Have goals been toxic for you?

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Noah, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 8:55 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 8:55 AM

Have goals been toxic for you?

Posts: 1467 Join Date: 7/6/13 Recent Posts
I have noticed that specific goals have been toxic to my contemplative practice lately, and to my life in general.  It may be the obsessive thinking and anxiety I experience in relation to these goals, rather than the goals themselves.  By "toxic", I mean in the colloquial sense of something that causes rampant negativity.  I am curious to hear thoughts from others on this topic in general, as well as their personal experiences with it.  I would love to hear from the group of people who have been actively participating on this board as of late, particularly both those who have, and have not, attained paths.

Have goals been toxic for you in your practice, or in your overall life?

How did you get out of, or avoid this toxicity, or are you still in it?

Have you been successful in shaping more functional/positive goals instead?

Have you been successful in practicing and/or living, without specific goals?  If so, how?

I am curious about meditation specifically, but would be interested in hearing answers to these questions that pertain to other areas of life as well.

Thanks!
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tom moylan, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 9:05 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 9:05 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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howdy noah,
yes. my practices have definitely led to "toxic" results both in and out of the contemplative arena.

investigation into the truth of things has bled way past the borders of sitting for me.  inside of the meditational arena there have been dark phases which i see as a price to pay for perservering along the path.  my individual makeup, background etc. has most definitely affected my ability to let some things go and this has been very stressful at times.

off the cushion i have seen (what i believe to be) the truth behind many of the lies and concepts most people take for granted and never bother to investigate.  i am fairly obsessed with many of the manipulations of people and societies past and present and this leads to a kind of dukkha.

are these the kinds of things you are asking about?

cheers

tom
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Noah, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 9:20 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 9:20 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Hi Tom,

Thanks, that is definitely a useful perspective.  

Has your "obsession with many of the manipulations of people and societies" slowly waned over time, or have you learned to somehow tolerate/deal with it more skillfully, or neither?
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tom moylan, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 9:32 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 9:32 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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noah,
yes and no.  i am still motivated and active on a lot of fronts where i see massive damage being done to humanity.  there is often stress involved in this stuff.  it reminds me often of the "evangelical" phases that many of us have experienced trying to show others the "light" that we have personally experienced. 

some of the people close to me either cannot see some things i point out to them.  some disagree. some do not want to confront the larger implications of destabilizing long held beliefs as those are the foundations upon which they have built their realities.  its all understandable but frustrating.

what has changed over time has been my relationship to those dissonances.  just like how one accepts the uncomfortable realities of dark nightishy things.  and yes. that has changed and is changing continually.
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bernd the broter, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 12:01 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 12:01 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Noah:

How did you get out of, or avoid this toxicity, or are you still in it?
Try this experiment: Drop your goal X for a week. Drop all activity pertaining to that goal. Tell yourself again and again "I don't have to reach goal X". (Which is, of course, true.)

What happens?
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tom moylan, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 12:13 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 12:13 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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@bernd - a really good test!
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Noah, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 12:54 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 12:54 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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@bernd:

I agree, good test idea.

I dropped 'goal x', in the form of some major worldly goals such as the job search and eating a healthy diet (for at least a few days in a row), but I kept the actualism method as the bigger goal in the background.  It felt okay, but my anxiety just channelled into actualism instead.

Do you mean all goals?  That idea makes me uncomfortable, which is interesting.  
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Dream Walker, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 2:55 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 2:55 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Noah:
Do you mean all goals?  That idea makes me uncomfortable, which is interesting.  

Goals are deceptive - the unaimed arrow never misses.

Having a goal of goalessness...interesting to try...

Good luck,
emoticon
~D
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tom moylan, modified 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 3:55 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/26/15 3:55 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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my flash on bernd's test was simple.  worldly goal x is dropped for period of time.  check in after period of time to see if the level of obsessiveness related specifically to that narrow goal has decresed, remained the sam or increased.
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(D Z) Dhru Val, modified 6 Years ago at 11/27/15 12:31 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/27/15 12:29 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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I like to set goals. Trying to achieve them requires my to face discomfort.

This often brings hidden toxicity to the surface. Dealing with toxicity can be challenging at times. 

I use contemplative practices to heal and transmutate that toxicity into something better.

This usually makes me happier and more functional. I find the overall process to be highly rewarding.

Sometimes I achieve the goals I set. Sometimes I don't.

