I once had a manager who, to be honest, was a bit full of himself. The work we did was challenging. It was sales which, as we know, involves performance goals that are not always within our ability to control.
The company paid salespeople strictly on commissions. There was no base pay, so as a salesperson if you did not perform well, you didn’t make much. The high-pressure environment and commission based income led to high turnover.
My manager worked hard, and he did very well for himself. There were plenty of reasons for him to be confident in his role and with his success. But he was more than confident, he was cocky.
I remember distinctly something he said when a fellow salesperson decided to quit. This salesperson had swum competitively in high school and had then been asked to coach a competitive swim team.
He loved swimming and had always dreamed of coaching. As he was returning to school in the fall to study law, he was forced to decide between coaching the swim team and continuing his sales job at the company.
In the end, he decided to follow his passion and become a coach. Of this decision, my manager said, “Some people just can’t hack it, so they look for an excuse to quit.”
The quick reaction of my manager to judge this man as weak, simply for deciding that he no longer wanted to be a salesperson, has stuck with me for a long time.
In our culture, this type of judgment is common. People assume that others aren’t as good as them, because they don’t excel at the same things or because they choose a different path.
I don’t think it’s fair to judge someone as weak, incapable or ‘not cut from the right clothe’ simply because they choose to pursue other interests.
In an attempt to live intentionally, I want to suspend judgment of others and give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to be happy for others in the paths they take for themselves, even if they are different than my own.
Below, I’ve shared some thoughts on how to appraise the strengths and weaknesses of ourselves and others, and how that appraisal can help us suspend judgment.
What is a Skill
Years ago, I read a Gallup book called Strengths Finder that described an intense study of the key strengths of successful people. It also provided a test for the reader to determine what their own strengths.
One of the main principles of the book was that in order to succeed in life, you should focus the majority of your time doing things that are your strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses.
It was an interesting approach. What I found most useful from the book, was the guidance it provided in determining your own strengths.
It listed two key characteristics that must exist in order for a skill to be considered a strength: (1) your ability to do the skill and (2) whether performing the skill energized you or drained you.
Are You Good at It?
This is a fairly simple question, with a fairly simple answer. The risk we run is in thinking that we must be good at a skill the first time we try it if it is to be considered a strength.
I don’t believe that is the case. If you are not naturally inclined to perform a skill well, you can spend time improving upon that skill, until you are good at it.
The effort you are willing to put into mastering a skill is derived, in part, by the second characteristic of a strength.
Does It Give You Energy?
It is certainly possible to be good at a skill, while simultaneously abhorring the performance of it. If a skill doesn’t give you energy, then its probably not a strength, and you probably don’t want to spend your life working at it.
Rather, you should focus your time and energy on things that do bring you energy. When I write, I feel good. It takes a lot of mental energy and some determination to keep writing, but when I do it, I am always glad I did.
I also feel good when I speak in public. This might sound crazy to some people, but it gives me a bit of a high. Whether I’m teaching a small class or presenting in front of an audience of a thousand people, it makes me feel good.
In fact, to some extent, I think I’m more comfortable talking to a thousand people than I am talking to one person. I know I’m crazy.
At the same time, there are things I’m probably good at but hate doing; such as sales, interviewing, and crucial conversations.
Choosing to focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses can help us be confident and find success. We should also allow others to focus on their strengths, and forgive them for their weaknesses.
The other thing I’ve taken from Strengths Finder’s definition of a strength is the ability to look at others and realize that it’s alright for them to have their own strengths – which is the reason I’ve shared the definition here.
If we can look inside ourselves and see that there are things we’re good at and things we’re bad at, it makes it easier for us to see that others also have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Judging others based on our own context of the situation is not only damaging to others, its damaging to us. Surely, the stories we tell about others and their decisions, are the same stories we inevitably tell about ourselves.
We should grant others the right to decide what their strengths are and cheer them on as they pursue them.
So, the next time we encounter any of the example situations listed below, maybe we can for the moment suspend judgment.
You know someone who has recently quit or been fired from their job, and you wonder why it is that they can’t maintain steady employment.
You see someone in the gym who is clearly wasting their time because they don’t push themselves in any of the workouts they are doing. Or, you see someone who you believe is just trying to get others to notice them, rather than focusing on their workout.
You have a friend or family member who is always talking about their goals and what they hope to accomplish, but you can see that they aren’t taking any steps towards making them happen.
Our duty is to believe that for which we have sufficient evidence, and to suspend our judgment when we have not. – John Lubbock
The colleague from my earlier story, the one who quit to become a swim coach, turned out just fine. In fact, he coached throughout the remainder of his time in school and is now an attorney.
I guarantee that he is happier now as an attorney, than he would have been had he continued as a salesperson. I don’t know if he still coaches swimming, but I’m sure his experience as a coach was fulfilling for him.
