Emotional Intelligence | Book table of Contents


Chapter Seven - Using Your Emotions to Set and Achieve Your Goals


2008 Note - I can't really relate to this chapter anymore. I wrote it at a different point in my life. But I will leave it here in case some one gets some good from it.


To be happy, it helps to take a lot of responsibility for our feelings, as well as our life in general. A practical application is setting and achieving our goals. In this chapter I talk about how to:

1) set goals that motivate you
2) stay focused on the goals you have chosen.

The first step of using your emotions to help you set and reach your goals is to take charge of your feelings, saying, "It is up to me." Without taking charge of our emotions, we are stuck in a reactive mode of living. Taking charge of your emotions means not blaming someone else for your negative emotions. It also means taking ownership of, and pride in, your successes.

Taking charge of your emotions implies using your upper brain to plan for the future in order to create a life that will offer you happiness. We are wise to acknowledge and listen to the lower brain, but not to become slaves to it. There is power and intelligence in both parts of our brains. To take charge of our emotions, though, we must make our upper brain the master brain. In fact, when I am feeling depressed or needy, I find it helps to remind my lower brain that I am in control. This is a little like saying: Attention lower brain, this is your captain speaking!

Once I have established that I am in control, I find it much easier to assume responsibility for everything that I create in my life. In this way I don't allow myself to be lured by the temptations for quick fixes and make-believe. People who believe in anything greater than themselves sooner or later seem to feel small and powerless. This is because the more you believe in the power of things outside yourself, the less you feel in control.

Assuming responsibility helps keep the focus on us and on what we can control. Whenever you look outside yourself, you are looking in the wrong place. This is like the story about the man who lost his wallet on the street. After a second man has helped him look for quite some time, the second man asks, "Are you sure this is where you dropped it?" The first man replies, "No, but the light is better here."

Once you realize that it is up to you, and that you are responsible for your happiness, the question may arise : Ok, what next?

The answer to this question depends on your dominant goal in life. For instance, is your highest goal:

a) Pain avoidance?
b) Short term pleasure?
c) Mere survival (making it to the next day)?
d) Long term happiness, fulfillment & inner peace?

The answer to this question is important so I will discuss it in just a moment. First I want to point out that if you don't know what your overriding goal is, you won't know how to set more specific goals. Also, without a clear plan or main goal your feelings may confuse you and lead you in different directions.

Your instinctive emotions tell you when you are either on or off course according to nature's broad genetic instructions. But nature has only programmed general survival instincts into your DNA, not specifics. When you are born, your DNA does not know about all the world's possibilities. This is why it is so important to sample a wide variety of life's experiences, and to note your feelings carefully along the way. Let's talk then about setting your dominant goals.

Setting Goals

Setting our life goals is the most challenging mental exercise we are likely to face. In a very real sense, setting our personal goals is a problem which must be deliberately and methodically addressed if we ever are going to be happy. As with all problems, it is necessary to begin by stating the problem clearly, then collecting and analyzing the relevant data. The problem can be expressed as:

What is my goal in life?
What is my mission?
What will make me happy
What will help me feel satisfied and at peace with myself when I die?

As far as data is concerned, you already have lots of it. Over the course of your life, your feelings have been providing you information. In order to make sense out of it, it helps to ask these questions:

What have I learned about me?
What is important to me?
What do I feel strongly about?
Why are certain things important to me?
What has felt good in the past?
What has felt bad?
What do I believe in?
What beliefs might be unrealistic?
What are my values?
Which values have brought me unhappiness?
What feelings would I like more of?
What feelings would I like less of?
How have I been blocking my own happiness?

Besides such reflective thought, it helps to listen and learn as you go through each day. Listen to your feelings and the messages they are trying to send you. Let your feelings teach you about your fears, desires, needs, values, and beliefs. As you learn about yourself, in other words, as your self-awareness rises, it is likely that:

You will learn to set goals that motivate you

You will make better decisions with fewer mistakes

You will learn to calm yourself & keep focused.

How will this happen? Let's take a look.

1. Setting Goals That Motivate You

Knowing what feels good can be a powerful motivator. The better you know and understand your positive feelings, the more vividly you can visualize them. In fact, you actually start to feel them as soon as you begin to picture your success in your mind's eye. Your upper brain paints the picture of success in your mind and your lower brain gets excited. Studies have shown that the lower brain doesn't know the difference between fact and illusion, by the way, so this works very effectively. (It also works to your disadvantage if you are a worrier, as this will paralyze you from taking action.) I will use career goals as a model, but personal goals follow the same general guidelines.

Identifying a career goal that excites you is often extremely difficult, but it is always worth the effort. I find these three questions are helpful:

  1. What would I do if money were no object?

  2. What does the world need (not just want)?

  3. What do I really enjoy doing?

Answering these questions helps you find your mission in life. When you are not motivated by making money, your feelings will motivate you towards the things you enjoy doing. Chances are extremely good that your mission will also be financially rewarding, since you will be doing something which is needed. In addition, if you enjoy doing it, you will probably be good at it. Hence the expression, "Do what you love and the money will follow." Once you have found your mission, your feelings act as a huge, powerful magnet pulling you towards your goals. The driving force in your life becomes desire for positive feelings rather than avoidance of painful ones. As you work towards your goal, you feel good along the way, because you feel the progress. Some writers refer to this as "flow." When you are in the flow of your work, you get caught up in the moment. You lose track of time; other things become unimportant to you. You are motivated and stimulated by your work. When you feel this way about your work, you know that it is the right work for you.

