7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Set Goals

In our result-driven society, we are told to set goals in order to be effective. While goals have tremendous potential to improve your productivity, but focusing solely on results and outcomes also have potential for creating anxiety, overwhelmingness and failure. In this first chapter of a 4-part series, I identify 7 reasons why conventional goal-setting can prevent you from creating unshakable inner peace.

In a hurry?  Read the digest version.

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Goals can hurt you.

What are you talking about, you may say. Life is about setting goals and achieving them!

Well, I’m not here to dispute that goal-setting has values. It can contribute to tremendous effectiveness.

But if one of your major desires is to live a satisfying life, then I would say the common approach to setting and pursuing goals also has tremendous potential to actually create road blocks for you, instead of removing them.

See if any of the 7 reasons below applies to you. And if it does, then, it’s time to stop and evaluate. Because that means your goals are either keeping you from living a satisfying life right now, or making you base your inner peace on a precarious ground. Continue reading

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7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Set Goals (Digest)

Note: This is a digest version of a longer essay on goal-setting.  If you agree with the points made here, read the original to understand all the whys and hows.

The common approach to setting and pursuing goals has a potential to keep you away from living a joyful, satisfying life.

See if any of the 7 reasons below applies to you. And if it does, then, it’s time to stop and evaluate.

7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Set Goals

  1. Achievement: I don’t do anything without goals! In the other words, you need to set up a reason for your every action, and you revel in the fact that all your actions add up to something. Then how do you feel when it turns out what you’re doing fails to achieve your goals?
  2. Significance: I set goals so that my life has a meaning! One hitch — you don’t know when you’re going to die. How will you feel if you are to retire before achieving that goal?
  3. Future: I’ll be happy when I achieve my goals! In the other words, you are not happy right where you are, right now.
  4. Expectation: I’m supposed to have goals! Who is telling you this? Whoever it is, apparently they only accept you for what you do, not who you are. Besides, why do you need to meet their approval?
  5. Mandate: My success depends on my achieving my goals! So you define success as an outcome, not a state of being. You are not a success unless you’re producing visible results.
  6. Proof: I can’t prove myself without measurable accomplishments! Who are you trying to prove yourself to, and what you trying to prove?
  7. Self-Worth: I am not a good person unless I accomplish my goals!

Why Your Goals Are Hurting You

When you base your self-worth on accomplishments, you become more result-oriented than process-oriented. In the other words, you justify your existence based on the good results you produce. The goal of goal-setting must focus on engaging in a process in addition to producing results.  That way, your effectiveness will increase, and it will lead you to experience joy and satisfaction without having to wait for the results.

How do we do this? By setting process-oriented goals. That’s what we’ll examine in the next installment of this series.

Posted in Career and Your Calling, Decision Making, Dissecting Problems, Mission/Goal-Setting, Short Posts | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

How I Healed My Damaged Self-Esteem

Just as I wrote my big essay on self-esteem, I encountered an event that triggered a discovery and healing of where my own self-esteem was damaged. It’s a rather personal tale, but let me use it to illustrate how you can mend the foundation of your mind.

My Son’s Fall

A few days ago, I was outside with my two kids, my 4.5-years-old daughter and my 1.5 years-old son. Some evenings, I take the kids out to play, so that we can give Mommy a break. She went off to a near-by library, and I was home alone with kids. I’m not one of those fathers who have a melt-down when left home alone with kids — I can take care of them, bathe them, and put them to bed on my own. It’s no big deal.

Kids were just playing the way little kids play — climbing up stairs, running on sidewalk, picking flowers, grass and sticks, and so on. Then they started walking on this concrete wall in front of a neighboring apartment. The wall was about 3.5 feet tall, but not free standing. The side facing the apartment was filled in — the earth came up to the same height as the wall. So this wall was built to contain the soil from spilling out to the sidewalk.

Kids love walking on such places. They love the challenge of walking on a narrow area — having to balance themselves. I was watching them closely, standing within an arm’s reach. But the brick wall wasn’t very skinny — good 8-10 inches wide, not quite a foot — so I thought it unlikely that they would fall. I was ready to catch them if they stumble, however.