We spend far too much time thinking about the weaknesses of others, rather than seeing their strengths. Wouldn’t it be better if we all acknowledged that everyone has their own strengths and encouraged them to find and pursues those strengths?
When faced with an opportunity to judge someone, let’s suspend that judgment and see them for who they truly are.
I hope this was helpful for you in some way. If so, please comment below. Thanks.
Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.
A few posts back I shared some experiences I had while selling alarm systems door-to-door in Indianapolis. During that summer I certainly learned a lot about sales, at least alarm system sales, but that wasn’t the biggest takeaway for me.
What I found is that when you are on the streets all day long, going out of your way to speak with as many people as possible, you see some strange things and you meet some interesting people.
One day, I met a man at his doorstep. Right away, I knew that he was an interesting person because rather than calling me simply Josh, he was intent on calling me by my full name. To him I was Joshua.
It wasn’t just that he used my full name, it was the way he put emphasis on the syllables. He pronounced my name Josh-u-ah.
He made me laugh, so I engaged him in a conversation. During our conversation, I peeked passed him in the doorway and looked into the interior of his home.
I saw nothing.
Nothing at all. His entire living and dining room area was empty. I asked if he had just moved in, and is his response surprised me.
Very confidently, he told me that he was a minimalist. I had never heard this term before, so I immediately took it to mean that he owned as little as possible. Or perhaps nothing at all.
He told me that possessions were a burden. That without them he was free to live his life as he pleased. To an extent, I agreed with him, but I still thought he was strange.
I couldn’t help but correlate his desire to own very little, to the peculiar way in which he said my name. Josh-u-ah.
My curiosity for this man and his way of living only increased hours later, when I again passed by his house. This time I could see directly into his bedroom, which of course had no curtains. I noticed that he did have a bed, and he was laying on top it, staring straight at the ceiling.
I thought that this must be how minimalists spent their time. They didn’t have televisions, so they stared at the ceiling.
Little did I know at the time that I would one day become a minimalist of sorts myself. My brand of minimalism is a bit different than the nice man I met in Indianapolis, but like that man, I have found that I don’t need many possessions and that having fewer possessions has given me a sense of freedom.
I don’t think I’m perfect at being minimalist, in fact, I don’t think there is a proper definition of what is perfect. What I have found is that decluttering and only keeping things that add utility to my life, the things that are truly valuable, makes life simpler and my home a bit more peaceful.
Below is some research about why minimalism makes sense and some thoughts to consider for why you might try it yourself.
Arguments for Owning Less
Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to study at the library, as opposed to your house or apartment? It’s quieter, and even though there are people there, it’s less distracting.
The same goes for working in a Starbucks. Despite people moving all around you, some of them even shouting, it’s easier to get your work done there.
Why is this the case?
I would argue that one of the reasons it’s easier, is because there is so much less stuff around.
And if there is stuff, it’s not your stuff. It creates a much less distracting and much more productive work environment.
Walk into any Silicon Valley office building and you will find a sleek, minimalist design. This is intentional, and it’s based on actual research.
Having a home cluttered with possessions can make it harder for you to focus on tasks. It can cause anxiety; especially when you’re thinking about adding more to your home.
Clearing the possessions off your counters and shelves can free up your physical space and your mental space.
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” – Henry David Thoreau
Not Tied Down by Possessions
I once worked with a woman who complained that she had not been on vacation for almost a decade. While her husband would travel, she would stay home all by herself. I was flabbergasted.
I couldn’t believe that she could be telling the truth, so I pressed her for more information. I wanted to know why she had not traveled. She clearly had a well-paying job. She clearly had a desire.
The reason she gave was even more flabbergasting. She told me that she hadn’t traveled because of her dogs. At some point, she had begun acquiring husky puppies, and now she had six full-grown huskies living in her home.
Finding someone to watch them or somewhere for them to go when she traveled was just too difficult. So, she never left town.
This may sound crazy, it did for me when I heard it myself, but in some regard, we all have possessions that keep us tied down. It may be our mortgage, car payments, yard work, or some other material object that makes it difficult for us to do other things.
Even the need to water the flowers can be a hindrance to other experiences we may want to enjoy. It’s not always easy to sneak away when you’ve got something you must do, it’s even harder.
Owning less can make life feel less burdensome.
We won’t have to clean and organize as much. We won’t have as many chores or responsibilities. We won’t have to worry as much when people ask to borrow our possessions. We won’t live in constant fear of losing our possessions.
“Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau
Shifting your mindset to want fewer possessions will free you up to focus on what really matters. Rather than spending your time thinking about what to do with your house, car, boat, or RV you can spend your time thinking about others.
If the love of money is the root of all evil, the love of people is the root of all good.
Relationships are key to a life well lived, and putting people ahead of possessions is a solid reason to explore owning less.
The guys now commonly known as The Minimalists often share a great quote, “Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.”
People are the key to happiness, so why wouldn’t we want to shift our priorities to them.
