April 27, 2021

Goals Don’t Matter. But How You Feel about Them Does.


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How we feel about what we’re doing is the key to transforming our lives.

I grew up in an era of suck it up “buttercup”—blood clots, tears dry, and bones heal.

Emotional pain? Forget about it.

In the 1980s, we were not talking about our big feelings.

There were a few kids with divorced parents, like me, and I only remember one of them ever going to a therapist. Frankly, we all thought that was kind of weird. I spent hours crying myself to sleep silently and hiding my pain through a million “I’m fine’s.”

I learned to shoo away unpleasant emotions. Unfortunately, that particular skill has been most unhelpful in my life. It turns out that tuning into our emotions, and creating specific ones with our chosen thoughts, is critical to getting what we want in life.

Let me explain.

If we think exercise is a punishment or painful—in a bad way—and feel negative emotions during a workout, we will give up eventually.

If we think our veggie-filled lunch is deprivation and feel negative emotions during meals, it will likely lead to a binge.

If we’re focused on how expensive everything is, and we feel poor, money will slip from our fingertips.

As a sober person, I know that focusing on all that I’m missing out on by not drinking and feeling sad or alone is a recipe for relapse.

Negative emotions are not benign. They sabotage our goals.

Research says something like it takes 21 days to form a habit—or was it 90 days? The truth is that all the research trying to find the magic number has been flawed. It doesn’t matter if we do something for 1,000 days—if it feels sh*tty, we’ll eventually quit.

The key isn’t having the right goals, doing something a certain number of times, or “figuring out your Why.”

The key is how you feel about whatever it is—before, during, and after it.

Our emotions are the most powerful tool we have. And, guess what? We have control over them—mind-blowing, right?

We can use our thoughts to create positive emotions around the things we’re trying to change.

For example, at the gym when we find a particularly effective (cough, cough—painful) exercise, we can spend time thinking about how good it feels to really work our muscles. Associate soreness after a workout with thoughts of growing muscles and take the time to feel proud and happy.

Do this for things along the journey; don’t wait to reach the goal. The destination will feel like the journey.

I made $108 from writing my first published article. There are many ways to look at that $108—that’s about one lunch from Whole Foods, right? I can create different feelings based on how I choose to think about it too.

I’ve chosen to think that it’s completely remarkable and mind-blowing that someone would pay me anything for trying to make sense of my life on paper. What a miracle!

In early sobriety, I took time to feel proud every night I laid down to sleep with a clear head. I savored those early morning sunrises with genuine gratefulness. Low and behold, I’ve been rewarded with more and more sober sunrises.

Try to use your thoughts to change the emotions surrounding the goals you have or want to have, and watch your life transform.

Oh, and feel better along the journey—which is really the whole point. 


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