Rather than look at work as a necessary evil, the person who has used his feelings, values and beliefs to set his goals and then who works to achieve them, tends to love his work. He loves it because he has chosen it. And he chose it because he loves it. He does not feel obligated to do it. He does it because he wants to.

Those who feel forced to do things are usually forced by their own thoughts, beliefs, and choices. Hence, the old expression: "So who's forcing you?" That "who" is often ourselves. We always have choices, even if those choices are undesirable. The irony is that if they are undesirable to us, then by definition, we don't desire them. In other words, we are always doing what we do desire. But so many of us don't look at it that way, and cause ourselves and others untold unhappiness by our constant complaints.

It's true that success breeds success. The emotionally healthy person feels successful and has conditioned himself to expect success. He is less likely to be defeated by temporary setbacks. People with high self-esteem do not perceive themselves as failures just because they have failed at certain endeavors. They are resilient and they don't internalize their failures. They are able to "rise above" their troubles and obstacles, and keep forging ahead.

2. Making Decisions with Fewer Mistakes

Whether a decision was "good" or "bad" can be judged by how you felt as a result of the decision. In the same way, mistakes are simply what we call choices that resulted in negative feelings and unhappiness. As you get to know yourself, you will be able to anticipate your feelings in advance. As you work toward your goals, your feelings will tell you if:

a) You are headed in the right direction
b) You need to make a minor adjustment
c) You need to totally change course
d) You are being supported or thwarted by those around you

Throughout the process of pursuing your goals, your upper brain and lower brain will be in constant communication. Try to pay attention to these conversations and direct these conversations in order to either stay on course, or to mutually agree on a new approach.

Ask yourself questions such as:

How do I feel about my occupation?
How do I feel when going to work?
How do I feel when leaving work?
How do I feel with my partner?
How do I feel just before I see my partner?
How do I feel when away from my partner?

3. Staying Focused

As your self-awareness rises you will learn to identify your specific negative emotions. Once you develop the habit of looking for the informational value in your emotions, you will discover it has much to teach you about yourself. Searching for the hidden lesson helps turn a negative emotion into a positive experience. Additionally, I have found that acknowledging the feeling, accepting it, and really "hearing it out," always helps it dissipate. Afterwards, I am able to once again focus on my goals. If the feeling persists, taking action or offering a concession is the next step towards eliminating the negative feelings.

When we are able to quickly calm our negative emotions and re-focus ourselves on our goal, we are said to be "emotionally resilient." In other words, we bounce back from negative feelings. I have found that asking the following questions helps me 'bounce back," by putting things in perspective:

1. How important will this be in ten years?

2. What is my over-riding goal?

3. How long do I want to let this bother me?

4. Is there something I would rather be doing?

Chapter 8

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April 2006 Notes

It has been almost ten years since I first wrote this chapter on goals. I've changed some since then. My life has changed a lot. Sometimes my goal has been just to stop my pain.

Last week I was feeling very suicidal. I was reading about suicide. Thinking about it. This week I feel better, but still unsure of my goals. I don't know if I should go back to Peru for example, and try again to make it work with Laura, go to a country I have never been to before, like India, go back to Australia or Canada, places I both liked, or stay here in Argentina and try to keep my projects going, or at the least, keep writing and working on my website.

I feel very dissatisfied with what people like Goleman, BarOn and Caruso say about goals, achievement, success etc. So I came back to this chapter to read what I wrote about goals.

Some of it makes sense, but some of it seems distant to me now. I was more "goal-oriented" back then. I had a clear goal then of writing my book, and a goal of being happy. My main goal now is stopping my pain, I regret to say. Mostly it is the pain of loneliness, the pain of feeling misunderstood, discriminated against.

When I wrote this chapter in 1996 I hardly knew what it was like to feel discriminated against because of my age. Now I know that feeling all too well. I didn't feel persecuted or misrepresented. I might have felt judged, but it didn't bother me much back then.

So I really don't know what to say about goals now. I guess they are important, but the question still remains, how to set them. How to select goals that will motivate you. But what if you are depressed, as I am? Does setting a goal really work? I don't think a goal, or the achievement of it, can take the place of a hug. In fact, I am sure it can't.


More personal writing...

But getting hugs was not enough for me. I got lots of hugs from Laura, but I still needed to write. I couldn't obtain the right balance between hugs, love and writing. At least I couldn't with her. She needed too much from me. Too much of my time, for example. She always wanted me to go with her when she went somewhere and always wanted to go with me when I went somewhere. I loved her so much but it simply was not working for either of us.

I had some goals here in Argentina. I felt motivated by them. Then I got rejected or felt rejected four times in about two weeks. The two weeks after Laura left. I don't really feel rejected by her, though, interestingly enough. I know she loved me and left for other reasons. Rejection hurts so much. I guess that you could say I am so scared of that feeling now. I am scared to put myself in harms way, as George the dry alcoholic Bush says. It scares me so much. It is stopping me from setting any goals. It is stopping me from living really. Until I so something about that fear, there isn't much point to setting goals. Or maybe if I set a small goal, which doesn't hold much risk of rejection, it will help me start to rebuild my confidence. I truly would rather just leave right now, but something stops me. Mostly it is a desire to help Laura. It isn't really a goal though. Or maybe it is more accurate to say I can't kill myself right now because it hurts me more to think of leaving her without helping her more. I wrote about helping her a bit on my editorial from this morning, btw.

So anyhow, I have no desire to be a goal oriented robot. I want to keep feeling my feelings. Some inner voice tells me it is helpful to both me and the rest of the world to keep writing honestly about my feelings and not just try to manufacture feelings to set some goal I set when I felt differently, or worse yet, some goal that was given to me by someone else.




Note to me eqe97_7x is a copy of original file.