Goals and Mechanical Rabbits

When I turned 39, a few days ago, I wrote a list about 39 things I learned through experience. A few of them got picked up by my readers and broadcasted on Twitter. Being bitesized really helped this process, I don’t think any of those items were bigger than 140 characters. One of the most retweeted was number 8:

“Goals are good, but no better than the mechanical rabbit at a dog race. At the end of the race, they’re useless.”

Since that seemed to touch a lot of people, I thought it would be a good idea to write a full post about it. Which I am doing as right now. 🙂

The Promise of Goals

Everybody knows the power of goals. They light the path, throw away the fog and make your efforts worthwhile. Some of the most popular goals are:

  • get out of debt
  • get a compatible partner
  • be your own boss
  • get a promotion

Of course, there are other smaller goals like owning a specific house or car. Or even buying a specific computer. I want to have a Mac by Christmas. That’s a goal.

Usually, goals are good. But, once you reached your goal, what happens? Where is the drive to run? Where is the motivation? Gone, of course. You reached your goal. The race is over.

The only thing that would make you run again is another race. Another goal. Another mechanical rabbit running in front of you, close enough so you can tell it’s worthwhile, but far enough to be out of reach. In order to catch the rabbit, you have to stretch. To go over your limits. Usually, you do that.

But after the race you bump into that frustration again. What the hell is wrong with that rabbit? Where does it hides? Every time I think I caught it, it disappear. Damn you, rabbit!

Running in the Right Context

The problem is not the rabbit. The problem is the context. A dog race is a limited context. It’s a stupid competition, trying to establish a winner among a pack of dogs. A dog race stretches the animals until one has the power to reach out and become what we call “the winner”.

This is pretty much what happens in the real world of jobs and careers. This time the  mechanical rabbit is a certain lifestyle, a certain amount of money in the bank, a specific power position. A lot of dogs are running after that rabbit. One of them, after years of struggling and sacrifices, go in front of the others. The result: the dog who catch the rabbit is a winner. The rest are losers. They have to start the race again. And again. And again.

I think you can see now how a limited context can totally change the game. Imagine a dog in the wild. And wild here is not defined as a context with no rules, but with less limitations than a stupid dog race. Imagine a dog at wild, chasing real rabbits. Is there winner there? Barely. The natural context is so large that the chances that 2 dogs are chasing the same rabbit are pretty low. And when it happens, they usually share, somehow.

A dog chasing real rabbits will do it for the thrills and for survival. If it doesn’t catch the rabbit, his meal will be gone. There is no competition here other than continuing to live. The victory here will be life in itself, not the first place and a medal.

Choosing Your Race

Fact is goals are highly dependent on the context. If you chose to live your life in a limited context, chasing goals will feel as frustrating as running at a dog race. You won’t be living a real life. You would actually live a dog’s life, being enslaved for the benefit of others. Don’t blame the mechanical rabbit for that, as it does the best it can. It runs. That’s what a goal does, it runs before you until you reach it.

But was it worth the effort? The whole race was something that fulfilled you? Being “number one” is making you really happy? Most of the time, the answer to these questions is “No”. Running over and over trying to defeat other people with the stupid hope that being ahead of them in a limited context will make you happy, that, instead of being your source of happiness, as you expect, it will eat you up inside. The context in which you are running is limited. So are the goals.

But, what happens if you would chose a larger context? Avoid the dog race altogether, step out of it. Get rid of notions like “winner” or “loser”. Think in terms of living, not racing. Just being joyful for the run. And then chose a goal on which your entire life will depend. What if, instead of chasing a career or a political position, you would chase a life. A different life. Living in a certain way. Earning enough to travel the world, for instance, but not entering any Fortune 500 list. The difference is that once you reach this new goal, in this new context, you will feel alive and thrilling. Reaching that goal in this new context will make your life go on, instead of just preparing you for another race. It will leave you free and full of energy, not empty and frustrated. That goal will be the real rabbit. Instead of being just a mechanical impostor, it will actually give you the energy to go on. And continue to live as you chose.

I used to chase mechanical rabbits all the time. Being the first in my niche, with my business. Been there, done that, felt like crap. Maybe it was a necessary milestone for my personal evolution, but truth is I never truly enjoyed this type of competition. Once I stepped out of the context, everything changed. Once I left the dog race yard, with all those mechanical rabbits ready to run in front of me, something changed. The whole game, changed, in fact.

There is no victory and no first place when you chose to live your life. There is only life. Sometimes you catch the rabbit, sometimes not. But running after a real rabbit, after something on which your entire life depends, that is so amazingly different.

What type of rabbits are you chasing now? Are you in a dog race, following a stupid social device which will leave you empty inside once you complete the race? Or are you chasing out in the wild, with no limitations in a game with no victory or defeat?

It’s just a question of choice.

24 thoughts on “Goals and Mechanical Rabbits”

  1. Happiness is a choice we make between our ears. It’s a choice we can make regardless of our circumstances. We can set goals without becoming emotionally attached to outcomes, and we do that best when we are free to formulate our goals by respecting the context, by choosing to live consciously. If we fail we have made progress for every failure contains within it all the information required to be successful on the next go round.
    .-= timethief´s last blog ..Effective strategies for conscious living =-.

