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Reaching Your Goals Is Not Normal

The core purpose of what you do is the one thing that need not change.

I was listening to a financial podcast yesterday, Dave Ramsey, where a man was asking for advice on how to get out of debt. He had a truck that was worth twice his annual salary, a small boat, and would eat fast food every day at work. The the path he was on would lead him further into debt, not get him out of it, so the host of the show recommended he sell his boat, pack his lunches, and trade in his truck for a cheaper model. This man broke down on the phone at the idea of selling his $70,000 truck. I heard the man start going through the stages of grief. He was in denial and finally moved on to anger, hanging up on the talk show host that he called.

Normalized Failure

Unfortunately, our society normalizes the behaviors that lead to failure. This gentleman likely received praise for his truck. It likely helped him find dates, receive adoration from peers, and gave him a sense of power on the road. We do not hold our friends accountable for financial decisions, we take advantage of them. We are more comfortable watching our friends spiral in debt so long as we avoid the conflict of addressing the issue.

This is true for all forms of goals. Whether your goals are financial, fitness, career, etc., it is taboo to point out activities that work against the goal. If a friend is working on their finances and their fitness, we don't question why they are eating out. If a friend is working on their career, we don't question the actions that put that career into jeopardy, if we talk about the career at all. In most circles, it's considered rude to even discuss someone's career aspirations. Our relationships are not based on supporting each other to succeed, they are based on enjoying the plunders as they fail.

Behaviors Behind Goals

Weird People

One of the things I like about the Dave Ramsey Show is his term "weird people." He uses this term to identify those who are actively working on their goals and making every decision with them in mind. These are the people who choose not to go out to dinner and movies, the people who find free activities to do like going to the park, the people who invest rather than spend. These are the people who decide not to buy the truck they can't afford. In our society, that is considered weird.

In other words, these are the people who overcome peer pressure to achieve their goals. I like to broaden that term to include people at work who are actually focused on their career, people who actually go to the gym regularly, people who eat healthy more often than not. These are not normal attributes and when you have them, people look at you like you are weird. Dave's purpose in using the term "weird people" is to own that, to say, "If you think I'm weird for working towards my goals, then I'm happy to be weird."


Psychology of Fitting In

In the growing awareness of behavioral economics, we are coming to understand that economic decisions are influenced greatly by psychological factors. Unfortunately, one of those factors is fitting in. As humans, our initial reaction to a question is often to follow the group. It is only our secondary, slower, and rational minds that eventually come to a conclusion based on what we want as opposed to what the group wants, but even that can be over-ridden by our fear of not being a part of the group.

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Solomon Asch conducted a now famous experiment where he had a group of participants being asked a simple question: "Which of the lines on this page is the longest." Visually speaking, the answer was plain. However, only one of the participants was a true participant, the rest were actors. The actors eventually began choosing the obviously wrong answer and, seeing this, the test subject would begin following their lead.

If we have a tendency to follow the example of a group on a task so strait forward and obvious as seeing which line is longest on a page, how difficult will it be to organize your entire life around a goal when the group is organized differently? If pointing to an obviously correct answer is too difficult, how difficult will it be to go to the gym every day, to say no to the donuts, to study instead of party? How much resistance will we have to overcome? What expectations are we dismissing?

Ask the Question

The good news is that the solution is very simple. All we need to do is ask the question directly, "Do I want to do this?" If the answer is no, don't do it.

The bad news, is this simple solution is very difficult.

First of all, asking the question takes more effort than you may realize. The vast majority of decisions we make in a day are automatic. We rely on our sub-conscious, emotional, instinctual brain to decide what we're doing. Our rational mind is typically only used when the instinctual brain can't come up with an immediate answer. Our challenge then, is to keep the rational brain alert enough to realize when the question needs to be asked. "Does this work towards my goal." "Do I want to do this activity?"

Second, overcoming peer pressure will get difficult. Jordan Peterson has a great speech where he advises someone to "clean your room," meaning take ownership of the one thing under your control and make it better. In this speech, he points out that some people in your life will become angry with you for this. They will accuse you of being arrogant or selfish, accuse you of thinking you are better than them simply because you are cleaning your room. While this particular example may or may not happen, deciding to work on your goals will likely lead to conflict between you and your peer group. Deciding not to go out to eat every day for lunch will put a rift between you and them. Deciding to go to the gym every day will leave you with less time to watch whatever Netflix show everyone is talking about.

The question then becomes "is it more important to me to reach my goal or is it more important to me to do the activities necessary to fit in." This is not arbitrary, community is one of the things we need. However, I'll challenge you to ask if your community is working for or against your other needs. If by improving your life you are ostracized from a community, was that community supporting your needs or should you find another one?


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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