And Sometimes the goals I set are unacheivable 'stretch goals' that inspire me to push my own boundaries.  eg. liberation for all sentient beings.
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Noah, modified 6 Years ago at 11/27/15 1:36 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/27/15 1:36 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Thanks Dhru, that is helpful.  I am coming to think that the keyword for me is balance, rather than an either/or distinction between goals and no goals.

I like the stretch goal idea.  In the past, setting ambitious, yet realistic goals for myself helped me go through the nanas and complete paths.  Now it seems like a process-oriented approach with a looser goal is more appropriate.

I think toxicity can be a good thing if it is a sign of detox, but it can also mean that one is spinning in self-defeating circles.
Eva Nie, modified 6 Years ago at 11/28/15 10:29 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/28/15 10:29 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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I think the issue of goals depends on the personality of the person in question.  For myself, if I cling to goals too tightly, then it is 'toxic' in that it seems to get in the way of something that is I think a better way (hard to describe).  As an example, say you think it would be a good idea to eat something so you cram tons of food in your mouth violently and then often have to stop and choke and gag for a while.  End result is you probably would have gotten more food in both more efficiently and more pleasantly if you had taken it in moderation.  For me that is how goals are.  I have a tendency to drive myself and never be satisfied, never give myself credit for accomplishments.  Hence it can easily be a thing of me always trying to cram food and then often overdoing and having to take a break.  So it's fine for me to have goals but only if I don't cling to them and push on myself too forcefully.  I suspect not everyone would have that kind of problem that is kind of a type A personality kind of a prob or maybe one of overly harsh self judgement, looking to accomplishments for sense of worth, not being satisfied with accomplishments, thus becoming mentally dependent and stressed out about any perceived lack of accomplishments that are too tied with my sense of self worth. 

How did I get out? Well occasionally I do back slide but I've gotten most of the way out now.  I personally did it by repeatedly analyzing all thoughts and feelings tied to my reasons for my goals.  It also helps that now i see that 'food' gets in easily and without effort if I don't cram, ie I can accomplish the same things without need for all that pushing, clinging, and stressing out.  The stressing out was not needed at all for accomplishments. I realized that really the fears and anxiety were about me not trusting myself, not knowing myself, not trusting what I would become if I let go of the cramming and pushing kind of energy.  But there wasn't any one single thing that fixed it, just more like a process of figuring it out better, paying more attention to how I was operating and alternative ways of operating, etc. 

Did I shape more functional positive goals?  I don't think my goals were dysfunctional or not positive, I tend to be a very practical person, only the way i was thinking about them might have been that.  I pretty much still have the same goals as before, just that my sense of contentedness is not so much tied to the outcome of those goals.  I have also gotten better at letting go of stuff that is not working.  I still work towards those goals though but the idea that I might not accomplish any one specific goal is no longer super stressful, plus I have more confidence that good things can happen even if they may not be the specific good things I originally planned.  I feel more comfortable now with not knowing the future and not being able to control it, it seems more exciting and interesting now instead of a source of stress that I was trying to control.   

For living without goals, interesting question, I don't think I have ever lived without any overarching goals except when I was a little kid.  Obviously I don't work on those goals every second though.  It is also my personality to plan and organize and look at details so I suspect my type tends to be that way.  It's interesting to think about and hard for me to imagine not having ANY goals, I have to think back to when i was a little kid and even then, there were goals to eat something tasty for dinner or plan a cool game or whatever, but it does sound rather relaxing in a way maybe for a short time anyway to forget about goals for a bit.  I suspect it would be good for me to work on have more break times from my goal thinking.  But now sure how many could live without goals, even monks probably have various goals or ideas for the progress of their spiritual development.  Most of the rest of us have to plan for paying the bills and basics like that. Even if you live on a cave in a mountain, you are probably thinking about storing food and firewood for the winter, etc. 

I suspect goals are not the prob, it's stressing out about goals that is the prob.  I know this guy who is very anxious around dogs, even really nice sweet dogs, he blames the dogs but the prob is really the way he thinks about the dogs.  The dogs are totally innocent!  ;-P
-Eva
[quote=

Noah]I have noticed that specific goals have been toxic to my contemplative practice lately, and to my life in general.  It may be the obsessive thinking and anxiety I experience in relation to these goals, rather than the goals themselves.  By "toxic", I mean in the colloquial sense of something that causes rampant negativity.  I am curious to hear thoughts from others on this topic in general, as well as their personal experiences with it.  I would love to hear from the group of people who have been actively participating on this board as of late, particularly both those who have, and have not, attained paths.

