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Use Controlled Bursts of Focus to Leap Ahead And Find Balance

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Click for photo Finding balance is top of mind for so many people.  As a topic of interest, it’s increasing in popularity on the web and in books and magazines year over year.  It’s no wonder that in a 2007 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), 48% of Americans surveyed feel their lives have become more stressful in the past five years.   When you add up all of the inboxes you’re struggling to manage each day just to feel productive, and then add the expectation that you feel you need to react immediately, it’s no surprise.  People have a lot of plates spinning simultaneously.  More than one third of the people surveyed in this study feel that work encroaching on personal time was the reason for their increased stress.  So naturally, finding balance is a life-essential skill for 2009 and beyond.  Heck, even the contributors at Wikipedia agree, “As the separation between work and home life has diminished, this concept has become more relevant than ever before.”

But what does balance really mean – and couldn’t it mean different things to different people?  When people talk about balance, they’re frequently referring to work/life balance.  A quick search on “work life balance” yields a number of results seemingly indicating that work/life balance means working a 9-5 job and then “shutting off”, compartmentalizing your work and home life.  When you’re at work, you aren’t thinking about your home life – and when you’re at home, you definitely aren’t “worrying” about work.  There are steps you can take to protect your personal time such as refusing to answer email off-hours, setting expectations up-front with your employer that you’re offline as soon as you walk out the door, planning recreational activities and sticking to a schedule, and so on.

Naturally I’m a big believer in embracing the present moment.  But what if pure compartmentalization can lead to mediocrity?  What if in the struggle for daily balance, you’re missing out on long-term accomplishment and complete contentment?  If every single day contained a healthy balance over the course of a lifetime, would you meet or exceed the goals you set out for yourself?  Would that make you happier or more content, or would it leave you feeling empty?

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Written by Mike Torres

June 7th, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Does Goal Setting Hold Us Back?

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Click for photo Over the years I’ve read many criticisms of “pop psychology”, specifically relating to the notion that setting goals is a necessary precursor to actually achieving them.  There are people who believe that the very act of setting goals is what holds people back from achieving something they’d otherwise be drawn towards.  Sort of like a reverse law of attraction.

Now, I’m a big fan of thinking critically and applying a skeptic’s eye towards everything, so instead of ignoring perspectives that differ from mine, I try to really internalize them, live with them, and apply anything particularly useful to my own approach.

So before going further, let’s recap some of the most prevalent critiques of setting goals:

  • People with goals are future focused and not focused on the present moment.  By focusing on something that hasn’t happened yet, they’re not focusing on what’s happening now.  Goal setting is by definition counter to living a present and conscious life.
  • Goals are rigid and unchanging despite changes around them.  Someone who set a goal to save an additional $10,000 in January 2008 just to lose $30,000 in the stock market by October for instance.  By having a rigid goal that wasn’t adjusted for everyday reality, this person wasn’t able to react quickly enough to changing market conditions.  While others reacted quickly, this person stayed attached to a false goal.
  • Goal setting leads to a loss of meaningful relationships.  People who are so focused on achievement can fail to focus appropriately on the things that really matter in life: connection with other human beings.  Spend too much time blindly following a goal instead of just living and relationships start to break down.
  • Setting goals can make fun things feel like work.  The immediate reaction people have to deadlines and commitments is to balk.  People don’t like to be told what to do and when they need to get it done – they long to be free.  If someone – even themselves – tells them they have to achieve something by a specific date, they’re not going to have fun in the process even if it’s something they enjoy.
  • Setting goals absolves people of thinking critically.  In a Northwestern University paper called “Goals Gone Wild”, Professor Adam Galinsky makes the claim that “[goal setting] can focus attention too much, or on the wrong things; it can lead to crazy behaviors to get people to achieve them.”  There have also been papers written about how “goals and other incentives can constrict our thinking” by giving us an unneeded fallback plan.  Why think for yourself when you know you have to achieve the goal at all costs?

Naturally, just like most things in life, there’s a much more nuanced way to think about this.

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Written by Mike Torres

May 3rd, 2009 at 1:43 pm