Everyone in this world wants to move forward in this life. Actually, now that I really think about it, you really have no choice but to move forward in this world, or the world will leave you behind.
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Everyone has goals and aspirations that they’d like to achieve. Everyone has something that they see in the far distance, a faint star that glimmers in the night sky, that they focus on in the night sky.
But the sad reality is, most of us will never do anything to make our dreams come true.
Some because of other priorities and obligations that call their attention, others because of their self-doubt and fear of rejection and criticism.
Some say they never had a dream or a goal. Others say they tried but failed, and have been beaten down by life.
The story is different for everyone. Everyone has to fight their own battles.
Maybe this is me being naive and heartless, but I don’t buy these excuses.
I don’t believe you when you say you can’t do this or you can’t do that. You probably don’t even buy the excuses yourself.
The limits you put on yourself is self-imposed. The obstacles that place themselves in front of you are there to guide you, to tell you that you must destroy what is in front of you to continue on your journey to get what you want.
You must face your fears and run headfirst into the place you least want to go because that is the only way to become stronger and grow as an individual.
If you truly want something, you’ll do anything you want to get it.
It doesn’t mean running toward the finish line with reckless abandon.
It doesn’t mean using other people as stepping stones.
It doesn’t mean sacrificing everything you have to have one shot at the goal.
It means coming to terms with your current position and evaluating what you should and shouldn’t be doing.
It means admitting to yourself that you know nothing about how to get to your goal, and humbling yourself enough to start with a beginner’s mindset.
It means plotting out the next steps that you need to take, committing to the plan and showing up every day.
It means creating ways to check on your progress daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.
It means adapting to and maneuvering around obstacles that will inevitably get in the way of reaching your goals.
We get so focused on dreaming about how happy our lives would be if only we could reach the promised land, the final destination, the treasure beyond the rainbow, that we forget to actually put our heads down and work hard to make our dreams a reality.
It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.
- Joseph Campbell
We need to ask the right questions in order to come up with the right solutions. We need to find out what the problem is in order to address it. This is a key part to figuring out how to move foward in life.
Here’s the first question to ask yourself:
1. Where am I right now?
You may ask, “Umm, in my room? In a cafe? What kind of obvious question is that?”
You don’t ask this question to locate yourself geographically or pinpoint exactly where you’re standing at this exact time. This question is asking you:
What am I doing with my life right now? What am I supposed to do with my life anyways?
What are my current values and what do I believe in?
What are my goals and what am I doing to achieve them? Do I even have a plan at all?
How are my relationships with my family, friends, and coworkers?
How am I doing professionally?
Have I been taking care of myself?
Have I been neglecting certain people or certain duties that I’ve been meaning to get to?
Have I been using my time wisely?
This is a time of self-reflection and radical honesty. You’re doing a regular maintenance on yourself — a tattered car that was checked into a garage for a yearly check-up. You try to see what’s working well and what needs to be oiled. Maybe you have a flat tire that you need to patch up. Maybe you need to change the brakes. Maybe you need to check out that weird sound that your engine has been making.
You need to locate the problems that call out to you and pay attention to them. When you acknowledge the problem, you can devise a solution. If you ignore problems, they will not go away — they will just stack up and blindside you when you’re least expecting it.
“Inconveniences interfere with our plans. We do not like inconveniences, and will avoid dealing with them…
Ignored inconveniences accumulate, rather than disappear. When they accumulate in sufficient numbers, they produce a catastrophe — a self-induced catastrophe…
Inconveniences interfere with the integrity of our plans- so we tend to pretend that they are not there. Catastrophes, by contrast, interefere with the integrity of our whole stories, and massively dysregulate our emotions. By their nature, they are harder to ignore — althugh that does not stop us from trying to do so…
The more ignored inconveniences in a given catastrophe, the more likely it will destroy.”
— Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning
You need to admit to yourself what stupid things you’ve been doing. You need to admit what kind of mistakes you’ve made over the past few days, weeks, months, and years. You need to identify everything that you weren’t willing to see, in order to finally see the way forward.
The question that comes after this is:
2. Where am I going?
“Getting to point “b” presupposes that you are at point “a” — you can’t plan movement in the absence of an initial position.
The fact that point “b” constitutes the end goal means that it is valenced more highly than point “a” — that it is a place more desirable, when considered against the necessary contrast of the current position.
It is the perceived improvement of point “b” that makes the whole map meaningful or affect-laden; it is the capacity to construct hypothetical or abstract end points, such as “b” — and to contrast them against “the present” — that makes human beings capable of using their cognitive systems to modulate their affective reactions.”
— Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning
You may ask “Umm, can’t you see I’m clearly on my way home? Why do you want to keep knowing where I am and where I’m going? This is getting kind of creepy…”
Again, I’m not concerned with where you’re physically transporting your body to. I am, however, interested in you thinking about your next steps.
If you asked yourself the first question, you might have a better idea of who you are and where you stand with the categories of your life (education, career, family, friends, health).
Now you need to find a direction to head toward. This is obviously the hardest part because we are faced with so many choices that we often suffer from analysis paralysis. We want to get the best possible outcome and avoid any potential error/consequence from making the “2nd best choice” or “worst choice” that we become paralyzed and ultimately avoid making the choice because of information overload. We don’t want to face the conjured and unconjured consequences of our decisions, so we play it safe and never make the decision.
That way, the anxiety from the information overload subsides and we can go back to living our lives without the stress of having to think about the consequences of our decisions.