Have goals been toxic for you in your practice, or in your overall life?

How did you get out of, or avoid this toxicity, or are you still in it?

Have you been successful in shaping more functional/positive goals instead?

Have you been successful in practicing and/or living, without specific goals?  If so, how?

I am curious about meditation specifically, but would be interested in hearing answers to these questions that pertain to other areas of life as well.

Thanks!
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago at 12/1/15 8:25 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/28/15 11:50 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

Posts: 1656 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Noah:

Have goals been toxic for you in your practice, or in your overall life?

How did you get out of, or avoid this toxicity, or are you still in it?

Have you been successful in shaping more functional/positive goals instead?

Have you been successful in practicing and/or living, without specific goals?  If so, how?
Have goals been toxic for you in your practice, or in your overall life?
It used to be. In the past goal orientiation simply made the ego control the noting practice and everything else just as before. The meditation did include some letting go but it wasn't as practical as I wanted it to be. 

How did you get out of, or avoid this toxicity, or are you still in it?
I'm out of it and don't need to meditate much anymore and feel fucking fantastic. I can do stuff and my brain doesn't hurt. Goals in life are happening and I've achieved accolades in Toastmasters and will finish out a speech on Tibetan meditation probably early next year to finish the trilogy. There has been a bit of trouble with goals in that there are too many.

How I got out of it was learning about the intention to pay attention and how it was operating in my meditation practice. Each movement can have some stress and learning to move it without the stress (sky gazing practices, welcoming non-preferences) was the key to move further. I'm sure skillful noting could be done the same way but I didn't do it that skillfully so I moved on to just acknowledgement of what's there & enormous amounts of welcoming. I also feel that thankfulness and love pursued to the point of releasing lots of oxytocin can really clear up the cobwebs in your mind. Just thank God for everything no matter how extreme it is and the brain can respond with an ecstacy that's very clean and refreshing. It also seems to nudge the mind to improved baselines where you don't go back to the dark-side.

Have you been successful in shaping more functional/positive goals instead?
Yes. I've looked into Envy at the highest level with Rene Girard and Bénédicte Vidaillet. With mimicry humans copy desires from others and rival each other for control of the desired object or state leading to hostility and violence. De-escalating the violence by not upping the anti is one way but also pursuing goals where you are more distinctive instead of imitative (offering services and things that require less rivalry) allows you to share with people in more harmony. The opposite is having everyone do the same job and look for the same objects (especially if goals cannot be shared). For example, when I was in public practice accounting everyone was chasing after the exact same thing (clients) and this competition was between everyone including partners, reviewers and juniors. Then even worse you had reviewers watching your improvements as they review your work which intensifies the envy even further. Now working as the only accountant in a company that has people with different skills reduces the envy/rivalry to a lower intensity (though it's still there sometimes).

These undestandings show that under capitalism there are danger points but also areas where freedom does allow less toxic environments. In Socialism you can see some of it's value but also see how sameness can intensify envy. It's just all coming together now. There isn't a perfect system and one must make their choices on how to engage with society if they don't want to be a monk or nun. (Though I'm sure monasteries are not immune.)

Now that I understand human envy I can eliminate goals that obviously cause unnecessary strife and focus on more realistic ones narrowing my options down. I can aim at goals that don't hurt myself or others. I'm also aware of savouring/jouissance and how that affects people around you. Savouring connects with envy and all you have to do is savouring in front of people and look at their reactions to see how they can get envious or imitate or both. The illusion which can be dealt with right away is to remind oneself that whatever you envy of another person is exposed to impermanence. Also when people enjoy something it makes the object more valuable and distancing yourself from objects make them look less valuable. The brain intensifies it's yearning based on how others rate experiences. This is why being happy around other people (especially powerful people) is so problematic. This was the root of my depression but now I understand it really well.

So start with less intense mimetic Goal Setting, then use Intrinsic Motivation, and then develop Self-Efficacy and get on with life. If you are pursuing goals that are healthy and meaningful with realistic expectations of obstacles then it shouldn't hurt unless there's something wrong (like not enough accepting/welcoming what is out of our control).

Have you been successful in practicing and/or living, without specific goals?  If so, how?

