Have you ever set a goal or decided to do something and then once you’ve started on the path to achieving it you’ve become unsure if what you decided is right for you? Or maybe you just didn’t reach your goal? Do you set similar goals year after year, each time determined you’ll finally succeed, or if you do succeed, you don’t feel satisfied? Maybe you’re having trouble working out what the right choices are? This post explains what happens in your psyche when you make a choice and shows you how to get a clearer picture of what you really want.
W hen making decisions and choices and setting goals you probably consider all the things you’d like to achieve or change in your life.
So you might decide to lose weight, eat healthier and exercise regularly.
Or you might set a goal to grow your wealth/income/investments/financial knowledge.
If you’re in a relationship, you may wonder if you made the right choice and feel you now have to make a choice about whether to continue the relationship.
The reason we make decisions to change something in our lives is because we want that something to be better than it has been, and also because we believe we should be living our lives in a better or different way.
The word ‘should’ is one of the keys to why most people find it difficult to make the right choices for themselves.
Who in You Makes Your Choices?
The word ‘should’ is a word used by your primary self, which is that part of your whole self that you identify with most of the time and believe is you.
Your primary self has particular rules, values and ideas about what kind of person you ought to be and therefore what kinds of goals you should set and choices you should make.
It works closely with your Inner Critic, who compares you to others and sets benchmarks for you, and with your Inner Pusher who tries to keep you on track.
For example, if your primary self is achievement-oriented in the world of business and this version of you wants to be successful in that world, then one of its values would be to have you achieve whatever it is that is required of someone who is successful in your line of business.
So your ‘shoulds’ would involve things like meeting certain sales targets, growing your business/department, increasing your company’s share value, and so on. And you would set goals from this high-achieving business self of yours.
Your primary self might also be concerned with appearing attractive, healthy and well-groomed. So if you’ve just returned from a holiday, eating and drinking more than you normally would, with little exercise involved, then you might set a resolution to diet and eat healthily after you realise you no longer fit into your pre-holiday clothing.
If you’re not familiar with the idea of people having many inner selves, with some being primary and others disowned, read this page about how your personality works.
When Choices are Made by Your Disowned Self
Sometimes choices are made by your disowned self. Your disowned self includes the inner aspects of yourself that you suppress and don’t allow into your life. Your ‘shadow self’, as it’s sometimes called.
So, for example, if you have a workaholic self as your primary self, then one of the goals on your New Years resolution list might be opposite to the kind of goal your work-focused self would make.
Your list might include going on a meditation retreat, a fishing trip, an extended holiday, maybe even taking a year off to write a novel.
At the time of setting such a goal, you would probably feel excited and enthusiastic, as if you had discovered a new path or a better way to live your life.
You’d research how you might achieve it, you might talk to your friends and family about it, you’d probably daydream about it.
Why People Struggle to Achieve Goals
What often happens is that after the initial excitement wears off, such as when you return to work after a weekend during which you set a goal, your work-oriented primary self also returns to control your psyche and says: “You want to go on a holiday? Time off? You’re kidding! You can’t afford a holiday (not if you want to send your kids to that private school), and you have no time! You’re not going anywhere until you achieve x, y and z at work.”
Before you know it, a whole year has gone by (again) and it occurs to you that you need to take a break and so you set a new goal for that holiday…
The other thing that can happen is you might not achieve the goals your high-achieving primary self sets for you either. You might start out fully motivated to improve your sales targets, but as you set out on that path, distractions get in the way.
You find yourself suffering more headaches than usual, or just tiredness. You sit at your phone, intending to make a certain number of calls but suddenly calling your mother, sister and cousin seem more important, and you tell yourself you’ll make up for it the next day.
After a few months you look back and realise much hasn’t changed. You’ve achieved what was necessary but there aren’t that many ticks on your to-do list.
And if you’re someone who regularly decides to start a healthy lifestyle, you probably start doing all the right things but soon find yourself sitting in front of the television with a bucket of ice-cream and a bag of popcorn.
These scenarios are common. You are not alone. They occur because it is not us that decides what we want for ourselves and what goals to set. One part of us sets a particular goal, and another self resists it, or even outright sabotages it. We get stuck in the middle and find all sorts of excuses for not doing the things one self has determined we ‘should’ do, yet we also can’t do the opposite with full commitment.
