Inner and Outer Goals

Some months ago I joined a mens group currently organized by Jacob Kishere. Every other Sunday morning we take part in Zoom calls with men from around the world. The following line of thought struck me as important during today’s call in two ways. First, it demonstrates why I sometimes find it difficult to follow up on my own commitments. And second, it provided some insight into how and why telling other people about our commitments can help us live up to them.

“Inner and Outer Goals” as the title for today’s post came out of this observation: we often conceive of living up to our goals as the moment of achievement that comes when we reach a specific quantity or milestone. Take my goal of writing this blog. I could make a plan and tell myself, “I commit to writing at least 5 posts per week.” Looking back at the past week, I might feel awesome. But what if next week I do not feel like writing anything?

What I want to draw my and your attention to is that setting a quantitative (or milestone) goal puts me into the position of having to produce—even if something inside of me is not aligning with the outer, quantifiable goal. My past experiences have taught me that whenever I form a plan, especially for my own development, this relates to deep longings dear and close to my heart. In other words, the plan reveals somewhat tender and vulnerable parts of my true nature as an outer goal representation.

What happens when I then make a commitment to the plan—but not the inner goal? The shortest way of putting this is by saying that the part of me that wanted to express itself becomes a slave to the plan. The means become an end. But without staying committed to that intentional end, whatever that precisely might be, and instead making a commitment to the means, the plan or strategy, I am setting myself up for a lot of internal struggle.

I have gone through many experiences in which I made a commitment to a plan. That way, others could hold me accountable through visibly measurable outcomes. Say my intention is to be a good partner, and to do so I commit to certain observable behaviors. However, these behaviors can actually get in the way of being a good partner. If you say to someone, “I will love you, always and in every moment,” what are you supposed to do when you feel angry with that person? If you then feel that being “loving” means never to yell or shout, it restricts what you can express. Those are the kinds of double binds we place ourselves into with commitments to strategies rather than intentions.

So, how can I be someone who is committed? Because that is still something I intuitively feel I want in my life. What form of commitment can I make, to myself and others, that will help me stay on track? The conversation we had on the call this morning revealed what I believe is an important puzzle piece. I can make commitments to my inner goals.

The form this takes—say, when it comes to my blog—might be something like this: “I am committing to spending some attention every day to sense whether I feel something in my experience that wants to be shared through my blog. And whenever I feel this to be the case, I am committing to finding the time that allows me to make that happen.”

How does this matter? Is this really all that different, and if so, how? What I intuitively feel as the key difference is best expressed with a metaphor. Imagine that the part of me that wants to write a blog is actually a different person that I know. This person comes to me and says, “hey, I would love to write a blog, can you set this up, and make it as simple as possible?” And my response is, “sure, I will do that.”

In the case of a commitment to a quantity of at least 5 posts a week, I say in addition to that person, “given that I go through all the trouble, I would like to see 5 posts per week going forward, OK?” Out of excitement, the person may even say, “yeah, sounds awesome. I promise!” But then comes a week where this person does not feel like writing anything. Maybe they are a bit scared after receiving some poor feedback on a previous post. Or they are sick, or want to take a vacation and procrastinate for a bit. Can you appreciate how bad it feels if the person takes the commitment as being forced to write even if they don’t want to? The accountability in this case is enforced through fear of punishing myself for not living up to my own plan.

The other type of commitment is something more like this: “I would be thrilled if you write each and every time you feel like it. In fact, whenever you see an obstacle, I would love to know about it. That way I can do my best to help you.” Can you see how different that feels? Rather than being bound by a contractual obligation to produce, you have the freedom to express this motivation whenever you feel called to doing so. And more than that, the other person—that is the planning, rational part inside of you—promises to help you in any way they can. Here, the accountability works in the opposite direction. Your intention holds your rational part accountable for helping it to fulfill your dreams.

And this is where I see how a shared commitment to an inner goal can turn into encouragement that I may need at times. Imagine, for instance, sharing with some of your friends being committed to expressing yourself honestly in your intimate relationship with your partner. Sometimes that can be a real challenge. Having shared the commitment to honesty in your partnership with people you trust means they can be by your side, reminding you of the courage it requires to face all kinds of obstacles on the way to fulfill your intention.

Another song from Two Steps From Hell comes to mind, “Never Give Up On Your Dreams“. Whatever you want to express in the world might come with many scary situations, moments of discomfort, and setbacks. To get through those painful times, it helps immensely to feel commitment and courage for your intentions at the deepest level of your being. And this song speaks to my need for encouragement never to give up on my intentions, on my dreams.

Lastly, I want to point out I firmly believe that having clear plans which describe your idea of how to implement your inner goals through strategies is of course incredibly helpful. What matters is not to get addicted to those particular strategies as the be all and end all of what you want to achieve in life. Strategies fail all the time, including when some of your inner aspects and drives refuse to produce in response to feeling pressured to do so. And remaining aware of your why—what made and makes you formulate a plan in the first place—can serve you by creating opportunity to change plans, so long as they fulfill your intentions.

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