Goal-setting, habits, decision-making and regret

Thursday, January 17, 2019 Permalink

Last Thursday I mentioned a post I’d started writing after being inspired by Mark Manson. I’m not a MM devotee, though don’t get him confused with Charles or Marilyn (unlike a friend of mine). While I don’t agree with what everything he says, I very much like his way with words and find myself listening to his posts (as he offers audio and reading options) again and again… hoping stuff will sink in via some sort of subliminal mind control.

There are two I’ve been listening to of late and – as I mentioned last week, they’ve become linked in my mind – so the post I was originally writing became confused and unwieldy. This week I’d initially planned to – in wanky corporate speak – ‘unpack’ the two themes… but they continue to be inexplicably entwined for me so I’ll include links to Manson’s two articles and focus more on what I ‘took away’ from both posts (more corporate-speak, #sorrynotsorry). 

The topic of the first is one of goal-setting which is particularly relevant for this time of year. (New Year’s Resolutions anyone?)

goal setting habits and regret

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Manson’s post actually talks about why ‘goals are overrated’ and  he (kinda) suggests goal-setting is crap and sustainable change can only be made through forming new habits. I’ve talked about this myself and long been a fan or the small iterative change, writing about this seven years ago (egad!) in relation to 30-day challenges... which is exactly what Manson recommends we consider.

In his post Manson also recommends a few habits worth adopting and most are no-brainers (exercise, meditation etc), though he does add reading and writing – the latter being a cathartic way of better understanding what’s going on in our little minds.

Manson’s other post is about making better life decisions and I linked both because I extrapolated the goal-setting into my current existential crisis (aka: WTF am I doing with my life?).

Thankfully – like Manson (as he includes them in both posts) – I’m a fan of ‘the list’. Generally for me it’s a ‘to-do’ list but perhaps instead I need an ‘options’ list.

Manson reminds us that a number of factors come into play when making decisions… around our values and beliefs, around instant gratification (which he likens to an overenthusiastic dog) and he includes the no-brainer… a pros and cons list. However… in addition to contemplating short (AND LONG) term outcomes when coming up with this list, Manson suggests we take time to consider the concept of regret.

goal setting and habits

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I know a lot of philosophers think regret is irrational. I mean, regret by definition is unchangeable. It’s a done-deal, there’s no point in ruing something we’ve done or not done, or even pondering on it, UNLESS we learn something from it.

And sure, I think Manson would support this, but he also says we can attempt to minimise regret. I guess there’s some sort of economic synergies there… maximise profit and minimise loss. Or something. But in this case, he recommends our pros and cons list and our decision making consider how much will we regret NOT doing something; or doing it and wishing we hadn’t.

Again, the purists out there will comment on the fact we can’t predict how something will work out so we can’t actually ‘measure’ our response (relief/happiness or regret), that it is (for the most part) an unknown quantity. But… if you’re like me, you kinda know as gut-instinct comes into play. (Oops sorry, I mean ‘intuitive decision making’!)

So, what does all of this mean? In my case, it means I need to better consider what it is I want to do with my life in terms of what I can live with not-achieving vs what I might / will regret. (And as I already worry it’s ‘too late’ and have regrets, that’s not too difficult for me.)

And… I need to identify some short term goals – or daily / weekly habits – to help me get there.

Are you a goal setter? How do you know what it is you want? 

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16 Comments
  • Jo
    January 17, 2019

    It’s a toughie. I’m so scattered at present that I’m setting small goals – 3 things every month. As you know I’m doing my 101 things in 1001 days & arrived at those things by asking what I really wanted and breaking it down from there so each major thing has about 15 steps or mini things. I have no idea whether this approach will work for me, but it’s worth a try for me.

    • Debbish
      January 17, 2019

      The small steps always make me feel more in control. I think I’ve talked here before about the fact I’ll sometimes break something down into minute pieces so I can tick them off: Day 1. Open electrician’s website; Day 2. Find email address or phone number; Day 3. Ring or email. In reality I’ll often end up doing all at once (well, maybe not if it involves a phone call) so I’m ahead of the game but telling myself I HAVE to do it all at once overwhelms me and I become stymied.

  • Jo
    January 17, 2019

    Oh, and I don’t do regret. Honestly I don’t. Partly because I don’t have the focus required to regret and partly because it’s such a sliding doors thing.

    • Debbish
      January 17, 2019

      I wish regret wasn’t as all-hovering in my life as it sometimes is. IF ONLY…. comes up far too often!

  • BoomingOn
    January 17, 2019

    I’ve been giving these things some thoughts lately as well. I’ve just set some aims/goals for myself for the year and I’ve done a post on same. For me it’s all about the consideration and setting down of goals/aspirations, rather than a little list of resolutions. Sometimes I do a 5 year and 10 year check in – where do I want to be/doing at those timetables further down the track. I think that’s a good way of working out what you want to do/achieve and perhaps working out a roadmap (corporate speak!) to get there. We can’t go backwards, we can only go forward, hopefully with some intention.

    • Debbish
      January 17, 2019

      Yes I was more of a ‘goals’ person than a resolution person as the latter NEVER worked for me. Though not sure the goals did either. I like your longer-term focus and check-in process!