But fall, my son did. It was a split-second distraction. I don’t remember what I was looking at, but I know I wasn’t paying close attention, though I didn’t take my eyes off of him, entirely. He was walking on this wall, and one foot completely missed the wall, and he fell to the sidewalk below. I saw the whole thing happen right in front of me, 2 feet away. I could have grabbed him easily if I was prepared, but I simply wasn’t expecting him to just fall straight down, without any stumbling or signs of losing balance. Those were the signs I was watching for. But he simply stepped off the wall. There was no such warning. Continue reading

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Low Self-Esteem Is the Root of All Problems

In this extended essay on self-esteem, you will get a comprehensive picture of what it is, how it gets compromised, and how you can restore it. Low self-esteem is the underlying cause for all problems in your life — understanding this will pave the way to true and complete healing and unlocking your true potential as a human being.

In a hurry? Read the digest version.

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All the problems you have in your life boils down to the single point.

Your self-esteem.

If you have it in abundance, you’ll be able to overcome anything. No adversities will prevent you from having a fulfilling life. I’m not saying you’ll live long (though you probably will, if that’s what you want) or you’ll get rich (though you probably will, if that’s what you want). But you’ll be successful in life. On your death bed, you’ll look back at your life and be at peace.

But if you have a faulty self-esteem, you’re going to encounter problems. Low self-esteem prevents you from realizing your potential, as you can’t believe in it. Low self-esteem prevents you from having good relationships, because you don’t know that you deserve it. Low self-esteem keeps you from true affluence, because you don’t think you can have it that good. Low self-esteem stifles your happiness, because you can’t be happy with something you’re not confident in.

So let’s look at how self-esteem works. Continue reading

Posted in Dissecting Problems, Happiness, Know Yourself, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Your Mental Age: Healing and Raising Your Inner Children

In Japan, we have a phrase called “Seishin Nenrei.”

It means: “mental age.”

It simply means that our mental age may be different from our physical age.

I’m surprised that it’s not a widely accepted idea in US. It may be because of my cultural background, but the concept seems very obvious to me.

I’m sure you’ve seen “adult children” in action. Grown-ups with still a sense of child-like awe and wonder. Or parents who let out their “inner-children” with their own kids, going out and doing silly things.

Now, this concept can be extended to understand and overcome roadblocks within our minds. Namely, some of us are housing little children inside — children whose needs were not met when they were supposed to be.

To understand this, first you have to review the basics: Erikson’s Developmental Stages.

While not an earth-shattering revelation, Erikson’s theory gives us a nice framework, a starting point of identifying those needs.

Except, in real life, things are not that linear nor formulaic. Some of us who are lucky enough to have stable and loving parents may move through those stages smoothly, perhaps on the early side. But often, we move on to another stage without the conflict of the previous stage properly resolved. This is often necessitated, as the social networks around us expect us to behave in certain ways — schools being the foremost of such expectations.

What happens when a conflict from a particular age remains unresolved? The you at that age get “stuck” inside. This is where the age analogy comes in.

You may be housing an inner child in your psyche.

Let me give you an example. A few years back, I was battling my feeling of inadequeacy as a musician. I just felt that I wasn’t good enough. Not good enough to be successful.

Now, notice how vague that statement is. “Not good enough” to be “successful.” What do they mean? I didn’t know, to be honest. I just felt that I wasn’t good enough. I was thinking about making and releasing my first album , but I was constantly battling this voice of fear in my head going “why even bother? You aren’t good enough to amount to anything. ”

This was a major roadblock to me, as it constantly interfered with my efforts to put together the music I believed in and was fundamentally excited about.

So I finally asked one of my trusted friends to sit down and talk to my inner child.

What I did was I envisioned these voices, and tried to figure out how old the speaker might have been. He was a teenager — 14 or 15 years-old. I told my friend that there’s a whiny teenager inside me who needed to grow up. So, she “sat me down” (I remember I literally changed the place where I was sitting on the couch, as I was now “becoming” a different person.) and said that she wanted to talk to the teenager Ari.

It took a bit of courage to let out my inner child honestly, but I did. The grown-up Ari listened, while Ari the young boy came out and started talking.

I don’t recall any exact lines, but the boy talked basically about how if I was going to be a professional guitarist (which, I must be, if I was going to release a CD) then I needed to be able to play fast. The boy was from the late 80’s when the rock music he was listening to featured virtuosic (or at least technical) guitar playing. Guitarists often bragged about how many hours a day they spent practicing, perfecting their chops. I didn’t practice that much and I couldn’t play anywhere near as fast as those “real” guitarists. So I wasn’t good enough, and was not worthy of doing things that are only reserved for pros.

My friend just listened and asked questions. There was no need to argue or try to convince him to change his opinion. The boy just needed to talk.

