“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Daniel’s New Year’s goal to “finish his novel” was too squishy. As we discussed in the last post, a squishy goal is not really very measurable – it’s too abstract, and doesn’t have any clearly defined steps. Another reason this failed goal kept showing up each year was because it was just that – a goal. Not just any goal, but an external goal.
When we only set our goals around external achievements, they can tend to fall into the squishy category. Squishy goals happen when we’ve failed to define our internal why. Without that why, our goals are less meaningful and do not have the same power. Without the why power driving us, it’s too easy to put our goals off and procrastinate.
The interesting thing about procrastination is that we are putting things off for our future selves to deal with. Hal Hershfield, an assistant professor at NYU says that we do this because “we think of our future self as if it’s another person.” Psychologist Emily Pronin says we “think of our future selves like we think of other people: in the third person.” If we have a “third person” mindset in our goal making, of course we’ll never complete them.
Every time Daniel wrote “finish novel” on his list, he didn’t realize it but he was envisioning himself as a stranger. Completing that goal seemed such an unfamiliar and foreign concept to him, his future self (the person that would actually accomplish that feat), seamed equally unfamiliar and foreign. No wonder he could only seem to make squishy goals.
To counter this thinking, Daniel needed to reconnect with his motivation and his heart – it had been too long and he’d lost sight of his why. At first he thought the question “why do you want to finish your novel?” was silly. “Because I’ve been working on it forever!” he’d answer. “Why wouldn’t I want to finish it?” Wrong answer. To find the true answer to why he wanted to finish his novel, he had to first identify why he’d started writing it in the first place.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison says, “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” A light came on in Daniel’s eyes. That was his why. He’d wanted to write that novel because it was the kind of book he personally wanted to read! The novel wrestled through concepts, and philosophies that he was really passionate about and he wanted to use fiction to examine those ideas! After remembering his original motivation and heart, he began to set much more detailed and measurable goals.
“Get healthy” is squishy. “Go for a walk around the block every day” is less squishy, but it’s still only an external achievement. “Go for a walk around the block every day so that as I continue to age I can remain active and participate in the lives of those I love.” That’s an external goal connected with an internal why. That is how we should begin to make our plans.
What is your internal why? What was your original motivation? What is the heart behind that goal? Are any of your goals too squishy? Take the first step toward solidifying them by connecting with your why.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.”
– Ecclesiastes 9:10a (ESV)
Bonus: For more good resources on connecting with your why, check out: