WE HAVE SO many opportunties available to us in the developed world, and we are bombarded by so much information, and the world is full of so many worthy causes that most of us are overwhelmed by the opportunities and choices we have. It's really a wonderful problem to have (compared to someone living in a time or place with very little information and almost no choices about how to spend their time).
But while it may be wonderful, it doesn't feel wonderful, does it? It is a major source of bad moods. You have so many things you want to do, and so many things you feel you should to do, it can be depressing. You have more worthy goals than you will ever accomplish if you worked in a feverish frenzy every moment of your life. It is overwhelming.
There is only one answer: You must prune your goals.
There is only one problem with this: Complexity will keep creeping in. You will naturally drift toward greater complexity.
I’m referring to this as “pruning” goals rather than “dropping some goals” because the process has to be continual. Just as tree branches keep growing, your list of goals will keep growing. You don’t prune once and for all — you can’t. You have to keep doing it.
Goals tend to increase and accumulate, weighing you down and slowing progress, until you are overwhelmed with too much to do. This can be demoralizing. The way to prevent it or cure it is to sit down and list your goals, and then try your best to prune some of them. Either give them up, or put them in a file to be accomplished later (a someday-maybe file).
This is hard to do. And it’s hard for the same reason it’s hard to throw away something you own, even if you haven’t used it in years. After all, you may still want to use it in the future, right? In effect, that object represents a goal. It might be an old tennis racket you haven’t used, but it represents a goal to play tennis “some day.”
There is a certain degree of built-in greed we all have. We want to own, we want to accumulate, not just physical possessions but also future accomplishments. That’s why giving up a goal is difficult. But it has to be done if you want to live in peace. You have to throw away perfectly good and desirable goals.
You can curb your natural greed by practicing the virtue of simplicity. Learn to appreciate simplicity and focus, and appreciate them so much you are willing to suffer the pruning.
And I’m not just talking about your stated goals. Someone might spend three hours a day watching television and yet not think of it as a goal. They might spend more actual uninterrupted time watching television than any other activity, and not ever consider it one of their goals. But it is functioning as a goal, and a very important one, given how much time they spend on it. Relaxation or entertainment or escape must be an important goal of theirs.
If the amount of time you spend on something doesn't match how important you feel it is, the time has come to prune that goal. You don’t have to go overboard. Everyone needs a certain amount of downtime. But you can prune until it reflects your true values.
The fewer your goals, the more focused you are. The more focused you are, the faster your progress, and fast progress prevents the feeling of overwhelm. It is enlivening and motivating, spuring you on to more and more accomplishment and peace of mind. To help make this happen, keep your goals pruned.
This is one of seven principles of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation High.