Here’s something to consider.
Why should we be even trying to defeat dragons? Isn’t there something important about trying to be content with life? Why have goals, since goals naturally lead to change? Shouldn’t we be happy with how things are?
Leo Babauta @ Zen Habits has a wonderful post about learning to be happy with the life he had. He stopped looking for tools of change. He didn’t need ways to change, because he was working on being happy with his Self. (Of course, the interesting thing about that is that mindset led to dramatic changes in his life, which we’ll talk about in the future.)
I can’t argue with such a sentiment. In fact, something I consider one of my strengths is being able to be at relative peace with the ups and downs of life.
But there seems to something…human about giving ourselves challenges – trying harder, believing in something new.
Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert puts it this way:
“We should have preferences that lead us into one future over another.”
That is, it’s OK to say that some things are better than others, and to prefer some things over other things. But then Gilbert says:
“But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast because we have overrated the differences between those futures, we are at risk.”
In other words, as always, it comes down to what is being done, and how it’s being done.
In order to accomplish what Professor Gilbert is speaking about, we need to hold onto a dual concept. Let me give an example.
I have a goal of 5 pullups by my 40th birthday. I can do 1 now, and that took 2 months of work. The goal itself, is good. It’s good to want to be stronger, it’s good to prefer strength over helplessness.
Here is the dual concept: I am both content, even proud – of what my body can do now – and excited for what my body can do in the future.
Two ideas that can live right next to each other. If, on the course of my goal, I took unhealthy supplements, I lost weight by not eating, I worked out most nights and neglected family, I was lazy at work because I only had pullups on the brain – I would be in the risk Gilbert speaks of.
This dual concept is a challenge. To be able to keep both thoughts in mind at one time means putting restrictions on the Self. But humans want to be challenged, and need restrictions to get better. If I’m allowed to do whatever I wish, it’s very hard for me to become better. Becoming better requires work; if I get to do whatever I wish, why work? Why be challenged? The dual concept makes me think two things: contentment – and growth. We can be happy with how things are and be happy with accomplishing goals.
Think of a goal you have. What do you hope to gain from this goal? Now think: can you be at peace without it?