Stop The Torture Of Endless Decisions By Charting A Path For Creative Freedom

What do you want your days to look like?” is a question I ask myself whenever I’m trying to make a decision about what to do next. In fact, I believe that most questions about what to do with one’s life can be replaced by this question. What career should I choose? Should I go back to school? Where should I live? Should I get married? Should I have kids? Should I get a dog? Should I take up the piano? “What do you want your days to look like?” forces you to imagine the day in, day out realities that making such choices will present you with.
— Austin Kleon

That book you wanted to write, the side hustle you wanted to take full time, the website you wanted to create? It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Now, weeks or months into it, you’re playing whack-a-mole with all the damn commitments you have in your life. You don't have the luxury of sitting in a cabin to write uninterrupted for days at a time. Your side hustle isn't making enough money to pay the mortgage, keep the lights on and eat more than ramen noodles. It seems like every time you finish a task, two more pop up in its place. You're starting to feel like the more you do, the more there is to do.

The man behind the most successful brand in the world said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

And for an entrepreneur, that thought shared by Steve Jobs strikes at the heart of the struggle. You don't have a shortage of ideas, but I guarantee you have a shortage of time to work on all of them.

Remember how I discussed in last week's piece that we need some distance from the problem and the solution to be able to take it in with ease? I've walked out of movie theatres because only the front row was left. It's damn near impossible to enjoy yourself in a movie when your neck snaps back and forth to take in all the action of an Avenger's flick. My sweet spot is four or five rows from the top, smack dab in the middle. I can see everything without the distraction of constant shifting in my seat.

If you're lost in the chaos of a jam-packed life, it becomes far too easy to bounce between bright and shiny ideas. A clear view comes from stepping back. Clarity becomes the difference between success and spinning your wheels.

When you have enough commitments to fill an empty swimming pool, the birds-eye-view is a godsend. It helps you make a plan without the heart-pounding anxiety of feeling like you're slowly drowning as the pool engulfs you.

The initial decision of where to start can feel like you're camping in the backwoods, facing a choice of life and death. You've just fallen asleep and you're jarred awake by the sound of a bellowing moan. Is it a grizzly bear? Or did your Uncle Terry get drunk and fall asleep on his back? Each choice requires you to make a decision. Do you run like hell, or do you throw a bucket of water on Terry and go back to sleep? Each decision requires focus. Focus costs us our most precious currency: our energy. You're probably not a huge fan of thinking about how you invest your energy and time because it makes you question a lot of shit you spend time on. Hell, I've watched the entire series of The Office five times.

So, how do you choose what's going to be the focus of your most valuable resource: your energy?

Well, if you're in the backwoods and a grizzly is scrounging your campsite for scraps, there's not a lot of options. You're either ho-humming on whether you should boil some water for hot cocoa, or you're the rational type and have an immediate goal of staying alive. What you put in front of you is determined by your goals. In cases like this, or where you let society decide what your goals should be, you're forced to react to whatever is put in front of you.

This is why so many of us give up on our goals. We're not working towards goals that are important to us. If we don't have a soul-shaking why to carry us through the storms, abandoning ship seems like the only solution. Uncle Terry has a weight-loss goal of 30 pounds because he wants to fit into a speedo for the family reunion. You, on the other hand, are adopting a healthy lifestyle because you want to be alive to see your kids get married. It might be a matter of both people wanting to lose 30 pounds, but who do you think will be successful and create sustainable change?

Don't let yourself get bent out of shape thinking what if I set a goal and I don't achieve it? Kung Fu master and overall bad-ass Bruce Lee put it like this, “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” What you put in front of you is determined by your goals.

Launching a podcast, writing a book, starting a side hustle and losing weight to fit into a speedo? Too many targets and you lose your sense of aim. Momentum comes from giving your energy focus and prioritization of goals.

This starts by shifting your focus from trying to control something that can’t be controlled, like time, to something that can be managed, energy. When you stop trying to control what can’t be controlled and turn your attention to where you want to focus your energy, life gets a hell of a lot simpler.

