It’s the start of a new year now, when many of us lay out our personal goals and aspirations for our planet’s next revolution around the sun. This is the season when we make our resolutions: statements of purpose for the changes we want to bring about in our lives.
Some goals, however, will make a much bigger difference to your life than others. So today I’m going to talk about the kinds of resolutions that will allow you to hold your head high by the time the year is done.
Let’s get to it.
Two Kinds of Goals
The goals people set themselves tend to fall into two categories: consumption-based goals and achievement-based goals.
The two differ in what they require from you. The first chiefly requires money. The second chiefly requires effort.
Let’s look at them both in greater detail.
Consumption-based goals are pretty straightforward. Such goals are based around spending money on things or experiences.
To accomplish such goals, all that you really need to do is spend your money the right way.
For example, “I want to watch the first 6 seasons of Game of Thrones” is a consumption-based goal. To achieve this goal, all you have to do is buy the relevant DVDs or subscribe to HBO. Then rewatch the series. Done.
Alternatively, “I want to go skydiving for the first time” is also pretty straightforward. You find a place that offers tandem skydiving, pay for your jump, and the instructor does the rest. Easy.
Consumption-based goals require minimal effort on your part; money will do most of the work for you.
Such goals are fun to pursue and broaden your range of experience. They provide plenty of conversational fodder. But they will not do much else to make you a better human being.
Achievement-based goals, on the other hand, require a very different currency. Such goals require consistent effort, not money. Money can help, but money alone won’t get you there.
“I want to get a black belt in judo” is an achievement-based goal. To fulfil this goal you have to train consistently and wisely. There are no short cuts. You cannot bribe your way to skill.
“I want to be able to carry on a 5-minute conversation in Portuguese with my Brazilian colleagues” is also an achievement-based goal. If you’ve never spoken Portuguese before, it’s going to take work. Either you can converse in the language, or you can’t. No amount of money can speak the language for you.
Achievement-based goals are the ones that will change your life. They will make you more resourceful, more committed, more capable, more self-disciplined. Those are qualities that money can’t buy.
The very best goals tend to cost the least money; instead they ask for your time, your commitment, and your energy, and they give back the most in return.
There are overlaps, of course. “I want to go on vacation to Paris” is a consumption-based goal. But “I want to go on vacation to Paris as a single mother with 2 toddlers, while actually having fun and making sure we all get home in one piece” is much more of an achievement-based goal.
The difference between the two is the amount of effort required.
Things vs Experiences: A False Dilemma
It’s become commonplace lately to say that the true path to happiness involves spending money on experiences instead of on things. Things fade, they say, while experiences will stay with you forever.
But this is a false choice. It’s designed to conceal the dangerous myth at the heart of modern consumer society: that lasting happiness can somehow be achieved by spending more money.
That’s right: instead of spiritual development, intellectual cultivation, strong personal relationships, public service, or careful craftsmanship, the formula for happiness today has been reduced to making consumer choices.
Now I have nothing at all against consumer spending. I make my living as a copywriter, which essentially means that people pay me to help them sell more stuff. I am also a fairly voracious consumer: I enjoy concerts, travel, books, good food and drink, art and antiques, fountain pens.
Money is good. I like getting it and spending it. But I do not pretend that any of this is more than something nice to have, or that any of it makes me a better human being.
The true measure of a life is what you have done with your sweat and your labour. It lies in what you have earned.
Measure in Time
So this new year, choose to do something that will actually make you a better person. Choose to do something difficult, something effortful.
Don’t pick a target out of thin air; as I’ve said before, you need to have relevant experience before you can set good targets and deadlines. But do choose a part of your life that you want to focus on, and decide what you want to do with it.
Log the time devoted to your goal each week, and measure your progress by the amount of time spent.
And from those seeds, watch your life grow.
Your future self will thank you.