Understanding Goal Setting, Part 3

We need to question ourselves

As we take on adulthood we need to constantly question our own authority. We need to look at the bigger picture of our lives.


A few good self-questions are:

  • Would I be proud of this behavior if it was explained on the front page of the newspaper?
  • Would I feel right if I had to explain my behavior to __________? (Fill in the name of someone you truly respect and would not want to embarrass yourself in front of).
  • Would I want someone to do this to me, or someone I love?
  • Would I do this if I knew I was going to be caught?


These self-governing moral questions help us make good decisions, even when we want to do whatever initially crossed our minds.

Confide in yourself and choose your counsel well

Often when we want to change something in our world we bounce the emerging idea off others. This sounding board notion is both good and dangerous. It is good to seek out counsel and listen carefully to competent advice. It makes sense to talk to a highly experienced plumber if you are thinking about going into the plumbing trade. It makes sense to learn as much as possible about a business before you choose to apply for a job. But, when you gather information you need to be aware that the giver of the information is filtering her answers through her own life experiences. You need to judge the filters of others.

I once told my Uncle Joe that I was thinking of applying for a doctoral program in psychology on the other side of the country. His words were very specific. “Listen to me boy, you’re a poor kid from Rottenchester, how are you getting into grad school?” He continued to explain that school was great for rich kids who buy a fancy piece of paper. He was positive that “people like us” had to make money with our hands.

I have often thought about Uncle Joe’s advice. If I had not understood his filters I would probably be a businessman in Rochester, New York. There is nothing wrong with that, but it wouldn’t have been my choice. I wanted to be a shrink.

Gathering information is imperative to making good choices. Over the years I have found books to be very helpful in giving me solid information. I am very choosy however. I tend not to believe any author who is trying to sell me something other than the information. Be super careful with diet books, make-money-quick books and books that tell you that they know what God is thinking.

Adapt or stagnate

You need to scare yourself a little bit on a regular basis. If you are not nervous every now and then, you are sitting comfortably inside your safety zone. That may be safe, but it is not living. As we talked about in the last chapter, life rewards action. You have to be doing or you are stagnant. Cesspools are stagnant and like cesspools, people begin to stink up the place when they stagnate.

The best question I know to stop stagnation is: How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently? How can I do it differently?

The preceding is not a typo. You need to ask yourself, “How can I do it differently?” Over and over, until you have lots of choices to work with. With lots of choices you have the best chance to have a great choice in front of you. If you have only one or two choices you may not have any really good ones on your plate. The great choice may not show up until you have challenged your mind 47 times (or some such number). With 47 options to muddle through you have real comparisons. You have stuff to appraise so that you can calculate your risks.

Melissa is ill with cancer. She has three children in their teens. She told me, “It really makes me angry when people say, ‘You’re so strong, taking care of your kids when you have cancer.’ What am I supposed to do, sit around and wait to die? I do what I have to do. I take care of my family.”

Melissa is a caring individual who takes pride in her life choices. She has taught me that she is stuck with cancer, but she isn’t stuck without choices. She asks herself regularly, “How can I do it differently?” on  little tasks that you and I take for granted. Melissa is in control of her life.

A homework assignment:

On an 8.5 x11 sheet of paper write the first letter of your name. Now ask yourself the question, “How can I do it differently?” and draw that same letter differently. Then ask yourself the question, “How can I do it differently?” Ask it again, and again. Fill the page with different letters (for you computer types you may notice that you are changing fonts).

It is the same letter with a different outcome each time.


My view of the letter P


I suspect that with each new font you will find it getting harder and harder. At letter number 25 you are probably forging new ground and taxing your mind. Attempt number 30 would not have occurred without the 29 before it. This is an example of how to expand your mind to find a new way to do something you already know.

One choice at a time

If you choose to go to the movies, you are actually choosing not to do an infinite number of other things you could be doing instead of going to the movies. By choosing to go to the movies you are choosing not to feed the homeless, not to go for coffee, not to do your philosophy homework, not to… you fill in the blank. Usually, you can only make one choice at a time. But, often one choice has a ripple effect on numerous other choices. A. Whole chose to rob a gas station that led him to jail. I think that most people his age chose to sleep at 3 AM. This probably wasn’t seen as much of a choice. But if A. Whole had chosen to go to bed that fateful night, he wouldn’t have chosen to shoot an innocent man.

Most people and water take the path of least resistance

Water takes the path of least resistance. It slowly erodes the ground and over time creates a rut. Add more time and water and it forms a stream. After enough time and enough water you end up with a wondrous tourist destination—the Grand Canyon. As we spoke of before, lots of small choices lead to accomplishments. The Grand Canyon was formed from raindrops and commitment to a path.

We humans are going to do something. We are like the raindrops. We are going to be. If we take our little choices and combine them, we become a force. Unlike a river, we are not stuck following the path of least resistance. We can take calculated risks and focus our life force towards a planned goal. If you don’t know where you’re going—you’re there. You’re stagnant. If you can adapt, you have a future.