As I heard the boy inside me speak, I remember feeling a great sense of relief — really, like something got unstuck inside. I did see clearly how flawed and child-like the boy’s logic was. It didn’t result in an instant healing — but over the next few days, I really felt the boy’s previously incessant voice fade away.

And I went on to make and release my album, and today I don’t struggle as much with a feeling of inadequacy. I am happy with my music and I consider my making it a success, particularly my guitar playing on it.

Going back to the description of the stages, I can see that this fear of inadequacy belongs in the 4th stage, industry vs. inferiority. I did envision myself to be older than 12 years-old as I was speaking, but then, again, people progress at varying ages. I wasn’t exactly an unhappy child, but I do have some unpleasant memories from my grade school era. I got picked on a lot, by both boys and girls. I remember feeling very humiliated, as I cried sometimes at school — and boys weren’t supposed to cry. I wasn’t very athletic but I was good at music, which enforced the feeling that I was “girly.” Of course, that made me feel inadequate as a boy, though that conclusion, I believe, was mostly my own doing. I don’t recall being called a sissy or girly by other kids.

Anyway, so the unresolved conflict must have dragged on into my teenage years and was being judgmental about my guitar playing, which can be a very macho pursuit, almost a competition. Now I look back and laugh at the concept that being a professional must mean you have to play fast. That’s the kind of over-generalization kids do — but when you’re a kid, this kind of thinking can dominate our minds.

In every stage of our lives, we have challenges. Erikson’s stages are rough estimates, and things are not as simple as finishing one stage and moving to the next. It would be simpler if it was so. Particularly into adulthood, we’re getting challenged on multiple levels, and the demands can be fairly complex. You could be 50-year-old, facing the culmination of your career ahead, yet perhaps divorced and looking for someone to settle down with, all the while hearing voices of inner child, from much earlier eras in your life.

Unresolved conflicts from early on can hold you back from meeting challenges that are on the higher plains. Back to the house analogy, it’s really hard to build upon your house when your foundation is shaky. It may be scary and painful, but the best and quickest way to meet your challenges of your era is to go back and take care of your inner children. My particular issue was a fairly shallow one, so I could deal with it with a help of a trusted friend — but if it goes deep enough, it’s best done with a trained therapist. In addition to their bringing in their trained observations and guidance, you can also spare your family and friends from learning about your vulnerable, personal issues. It’s not quite as scary to open up to a stranger, somebody who has no pre-conceived notions of who you are supposed to be.

If the degree of unresolved conflict is not too deep, you can even have a conversation yourself with your inner child yourself, and that’ll help you figure a lot of things out. I do this all the time, by writing out my conversation with my inner child. As I write this, first I try to just be honest and truthful about what the child-version of me is saying, with flawed logic or childish impulses and all. Then I envision what that particular child needs. Whenever I become scared of being hurt by someone (usually verbally), for example, I envision holding a little boy, perhaps 3-4 years old, in my arm. He’s crying because so-and-so beat him or said mean things. I hold him and comfort him, just as I do with my daughter. Incidentally, this is part of the reason why becoming a parent can be so healing for the parent. In a way, you get to re-live your own childhood, meeting unmet needs inside you as you meet your child’s needs.

You don’t have to use the description of stages to figure out how old your inner children are. I find it best not to go in from that analytical angle. Instead, I just simply envision a child saying what he/she needs to say. That is the biggest clue about how old he/she is. And from there, you’ll see what the response should be.

In short, while we go about and try to act appropriately for our age, we may be carrying around ungrown children inside. These voices in your head are cries of needs that were not met when they were supposed to, and they can form major roadblocks in your life. The best, and really the only way to resolve this situation is to go back and raise your inner children, so that you can be congruent with how old you really are. I don’t mean that to say, when you’re 45, you have to “act” 45, whatever you or your society expects 45-years-olds to do. You are what you think you are, regardless of your physical age.

What I mean is, a situation can get unnecessarily complex when you are carrying ungrown children inside. You may be 30, but there are a screaming 1-year-old, sulky 5-year-old and whining 12-year-old inside.

Go back in time, and take care of them. Listen to their cries and comfort them. Tell them that you love them and that things are going to be OK.

As their concerns get voiced and resolved, they’ll gradually grow up, and join you where you are. You’ll be more wholesome and coherent, as your mind is not pulled into multiple directions by needs from your past. You’ll be one-piece, exactly where you are, with all your resources available to meet the challenges unique to your time.

A good life always presents challenges. But we get overwhelmed, when we are dragged down by the accumulated weight of unmet needs from you past. The best thing to do is to stop, go back and take care of your unfinished businesses.