Yes, but it's less effective, efficient, and has too much aimless wandering with no targets to aim at. As far as I'm concerned this only happens when there's too much fear/stress preventing a more action oriented life. If people are meditators and they aren't being goal oriented in some fashion in their lives then they are not better yet. They should look at Myers-Brings type development workbooks to condition better skills:

Facets of Type:  Gary & Margaret Hartzler
Functions of Type:  Gary & Margaret Hartzler

The test here is seeing how much pain there is when developing a particular cognitive function that you aren't good at. A healthy person will feel weak at the skill but they won't feel a whole bunch of pain or exhaustion. To me mindfulness coupled with welcoming should be used to venture into new skills to increase soothing while pursuing goals. If it hurts less and less then you know you are getting better.
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Noah, modified 6 Years ago at 12/1/15 1:43 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 12/1/15 1:43 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Richard:

Just thank God for everything no matter how extreme it is and the brain can respond with an ecstacy that's very clean and refreshing. It also seems to nudge the mind to improved baselines where you don't go back to the dark-side.

I can do stuff and my brain doesn't hurt.


These are pivotal thoughts for me.  Its unlikely that I will be able to target specific goals and utilize multiple, parallel strategies in the way that you do, at this phase in my development.  But insight progress as one, central goal, however unmappable or nonlinear, is real, and does these things.  The energy heals itself and the mind starts to work better.  Even if people hate me for looking too much at the perks.  
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago at 12/1/15 8:31 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 12/1/15 8:31 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Noah:
Richard:

Just thank God for everything no matter how extreme it is and the brain can respond with an ecstacy that's very clean and refreshing. It also seems to nudge the mind to improved baselines where you don't go back to the dark-side.

I can do stuff and my brain doesn't hurt.


These are pivotal thoughts for me.  Its unlikely that I will be able to target specific goals and utilize multiple, parallel strategies in the way that you do, at this phase in my development.  But insight progress as one, central goal, however unmappable or nonlinear, is real, and does these things.  The energy heals itself and the mind starts to work better.  Even if people hate me for looking too much at the perks.  


Yes but you have to be chasing goals here and there simply because you don't want to get too far behind in life and also because the weaning practice is only half the practice. The other half is feeling intentions and directing them. If you direct them and there's less pain than before then keep doing meditation but also stretch out your freedom as far as your brain is allowing you and notice over time how much more freedom there is.

This is why I like Rob Burbea because he understands Mahayana better than Theravadins do. Complete freedom must also include the use of the limbic system in healthy ways. We don't want to "erase" a self or just sit there meditating all the time. Freedom must include healthy goals and action. You have to test how much aversion there is in your life by doing things and seeing the reaction.
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Noah, modified 6 Years ago at 12/2/15 1:00 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 12/2/15 1:00 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Richard:

Yes but you have to be chasing goals here and there simply because you don't want to get too far behind in life and also because the weaning practice is only half the practice. The other half is feeling intentions and directing them. If you direct them and there's less pain than before then keep doing meditation but also stretch out your freedom as far as your brain is allowing you and notice over time how much more freedom there is.

This is why I like Rob Burbea because he understands Mahayana better than Theravadins do. Complete freedom must also include the use of the limbic system in healthy ways. We don't want to "erase" a self or just sit there meditating all the time. Freedom must include healthy goals and action. You have to test how much aversion there is in your life by doing things and seeing the reaction.


I realize that I agree with all of this.  The testing of goals happens automatically for me since I don't do much formal sitting meditation anyway.  I will practicing allowing thoughts and emotions to arise naturally, in their luminous space, and then notice when it starts to happen automatically.  Then when frustrating situations happen my knee-jerk reactions are improved.  

Complete freedom includes freedom of action, which involves listening to what deeper parts of your mind want with your life.  Romantic and mushroomy, yet vital nonetheless.  For me though, I do not think I would have been truly able to benefit from approaches like this without a ton of progress first.  
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago at 12/2/15 6:45 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 12/2/15 6:44 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Noah:
Richard:

Yes but you have to be chasing goals here and there simply because you don't want to get too far behind in life and also because the weaning practice is only half the practice. The other half is feeling intentions and directing them. If you direct them and there's less pain than before then keep doing meditation but also stretch out your freedom as far as your brain is allowing you and notice over time how much more freedom there is.

This is why I like Rob Burbea because he understands Mahayana better than Theravadins do. Complete freedom must also include the use of the limbic system in healthy ways. We don't want to "erase" a self or just sit there meditating all the time. Freedom must include healthy goals and action. You have to test how much aversion there is in your life by doing things and seeing the reaction.