Goodness is the only investment that never fails. – Henry David Thoreau
How we Perceive Our Identity
When we think about celebrities, we’re usually pretty aware of why they are celebrities – it’s because they do something that most other people can’t do. Kevin Durant is an amazing basketball player. Coldplay is a very talented group of musicians. Jimmy Fallon is a skilled comedian and late night host.
We don’t identify any of these people based on the things that they possess. Rather, we associate all of them with the things that they do.
However, in our lives, we often associate ourselves with our possessions. Our big screen TVs, our style of dress, or our car or truck.
Why do we do this? These things don’t accurately reflect who we are. When we spend less time thinking about what we could have, we spend more time thinking about what we could do or who we could become.
People who identify with a passion for doing something often throw their entire lives into that thing. And what’s ironic about their willingness to embrace their passion is that it often leads to outsized success.
Having less and doing more is fundamental in creating our true identities.
There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself. – Henry David Thoreau
In a previous post, which you can read here, I wrote about all the reasons why I don’t own a television. Some of these reasons were financial. And just as there are scores of financial reasons for not owning a TV, there are many financial reasons for owning less stuff.
Imagine if you could reduce your monthly expenses by $100 per month. That might not sound like a lot. But if you were to cut out miscellaneous spending on things such as clothing, knickknacks, decorations, and subscriptions that you don’t need most people could probably save at least $100 per month.
Do you know how much money you would have if you invested $100 per month, with 5% compound interest, for the next 40 years? $152,602.
What if it was $500 per month? $763,010
What if it was $1,000 per month? $1,526,020
My point here is simple – if you invest money, rather than spending money, then it will pay off in a big way. The ability to invest rather than consume is a huge benefit to a life dedicated to owning less.
The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. – Henry David Thoreau
Research Shows that Possessions don’t Make us Happier
There is plenty of research to show that owning things not only doesn’t make us happier but over time it also makes us less happy. Like here and here.
Possessions are subject to a biological phenomenon known as adaptation. In an article on FAST Company, Dr. Thomas Gilovish, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has studied the connections between money and happiness for over two decades, said, “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
Based on Gilovish’s research, we do experience a sense of happiness when we purchase something, but over time, our satisfaction with our purchase decreases.
In contrast, when we spend money on experiences, the happiness we felt from that experience stays with us.
Why is this the case? While we adapt to our physical possession and become bored with them, our experiences become part of our who we are. What we do becomes our identity.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
Another reason for the increased happiness that comes from experiences, is the shared connection experiences can provide. When you experience something with someone else, you remember it together.
Even when you’ve experienced something difficult with another person or group of people, a bond is formed. When I was in high school I played basketball and water polo. Neither team was ever that great and we didn’t win in all that much, but the members of the team became best friends.
We worked hard together through a difficult experience and it connected us. It became part of our identity.
The natural result of spending less time focusing on things and more time focusing on people is deeper, more fulfilling connections.
An interesting piece of research published in Sage Journals by Amit Jumar and Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University and Matthew Killingsworth at UC Berkeley demonstrates that waiting for experiences is more enjoyable than waiting for material purchases.
While you might be excited to buy the next Apple product, that experience of waiting does not induce as much joy as waiting for a special event in your life, say a trip or a reunion with a loved one.
Focusing on experiences rather than possessions, can actually make you happier, before you even do the thing your anticipating. There’s more joy through the entire life of the experience, from concept to memory.
Buyers Remorse and Comparisons
We also experience less buyer’s remorse for money spent on experiences. This makes sense, right? People are more likely to be unsatisfied with the new material possession they purchased than the vacation they just took.
Even if the experience was a poor one, the remorse is weaker than when we make a bad purchase decision. This goes back to the idea I shared earlier that people begin to associate their experiences with the story of their lives.
Also, we tend to think of experiences more on their own terms, rather than in comparison with other things. Learning that someone got a better deal on a sweater is probably more annoying than learning that someone had a lot of fun in Mexico, while you were in Hawaii.
Today We Don’t Even Need to Own Things
My final argument for owning less is that in the modern age, we actually don’t even need to own things. This may be truer for some people than for others, but intentional living is about making the decisions we think are the most reasonable, even if they require some sacrifices.
Especially if you live in a large city, you probably don’t need to own a car. When you need to get around there are plenty of options – public transportation, walking, riding a bike, carpooling, and even Uber or Lyft.
For anything that you want to do outdoors or on the water, you are sure to find rental options (e.g., boating, kayaking, tubing, stand-up-paddle boarding, hiking, skiing, climbing, and camping). If you go fewer than a few times per year, then renting is probably cheaper.
If you are a student, you can most likely rent electronics from your school. Public libraries have all sorts of resources; from computers to of course books. And they make owning books unnecessary unless you really want to mark them up with notes.
Owning DVDs and music CDs is completely unnecessary, as you can have quick access to almost any content you want via your computer or phone. And if you don’t own these things, you don’t need to own a shelf on which to store them.