Then you’ll discover that calling up all your resources to face your current challenges is indeed a joyful pursuit.

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Depression: Inability to Experince Joy and Hope

It’s hard to know what it’s like to be depressed, until you experience it.

Because it’s really not a state within the range of our normal existence.

It’s your mind getting overloaded with stress and pain, so much that it is not capable of its normal, innate functions.

Imagine a carriage, or a buggy, with a load way beyond its capacity. It’s so heavy, that its wheels are sinking into the ground, no longer perfectly round. You can tell the frames are bent from the stress, on the verge of collapse.

This is your mind, depressed. It takes a lot of energy to move, even an inch. And you really don’t want to move. You want to sit there.

Depression is one of the most cruel forms of human afflictions. It’s possible, even if difficult, to be hopeful, to have a positive outlook, and to experience joy under most other circumstances, including terminal illness, financial difficulty, or relationship problems. But depression robs you of this very fundamental of human capacity. If you are depressed, there is no joy, no hope, no laughter. You feel tired, you stop caring.

You lose the will to live.

It’s not enough for a person to take care of his/her physical needs at all cost. Our minds have its own needs. Like body needs water and food, mind needs stimulation. And rest. While our physical body affects our mind, it is our mind that drives the body. Like a car and its driver. If the car was not functioning properly, you adjust your driving to compensate, but you may still be able to keep going. If the driver is not functioning properly, you have bigger problems. You may not drive properly and get into accidents. You may get lost. You may become a danger or a threat to those around you.

Depression is the opposite end, the reverse of what we are meant to be — happy and fulfilled. The other extreme from being the best person you can be.

In fact, since it is no longer within the “normal” plain of your mental state, it may be apt to consider your depression a different person. It’s not who you are, at all. Perhaps it’s a version of you, but one that is so distorted and disfigured that there is very little resemblance of who you actually are.

You are no longer you, when you are depressed. You become a different person, one you’re definitely not meant to be.

But this happens to many of us, more often than we realize.  Much of the time, it is our own poor habits that allow hurt to build up inside and cause depression.  But then, of course, there are some hurtful things that enter our lives that are completely out of our control, like abuse or loss of parent early in life.  Stored hurt never heals, no matter how long it’s been there.  To heal, mentally, means to let it out, one way or another.  The process of healing is an entirely another discussion, so for now let’s focus on recognizing when we’re starting to slip.

It takes a bit of training to recognize depression. That is part of the reason why I’m describing it to you. There are perhaps other places over the web that can help you self-diagnose. Sometimes depression manifests in physical symptoms first — headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, lethargy. Many illnesses have their root cause in ill minds.  Even if you don’t feel depressed but if you have some kind of recurring or chronic conditions, you can bet that there is an unhealed wound or stored stress in your mind somewhere.

Our systems have weak links, vulnerable spots. For example, when I get ill, often my hip joints ache badly. I may be getting the same virus my family gets — and they may complain of nose-running, fever and headaches. When that same virus gets to me, I get achy body first. That is where I am vulnerable. You see how the cause is the same but the symptoms are different?

The same thing applies to depression. It manifests in many different forms. Seek out testimonials in those who have gone through it and identify symptoms that are consistent with yours. Learn to look for signs, and explore beneath the surface.  The symptom simply points out your weak link, not the true cause.  Once you gain awareness, it’s not hard to trace it to the source, in yourself and others.

The good news is that you can recover from depression. It’s hard to imagine when you are depressed, that a different state of being exists. I noticed in myself that when I’m depressed, I tend to feel like I’ve been depressed forever. I don’t remember being happy and joyful. And I fear that that’s all I am going to be, ever.

Your depressed self is not really you. Remember this, and don’t listen. This is one time when it’s not good to listen to yourself, because the one speaking is not real you. Learn to recognize this, and don’t let this compromised version of you drive you to do things that you don’t normally do.

Depression can be cured, and there are many ways to go about it. Here are my thoughts on some initial things to try, suggestions from my personal experience:

  • Rest. Don’t keep driving the car when the driver’s vision is impaired.
  • Talk to someone. If the depression is severe, you’ll need to see a professional therapist, but a friend who’s a good listener can do a lot of good to minor depression. Don’t censor yourself — whine, moan, complain. Just pour out your pain.
  • Listen to music. Music that you can identify with, in that state.
  • Sleep. Your mind shuts off when you’re asleep, at least mostly. This can help your mind to recover.
  • Eat good food. Treat yourself.
  • Avoid making decisions. I realize that I’m repeating myself, but this is one concept that’s hard to recognize until you see it when you are depressed.  You are not in the normal state of mind. Particularly, avoid major decisions — taking a break is different from quitting, breaking up, moving or ending your life. Suspend and put things on hold, but don’t let a sick version of you make decision for the normal you.  This is very important.  I’ve heard of a number of divorces that I strongly suspect were driven from a depressed mind.

