A major obstacle that prevents people from enjoyably achieving their goals is that they set their goals incorrectly to begin with. This problem occurs because people don’t understand the nature of time well enough. When people consider a particular goal, they often worry about the time commitment: If I start my own business now, it could take years to make it profitable. I’m so overweight it could take years for me to get in shape. If I break off this unfulfilling relationship, it could take years to get back on my feet again. Such thoughts are clearly demotivating, but more importantly they reveal a total misunderstanding of the nature of time.
We value our time, so we have a natural tendency to be expedient. And we also want to enjoy the present moment. Consequently, we’re disinclined to set goals that will take a very long time to achieve. Who wants to toil for years in order to reach a potentially better someday? Most of us simply don’t have the discipline to do that, even if there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Discipline is not the real issue, however. The issue is a misunderstanding of time.
We tend to think of time as a resource that we spend, just like we spend money. To complete a one-hour task is to spend an hour on it. How are you spending your day? Where do you want to spend your next vacation? How will you spend the rest of the year? Time is money, a disposable resource.
This is a silly and inaccurate way to think about time, however. Time is not a resource. You cannot spend time. Time spends itself. You have no choice in the matter. No matter what you do, the time is going to pass anyway. It doesn’t matter if you do one thing or another for the next five years. Those five years will pass no matter what you do.
In reality you are never in the past or future. You exist only in the present moment. Even when you remember the past or envision the future, you’re still thinking those
thoughts in the present. All you really have is right now. And that’s all you ever will have. You can’t control the passage of time, but you can control your present moment focus. That’s all. No past. No future. Just right now.
So if the only thing that exists is the present moment, then what sense does it make to talk about long-term goals? How do you actually achieve anything?
First, understand that you can only achieve anything in the present moment, and you can only enjoy those achievements in the present moment. You can’t achieve anything or enjoy anything in the past or future because you’re never there. That’s obvious, isn’t it? But too often people act incongruently with this fact. It’s very difficult to achieve a goal that’s based on an inaccurate model of reality – such a goal will surely be an uphill struggle.
The purpose of goal-setting isn’t to control the future. That would be senseless because the future only exists in your imagination. The only value in goal-setting is that it improves the quality of your present moment reality. Setting goals can give you greater clarity and focus right now. Whenever you set a goal, always ask yourself, “How does setting this goal improve my present reality?” If a goal does not improve your present reality, then the goal is pointless, and you may as well dump it. But if the goal brings greater clarity, focus, and motivation to your life whenever you think about it, it’s a keeper.