Goal setting is nice. And it works like going to gym: the more you do it, the better you get at it. If you practice goal setting long enough, at some point you’ll be in a place where it’s getting comfortable. Like a second nature: whatever you put your mind to, you make it happen. And that is truly a very empowering place to be in.
But there’s a very subtle caveat here: because you can do whatever you want, you may also do what you don’t need to.
Read that again, because you may not get it from the first time.
Ok, let me lay it down to you: because you can do whatever you want, you can also hurt yourself. And you can do that just because you can. Or – and this is happening more often than you’d think – you can hurt others in the process, just to prove that you are indeed the master of your own fate.
You Can Do Everything, But Not Anything
The ability to put your ideas into practice, to reach to whatever goals you aspire to, should always be linked to some sort of ethics. I know, even the word “ethics” sounds boring and restricting. And yet, it’s the ethics that prevents you to eat a fellow human being when you’re hungry. Sorry for the strong analogy, but that’s the truth.
Without some sort of rules, without a system of values, being able to do whatever you want will eventually lead to self-annihilation. Just think about it: if, at some point, you will get bored of achieving all these goals, and you get into a self-sabotaging stance, then it’s game over. Just because you can do whatever you put your mind to, the self-sabotaging will be so effective that this will be, indeed, the end of you.
You can indeed do everything, from a motivational point of view, and I find this line of thinking useful.
But there are limits to this “everything”.
It’s not “anything”.
A Minimalist List
There are many “ethics” out there. Some linked to religion, some linked to culture, some related to work environments. Most of them are overlapping or completing each other in some way.
But if you go down the line, there is a common root of all these, a starting point which defines a “constructive” behavior, an approach that wouldn’t destroy more than it builds. As I tried to get to that starting point many times, trying to find a set of simple rules, I eventually came out with a very minimalist list. Something to guide my behavior and make sure I don’t create too much damage with my efforts to create my own fate.
I don’t pretend this list is the best out there, but it’s something that proved useful to me for years. Here we go:
- Protect life. Your life and other people lives too, try to live in a healthy way, avoid hurting when it’s not necessary.
- Don’t lie. Use your word to speak the truth, don’t gossip, don’t mask the truth.
- Respect other people relationships. Don’t enter in a partnership – being it a romantic one, or a business one – from a space of cheating or stepping on someone else’s toes.
- Speak gently, if you can, avoid speaking with anger.
- Rejoice in other people successes – don’t put them down when they’re up, just because you feel small.
- Try to foster compassion for every human being – do this from a distance, if the proximity is toxic – because everybody fights a fight you don’t know about.
- Take 100% responsibility for what you do. What happens to you may not always be controlled, but how you react to it, that it can. Take responsibility for that part, for your reactions.
Now, it goes without saying that I have bad days and good days, meaning I’m not always able to follow this list to the core. But I’m trying.
And, just by trying to remain within the boundaries of these, let’s call them “precepts”, I’m able, most of the times, to avoid that subtle danger of being able to do whatever I want.