You don’t go to the ER if you just catch a common cold or minor flu. Similarly, minor forms of depression can be self-healed with techniques similar to dealing with such minor physical illnesses. Like our body, normal mind have self-healing mechanism. You just need to stop the hurtful activity and let your heart heal on its own.

If your depression is beyond self-healing, then it’s time to seek help.  As with other types of illnesses, my inclination is to use milder, non-chemical-based treatments first before using more powerful forms of healing.  Again, the idea is to aid the built-in self-healing mechanism, not take over — assuming that the symptoms are not so severe that you don’t need immediate intervention.  (if you do, you’re probably unable to make that call yourself)

How to treat depression is a varied and sometimes controversial topic, so let me just share my experience.  Medication isn’t the way to go for everyone.  I know people who are helped by it, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it as the first course of action.  In addition to psychotherapy, alternative healing arts such as acupuncture, herbs, nutritional therapy, Chinese medicine and homeopathy have the potential to heal depression’s root cause.  These are better approaches to try at first, simply because they are milder and gentler on your body and mind.  I want to make it clear that I’m not saying psychiatric medicine isn’t effective.  I’m simply suggesting to view it as the last resort after milder forms of treatment fail, because of their potency.  Plus, psychiatric medicine is a temporary relief — never a cure.  You’re just suppressing the symptom, which can sometimes make true healing more difficult.  You’d want to use it when you are certain that that kind of drastic measure is what the situation calls for.

I realize that some people are depressed because there is imbalance in their brain chemicals, which may call for medicine.  But a lot of people acquire depression because of life events — stress, trauma, grief, and so on.  If that is the case, it’s better to go about treating and healing that wound, or at least try to, first.  Depression is the symptom, the results of those unhealed wounds.  Just treating the symptom doesn’t really cure the cause.  Curing the cause is always the ideal course — even though it’s probably more labor-intensive, costly and time-consuming in the short run.  A regularly-scheduled talk therapy tends more expensive than medication, for example.  But once you treat the cause, you don’t have to live with it any more.  You can move on.

Of course, that is the ideal scenario.  In reality, you may have to get back to being functional immediately, to go back to work or to hold the family together.  In that kind of situation, obviously medicine may help.

Whatever methods of healing you choose, choose one you’re comfortable with and can believe in, with healers/therapists/medical professionals you respect and trust.  That is your best bet, a place to start.

I can write a whole another thread on how to live with and deal with people who are depressed.  Let me just touch on one basic point — allow them to be.  Don’t try to cheer up or give them “kick in the butt” to get them out of their funk.  Let them be their sulky, mopey, pathetic version of self — in time, hopefully their mind will heal on its own.  Trying to help them get out of that state before they’re ready is not only futile (even if it appears to work in the short run), it can contribute to deeper depression.

Well, this is a primer of sorts on my understanding of depression.  While this is the complete opposite state of what I’m trying to promote with this site — being who you are meant to be — I feel compelled to share my experience on the subject, as I have personally dealt with it and gained some insights.  If our goal, the self-actualization, is the top, this is the view of the bottom.  But the good news is, you can climb up from this bottom and reach the top.  It’s very possible.

One final note on this topic:  I do realize that I’m an amateur, lay person and am not qualified to give advise, medical or otherwise.  So do keep that in mind — this is all based on one man’s personal experience and his relatively small exposure.  Obviously, a practicing therapist or a psychiatrist or others in similar professions can offer better advise from their far deeper experience and training.

That said, I think my personal insight still has a value.  There are great truths to be discovered in those who have personally experienced afflictions, that even those who are treating it (but have not gone through it themselves) can miss or fail to understand.   Whenever I’m researching an illness, I always look for two sources — the professionals and the survivors.  That approach gives me a more complete picture.

So I am going to share my thoughts and experience on this issue, as I see it as one of the major roadblocks in our quest to realizing our potential.  To understand your obstacle, is the first step to overcoming it.

This post was included in the Carnival of Improving Life, 15th Edition.  Check out other entries on how to make your life better!

Posted in Ari's Personal Stories, Mental Health | Tagged , | Comments Off on Depression: Inability to Experince Joy and Hope