I realize that I agree with all of this.  The testing of goals happens automatically for me since I don't do much formal sitting meditation anyway.  I will practicing allowing thoughts and emotions to arise naturally, in their luminous space, and then notice when it starts to happen automatically.  Then when frustrating situations happen my knee-jerk reactions are improved.  

Complete freedom includes freedom of action, which involves listening to what deeper parts of your mind want with your life.  Romantic and mushroomy, yet vital nonetheless.  For me though, I do not think I would have been truly able to benefit from approaches like this without a ton of progress first.  

What gets you there is using the breath to soothe stress and then when you feel better you start nudging your intentions toward goals. I like David Allen's idea of asking "what's the next actionable task?" This way you can break down difficult goals into small parts and deal with complex situations one bit at a time. As soon as mental contrasting goes too far down the road there's stress again as the brain goes habitually negative. This is what Myers-Briggs calls Sensing Extroversion. Can you just stay with what is, and keep acting on your goals? This way meditation and goals work together. Whenever there's stress again one can return to the breath or even just look at what's in the brain and say "stop doing that" and actually let go of what you are doing to yourself.

I'm about to do the Network "Mad as hell" speech in a couple of hours and the stress is welling up. I just use the breath to soothe and continue practicing.

What I found most similar in my experiences and Rob Burbea's descriptions of his students is that people aren't used to joy and often find it awkward and uncomfortable when it happens. I remember early days in my practice when I felt guilty for having small moments of happiness. To me this is like extinction. We have to almost force ourselves into healthy goals and achievement just so we can get used to it.
Stuie Charles Law, modified 6 Years ago at 12/3/15 9:40 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 12/3/15 9:40 AM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Yes................want to see an act of futility?  Have a look at my pactice log, at the end.  I'm a typical Alpha Male.  Give me any job, any request.....watch me turn it into a race.  A competition.  Are there others doing the same thing?  Then they become aversaries, opposition, competitors.

Thats not the way.  PLEASE enjoy the ride.  STOP, smell the fucking roses.  Don't take yourself too seriously, yeah?
Eva Nie, modified 6 Years ago at 12/3/15 9:13 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 12/3/15 9:13 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Stuie Charles Law:
Yes................want to see an act of futility?  Have a look at my pactice log, at the end.  I'm a typical Alpha Male.  Give me any job, any request.....watch me turn it into a race.  A competition.  Are there others doing the same thing?  Then they become aversaries, opposition, competitors.

Thats not the way.  PLEASE enjoy the ride.  STOP, smell the fucking roses.  Don't take yourself too seriously, yeah?
You might be more extreme than average but I think the overall tendency is pretty typical.  I remember reading that 'comparing' is one of the things we need to learn not to do.  It was a long road for me but there is a lot of loss of stress when I was able to stop doing most of that.  I was a very type A type of person and very much felt I had to be the best at everything or somehow that made me 'not good enough.'  It's really pretty silly when you take time to really think about it, no one can be the best at EVERYTHING.  Even those that are the best at one thing eventually will have someone else come along and be better.  Hence such competitive thought habits are a great way to be constantly dissatisfied, stressed, worried, and feeling inferior pretty much all the time.  Even if you are the best for a while, if feelings of self worth are tied to that accomplishment, you will live constantly worried that another might come along and take it away.  And then there will be another million things that you will not be the best at that will constantly be hurting your brain too.  It's definitely the road to hell!  ;-P  And ironically, I am tons better at being good at things when I stop worrying about being good at things.  Like so many things, strong clinging really seems to jam up efficiency.  Let go and things flow so much more easily and effortlessly.  The ego so very much can want to be the boss of things but also so very much seems to suck at it.  Life is very ironic that way.  ;-P
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago at 12/3/15 10:34 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 12/3/15 10:34 PM

RE: Have goals been toxic for you?

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Stuie Charles Law:
Yes................want to see an act of futility?  Have a look at my pactice log, at the end.  I'm a typical Alpha Male.  Give me any job, any request.....watch me turn it into a race.  A competition.  Are there others doing the same thing?  Then they become aversaries, opposition, competitors.

Thats not the way.  PLEASE enjoy the ride.  STOP, smell the fucking roses.  Don't take yourself too seriously, yeah?

Competition and envy can be hugely stressful but I still want people to pursue goals but with intrinsic motivation, or to develop it. When you do something you actually want to do with less and less comparison it's enjoyable in of itself, and not because you defeated a rival. When the goal is forgotten and only rivals dwell in your mind then the plot has been lost.

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