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Understanding the Why of Our Goals

We tend to believe we know with absolute certainty where we are headed: Get the degree. Land the plumb position. Start the business. Achieve the promotion. Build the company to sell. Double our annual income. Franchise. Write the book. Deliver the TED talk. Grow our audience. Create a movement. Retire and follow your bliss.

All these business and career goals are certainly inspiring, and can be incredibly worthwhile. However, when we land on them too quickly, without a good deal of self-awareness about our motivations, then we are apt to find ourselves struggling to reach them, and strangely dissatisfied once they are met. This is because none of these goals address the inner why behind them.

This why is a fire that demands to be stoked. If we overlook it, we limit our energy necessary for the process of reaching the goal; then lack the inner compass that helps our decision-making resiliency and focus along the way; and ultimately, short-circuit our satisfaction when we reach the goal. Overlooking our goals’ why takes two disruptive paths: the first path is being too externally focused. That path leads to choosing our goals based on what we see others doing, or what circumstances we think could make us happy.

The second path is being too internally focused, or ungrounded. When we have a moment of inspiration, and decide to follow our heart without any critical thinking, we lack clarity of our why as well. Taking the action that moves us into the concrete, external world can only be done using the path of balance and integration of our external and internal drivers – our why.

For both the internally-focused dreamers, and the action-biased doers, critical thinking is essential, and missing. It uses our overall personal identities, experience, background, common sense, and skills, abilities, and intuitive sense, to become more aware of where and how our efforts are spent. When we have barriers to the critical thinking process (as one of my clients refers to it: executive functioning) it can seriously harm our ability to take meaningful and sustainable action. The barriers we can observe most often in ourselves are:

1. Thinking in Black or White – Some people ignore a situation’s complexities by thinking that there’s only one way to solve a problem. It is often called Level Two thinking, or Go-No-Go thinking. The problem is placed in a category, given a label in order to feel easier to handle. Thinking in black and white comes from our need to have certainty in our lives, but it’s false logic to assume that only two options exist without a myriad of others we have elected not to consider.

2. Thinking with an Unhealthy Ego – Egocentric thinking is thinking lacks understanding others’ wants and needs. It also dismisses and undercuts our own wants and needs as undeserved, unqualified and/or unrealistic. This blocks us from meaningful creativity which creates the alternatives black and white thinking can ignore.

3. Social Thinking – The herd mentality of social thinking only lets us see things in the way of the popular point of view – or the way that our spouse, companions, parents and friends think. Creativity and innovation are almost impossible when you have a barrier of social thinking and it can greatly impede the critical thinking process.

4. Authoritative Thinking – Just because someone in authority says it’s true doesn’t mean it is. This thinking is on the rise in the age of social media influencers. You’ve likely been swayed at one time or another by political leaders or advertisers who say one thing is true only to find out later that it certainly was not the case for you. We crave certainty and shortcuts. It’s human nature. Just don’t use them without careful consideration.

5. Judgmental Thinking – When you judge something or someone as right or wrong, good or bad, etc. you shut down options for consideration. Judgmental thinking is usually non-rational thinking masquerading as rationality. Behind it are our personal identities, beliefs, biases and experiences convincing us we are safer going a particular direction. This blocks understanding and insight needed for visionary thinking and innovation.

It’s important that we recognize our own barriers to the critical thinking process. Then we can replace those barriers with rational and reasoned thinking and make a concentrated effort to avoid them going forward.

At the same time, in my recent blog The Dangers of Touchy-Feely Leadership, I stressed the crucial importance of self-awareness—especially of our own emotional drivers—in every key decision. Our goals are no exception. If anything, as leaders, we must cultivate awareness of our own emotions and those of our teams in order to inspire the actions needed to reach the goals we set. Logic helps us build a plan and a strategy. Emotion motivates us to take action on them.

In the upcoming 5-Day Unstoppable Goals & Strategy Challenge, I will be taking some intrepid entrepreneurs through understanding the why behind their goals. They will get to look at themselves, and their deeper motivations, which are always at the level of feeling. At first a lot of us resist this seemingly simple review of deep motivations, with a litany of excuses (It’s a waste of time. I don’t know the answers. This isn’t a plan!) but almost inevitably, we find ourselves surprised and uplifted when we do it. We also can quickly sort out if a goal truly does matter to us, or we are just picking it because we think we ought to.

If you want access to this free exercise to Understand the Why of Your Goals now, grab yours now:

It might be just the foundation you need to ramp up your goals and motivation into high gear. Then if you decide you want a little more strategy behind them, access the full five-day challenge, right here. It begins January 3rd at 11am EST. One hour a day, for just five days is an incredible way to set yourself up for success in 2022.


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