What can you do when you realize that you’ve been wasting a lot of time succumbing to distractions, like endless social media or consumption-based activities, and it’s making you feel empty, hollow, disappointed, or even ashamed of yourself? How can you reboot and get your life (and your character development) back on track?
A key here is to raise your awareness of how this behavior pattern is punishing you and what you’re missing out on. And that’s the truth – you’re missing out on tons that life has to offer when you stick with the low-hanging fruit of repetitive but unfulfilling actions.
One way I like to do this is to maintain a clear line of sight to goals that are compelling. The goals have to be a lot more fascinating and stimulating than the distractions, and my goals need to provide emotional endurance that won’t easily fade. Otherwise the distractions will win. Limp goals won’t work.
Keeping long-term goals in our awareness requires a lot of refreshing. For many people this means looking at our goals and thinking about them every day or even multiple times per day. That’s a good test to see if the goals remain interesting or compelling or if they only look good on paper but don’t actually motivate action consistently.
I like to engage with my goals every day, and I’m constantly tweaking, refactoring, and refreshing them to keep them aligned with strong and persistent motivation. When I feel a goal becoming too mental and not thrilling enough, I know it’s dying and that I won’t likely achieve it till I pull it back into the emotional space. This is where reframing skills are a godsend.
Then comes the realization that with enough action and persistence and learning from mistakes, those goals can actually be achieved. Those experiences can be had. Are they better than Facebooking and video games? If not then the goals are no good and ought to be changed because those services are competing for your attention these days.
The future will introduce even more compelling distraction invitations, so your future goals will need to be even more competitive with those other services. If your goals can’t even out-compete today’s offers, you really have no chance in the years ahead. So you’d better learn how to pull ahead – and stay ahead – of those distractions today.
For some this may seem disheartening. I actually see it as exciting though. Why is reality providing so much temptation? Is it to pull you away from your goals and make you feel like a loser? No! It’s to invite you to up your goal-setting game. Stop setting such bland and wimpy goals. Set goals that scare you, that will radically transform your life, that will sculpt your character beautifully. Leap into spaces that you’ve never explored before.
Most importantly, your goals must be personal. You can’t just rip them off from other people and expect them to have much motivating power. My best goals feel like goals that no one would set but me because they fit me and my personality in such a unique way. If your goals are generic and other people could just as easily set them, they probably won’t motivate you consistently.
A good goal is like a personal mission. It’s for you and you alone. Even if a goal involves a team project, your contribution is uniquely personal. A good goal dives deep into your private space of personal meaning. It’s part of your story, not someone else’s.
So please please please dump those lame-ass goals that you could read anywhere else online, like the ones to lose weight, make a certain amount of money, etc. Video games provide way more compelling goals than those.
You can still do some of those distracting activities for variety if you truly value them. Rachelle and I love watching TV shows and movies together, and sometimes we play video games. But those are filler activities around other goals, and they do provide value in a way that doesn’t feel empty or hollow. I often find inspiration in fictional worlds. I probably wouldn’t even be doing what I’m doing today if not for Star Trek, for instance, since that inspired many of my lifestyle decisions. Watching certain shows together is a fun bonding experience for us too; we often discuss them afterwards, even pausing to discuss while we watch.
I don’t have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or many other social media accounts since I don’t feel those services add enough value to my life today. I did find it interesting to explore them, but not to the extent of having them pull me away from more interesting goals. I do have Netflix, Apple TV+, Audible, YouTube, and other accounts that I appreciate. This is guilt-free. This kind of engagement actually builds enthusiasm for other goals if done right.
A good question to ask is: Would I appreciate having this account for another year (or five)? If not, that’s a good reason to cancel it.
When you compare your goals to your distractions, do your goals rise above your distractions enough that you’re going to feel a sting if you don’t work on your goals for a month or so? Do your goals compel you to take action? Do you find it necessary to put off non-goal actions, so you can advance your goals?
It’s one thing to feel disappointed if you’ve wasted some of your life spinning in circles, but that isn’t enough by itself. It’s vital to be aware of what specifically you’re sacrificing if you don’t invest in something more meaningful. With a vague feeling of disappointment, going back to the distractions will remain the go-to treatment.
With a more specific feeling of disappointment where you develop high awareness of the progress you could have made but didn’t, it will be harder to return to distractions and not work on your goals. You’ll see that you’re delaying experiences that matter to you. You’ll see that you’re holding your character back from what you could become. You’ll see more of the specifics that you’re missing.
Your challenge is to create a vision of how you want your life to be, and then keep evolving that vision to make it personal, meaningful, and incredibly compelling. Arnold Schwarzenegger used to put up pics of bodybuilders on his bedroom wall, so he’d stay connected to the vision of how he wanted his body to be. While other people inspired him, he evolved those socially inherited goals into his own personal vision that mattered to him, and he infused a lot of his own personality into his goals. When he tried to pursue goals that other people set for him, like while he was in the military in Austria, he failed miserably.
I really love setting and achieving interesting goals. It’s hard as hell sometimes, and there are occasional setbacks to deal with, but in the long run that just makes the journey more rewarding. I especially love the long-term character sculpting effects. Even for goals I didn’t achieve (or that took longer than I expected), I still appreciate the character gains. I love the creative challenge of figuring out what to do next with my life.
When your goals become compelling enough, distractions become boring by comparison. You can still engage with side hobbies and entertainment if you want – I definitely do – but let those pursuits serve the big picture of where you want to take your life and character. I love the added stimulation and inspiration that comes from a variety of input, but if I overdo that, I’m really going to feel the sting of not making progress on my goals. I’ll be very aware of what else I’m not experiencing.
You have a lot of power to sculpt your experience of life. You can let other people direct your experience, and that’s okay for a while, but the long-term invitation is to do your own conscious sculpting and directing. I really enjoy helping people with those efforts since it’s so rewarding to see people take charge of their lives and create the kinds of experiences they truly appreciate.
Mutual appreciation is what this game is all about. Consider that even those services that you denigrate as distractions were probably created by people who hoped you’d appreciate their efforts. What you call a distraction was someone else’s life’s work. I like this framing because it helps me see that when I’m ready to let go of a service that has run its course for me, I can let go with some appreciation and respect for the value it did provide. I can even thank those services for how they helped me discover what other kinds of experiences I really want to have.
So realize that your distractions are actually trying to help you. If your distractions are more compelling than your goals, look to your distractions for insights about how you could set goals that are more engaging and meaningful for you. Clarify what you don’t like about those distractions, and challenge yourself to design experiences that are better than what they offer. If you can’t beat what those services provide, then you know you have more to learn about how to consciously create better experiences. And then you can actually engage with those services on that basis. You can use them as learning tools and stepping stones to discover how to set better goals and to create better experiences.