  2. Chasing the wrong goals is what bring unhappiness. Try chasing the goal of wisdom, trust, faith, and love. You are going to find happiness at all times.
    If you were chasing a goal say to buy a new car. Now if you really needed that car and it wasn’t just because you want to impress someone, but a necessity that was needed, it would make you happy, because it would be a big accomplishment. That is called pride, because you are improving your life and probably other lives.

    • Absolutely on the same vibe with you on that one. If you want to impress someone you’re looking for a “winner vs loser” position, which is in fact a dog race powered by mechanical rabbits.

  3. Is it possible to run out of goals? My goals are always being replaced with new and improved ones. It is all a part of growth.
    .-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Child Of The Cold War =-.

    • That’s one way to look at the glass, I agree. For me, if those goals are just bigger and faster mechanical rabbits, it’s useless. I’m better off focusing at changing the context than at replacing the rabbits every once in a while.

  4. This is great Dragos. It’s something I thought about when I was in high school and through my twenties. One day I thought, “So I go to college and I become a “whatever” and then I get a “degree, and then I strive for a top paying job, and then I have money to do this and that, and then and then and then….And then what?” The whole thing felt very depressing for me.

    So one day I sat in the woods and thought, “Goals can be good, but THEY are NOT enough for me in terms of ‘being the point to my life’. I need something more, richer, more organic that I BECOME. Instead of goals I am going to make sure of two things: 1. That I do the things I LOVE doing JUST because I LOVE doing them sooo much I am compelled to do them, no other reason. 2. That happiness is a choice and I am going to be happy no matter what Life throws at me…and learn from it all. 3. (yes, there was a 3 :)) My goal is going to be that I embrace the JOURNEY of life NOT the outcome.”

    So that meant embracing all the experiences and emotions in terms of what it means to simply be alive on the planet. All the mystery, the joy, the pain, the unknown, the ups and downs…all of it. Living FULLY is all I care about. Having the fully “aware” experience of being alive is a sheer high for me. I really don’t think in terms of goals. I just follow where my heart leads and it’s been an amazing ride.
    .-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..When We Don’t Speak of Death =-.

    • Great comment, Robin. Embracing life means receiving everything it has to offer you. All the emotions, experiences and lessons. Chasing mechanical rabbits in such a powerful context is simply meaningless 🙂

  5. This is just an excellent analogy Dragos and I must admit I didn’t know what you meant when I first read that one in the first place, and I’m happy to see you elaborate on this now. I spend a lot of time talking with people about goals since people know I highly value them and I’m happy to see we agree on so many points about what goals matter and what ones don’t. Goals that really matter are definitely the goals that change how you live your life, some of those still have an end point, but the change is permanent well worth the effort once the change is in place. Goals like habit changes, new activities, new thinking processes and a different way of life are all valuable goals. Temporary ones with a winner/loser as you’ve pointed out are meaningless.

    Great stuff, loved this one!
    .-= Mike King´s last blog ..What is Learned From Running a Blog? =-.

  6. I love this phrase Dragos: “There is no victory and no first place when you chose to live your life. There is only life.” Here’s to living it to the full my friend.
    .-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..How Your Beliefs Create Your Reality part 3 =-.

  7. You are right about life and goals. I try and avoid the chase of the dream but to live my own life. I do get burnt out looking for a job and sometimes I wonder if I sabotage myself. I get close to the dream and then I screw up because I am adapt to one lifestyle even if it is the WRONG one.

    I guess half of the problem is admitting you have one and then working your way out of it. I lose steam when I have to face the person I am trying to woo in the job search because I actually think I have been type cast a job seeker maybe I have bought into it too much.

    You have to want change and you also have to be able to adapt to the change.
    .-= Jamie Favreau´s last blog ..Social Media to Save the NHL (Last installment a bit late) =-.

    • Jamie, looks like you search for some kind of validation from a job. You are ok as you are. You can deliver value to other people and feel fulfilled in a gazillion different ways than a job.

  8. Hi Dragos,

    Excellent post my friend. I think it clearly relates to an element that in my opinion is crucial to achieving anything: Knowing WHY you want the rabbit. In other words, having a sense of purpose.

    Chasing rabits without having a clear reason (a strong WHY) is a recepy for failure.

    Some time ago I wrote a post about it which I share here with you: http://www.improvo.eu/blog/developing-your-sense-of-purpose

    Once again, thanks for sharing such great insights. Your blog is outstanding!

    Ivan Hernandez

    • Thanks for sharing that, Ivan. Having a sense of purpose is definitely something that gives meaning to our entire lives, regardless of our current context. We can be in a race for something or we could just meditate but as long as we have a sense of purpose, we can enjoy both.

  9. Hey Dragos,

    39 a? I’m a bad age evaluator, but you don’t look a day older than 29 🙂

    Now about the post: I know it can be a weird idea in the achievement oriented world we live in, but I think setting goals and aiming for things is not a sustainable way to become happy. We need some sort of base happiness that comes from inside and from being able to enjoy every day. Than we can build on that, as we set and reach goals. And of course when setting goals, it’s important to pick our battles.
    .-= Ideas With A Kick´s last blog ..Personal development readers vs. personal development doers =-.

    • Well, that 39 to 29 thing was funny. Never had this thing with years, sometimes I feel bold like in my twenties, sometimes I feel wise like in my eighties (which obviously I didn’t yet reached). Totally agree with wisely picking up our battles.


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