In any situation, where you own something or are thinking about buying something, you can simply ask yourself, “Will this bring value to my life?” If the answer is no, or even maybe, then the decision of whether to keep it or buy it should be fairly simple.
When my wife and I began practicing minimalism it was exciting. We moved through the house cleaning out one room at a time. We’ve done the same thing multiple times since, and have been able to remove more and more through each sweep of the house.
We still buy new things, and people are always giving us stuff, so we make decluttering a periodic event. It’s also made it easier for us to say no to certain types of purchases of things we don’t really need.
Overall it has brought more cleanliness to the house, and for me at least, a little more sanity and tranquility.
I hope this was helpful in some way. If so, please leave a comment below and share with your family and friends. Thanks.
Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.
“The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” ~ Abraham Maslow
Few lessons I learned in high school continue with me to this day, however, I do remember one teacher who took time to delve into real-world topics, such as life and what the hell we were going to do with ours. We’ll call this above-and-beyond teacher Ms. Thurgood because she was thorough and good.
It was the final semester of my senior year of high school. While all of us students were itching for graduation and the different paths that lay ahead of us, Ms. Thurgood was intent on making sure we left school with a decent head on our shoulders.
She was a veteran teacher, which showed in her calm demeanor and the ease with which she interacted with students. She never tried to impress us; rather she dropped subtle hints to let us know that she understood what it was like to be at the crossroads of youth and adulthood.
She taught English, but her lessons often ranged well beyond the common-core curriculum she had been tasked with teaching us. For someone like me, who was constantly bored in class and felt like I was waiting out a prison sentence rather than a school year, she made the days more bearable.
There was one topic that Ms. Thurgood felt so much passion for that she devoted an entire week’s worth of our time to it. The lesson she taught us was about a man named Abraham Maslow and his study of human nature, often known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
Maslow was interesting, because, in contrast to the norms of his time, Maslow did not focus on the study of what goes wrong with people, but instead focused on studying the positive side of human behavior. Maslow was interested in human potential, and how people can achieve that potential.
“The science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side… It has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illnesses, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his psychological health.” Abraham Maslow
Maslow believed that deep down people are good and not evil. I think Mrs. Thurgood believed the same thing, which is why she wanted to share some of Maslow’s theories with us. I think she saw a lot of potential in us, but she also saw the risk we faced of not living up to that potential.
I’m sure she also wanted us to see others in a new light. To recognize that people are to a great extent the product of their environment. She wanted to give us hope. She wanted to provide a roadmap for success and happiness.
The pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy is the achievement of self-actualization. The term itself was originally coined by a man named Kurt Goldstein as a definition for the realization of one’s full potential. It means to become who you are meant to be through the expression of creativity, and the achievement of spiritual enlightenment and knowledge.
Maslow made the term popular when he developed a pyramid of human needs, which if satisfied, could help lead a person to self-actualization. In speaking of his research Maslow said, “Human life will never be understood unless its highest aspirations are taken into account. Growth, self-actualization, the striving toward health, the quest for identity and autonomy, the yearning for excellence (and other ways of phrasing the striving “upward”) must by now be accepted beyond question as a widespread and perhaps universal human tendency”
I believe that self-actualization is important because we all have a purpose on this earth and it would be a shame for us and everyone else not to realize that purpose. A nation of self-actualized people is a nation that can accomplish anything and rise above any challenge.
I believe that people have the ability to become self-actualized. But I’m concerned that while people have the opportunity and resources needed, they still may not be reaching the top of their potential. Below I’ve laid out some of my theories of why this is the case, included some research from others, and provided some possible solutions.
Background on Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs and Self-actualization
There are a lot of great online resources for learning more about Maslow, his research, and the self-actualization pyramid. Here is one of them, and here is another.
Pyramid of Human Needs
Based on Maslow’s theory people have certain innate needs, both physical and emotional, which must be met before self-actualization can occur. While these needs are built into a pyramid, Maslow later admitted that the pyramid is not so much a ladder that must be climbed, one rung after another, but instead a general guidebook. As is the case with most things, the outcome is highly dependent on the individual.
Safety needs (shelter, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear)
Love and belongingness needs(friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, affection love, belonging)
Esteem needs (esteem for oneself and respect from others)
Self-actualization needs (achieving one’s potential, self-fulfillment, personal growth and peak experiences)
Self-actualization is not about achieving wealth or prestige, but about becoming the person you have the potential to become. A few quotes from Maslow himself sum up the essence of self-actualization.
“The thing to do seems to be to find out what one is really like inside; deep down, as a member of the human species and as a particular individual”
“What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.”
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”
I also think that Thomas Jefferson speaks well to the idea of what self-actualization is and what it is not; said he, “It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness.” I’ve expounded more on this quote in relation to intentional living in a previous post, which you can find here.
How can you tell if you are a Self-actualized Person?