Until you come up with a clear set of goals, it’s effectively impossible to prioritize your tasks. I like setting 90-day goals with clients because I find 90 days is long enough to make meaningful progress on a project, but soon enough that it prompts a sense of urgency to light a fire under your ass. And best of all, you don't feel like you're stuck doing something for the rest of your life. You keep experimenting and pivoting until you find a rhythm.

What target are you aiming at for the next 90 days?

Start by grabbing the list that you put together from What Will You Do Next? The Secret To Stop Wasting Time.

I've pulled together some of my favourite questions for digging into meaningful goals. At this point you're brainstorming in a similar fashion to the list you made last week. The aim is to come up with any goals that light you up. Next week we'll take a look at your list of possible goals and identify which one(s) you're going to put in your target for the next 90 days.

Before you begin answering the questions, do yourself a favour and take a moment to get out of your head. I have a nasty habit of losing myself in thought if I'm not intentional about setting aside time. The aim is to dedicate enough time so you have the ability to be present.

We often don't permit ourselves to feel the fullness of our wants. It can be too scary because we realize it will require us to make some tough choices. Or too embarrassing, because we've never actually written down or spoke out loud the whisper that keeps us up at night. Let yourself actually soak up those thoughts like a sponge absorbing spilled water. Do you know what they are, clearly and vividly like describing a familiar face? Or do you simply have a general sense? Are they simple, sensible, nonsensical, impossible, doable? Observe the images, sensations, and thoughts that come to mind. Whatever they are, make note of them, bring them out in the open, and let them begin to breathe with the same ferociousness you'd have from rising to the surface of a dive that emptied your lungs. Hold them in your mind as you answer the following questions.

Write rapidly - keep your fingers moving, don't censor yourself, just get it all down. Use the overarching questions of what would I want for my life if I knew I could have it any way I wanted it? What would I go for if I knew I couldn't fail? Right now, don't concern yourself with the how.

Personal Development Goals

  • What’s something I definitely want to create, achieve, or experience before the end of this year?

  • What’s the one thing I could do that makes everything else easier or unnecessary?

  • If I were giving advice to someone else in my position, what 1 to 3 things would I tell them to focus on?

  • What would you like to learn?

  • What are some skills you want to master in your lifetime?

  • Imagine yourself five years from now looking back on yourself. What do you want to have accomplished over that time?

  • What are some character traits you'd like to develop?

  • Who do you want your friends to be?

  • Who do you want to be?

  • What could you do for your physical well-being?

  • Would you like to conquer your fear of (flying, public speaking, being alone, etc.)?

  • What areas in your life do you want to change? Where do you feel stuck?

Career, Business and Financial Goals

  • Am I able to clearly explain my professional goals and aspirations? If so, what are they? Even if I can't be specific in my description, what do I know about myself in this regard?

  • Which, if any, of the aspirations I've identified, am I not allowing myself to see as possible? Do I have goals that I'm too afraid to pursue?

  • What would you like to be known for within your profession?

  • What kind of impact do you want to have?

  • How much do you want to earn?

  • When do you want to retire?

  • What goals do you have for your business?

  • What are your career goals?

Contribution Goals

  • What’s something I see out in the world that breaks my heart? What could I do, say, create, or contribute to be “part of the solution”?

  • How could you help?

  • What could you create?

I'm not a bath guy, but I have been known to indulge once or twice a year. Every time I have one, I immediately ask myself why I don't do this more often? But what I've come to realize is the fact that I'm not doing it daily is why I enjoy it so damn much. I look at goal setting much the same. I don't obsess over it every day. It takes all the fun out of it. I set my goals and decide what daily habits will aim me in that direction. As philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, "nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm."

If you are passionate about something, pursue it a little bit each day, no matter what anyone else thinks. This is the Bruce Lee wisdom that comes from a roundhouse to the side of your temple when he hits you with one final blow, "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

You have no way of knowing exactly what the future will bring. So your best bet for living is to make the best and most positive use of the present. Taking a little time today to write your goals down like most people won't, is so you can spend the better part of your life like most people can’t because they decided this wasn't a priority.

Remember what I said, What you put in front of you is determined by your goals. To reiterate what Lee said, goals are not about the achievement, goals are what give you aim.

Hank Azaria talks to Sam Jones about his documentary 'Fatherhood' and overcoming fears and challenges associated with becoming a parent.