“Okay so both the blueberry and the strawberry jam tasted pretty good, but before I decide let me try this apple jam. Crap, this tastes good too. Well okay, I should pick from these three and just get out of — wait is that boysenberry? Okay, last one — come on Will it’s been 30 minutes already, get yourself together, it’s not that hard to buy a flavor of jam. Okay, boysenberry is definitely out. But since I didn’t like that one, I might as well try another flavor to get rid of this flavor. Pumpkin spice? I’m not a big pumpkin fan but I might as well try it. Shoot, now the lady handing out the bread is giving me dirty looks — I should look at one of the jam jar to pretend like I’m about to buy it so that she knows I’m interested. Okay, pumpkin spice was nasty. Honestly, all that jam made me pretty full. I should pick up some more jars to pretend like I’m going to buy it and then quickly get out of here. Maybe hit her with the pondering look and compare the blueberry and strawberry jar, to really show her that I’m struggling between a decision. You’re killing it Will. She’s totally buying it. Okay now slowly put each jar down, and get on with your grocery shopping. You’ve spent way too long at this — wait a second are they serving juice over there? And they have 5 different flavors? I mean, all that jam did get me pretty thirsty. Let me go see how they taste, maybe I’ll buy something…”
No? Just me?
All jokes aside, we need to set goals in order to know where we need to go and to plan exactly how we’re going to get there. We experience positive emotion when we move toward the goals we set for ourselves, and negative emotion when we feel impeded.
In my experience, I felt anxious and depressed when I had no goal, unemployed with no money and no job leads. Until I started to make small habits and incorporate them into a system that I followed every day, I found no motivation to strive for anything.
Humans need goals to move forward. We need a destination far off into the distance to look forward to. The higher the aim, the more positive emotion you feel when you move toward that goal.
You’re able to get excited for the next day, because you feel like you’re improving and growing. You’re able to tackle obstacles with less and less hesitation because you know that they’re there for you to knock down.
The more you move forward toward your goal, the more confident you will become in your own competence. It will ultimately become a snowball effect, and you will ride that wave of momentum and move faster and improve yourself dramatically in anything you commit to.
Ask yourself — where are you going?
Where do you want to go?
What do you want to achieve?
What do you like to do? What do you not like to do?
Who do you want to be as a person?
What kind of friends do you want to surround yourself with?
What kind of relationships do you want to have with your friends and the rest of the people you care about?
What should you do to get promoted at your workplace?
What should you do to get more fit and healthy?
3. How Can I Get There?
You may ask, “Umm… Why don’t I just call an Uber? Or I can Google Map it. Oh, you know they recently added a feature where instead of being just a plain old, arrow, you can become like a red or yellow car? It’s pretty cool! You want me to show you?”
Let’s stay on topic here (you can show me later though).
What this question will allow you to do is build out practical and realistic solutions.
We know where you currently are, and we know where you’re attempting to go. Now that we have our road map, we can start creating small steps to get there.
It certainly won’t be a straight line to your destination. Something unfortunate can happen to you, your friends, or your family members that will stop you dead in your tracks. You can get hurt, which will affect how effectively you can tackle the goals you’ve set for yourself. You can get distracted by other priorities or simply lose motivation because you don’t see anything immediate happening. Lots of inconveniences and catastrophes will rear their ugly heads when you’re aiming for your goals.
But no one said it was going to be easy. The natural state of life is suffering. We all come into this world and we will all die. We all cope with this fact in different ways. We ignore it, we look to the afterlife, or we allow our physical desires to rule over us in order to stay happy.
The fact that life is suffering is the reason why creating a plan for your life is important — you need to justify the suffering to at least yourself, or else you believe that you’re suffering for no reason. You need a reason to stay strong when everything around you catches on fire and life cuts you at the knees. Without a strong foundation, you will be swept away by the waves.
So to build that strong foundation, you need to start out with some simple goals.
For me, how I started to change my life was by creating small goals that I could track every single day.
I created a list of things I wanted to change and things I could define as a “good day” for me. This was so that I could feel positive emotion and a sense of achievement at the end of the day. No matter how small the goal may have been, it still got me excited for the next day to commit to my schedule.
- Do 50 push ups and 100 sit ups (Physical goals)
- Write 1000 words every day (Personal goals)
- Read 50 pages of any book a day (Personal goals)
- Apply to 10 jobs today, research and practice for interviews 1 hour (Career goals)
- Wash dishes (Family/Personal)
- Clean room (Family/Personal)
- Make myself + dad breakfast/lunch (Family/Personal)
- Meditate for 10 minutes (Personal)
Creating a list of goals to tackle every single day gave me purpose in life. It certainly isn’t what you’d initially expect to change your life, but I can promise you that creating a plan for your life and sticking to it is one of the most important skills you can have.
Along with the small goals, I also created higher goals for myself. They were a bit more abstract, but they helped me become more confident in who I am.
- Don’t lie. Always try to tell the truth
- Don’t blame others. Practice extreme ownership
- Don’t be a victim — be the person that everyone can rely on
- Be more assertive, stand up for yourself and speak forth what you believe
- Treat others how you’d like to be treated
- Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone is today
- Don’t judge or be a hypocrite
- Listen to the other person, rather than waiting for your turn to speak
- Be the first to help others
After these abstract goals were created, I started to see my thoughts and conversations drastically change. I started seeing my relationships with other people flourish and I started to become happier. I started to see my friends, family, and coworkers happy to be around me.
When you change yourself, you change the people around you and ultimately the world. Your words and actions are like ripple effects, and you have no idea how they will change the world.
So maybe if you’re aiming for the world to be a better place, you should focus on changing yourself rather than trying to change other people.
If you’re not sure what you should be doing in this world, and you’re feeling that dreadful anxiety squeezing at your heart, please ask yourself the three questions mentioned above.
It doesn’t hurt to try, and who knows? Maybe something great will come out of it :) You won’t know unless you start right?