How many times have you been discouraged when you see how far you have to go in order to be where you want to be? Whether it’s getting out of debt, losing that last 15 pounds, or finding your soul mate, the end can seem painfully distant. We create anxiety and despair when we focus on the gap between where we are and where we want to be. We place a premium on outcomes. These imagined future outcomes are preconceived solutions to what we see as problems in the present. If I were with someone special I wouldn’t be lonely anymore. If I can get through this graduate program, I can get a job that pays decent and then I’ll be happy. If I could just learn how to control my anger, I’d have a chance at getting my wife back.
These are all fine goals. But there are two main problems here. First of all, even if these goals are achieved, there is no guarantee that they will have the same outcome as you imagined they would. And second, when goals are set up in the service of getting you to feel or act differently than you do now, they actually enhance the discomfort as you consider the great distance you have to travel to obtain that goal. This despair can have a paralyzing effect on behavior and often times becomes an excuse for not moving forward. Instead, consider moving toward something you value rather than moving away from physical or emotional discomfort. A value is not a goal. Goals are items you can check off a list. Getting married might be a goal. But if you do not value intimacy, friendship, and cooperation, your marriage is going to have problems. Values can be chosen at any given moment. The distance between where you are and your values is not measured in distance. It’s a matter of simply turning in the right direction. Goals are a good thing to have, but it is a far better strategy to connect with values first. Then establish goals that fall in line with those values. If your value is West, Los Angeles would be a reasonable goal. But you wouldn’t stop there. You’d check it off your list and continue your westward journey, because it’s the journey that’s important, not the arrival. You are never far from your values. When you get lost or turned around, just pull out that values compass and adjust your direction. Then, and this is the most important part, take a step. No matter how far you think you are from achieving your goals, you are always only one step from doing what you value. Start where you are.