I’ve had great success in shifting my mentality of goals from must do’s to great to do’s. I find myself far more motivated by seeing the value in reaching a goal than in trying to generate a false sense of urgency. Simply put, wanting the reward of success is a better motivator than fearing the punishment of failure.
I used to think that I had to reach certain goals or else life would be bad. That mentality didn’t work because, perhaps subconsciously, I knew that it was untrue. I could do just fine by holding down a basic job, being single and playing video games. That is definitely not the life I want to live, but my life would still have value if it were. So, my attempt to motivate myself by making mandatory goals failed because I did not believe them. (Untruth is totally unappealing to me, even subconsciously. I think everyone is like that.) Furthermore, I felt bad because I failed.
My new mentality is that the benefits of reaching goals are of more worth than the cost of the necessary effort. To that end, I make goals as an attempt to bring to consciousness my values and beliefs about the costs and benefits of the multitude of decisions I could make. In other words, goals are not so much commitment as they are brainstorming. Additionally, I am free of the demotivational emotional impact of failures.
It might seem counterintuitive that there would be any motivation to reach goals without making a commitment. I guess that you could say the built-in human desire for pleasure is the thing to which you are committed. My motivation no longer comes from a desire to avoid missed deadlines, but from a desire to obtain good things. It’s a far more reliable motivation, even despite my nihilistic and stoic tendencies. There is negative and positive reinforcements, and there’s value in both, but positive reinforcement is subjectively better.
In practice, this is how I use this new mentality: I make several goals for each quarter based on overarching goals I have for my life and for the “stage” of life I’m currently in. If I accomplish them, great! If not, I discover my true belief about that goal’s cost/benefit ratio.
Either way, whether succeeding or failing to reach my quarterly goals, I do a reevaluation of both my goals and my values. It is often the case that I accomplish a minor goal but neglect a greater goal. What does this say about me and my desires? Is there something wrong with my priorities in life, or did I simply not understand the true cost/benefit of reaching those missed goals?
Following that reevaluation, I mark all my goals as completed, partially completed, or incomplete (not failed! although I do tend to think about it that way, so it’s a bit of a struggle every time) and create the next quarter’s goals. Often I carry over an unfinished goal or create a “next step” goal from a completed one. At the end of this process, I’m enabled to pursue my goals in a way that encourages me to accomplish even more, rather than being dragged down by all the things I didn’t accomplish. I recommend this mental shift from avoiding failure to seeking pleasure to anyone who wants to feel better about their goals regardless of the system they use to make and track goals.