If you’re wondering how you can tell if you or someone else has reached the self-actualization phase, Maslow actually defined the characteristics he believed to be indicative of someone who is self-actualized.
People who are self-actualized have:
Efficient perceptions of reality
Acceptance of self, others, and nature
A reliance on their own experiences and judgment
A task their life is centered around
Continued freshness of appreciation
Profound interpersonal relationships
Comfort with solitude
Non-hostile sense of humor
Are We Self-actualized?
The question I feel inclined to ask is, are the majority of people today self-actualized? If we live in a developed country, have access to education and technology, and have all of our basic needs (biological, physiological, and safety) met shouldn’t we be able to reach self-actualization quite efficiently?
The research would suggest that on the whole people who live in developed nations are not self-actualizing. Here is some of the recent research I have found.
Harris Poll: Based on the Harris Poll, in 2017 only 33% of Americans surveyed said they were happy and slightly more than half of Millennials said they were frustrated with their career.
Gallop Poll: According to a recent Gallop Poll, the U.S. failed to rank in the top 10 happiest countries. Of the 155 nations included in the 2016 study, the United States ranked 14th.
Quartz Article: In her article, Ruth Whippman leans on research that shows, “The systematic packaging and selling of happiness is an industry estimated to be worth more than $10 billion.” She also describes how happiness has become the ultimate consumer product. She also shared that one-third of all people in the United States is likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime
“Self-actualizing people enjoy life in general and practically all its aspects, while most other people enjoy only stray moments of triumph” – Abraham Maslow
What Are the Roadblocks?
The next question to ask is why are people failing to achieve self-actualization? I have a few of my own theories, which happen to agree with some of the research. The list of items below is certainly not comprehensive, but I believe it represents the most pressing issues that many of us face.
Our Priorities are Out of Whack
In life, there are really roughly five categories of meaningful activities on which you can spend your time, such as activities related to your family, friends, education/career, health (physical and mental), and religion. There may be others (e.g., travel and entertainment) but I think they are perhaps sub-categories rather than life pursuits.
If you were to track the time you spent on each category, you would probably discover that the categories don’t receive an equal distribution of your time. For example, education/career probably receives a lot more of your time than family or friends.
I’m not going to argue here for “work-life-balance”, because I believe that it’s a misnomer, especially for highly driven people. What I would argue for is ensuring we know what our priorities are, and we’re the ones controlling the time we put into different activities.
In the same Harris Poll, I referenced above, it states that nearly 40% of Americans said that they rarely engage in hobbies and pastimes they enjoy. Just like being happy, having fun is a choice. We just have to prioritize it, so that we make that choice.
The Distraction of Technology
Technology is a big distraction for me (Me: Hi, my name is Josh and I’m addicted to Twitter. Group: Hi, Josh). We all know in our heart-of-hearts that the stuff we read on social media is not valuable, is often misleading, and is distracting us from living our real lives. Distraction and a lack of control are cited as one of the reasons Americans are not as happy as they could be.
The constant stream of information we receive from technology provides us with an information overload and also leads to FOMO (the fear of missing out). This causes us to check our phones every few minutes, distracts us from the tasks in which we’re engaged, and makes conversations with people who are actually in front of us difficult.
And the biggest problem with technology is that it wastes our time – valuable time that could be used in the pursuit of our life’s purpose.
Focusing on a Life of Luxury
The final thought I have about the roadblocks we face on the path to self-actualization is the trap of luxury. I recently opened a fortune cookie and inside found the message, “You will enjoy good health and be surrounded by luxury.”
The part about good health I certainly appreciated, but the idea of being surrounded by luxury (and thinking it was a good thing) made me uncomfortable. A life of meaning is found in the pursuit of lasting relationships, productivity, and giving service – not in the pursuit of ease and comfort.
Don’t get me wrong, I want my home to be comfortable, but I fear that seeking after luxury flips our priorities around and sends us in the wrong direction. When possessions such as homes, cars, boats, and televisions become our driving motivators we’ve certainly lost our connection with what brings us joy.
How do We Rise Above?
Like most things self-actualization is not an event, rather it is a journey. Life gives us some ups and some downs, and we certainly won’t always be floating on a cloud. Given the self-actualization roadblocks we discussed, here are some things that can be done to improve our chances of becoming self-actualized.
Abraham Maslow said, “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” I believe that what Maslow meant by this, was that understanding our full potential is all the motivation we really need to begin chasing after our dreams.
Becoming aware of who we are and what we want out of life is the foundation for intentional living. I’ve written about this in the past here and here.
Maslow said, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” It’s not the desire to do something that makes you who you are, it’s the actual process of doing something that makes you who you are.
If you play basketball and want to be considered a shooter, you must shoot. Shooters shoot.
If your dream is to be a writer, then you must write. Writers write.
If you want to travel, figure out how to travel. Travelers travel.