  • Min Write of the Middle
    January 17, 2019

    I need to do the same! I’m not sure what I’m meant to be doing or exactly what I want to do. I just know I’m not there yet! Your post reminds me of one of the interviews I listened to when I did Mindful in May. It was with BJ Fogg – he created the Tiny Habits program. I summarised his interview in my Mindful in May – Week 2 (he is Day 8) post. Also he has a website https://www.tinyhabits.com/ that might be worth a visit! #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      January 18, 2019

      I’m the same Min. I HAD decided I would not apply for any full-time jobs that came up and I’d try freelancing etc… but was stressing hugely (even though it was only the first month or so) and of course I ended up applying for a full-time job.

      But, on the ‘things I can control’ side, I made sure when I got up today I actually got changed. Being home for the last couple of months has meant I’ve often just left my PJs on all day and put a new pair on when I went to bed (and when I say PJs I usually mean just old shorts and shirt). Today I decided I would get dressed – in different shorts and shirt (and even put a bra on!) when I get up each day. So that’s my goal for the next 30days. (Oh and to have my diluted juice / water combo at the same time I have my first diet coke each morning!)

      And I’m not sure how that progresses me towards any goal but feels like a ‘compounding’ (or keystone) habit Manson talks about.

  • leannelc
    January 18, 2019

    I’m a useless goal setter. I tie it in with the whole concept of setting myself up for disappointment if I fail to meet them. I have great plans of being more focused on doing more with my blog (learning SEO etc – blah!) or upping my exercise, or changing to a less annoying job – then I just settle back and keep doing pretty much the same stuff. I guess I sit in my comfort zone and do the “if it’s not broken don’t bother fixing it” thing. Let me know if you find a magic way of being more motivated – heaven help me when I retire or leave the drama filled job – I’ll just sit around in my pjs eating potato chips all day!

    • Debbish
      January 18, 2019

      I think that’s been my problem too Leanne… but in reality it does feel like parts of my life are broken so I SHOULD set about fixing them. At least I think I WANT to fix them….

  • Denyse Whelan
    January 18, 2019

    Gosh I liked reading this because I was nodding or shaking my head as I went. About me. I do have some regrets but they are really minimal in (to quote my husband) The Overall Scheme of Things. I have been achievement driven all my life …actually not study wise much but over time I did learn the a pass still gets the degree, right?

    I think I am determined and can follow a routine as I have proved to myself in cancer-recovery mode. It would have been soooo much easier, to sit around the house in comfy whatevers and do little until I knew I needed more of a kick-up the…. That was on 30 October 2017 and I have only had one or two days exceptions. I get up. I eat a proper breakfast of weetbix and milk. I thought for sure post-teeth I would be back to toast and tea, but no, not wanting that. So maybe new habits can be ingrained. After that I get dressed WITH PURPOSE…which is always to go out somewhere. It is my need to a double shot of coffee along with some people watching and doing some musing in my art journal that does this. I am so glad I do it. I adds something to my well-being. Once I am back home, I change and mooch around doing some small chores, relaxing, blogging or whatever.

    I think to make something work for you (me) you need to try new things…and in baby steps. And over time,as it happened to me, the new to me habits became embedded.

    Wishing you well Deb. Insight into what you know to do and be is so helpful once it occurs isnt it?

    Denyse x

    • Debbish
      January 19, 2019

      Yes, and I guess the thing about routines sometimes is that we don’t notice them happening. Ideally habits would grow automatically or organically but I think I’m going to have to find some new ones and build on them myself, as you say you’ve now done. x

  • Sanch @ Sanch Writes
    January 19, 2019

    Mark Manson is interesting – part of me kicks myself for not writing what he did because in the end, he has used a lot psychological stuff in his works but just translated into layman speak {regret!} I think I get where you are coming from in terms of the existential crisis – I went through one last year and I think I’ve figured some things out. For me, it was writing out my shit, reading lots of books that managed to speak to me but also, most importantly, nutting out my core values and thinking about how I’d like to be remembered after I’m gone. It was the last two things that helped me figure out a bit more about what I want to do. And yes, that involves setting some short term goals/plans/lists/activities – whatever you want to call it – in order to see out the longer term goal.

    In terms of regret, I just read a book If cats disappeared from the world {highly recommend it by the way – you don’t have to like cats!}. But basically, I guess I learnt that no matter what, when we die there will be some regret because we just won’t have enough time to do it all. So yeah, it’s more about what you said – are there things you can live with not-achieving/doing versus things you really think you need to do? I’d love to take this conversation further by the way as it’s stuff that’s constantly mulling in my head

    • Debbish
      January 19, 2019

      I know… and in one of the two posts MM talks about the benefits of writing because you often find yourself almost changing your mind or coming around mid-way through. And that’s a huge problem I have with personal blogging. I’ll start writing about something but I go off on a tangent and then I’ll contemplate WHY I think something and next thing I’ll be saying the exact opposite to what I started with.

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    January 21, 2019

    Great post Deb! Love it.
    I set goals, intentions and form new habits. I’m also a list maker. I’m a combination of all!
    I’m finding it harder and harder to achieve some results though. The stuff that used to be easy is becoming more difficult due to personal circumstances and doubt creeping in. I’ve not faced that before. It’s a new feeling. I’m not loving it.

    • Debbish
      January 22, 2019

      You’ve certainly had a lot of personal challenges this year Leanne and I wonder if they’ve resulted in the increased doubt or if that’s something that comes with getting older. I know, on one hand I am not as stressed about certain things (as I get older); but do worry more about others (conscious of time ticking away perhaps!).

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