How to design fulfilling goals for your life

Finding fulfillment in themes and habits.

Goals are incredible things. They give our lives direction and meaning. And they are impractical.

Goals give us reasons to live. And when you achieve your goals, you find other reasons to live, and the pursuit of a better life goes on. When you have goals, you are motivated to get out of bed early in the morning. You push yourself to go to bed late at night. Your life, and actions, for a time, have meaning.

Setting goals on the surface is easy. Yet, like most things, in reality, it is not as easy. From our childhood, into our youth and late into adulthood, we are taught to aspire to big things. Our parents, schools and society teach us to dream big and measure ourselves by our dreams. As you can imagine, and probably know from experience, that can be very problematic. Dreams are dreams and though they can very closely resemble reality, they are not nearly as complex. Our lives are influenced by a million variables we have no control over- and of those variables we do control- our natural inclinations are often unaligned with our goals. So we toil and break our backs, working early mornings and late nights in pursuit of goals that define our lives. Goals that so often aren’t even our own, but society’s, our parents’ and our spouses’. Ours or theirs, these goals give our lives meaning.

Goals are impossible to truly attain. By their very definition, goals are flawed, because they are too elaborate with too many moving parts. Too many things depend on chance. Too many things can go wrong, or right, but not quite in the way we hope or expect. So things may or may not work out in our favor, but they almost assuredly will not work out in the exact way we expect them to. The plans we make for tomorrow depend on how today works out. A very slight deviation from our expectations can throw everything into utter chaos.

When we fail to attain our goals, we are devastated and our lives are thrown into disarray because we have bound our entire existences to them.Rephrasing: when things turn out differently than we expected them to, our lives are thrown into chaos. Paradoxically, when we do attain our goals, we are left bereft of satisfaction still. Our lives are defined by meaning, yes- but not by a single meaning. Our lives are defined by meaning we find everyday in a million things we do. A million little problems we solve. A million little gifts we give. This is the meaning we must seek. Unfortunately, goals simply cannot give us this. Themes on the other hand, absolutely can- they allow us an incredible amount of room for adjustment and flexibility.

Rather than plan to live an entire year of your short life by a myriad little details you cannot control, it is wiser to choose a theme you want to live your life by. To choose to be generous, to achieve a certain thing- but leave yourself enough room to revise, and adjust. It is incredibly important for us not to get lost in the specifics of planning.

This over-planning, this over-preparedness is in many ways, procrastination disguised as preparedness.

Choose a theme for your life: To connect with more people, to be happy, to live a minimalist lifestyle, to write more. Break it down if you need to be accountable with yourself, but do not get lost in the details.

Don’t get lost in the details. Life is too short to spend it planning your life.