If you want to be an entrepreneur and launch your own company, then found it today. Founders found.
A significant challenge to discovering who you are and what you want is the constant distractions in our lives. Earlier we talked about technology and luxury and how they can hinder our progress.
It’s hard to progress personally when you can’t get away from the incessant thoughts of others. Learn to turn off your computer or phone. Learn to be present in the moment.
Learn to be comfortable with quietness and stillness. Learn to say no to requests.
Maslow also said, “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”
I’ll readily admit that this is something I struggle with. Listening to a phone requires much less effort than engaging with a person or accomplishing a task. Consumption is always easier than production, but it can leave you feeling empty inside.
Setting limits on technology will give us more time to focus on what really matters.
Connect with Others
Nobody should travel through this life alone. We know that we need others to be there for us and we need to be there for others. Across research studies and surveys, one finding that appears consistently is that we need other people in order to be happy.
There is really never a time when I feel more in touch with myself and my spouse than when we spend hours alone just talking with each other. It’s fun, it builds connection, it ensures that we are on the same page.
While personal time is important, making an effort to spend more time with friends and family will lead to better mental and emotional health. It helps us to realize what our priorities should be and gives us the courage to realign our lives with those priorities.
Earlier I wrote that there are five categories of meaningful activities where we can spend our time. Friends and family are separate categories because I believe that one does take precedence over the other (hint: its family). Neglecting these two categories can have serious consequences on our short-term happiness, and our long-term sense of belonging and purpose.
I heard a powerful anecdote once that is very much in-line with my characterization of meaningful activities. I wish that I could remember where I heard it, but I don’t. Just remember that while I think this analogy is spot on, it’s not my original work.
Sometimes life is like juggling with a number of bouncy balls in the air at one time. These balls include such things as work, family, friends, health, church, etc… In life, as in juggling, you may occasionally drop a ball. When performing with bouncy balls, the balls that have fallen simply bounce back to you. In life, some things are bouncy balls and you can recover from dropping them. But other things are not bouncy balls, they’re more like glass balls, and if you drop them they don’t come back.
When prioritizing, just remember that our relationships are typically glass balls. We may not get a chance to pick them up if we drop them.
Ms. Thurgood never laid out a plan for us to achieved self-actualization. She did a great job of introducing us to the concept, then left the rest in our hands. If I had to summarize a game plane that I believe would help lead a person to self-actualization it would look like this.
Be aware of what you want and don’t be afraid to go after it.
Align your life so that your activities lead you towards your goals.
Stay connected with yourself and your loved ones.
If you found this post helpful or insightful, please let me know by sharing a comment below. Thanks.
Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.
The summer before my freshman year of college, I worked as a salesman for a massive car dealership in Phoenix, Arizona. It was my first real job following high school, and fortunately for me, the dealership was willing to hire just about anybody.
Throughout that summer we had early morning sales meetings, where all of the salespeople would meet in a giant room on the second floor of the dealership to review the previous day’s efforts and to set goals for the current day. It was one of those typical Rah-Rah, pump you up kind of sales meetings that only the truly deranged could enjoy.
To my eighteen-year-old mind, the meeting felt like a complete waste of time. There were three or four people telling 120 people what each of our goals was for the day, regardless of how we had performed as individuals on any previous day.
The leaders of the meeting included the owner of the dealership and his sales managers; all of whom came across as loud, deeply narcissistic people. The goals they set for us felt completely preposterous and arbitrary. Needless to say, they did not connect with nor motivate me in any way.
Fast-forward to the summer of my twenty-third year. As I was still without a marketable college degree, the most lucrative summer job I could secure was again in sales. This time I was selling alarm systems door-to-door in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Just as we did when I was selling cars, our sales team in Indiana would meet each morning. It was a much smaller group, but we followed the same typical sales meeting routine. The managers would review stats from the previous day, set goals for the current day, and then attempt to psych us up for another long day of selling.
One thing that was different from my experience with the car dealership was the individualization of the goals. On Monday mornings our sales manager would ask each one of us to set a goal for ourselves for the coming week.
Nothing made our managers more visibly annoyed than someone who set a goal for fewer than six sales. We worked Monday through Saturday, so the manager’s argument was that if you set a goal for fewer than six sales, you were essentially setting a goal to go at least one full day during the week without making a sale. This was unacceptable to them.
While I understood their reasoning, I also saw that about half of our team had averaged fewer than six sales per week the entire summer. These salespeople weren’t looking at their sales goals from the perspective of future daily results, they were looking at them in the context of how they had performed historically.
For many of the salespeople, who had never achieved five sales in a week, aiming for five sales was a stretch goal. However, the managers would not accept this and would inevitably write in the number six as the weekly sales goal for these people.
The effect this had on the salespeople was the same demotivation that I had experienced years before at the car dealership. They did not feel the goal was achievable, they left the meeting feeling despondent, and they never closed more than five sales in a week the entire summer.
