I’m not religious. Spiritual, sure, but not religious. However, though my theological education is lacking, there is one concept I am aware of despite my ignorance. And that is the seven deadly sins. The seven deadly sins – pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, sloth – are those things that “spur other sins and further immoral behaviour.” They are the gateway drug to personal ruin.
The seven deadly sins don’t just apply to dealing with your neighbors though. They can also be viewed in the context of goal setting. The road to goal success, to creating a fulfilling life through the process of goal setting, is riddled with obstacles. Here’s how to overcome them. A quick note: this article is loosely based on the sins concept. I made some adjustments to better make this article actionable.
The pride goeth
“Do you have any trips coming up?” she asked. “Oh sure,” I said. “We’re going to Japan in the spring.” Her eyes widened. “That’s exciting!” she said. “Ya,” I replied nonchalantly.
I had that conversation two years ago. I still haven’t been to Japan. When you brag about your goal before achieving it, a few things happen. First, you look pretentious. Humility goes out the window when you start talking international flights. Second, there is some research that says sharing your goal too early will make you less likely to do it. Basically, you feel just as good bragging about the goal as actually achieving it. And having felt good upfront, you no longer feel the desire to do the work on the backend.
Finally, and this is not scientific at all, there seems to be almost a level of jinxing around sharing a goal too soon. The saying – don’t count your chickens before they hatch – comes to mind. So do yourself a favor. Keep your goal a secret until you achieve it. Even when people bring it up on their own, only tell those that need to know, like your innermost circle.
I want more. Give me more.
I find myself on a slippery slope. Last year I completed over one book a week. My goal was to only read two books a month. I easily doubled it. I love reading. It’s fulfilling. It’s rewarding. I’m all about it. But this year I’m in a precarious spot. I feel the need to hit that same number of books. My ego says, you did it once, you can do it again. But the thing is, anything over two books a month doesn’t matter. So long as I hit two, I achieve my goal for the month.
I’m being greedy. I’m prioritizing more over fulfillment. And that’s not a good place to operate from. Thus, I remind myself, as I remind you: fulfillment comes first. If you go above and beyond, that’s great. But not if it comes at the expense of whatever fulfillment you would have otherwise gained. Focus on fulfillment over ego.
Beavers mate for life
It’s true. They stick it out to the end. In your love (and lust) pursuits, it’s easy to set the wrong kind of goal though. Namely, one outside your control. For instance, you may think to yourself, I’m going to find my soulmate this month. However, this declaration will only lead you to disappointment. You have no control over this goal and therefore have no say over the outcome.
Instead then, set a goal within your control. For example, you can set goals to:
- Schedule five dates each month;
- Start a conversation with a new person each day;
- Or even, ask a different friend to set you up each week.
In the case of the former, it is outside your control. In the case of the latter, it is entirely within. You either schedule the dates or you don’t. You either ask your friend or you don’t. In short, you take the reins and gain ownership of the result.
I’ll have what she’s having
“Here’s an idea,” you say, “Let’s bet on it. Whoever loses the most weight by the end of the month gets a free meal. Courtesy of the loser.” Your friend looks at you with a smile, “You’re on.” Four weeks later, the results are in. You lost. At dinner that evening, your friend arrives with a smug look on his face. He then proceeds to spend the next hour telling you why he won and you lost. How his system is better than yours and all that. You want to smash the tiramisu in his face.
Setting goals based on competition is a misguided idea. What sounds good in theory ultimately results in the “loser” faking happiness for the “winner.” And all the while, leading up to the finish line you both secretly root against the other. Instead of competitive (envious) goals, set supportive ones. If you and your friend want to lose weight, set your goals individually. Then check in with each other every day or so. Offer support, encouragement, and empathy.
At the end of the month, grab dinner to celebrate your progress. Split the check.
One too many
I recently attempted a seven-day fast. I quit after 60 hours. As I awoke in the middle of the night, around hour 50, I realized I was being extreme. I was overdoing it. It dawned on me: though it was possible to go seven days without food, it was excessive to do so. I called off the fast.
You may find yourself in a similar situation, sticking with a goal long after the point of any real benefit, indulging in gluttony instead of meaning. When you catch yourself in that situation, promptly end the goal. Sometimes, the longer you stick with something, the worse the outcome is. Think of the sunk-cost fallacy. Regularly feel yourself out. Ask: is this goal still adding meaning to my life? If it’s not, do something about it.
Love me (or else)
Two friends sit across from each other. The restaurant is well-lit but the look of the seated man is dark. He says, “I really don’t want to go on that trip.” The woman across from him looks confused. She says, “Why did you agree to it then?” The man sighs. “I felt guilty,” he said. “I felt like I should go on the trip even though I don’t want to.” The woman laughs. She says, “So long as you keep making decisions out of guilt, you’ll keep running into this problem.” The man rubs his eyes with frustration. He knows she’s right.
Fulfillment should be at the heart of every goal you set. Not expectation, not sadness, and especially not guilt.
If you want a guilt-ridden life, go ahead and aim for guilt. But if you want a fulfilling life, you must aim for fulfillment. When you agree to something because you “feel bad,” you do a disservice to both parties. You are dishonest with them and thus will grow to resent them. They will pick up on your coldness and thus will grow to resent you. All the while making you feel even more guilty along the way. Left unchecked, these guilt-goals will manifest into an eventual dislike (and possibly even wrath) of the other.
The slow walk towards mediocrity
You put the book down. “Wow!” you say, “That may be the best book I’ve ever read. Never have I learned so much so clearly.” You get up, loveling pat the book as if to say goodbye, and leave the room. Three months later, the book still sits on the table. A visible layer of dust has settled atop its cover. It’s been three months since you’ve read the best book of your life and nothing has changed.
You haven’t applied the lessons. You haven’t improved upon your ways. Everything is the same as it was. And for that, you’ve done yourself a disservice.
When you set goals for yourself, you need to update your daily routine to accommodate for them. You can’t set a goal to run one mile a day without actually planning out when that run will take place. Likewise, you can’t set a goal to meditate twice a day without deciding when those sessions will happen. You can’t just pat the book and walk away. You can’t be a lazy sloth. Instead, you must implement your aims. That is, assuming you actually want to achieve them.
Moving forward with positive habits
The road to goal success is an arduous one. However, you don’t need to make it harder than it needs to be. Instead of succumbing to the seven deadly sins, avoid them altogether. For your reference once more, to do that you must:
- Keep your goals a secret.
- Focus on fulfillment over quantity.
- Set goals within your control.
- Set goals that encourage support over competition.
- End the goal when you no longer benefit.
- Place fulfillment at the root of each goal.
- Update your plans for when you will act.