Jul 302010

happy I’ve noticed a synchronicity lately with regard to the idea of “goals”. At the very time when I’m feeling some personal frustration at not meeting some of my important goals – two of my favorite bloggers, Steve Pavlina and Leo Babauta, are posting about the idea of reducing the importance of goals in our life.

Leo, in his Zen Habits blog, writes that the problem with goals is that they may force us to work on things we aren’t really passionate about.

Goals as a system are set up for failure. Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

The ideal life, according to Leo, is one in which we follow our inspiration and passion at each moment. This is the kind of life that produces truly great results. Coincidentally (or not), Steve Pavlina has been trying an experiment in which he tries to follow his inspiration and passion in each moment. In the past, if a flash of inspiration came to him, he would write it down for later planning and scheduling. Now (or at least for the next few weeks of the experiment) he just DOES it.

When an inspired idea comes to me, I act on it almost immediately. I know that I have about a 48-hour window — maximum — to write and publish that idea. Otherwise the energy is gone. Trying to create that same content later is possible, but it’s much more difficult and takes a lot longer.

The experience is like catching a wave. I might wake up one morning and get an idea for a new article, and I know I need to grab my laptop immediately and let it flow through me. In those situations I can write nearly as fast as I can type, without having to pause to think.

This is an interesting tie-in to something Eckhart Tolle said in A New Earth. If you do something – even the simplest thing – in complete harmony with your higher self (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) then what you do will improve the entire spirit of the planet – even if what you’re doing is sitting on a mat watching the birds fly by. On the other hand, if you try to do something wonderful, and it is NOT in complete harmony with your higher self, then – no matter how externally wonderful it may seem – you are harming yourself and everyone on the planet. You are bringing an energy of disharmony into the world, and ultimately, that energy is negative and will have negative effects. When we work from the higher self, we are a conduit for the Spirit into the world:

For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13 WEB)

Some degree of planning or scheduling is probably useful in a world where everything runs by the clock and people are expected to produce on schedule. But perhaps we overdo it. I’m going to reconsider the importance of goals in the larger scheme of things.

Of course, this can be risky. As Steve Pavlina puts it:

Dealing with the unpredictability of what’s going to happen next is extremely unsettling. In order to make it through this, I have to let go of trying to control anything. I have to let go and trust

Which is what faith is all about. It’s not about clinging tenaciously to a dogma. It’s about trusting that Spirit will see you through.

Mar 032010

I’m recently returned from a week-long conference of study and test-taking in the field of database design (my day-job), and find my mind completely burnt-out by the effort. Rather than wait till I feel especially inspired and creative, I’m going to adapt a lesson from one of my classes.

The class was on “agile” programming. I’ll quickly explain. More “traditional” methods of computer programming developed by such folks as the Department of Defense involved many stages of doing such things as gathering requirements and developing detailed documentation and designs before ever beginning to write programs. To be blunt, this effort to design the perfect program in advance doesn’t work very well. Requirements change. People aren’t sure in advance exactly what they want. And sometimes people don’t read documentation. The result is that a piece of software can take years to develop before everyone realizes that it isn’t really what they want. By then it’s too late.

“Agile” programming methods, in contrast, focus on building a program in small increments, with little documentation – but with immediate feedback from the people who will be using the program. It starts off pretty simple and crude, but at each stage, it gets better. And the people using the program can see how it’s progressing along the way, as their requirements change, or as they realize they didn’t really know what they wanted at the beginning. This results in better computer programs, more quickly, less expensively, and with happier users and programmers.

Perfectionism, in other words, is a trap. It’s not possible to know in advance, or in isolation, what the “perfect” system or solution will be. It’s much better to begin with an “ok” solution and modify it as needed along the way, as real-life situations suggest improvements.

As a junkie of self-development systems, I fall into the trap of perfectionism constantly. Some of you reading know exactly what I mean. Do you try each year to develop the perfect planning system, the perfect filing system, or the perfect diet, instead of simply starting with an “ok” system and making adjustments? Is your library cluttered with books about the latest perfect system for self-development? Is your closet cluttered with the latest exercise gadget?

For me, and I suspect for many others, perfectionism is really an effort-avoidance strategy at some unconscious level. We work at designing the perfect system because we don’t want to engage in the hard work of actually starting. There’s a very interesting book called The War of Art by Steven

 Pressfield that talks about creative blocks. Pressfield teaches that there is actually a psychic force or entity called “Resistance” which is actively engaged in the goal of preventing you from fulfilling your calling or destiny. Perfectionism is among the many tools it uses to keep you from actually achieving your goals.

To overcome resistance we need to discipline ourselves to take action – as if we were literally warriors.  A warrior has no time, in the heat of battle, to wait upon the perfect plan.  Take action today on your goals. Create even if you aren’t feeling creative. Whatever it is you do,  do it. Stop planning endlessly and actually put in some work – even if you aren’t feeling at your best. Mistakes can be corrected. But you can’t correct the work you never even start.

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