The power of goal setting to demotivate does not only occur in sales organizations. There are plenty of other examples from my life where goal setting has had a negative effect on the emotional drive of individuals and groups. For example non-sales work teams, nonprofit boards, church groups, school groups, and sports teams.
There seems to be an endless supply of research and resources related to the setting of goals, but I want to provide you with a few thoughts and exercises that you can use to make goal setting more powerful for you and the groups you work with.
Value of Goals
Nobody wants to look back on their life with regret. The desire to look back on life with satisfaction is a huge motivating factor for most people. If you ask almost any entrepreneur why they would quit their job and start their own company, you will hear something like this:
“I don’t want to look back on my life and realize that I never tried.”
Without a doubt, setting goals has proven to be an effective way for people to achieve their dreams and reshape their lives. The first sept then is to determine what you hope to accomplish with your life and set goals accordingly.
Deciding what your life’s purpose is can be a daunting undertaking, but is something that you should not procrastinate. If you’re interested, I’ve written a couple of posts about determining what to do with your life. You can find them here and here.
The next step to live your dreams and reshape your life is to set goals. Setting goals gives you purpose. It allows you to define exactly what you are striving to accomplish or obtain. Once you have your goal in place, you can then begin to outline how you will achieve that goal.
An interesting discovery by researcher Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, is that people experience more satisfaction from pursuing their goals than they do from achieving their goals.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but gaining more satisfaction from chasing goals than catching goals is a good thing. Why? Because, intuitively we all know that despite our best efforts, our lives are subject to chance.
That’s why you very seldom hear an entrepreneur say something like this:
“I don’t want to look back on my life and realize that I never became a millionaire.”
The value of goals is that they point us in a direction. Maybe the right one. Maybe not. But at least we have something we’re working towards, which gives our lives purpose.
For now, let’s dive into some different ways of thinking about our goals.
Reframe Your Mindset
Remember the stories I shared about setting goals as a car salesman and as a door-to-door alarm salesman? One thing that was particularly frustrating about both situations, and as a result extremely demotivating for the salespeople, was the interjection by management into our goal-setting exercises. In the end, we weren’t setting our own goals, so they lacked individualization.
You’ve probably experienced something like this before as well. A leader of a team or organization sets a top-level goal that everybody is supposed to “commit” to, then begins breaking the goal down into smaller numbers that each department or individual must achieve on their own.
The individuals provide no input into the goal setting, thus feels no intrinsic motivation to achieve the goal. Sometimes organizations will provide an external reward system to incentivize individuals to strive for their goals; such as bonuses, commissions, or a pair of custom Nike cross-trainers.
Research has shown that extrinsic rewards have a limited power to motivate people in accomplishing a goal.
In many cases, such as our Monday morning meetings in Indiana, the individuals will not believe the goal is even possible. They will feel as though they are being asked to do the impossible or stretch beyond their breaking point. This, in turn, causes them to become frustrated and less likely to achieve the goal they were just given.
My point is this – goals must be set by the person striving to achieve the goal. Why? It has to be something they want intrinsically, or it will not be motivating for them.
Daniel Pink, the author of the best-selling management book Drive, summed up the value of setting individualized goals when he said, “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”
The second problem I had with setting sales goals, was that we didn’t actually have 100 percent control over the outcome. We were assigned the neighborhoods in which we would be knocking doors, so we had no control over how many people were homeowners (a company mandated prerequisite for purchasing an alarm system).
We couldn’t control how many houses were in the neighborhood or how far apart they were from each other. We couldn’t control how many people would open the door for us. We couldn’t control how many people would say yes and actually make a purchase.
In sales, there is always someone else on the other side of the transaction, who has a big say in whether or not you reach your goal. In life, we face the same challenge of incomplete control when we strive to accomplish something. You may set a goal to run a marathon, but the week before you sprain your ankle. You may set a goal to go to a top-notch college, but the board decided to reject you because a board members niece took the last spot.
Misunderstanding control is a big problem in setting goals.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t set sales goals or any other kind of goal, rather I believe that you should set your goals in a smarter way – more on this in the goal setting exercises below.
Do You Actually Want This?
Before you go setting a goal for yourself, you should probably be asking yourself if the outcome is something you really want. Also, you should ask yourself if the activities necessary to reach the outcome are what you really want.
Sometimes we think that we will finally be happy if our wildest dreams come true and we become rich, or famous, or both. The truth is that many people have achieved these outcomes in life and have found them to be grossly underwhelming.
Believe it or not, research has shown that you’re actually more likely to be happy if you have a life-altering accident than if you win the lottery.
Achieving a goal will not make you happier than you are today. Striving for a goal may make you more satisfied with life, but only if that goal is truly worthwhile. Happiness is something that can only come from within. You need to find it before you go looking for external rewards.
