other driver(s) for my attitude choices when someone cuts me off, I’m less likely to lose my cool when someone cuts me off.

I’m saying that deciding in advance as to how we’ll react to things out there on the road – whether it’s an action I need to take or an attitude I need to fake – is an absolute key to being a good driver. And when we think about it (as if this wasn’t already obvious), this “decide-in-advance” principle is definitely something that applies to every area of life.

I will decide in advance that I will act and react to the person who I’ve had a tense relationship with as if, in their heart, they have no idea how they’re coming across; they have no desire to hurt me, and we both probably want a lot of the same core things out of life. If that’s my mindset in advance of my interactions with that person, am I less likely or more likely to see an improvement in my relationship with them?

I will decide in advance that if the project at work goes sideways, I will take the initiative in being a part of the solution to whatever went wrong. I will not blame others or participate in politics as that kind of nonsense freezes creativity and stifles collaboration. If that’s my mindset in advance of anything going wrong, am I more likely or less likely to be stressed when things go haywire? and am I less likely or more likely to attract loyalty and to promote creativity and collaboration now and in the future?

I will decide in advance that my vision is strong enough to keep me standing steady if and when what I am working on does not come about as planned, or on schedule, and especially if it appears that all hope of it ever coming about appears lost. I will not lose faith. I will not lose hope. If things ever look lost, I will have decided in advance of those circumstances that feelings are not facts and that not knowing how to get back on track does not mean being unable to get back on track. I will decide in advance that I have the capacity to acquire the tools and to learn all the skills necessary to keep my commitments and to succeed in spite of how things may look and in spite of what others may say. I will decide in advance that I can and I will do that which I know I’m supposed to do and that the rewards will more than make up for the frustration between where I am today and where I need to be. If that’s my mindset, is it more likely or less likely that I’ll give up when the going gets tough? And if that’s my mindset, am I less likely or more likely to be absolutely unstoppable when it comes to taking care of business?

If I handle issues like those mentioned above in the ways that I have already decided in advance that those issues will be handled, I will rule over my feelings rather than the other way around. My feelings will not be the driving force in my decision-making; my course of action will be dictated according to the decisions I already made, back before the challenges came, rather than an emotional reaction that, by definition, does not take all the facts into consideration. 

My printer came with a manual. In the manual is a section titled “Troubleshooting.” The maker of the printer wisely knew that issues that prevent the smooth running of the printer may arise and that it would be good if the owner of the printer had a place to go in order to know how to resolve the various problems that may be encountered. I’ve almost always been able to overcome my exasperation and happily fix the problem by consulting the Troubleshooting Guide.

You will never find a Troubleshooting section in a manual for a piece of electronic equipment that says the following:

If you encounter an unforeseen problem with this product, we understand that you may feel frustrated. If the solution to the problem is not immediately obvious to you, you may even feel irritated and perhaps even betrayed. If so, try the following emotional reaction: Locate a fairly heavy hammer. Stand half an arm’s length away from the product. Hold firmly to the handle of the hammer. With your arm bent 45 degrees at the elbow, raise the head of the hammer above your head while maintaining the handle at approximately eye-level. Still holding firmly to the handle of the hammer, and synchronizing the movement of your arm and wrist, use your wrist to cause the head of the hammer to make a downward arc with your wrist, while simultaneously using the downward motion of your arm to cause the head of the hammer to come into violent contact with the product. Be sure to use a substantial amount of force. Consider using a force quotient that is commensurate to your level of emotion. For example, lots of emotion equals lots of destructive force brought to bear with the head of the hammer upon the product. See if that helps. If not, try our counseling hotline.

Letting emotion make my decisions for me never helps. It generally makes things worse… pretty much every time. This is true with printers, and in dealing with difficult people, and with work-related issues, and anything else that stops working the way it is supposed to.

It’s also true when dealing with what happens when you’re behind the wheel. Decide in advance what your mindset will be before go out on the road. If you do, things will go more smoothly and safely than if you outsource your decisions to other drivers and to the circumstances as they arise.

This is the first item on our “What Traffic Can Teach Us About Life” list. None of the remaining items will be dealt with as exhaustively as this one as this particular lesson is so foundational and fundamental to all the others.

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