God vs. Goals, part one (#915)

There are things I write about in these weekly missives that I feel I’ve got some real clarity on – distinctions I’ve made from a lifetime working with others on having a wonderful life and thriving in every area of those lives. Please consider this series more of a “work in progress” – I’m going to share some reflections on one of those areas where I’m way too up in my head to talk complete sense but feel I have enough to share to move the conversation forward…

In the late 1990’s, it became clear to me that there was something fundamentally inaccurate about the way people thought about goals.  Everything I’d read or been taught suggested that they were the absolute key to success and happiness in life, and that fueling massive action through “divine discontent” was the key to creating everything you wanted in life.  While I had certainly created a certain amount of success by that stage of my life, it appeared I was far better at the “discontent” part of the equation.

In 1998, I watched a documentary on working with autistic children as part of the QED series on BBC2. A few days later I was on a plane to the Option Institute in Massachusetts to learn more about their work, and to my surprise, rather than discover new ways of helping people change, I had an experience of utter peace and stillness that stayed with me for a couple of months.

Out of that space, it became clear to me that I had this whole “goals” thing wrong. Even in my own experience, happiness led to success a heck of a lot more often than success led to happiness, and when I began to share this with my clients and students they began to feel better in themselves and achieve more of what they wanted with greater ease than ever before.

I saw that we all have an inner sense of simple desire that, in the words of my friend and mentor Mandy Evans, “marks the path” to a life well-lived. I called the experience of living from this inner compass vs. outer goals our “soul path”, because it seemed to me that each step was laid out day by day and moment by moment so perfectly that life began unfolding as if by some kind of grand design.

Happiness, which had long been my ultimate goal, became more of a starting point than a destination, and I did my best to abandon discontent as a motivation strategy and set about following my inner sense of desire wherever it wanted to take me.

While on the one hand, I began living an increasingly wonderful life, moving to America and beginning my writing career, on the other I kept bumping into what seemed like annoyingly frustrating realities.  My family wasn’t all that keen on life in the US when we first came here, our health insurance was cancelled when Nina was 6 months pregnant with our third child, and despite everyone assuring me my writing was “just brilliant”, nobody seemed to want to pay me for the chance to read more of it.

I began to lose faith in the inner promptings of my soul, and went back to trying to control the universe through goal setting and willpower. Fortunately, I was terrible at it, and despite my best efforts to create an idealized life I never strayed too far from the guidance of my own conscience. My writing began to get traction, and in 2006 my first book, You Can Have What You Want, became a number one bestseller in the UK less than six weeks after release and without my doing any of the clever marketing tactics or PR strategies that have now become the norm when people want to shoot their books up the charts.

“Beginner’s luck” is a interesting phenomenon, one that looks less mysterious to me today than it did at the time. Essentially, when we’re new to something we tend to go into it without too much on our minds. We don’t know what’s involved, so we don’t think about it very much, so we’re open and available to the promptings of inner wisdom. And things tend to go much better than expected as a result.

What leads to the “sophomore slump” is that having succeeded so effortlessly the first time around, we begin to overthink everything. The typical thought process goes something like this:

Wow… I did so well at that without really even preparing or thinking about it… this is clearly worth throwing all my resources into and not just relying on what occurs to me in the moment. Imagine how well I could do if I actually tried!

Because we’re then caught up in our heads and disconnected from the flow of wisdom, we tend to mess even the simple things up. (Think about Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her way up to the stage to accept her Oscar last year, or the last time you were on the spot and could barely remember your own name). Eventually, if we stick with it, the system self-corrects and we get our brains reconnected to the deeper mind and our will re-aligned with our spirit.  But if we give up too soon, we decide we’re just not cut out for whatever it is and never get to take advantage of the natural learning curve that turns the most seemingly complex task simple over time.

In next week’s tip, I’ll share how my thinking about goals and God/spirit/soul have evolved since stumbling across the three principles and the inside-out understanding, and I’ll share the details of our brand new small group Creating the Impossible program. But for now, consider these three simple questions:

1. What are you up to?
2. What are you up against?
3. What would you want if you didn’t have to be unhappy about not getting it?

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,

Michael

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