If we do follow the wishes of one self wholeheartedly and ignore the desires of opposite selves, then we can suffer symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, body aches and pains, which are our unexpressed selves making themselves heard through our body.
Or we feel anxiety or guilt or suffer low self-esteem because we weren’t able to achieve ‘our’ goals.
Make Choices with Greater Consciousness
The solution is to make decisions with more consciousness. By that I mean rather than accepting without discrimination an idea that you have about what you ought to do, first get in touch with the opposite way of thinking or feeling.
- Question the rule or path that feels so certain.
- Spend time sitting with an idea before acting on it.
- Allow time for other parts of yourself to make their way to your conscious awareness and have their say.
- Listen to all your feelings.
- Also listen to what other people around you are saying.
Because if you feel absolutely certain about something, chances are someone will come into your life who will express a totally opposite viewpoint. Take what this person says or does seriously, particularly if you react to it strongly.
Your strong reaction indicates you are currently identified with a self and its viewpoint, and have no consciousness about that or of the opposites functioning within you.
Delay Setting Goals
Contrary to what is often advised regarding goal setting, which is to act quickly on an idea, I would suggest to not act.
We all know or have heard of someone who bought a house on a whim because it felt 100% right at the time but then later discovered that it didn’t suit them or was riddled with expensive-to-fix problems.
We’ve all had the experience of shopping and finding an outfit that we felt was perfect for us, only to bring it home and realise we will never wear it.
You will save far more time, money and energy in the long run if, before you decide to act, you take the time to consider, to ponder what you are drawn to acting on.
It may even mean that one of your new goals is to not set any goals. To explore options, to allow yourself to be in a state of not-striving-to-reach-any-particular-goal, but instead to listen inside to the different parts of yourself and to see if you can get in touch with a deeper sense of what is right for you.
You can do this process both with small issues you’re considering making decisions about or larger ones.
By allowing yourself to not act you might even find that new options become available to you. Options you hadn’t previously considered and which could take your life in a direction that satisfies you far more deeply than the original choice would have allowed for.
The Right Choice Awareness Exercise
- Write down or key into your computer all the things you currently think you’d like to achieve/have. Write each one on a separate piece of paper or on a new page.
- Then after each goal write the reactions you have about it. Give yourself time to allow any reactions to come to your awareness. Some reactions might be supportive of your goal and some might be against it.
- Review what you’ve written and you’ll have a fuller awareness of how the various parts of you – your various selves – feel and think about each choice.
- If you feel ready, make a decision about what you want to do regarding each choice. But remember to hold onto the opposite viewpoints. Don’t push them away, but take them on the journey with you – just as you’d take a toddler to the supermarket even though she’d much prefer to go to the park.
If you’re not sure about what to do, then wait. Just sit with the issue.
Maybe you need more information, maybe you need more time to become aware of what feels best for you.
If it’s a situation where you have to do something, then begin to take steps in one direction and see what happens. Or just stay on the path you’re already on. Be mindful of the thoughts and feelings that arise within you as you move in that direction. Pay attention to what happens within you and around you.
Enjoy the process.
The Goal With Goals
I’ve found that fulfilment comes not so much from making choices and being able to stick with them, but from discovering and expressing more of myself and what’s important to me as I move along with a particular choice.
One year that might involve learning to stick to a goal, but another year it might mean unhooking from an old rule that says you ought to achieve a particular goal.
If you feel the need to achieve a particular goal, then go ahead and do it. But at the same time stay open to discovering why you feel such certainty about that goal.
Re-evaluate it as you go about achieving it and be open to changing direction.
Consider where the rules about your goal came from. Who set them? Have you chosen those rules or has someone else?
Will the achievement of that goal work for you and the kind of life you want to experience? What are the alternatives?
If you have setbacks as you pursue your goal, be gentle on yourself. The old saying about it being the journey that counts is true – it’s all a journey…
If you approach making choices this way, you’ll find that you’ll feel better about the choices you make. Even if it means you don’t achieve a particular goal.
And in the process you’ll keep enhancing your understanding and acceptance of yourself, and you’ll start to naturally gravitate towards the kinds of life experiences that matter to you.
Learn about 44 selves of the human psyche and discover which selves are making your choices in my ebook Which Self Are You?