Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How People Feel about Their Lives or How to Improve Goal Acceptance

In the post “Goal Acceptance by Different Groups of People,” I described 4 categories of people in relation to how they perceive goals and goal-setting. Through that post, it was found that only two categories out of the four (innovators and dreamers, which make up less than 20% of the population), have an inclination to think positively about goals. The vast majority of people look at goals either neutrally or sometimes aggressively. Lately, I had to take a close look at that problem to understand how to involve all categories of people in the goal-setting process, what tools to give them, and how to help them become more effective and motivated people. During this examination I came up with an interesting model that I’d like to share with you.

The first idea that came to mind was that it’s pretty useless to try to change people’s perceptions of goals. A goal by itself doesn’t represent anything special. It is just a navigation tool--a method to move throughout life. Therefore, I thought it would make more sense to start looking at how different people perceive their life in general.

The second idea was that a person’s life consists of his or her past, present, and future. Goals are just road marks, attraction points in the future. The reaching process happens in the present, and all of that is based on events and experiences from the past.

Going from there, I tried to define how different categories of people relate to their past, present, and future. Here is what I got:

  • Victims. I’m not a professional psychologist and can be wrong here, but it seems to me that victims are mostly focused on their past. More precisely, their life is loaded with baggage full of past negative events that happened to them or around them. Because of that, they feel unhappy, frustrated, and oppressed. In such a condition they can’t take full responsibility over their own decisions and actions, they can’t find comfort in the present, and that can’t take steps to improve their future situation.
  • Survivors are focused on the present. Most of the time they feel relatively comfortable and stable. Survivors are pretty happy with what they have, and can be satisfied with less. Only a strong reason--a serious problem or a great desire--can make them change and move. Then, as soon as the situation becomes good enough, they find a new comfort zone and stay there until the next strong motivator.  
  • Dreamers live in the future, filled with dreams about their great ideas. Neither the present nor the past have any real significance. The present is just a waiting period before something much better, and much greater, comes along for sure. Without a stable grounding in the present, dreamers can’t effectively reach their dreams or enjoy their possible success. Eventually their waiting turns into frustration, their current idea is thrown out, and another wonderful dream comes to the forefront.
  • Innovators, as it was stated before, represent the minority but the most fruitful part of society. They feel confident in all three areas of time. The past for them is not a heavy load, but is instead a warm memory with the steps towards a great journey; the present is relatively stable and pleasant, but not enough to cause them to stay there forever; and their future has specific attraction points, which give them the strength and direction to change and move forward. By having a stable base in the present, they are able to use the available resources and opportunities to reach their goals.

With those definitions, I then went on to think about how the various categories of people could be motivated towards the most effective and balanced innovator state.

  • Victims, of course, have to leave their past in the past. They have to try, at least, to forgive themselves and others for all the bad that happened. At the end of the day, everything that doesn’t kill us, really does make us stronger (as long as we are able to learn positive lessons from it). They then have to accept themselves as they are, understanding and appreciating their own uniqueness and value. From this point, the next important step for them is to accept responsibility for their own actions. Doing this can help victims reach the survivor level and then keep moving forward.
  • Survivors. Their problem is located in the absence of significant attraction points in the future, which could make extra work and effort worthwhile. In order to break that balance, their position must be altered. This could be done by showing them that they could look healthier, live a longer and more comfortable life, make more money, and enjoy the respect of the people around them. Often, the necessary shift could be presented by pointing outside of a person: a desire to provide a better live for a loved one or family, to make a significant contribution towards a company’s success, or to change the entire world for the better. In doing this, it is important to emphasize that all of these future points are within reach without making super efforts. The presence of well-defined information, proven know-how, and the support and encouragement of a group may also play positive roles here.
  • Dreamers, in contrast to survivors and victims, have to move backwards. They have to understand that life cannot be a constant race for achievements. Life is spent here and now, and it is full of pleasant things--the results of their past efforts that have already gained good value. They have to think about what could happen if all present things were to disappear in a moment. Would the future be painful because the valuable aspects and objects of life have gone without a trace? By being grounded in that way, in being thankful for what one has, dreamers can relax and enjoy the present. For a long time, they will want to maintain that state without letting it slip away. Goals will not be dropped, of course. Instead, they will be connected to the core values of the present, and refocused on keeping and growing all the good that already exists. (Here I should say that I don’t consider a dreamer as being someone who only likes to sit and look at the stars. A dreamer is able to act. But, because they are usually not grounded in the present and its capabilities, his or her actions cannot bring the success that is desired.)

There is a paradox, I found, that many goal-setting methods preach success building but rarely lead there in practice. As I see it, the problem is that most of them focus too much on the future, and pay little attention to the past and present. Following their instructions, people may force themselves into the dreamer category. They either get into a conflict with their current natural category, or switch entirely into the dreamer mode with all of its bad consequences. In order for all categories to become more effective and motivated towards goal-setting, the practices above should be applied.

Before I go, I’d like to share one more thought with you that you might find interesting. It seems to me, that some social groups, nations, and countries have their own dominating categories, reproduced by set policies. I won’t go too deep into it, but I just wanted to point out a few examples:

  • The Soviet Union created an extremely effective machine to oppress human individuality. From the marxist theory’s point of view, the entire world is divided into the oppressors (business owners) and the oppressed (their laborers). The national ownership of property eliminated small oppressors, but it transformed the state into a monstrous oppressive machine, from which no one could be saved. Effective police forces then cemented that model and made it almost impossible to change. All of that turned large masses of people into mental victims. Now, the Soviet Union could rule those victims easily, but, because victims almost entirely lose their abilities to move on their own, the Soviet Union had a lot of trouble. In my opinion, this is the key factor that led to the stagnation and collapse of soviet society.
  • In India, we can find an interesting example of a countrywide survivor model. Historically, India created a caste system which demanded: “Accept your fate as it is, and, with the next lives to come, perhaps you can hope for more.” Many millions of people, living in horrible poverty, accepted their fate and lived as best they could, never making any attempts to change anything. Such a model is extremely stable and can remain unchanged for thousands of years. However, any significant improvement there will also be nearly possible.
  • The dreamer model can then be found in Asian countries which have made fundamental Islam a countrywide government religion. The triumph of Islam in the world and the fight against infidels has become an all-consuming goal. The present has almost no value, as value can only be found in the Islamic pastures of Heaven where holy dreamers go after their death. Reaching satisfaction during one’s lifetime is incorrect, and even forbidden. Obviously, such politics create a very mobile, aggressive society, which has a terrible destroying power.
  • Finally, Western countries, and especially the US, have implemented the most balanced approach, focusing on the production of innovative individuals. It is this, not democracy, that explains their quick progress over a short historical period of time and their current dominating role in the world. The value of human life, tolerance, and the consumer market emphasizes giving respect to an individual and his or her needs. High life standards and social programs create comfortable living conditions for most members of society, which raises them from victims to survivors, and then high social mobility, an innovative economy, Hollywood standards, and the American dream form attraction points in the future and give people goals to aim for. As a result, more balanced individuals are formed with a high percentage of true innovators. This mass of people becomes the key driving force behind Western society and creates improvements in cultural, economic, military, and other areas.

From these examples, we can see that countries that support innovators and innovation have made the most improvements to society.

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