“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll”
– John Lennon
Setting goals is one of our favorite pastimes. For the most part, we’ve grown up with the idea that things are achieved when we make plans and take the necessary action towards them.
We also tend to think similar things about goals. Usually, we associate goals with effort and believe that nothing worthwhile is achieved without hard work: the phrase ‘blood, sweat and tears’ comes to mind. Also, because goals are about the things we want, they are always related to what we care deeply about, things to which we are very attached.
Some people don’t make goals, of course. They drift along, waiting to see where life carries them. Often, this kind of behavior is frowned upon, although the people doing the frowning might secretly admire the courage of someone who seems to ‘opt out’ of what is normally expected. We tend to see things in a fairly polarized way – either we go about achieving our goals with great energy and effort, or we abandon our goals completely, drifting through life and seeing what it brings. The choice, it seems, is between hard work and ‘opting-out.’ Neither of these options is very appealing.
But there is another way, an approach where goals can be made and pursued but without the attendant stress and hassle that almost always goes with them.
The point which people almost always miss is that a strong desire for your goals (or anything else, for that matter) pushes them away. If you think carefully about the goals you have achieved in the past, you’ll probably find – perhaps to your surprise – that they were achieved when you let go of any struggle or effort. Often, the effort we’ve been making becomes so exhausting that we spontaneously ‘let go’ or ‘give up’ and then our goals seem to manifest.
‘Letting go’ means, essentially, that you stop caring. Like a fly caught in a spider’s web, our struggle only makes things worse. A drowning man hastens his own demise by the effort to stay afloat, but when he truly gives up, submitting himself to the water, he floats. You attain goals when you give up caring about them. This ‘law of reversed effort’ is a basic, though counterintuitive, law of nature. It isn’t what we’ve been taught to believe, but it is the best and most effective way to live.
Goals can certainly be achieved with ‘blood, sweat and tears,’ but at great cost. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and seeking to achieve them – indeed, we need a sense of purpose in life – but if we start to see our goals in a new way, we could achieve so much more with far less stress, worry and pain.
Why not try letting go of your goals? Try caring less. Try ‘watching the wheels go round and round,’ and see how things turn out. You might be surprised.