I've been trying hard lately to make better goals and to see them through. This last week in particular, I've been working on two important goals:
1. To get better organized at work
2. To eat a cheeseburger a day for at least 10 days.
This first goal has been ongoing for a couple of months now and sometimes feels unobtainable. But I suppose that if I spent a decade getting this disorganized in the first place, I shouldn't expect to turn it all around in a few weeks.
However, even with no end in sight, this goal has been rewarding and exhilarating from the moment I started really working on it. And it’s just gotten better and better as I've gone along. In one of the best books out there on “getting stuff done,” David Allen explains that we too easily wander through the modern work world in a “muddled fog” because we have too much on our mind to keep track of. So we waste all of our mental energy on trying to remember all the hundreds of things we've promised to do. That leaves no mental capacity left for reflection, meditation, creativity, innovation, spirituality, or even fun. You just bumble around trying to keep all the plates spinning.
Because of this, a structured plan to organize this mental chaos starts paying immediate dividends. Within the first two days, I was already relaxing more in the evenings, sleeping more at night, and reading more in my off hours. I’ve been able to connect better with my family on weekends and holidays. And I’m a lot less manic and temperamental.
The more I work on this goal, the better I feel. And I wake up every day excited to work some more on it. I think all worthy goals feel this way. Getting out of debt, training for an athletic event, making something with your own hands; all of these endeavors are rewarding from the moment you start and become more and more enjoyable as you progress toward them.
But this wasn't the case for my other goal—the goal of eating a cheeseburger a day.
I really love cheeseburgers. No, really. I love them. Please just pause for a moment and think of something you really love. I actually love cheeseburgers more than you love that thing.
Eating a cheeseburger a day for at least 10 days has been a goal of mine for a few years. But I've never really gotten to it. Occasionally I'll eat a cheeseburger a day for two or three days just out of love. I get busy or it makes me feel lousy and I just give up without really committing to the goal.
I figured last week was finally the perfect time to pursue this lofty goal because we were in the middle of a move. That meant we had no time or means to make balanced meals. And it meant that I was burning up thousands of calories a day lifting boxes, moving pianos, and painting walls.
So I sat down to a cheeseburger and discussed the next 10 days with my family. I wanted their support in this important undertaking.
The rules were simple. First, I had to go at least 10 days. (But who knows how far I might actually go...what if I could go a full month!!). Second, I couldn't eat the same cheeseburger twice during the goal period. I needed to move from restaurant to restaurant and make sure that every day was unique. And third, I had to take a picture of every cheeseburger I ate.
As it turns out, the goal of eating a cheeseburger a day is nothing like a goal of getting out of debt or training for a wrestling tournament or getting your desk organized. It was only fun through day two and then got worse for me every day. By day four, I was already unfulfilled.
The next night, I was saying things like, “I just don’t know if I can eat another cheeseburger tomorrow.” And after day seven, I just gave up completely. So close to my goal. The end almost in my grasp. But I couldn't eat three more cheeseburgers and get there.
Along the way, my family said sensible things to me like, “You know you don’t have to do this, right?” And, “Honey, you’re worrying me.” And, “Dad, I hate this goal.”
I soldiered on because, doggone it, I had set a goal and I was going to see it through. But by day seven I finally realized that success in life doesn't come only from seeing through your worthy endeavors. It also comes from giving up on unworthy pursuits.
It turns out that my goal of eating a cheeseburger a day is a lot like some of my other frivolous goals: watch a full season of the TV show 24 in twenty-four hours, hitch-hike to Mexico City, win a hot-dog eating contest, and on and on. These aren't really goals at all. They’re more like adolescent wishes for indulgence. They don’t serve anyone else or do any good in the world or help me become a better person. They just sound fun.
So while there may be no harm in doing them, I don’t have to worry so much if they don’t work out. And I don’t have to see them through if they turn out not even being all that fun after all. I’ll save that energy for getting organized at work.
Also, I officially hate cheeseburgers now.