In a decisive moment in one of my favorite movies, Cool Runnings, the captain of the Jamaican bobsled team discovers that his current coach had once cheated in an Olympic race. Despondent and unsure of what to do, he asked the coach why he would resort to cheating. The coach, Irv Blitzer, gives a powerful response:
“Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”
Before you set a goal for yourself to make sure you ask yourself whether this thing and the pursuit of this thing will actually make you happier; or will it just cause you grief, misery, and pain?
The pursuit of vain goals or things that can’t bring true happiness is sure to lead to misery. Remember the wise words of Epicurus:
“The fool’s life is ungracious and fearful; it is directed entirely at the future”
Goal Setting Exercises
In the classic George Lucas film Star Wars, Master Yoda used a very powerful message to test the drive and commitment of his Padawan learner Luke Skywalker. He said, “There is no try, there is only do.”
I’ve heard this quote used again and again in real life as well. If you are in the right mind frame, it can be motivating. But it doesn’t take into account a number of the things we’ve already learned about goals and life; namely control.
If you have the mindset that you will never fail, what happens when you do fail to reach some of your goals? Which, by the way, is inevitable.
A quote that I think is much better at describing how the world really works is attributed to Wayne Gretzky, who is considered the greatest hockey player to ever lace up his skates. Wayne said:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Of course, the goal is to make every shot you take, but nobody has ever shot 100% over the course of their career. Do athletes get discouraged when they miss? Yes. Do they stop shooting? No.
In sports, they track how many shots each player makes, but they also track how many shots each player takes. In life and business, I think we should be doing the same thing. We should be setting goals based on results and we should be setting goals based on activities.
Results based goals are what we typically think of when we go about setting our goals. We set goals to lose 15 pounds, publish a book, or pay off all of our debt.
I’m not going to go into much detail on results-based goals because there is already so much good research available. Rather, I offer a word of caution. Results based goals can be worthwhile pursuits, but they can also be double-edged swords.
If they are not individualized, realistic, worthy goals they can lead to feelings of failure, demotivation, and even self-doubt. Be cautious when setting goals based on results and recognize that, while you may appreciate the potential outcome, you also do not have 100% control over that outcome.
Results based goals should be used to give yourself a guidepost and to help you determine your activity based goals.
One of the results based goals I have set for myself is to publish a book someday. This drives me to write here at Pacific Swells, as well as other places (e.g., Short Stories from Saturday). However, I understand that some things are outside of my control.
I can’t expect everyone to love my writing; including the folks who may be the decision makers at the publishing company. So, rather than putting all of my time and energy into worrying about being published, I put that time and energy into my activity based goals.
My goal for Pacific Swells is to publish a new post, such as the one you’re reading, every week. This is a goal I have much more power to control, I feel that it helps me move in the direction of my results based goal, and it makes me feel satisfaction every time that I achieve it (which I can do every week).
If I miss a week, my dreams are not ruined. With activity-based goals, I can simply start again the following week and still move towards my eventual dream.
Looking back on my days selling alarms door-to-door, one of the things that we were clearly missing was activity based goals. We never set goals for how many doors we were going to knock, how many homeowners we were going to speak with, or how much time we were going to spend studying our sales material and practicing our pitch.
There is an old quote that says, “80% of success is just showing up.” But I think the quote should be more like this, “75% of showing up is adequately preparing yourself for the moment, 24% is making sure you showed up in the right place at the right time, and only 1% is actually walking through the door.”
I found that when I spent time in the morning reading our sales training manuals and practicing what I would say at the door, my sales closure rate increased. These preparatory activities were things that I could control, all it took was commitment.
If you have a goal that you want to achieve, go ahead and set that results-based goal, but then take the time to think about what you really need to do to put yourself in a position to realize that goal. Take the activities that move you in the right direction, and set goals for how frequent or how often you will perform them.
Activity goals are things you can iterate on in pursuit of your results based goals. You’ll find that it feels good to track your progress, and as you do you’ll see things that are working or not working. You’ll be able to see what is actually moving you towards your results goals and make adjustments accordingly.
You’ll begin to feel that sense of satisfaction that comes to people in pursuit of worthy goals.
Managing for Activity-based Goals
If you’re in a position to set goals for others, I have a few parting thoughts for you. We’ve already discussed how setting both results bases goals and activity-based goals reconcile the problem of control.
What I’ve found through my own experiences, is that when you’re working with others it’s really important to lay out both results-based goals and activity-based goals in the very beginning. It’s also just as important to track activity goals and call out people when they miss them.
You can never expect to achieve your results based goals if you don’t give enough attention to your activity based goals. You’ll also come across as a poor manager if you wait until the results don’t come through before you call someone out for being lazy about their activities.
Stay on top of the activities and the results will follow.
I hope that this was helpful for you. As always, my intent is not to be prescriptive, but to help you think about things in a new way. Being mindful of our approach to all things helps us to live life more intentionally.
If you found this helpful please share with others, and if you have a question or comment please share them below. Thanks.
Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.