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Tod Maffin

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How I Abandoned My Goals and Became Happier

Posted: 10/05/2012 4:05 pm

Brace yourself. If you're an A-type personality, what I'm about to share with you might stress you out.

Here is how each of my weekdays unfolds: I sleep in. I feed my cats. I open my email and deal with it. Then, I start on whatever work is next on my to-do list.

Other than keeping a simple flat list of tasks and commitments I've made to my clients, I don't have any big plans, long-term goals, or great desires. I don't even have priorities or an order to my list of tasks. I do whatever is next on the list. Life is simpler that way.

And that -- in this age of extreme productivity -- freaks out many, many people.

Goals Are For Suckers

Of course, I want the same things as everyone -- financial stability, good health, and everlasting love. But I'm amazed at how many books, applications, podcasts, and blogs there are that all say essentially the same thing: You should first map out your entire life then work toward each goal in a series of well-planned steps.

Well, here's the harsh truth for you: Life sucks and Murphy's in charge. Have all the goals you want; they'll always get derailed. Life isn't about avoiding the potholes; life is about dealing with them the best you can.

Instead, I Have Fallbacks

I used to program computer code. In all well-written software, there exists a series of fallbacks. In simplified form, the code looks like this:

IF TASK 1 FAILS, GO TO FALLBACK 1

FALLBACK 1 = CHANGE DIRECTION
IF FALLBACK 1 FAILS, GO TO FALLBACK 2

So instead of goals, I keep a small mental list of computer-code fallbacks -- things I could do if everything falls to pieces. If my speaking career dies out suddenly, what would I do for an income? What jobs would I like to do? Who do I know that could help me get them? I revisit this list in my head every couple of months, then feel completely at ease. I know that if everything goes to hell, I'll be okay. Then, I don't need to worry about marching steadily toward a set list of prioritized tasks -- I just take each day as it comes.

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  • Do it first thing in the morning.

    This process is best undertaken early, after waking. That's because our days are filled with sensory input right up until we fall asleep at night. Unless you're a meditation master, a still mind is much easier to achieve while you're not fully awake.

  • Create a solitary, calm, comfy setting.

    This is a technique you must practice alone. Inviting moments of inspiration requires that you separate from the disruptive energy and influence of other people's thoughts and intentions. Choose a calm place away from as many interrupting sounds as possible. A favourite chair, in a quiet corner, with a blanket to keep you warm works well.

  • Cleanse your energy.

    Rub your hands together vigorously until you feel the heat, then place them on your temples and drag your palms down your cheeks. Shake your hands as if air-drying them, and repeat this two more times. Do the same for your forehead three times, and then cross your arms and brush your hands over the opposite shoulders and upper arms three times.

  • Relax, breathe, and sigh.

    Always sit to prevent falling back asleep. Get relaxed, but with your feet on the floor. With your eyes closed, if helpful, take deep breaths in and exhale with an audible sigh. Repeat this until you feel deeply relaxed, and concentrate on relaxing every part of your body, starting at the top of your head and moving down to your toes. Feel your connection to the earth through the soles of your feet.

  • Distract your left (logical) brain.

    Focus on your normal breathing -- in and out. Try to follow it through the nose, curling into the lungs, and back out. Do this for 10-20 minutes. If extraneous thoughts pop into your head, let them float away. Follow only your breath, not your thoughts. This exercise takes practice, but it should not be difficult to learn. What you're doing is stilling the part of the brain that inhibits creativity and spontaneity.

Some days I work really well and am super-productive (like this week) and other days I can't get started to save my life. On those days, I stop working, make popcorn, curl up with my cats, and watch bad reality TV. And try again tomorrow.

It is incredibly freeing and I've never been happier.

Negative is the New Positive

People have told me that focusing on "negative" fallbacks (how to respond when something bad happens) will bring negative energy into my life. Nonsense. There is no such thing as positive or negative energy (or homeopathy, for that matter, but that's another blog post).

There is only life. Life is nothing but falling and getting up. Each fallback is a chance for me to get back up -- and each time I do that I get stronger.

So one day -- just one day this month -- drop your to-do list and follow your curiosity. Surf link to link to sites you find interesting. Play. Dream.

The work will still be there when you get back. And so will you -- even stronger than you were before.

Tod Maffin is president of engageQ digital, a digital marketing agency in Toronto and Vancouver.

 

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