good business mihaly

I read this quote this morning when I flicked open a friend’s book that was sitting on my desk.

“Without goals the mind begins to wander, and more often than not it will focus on unresolvable problems that create anxiety.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Focusing on unresolvable problems: is that the culprit?

I’m wary of the cult of goals, having been burnt so many times at their altar. To arrive at an achievement and discover its hollowness is rather harrowing. Can you really blame goals per se if it is in fact the goal setter who is faulty in their visions and values?

No. I’m rediscovering the value of goals by being sure that I pick goals which bring me joy in and of themselves. Quite often these are very small goals. Things like allowing myself the time to cook lovely meals. I love to cook and I love to eat, and yet I so often don’t schedule enough time for this most fundamental of pleasures.

In fact I’m always looking for a more worthy goal – a goal that will bring me some sort of authentic joy – but they can seem a bit thin on the ground if your focus is too far up in the air.

Many of life’s problems are thankfully quite resolvable. They are almost contemptible in their achievability. Neglect the fundamentals, and we are left wondering why our life lacks a base of sustained pleasure. These highly worthwhile goals include getting out of bed, making that bed, meditation, yoga or some other exercise, some thoughtful prayers, a wholesome meal or two, a clean house, some reading, quite a few compassionate thoughts, lots of patience, creating something beautiful, a bit of time spent on enjoyable activities, providing for your needs through work, and offering yourself in service to the world. It also helps to spend a bit of time each day on a larger vision that aligns to your values, adding another tiny contribution to a larger scheme of sorts.

Of course I just slipped “providing for your needs through work” in there as if it didn’t in fact take up a third of the whole day and have the potential to set the colour and texture of your whole existence. When work takes away from from working on some larger vision – something that actually aligns to your values – the conflict can be agonising.

Inspired by the quote at the top, today I’m reading Csikszentmihalyi’s “Good Business”.

“While for most of human history,” he writes, “people didn’t ‘work’ in the modern sense, even today there are still a few individuals – usually among artists, writers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs – who choose when and how to work and control what they do.”

These people never quite stop working, and yet they are never actually working at all. It is a delightful, but often over-consuming way to live.

But what is it that makes working in a job, rather than for oneself, often so unpleasant?

“Few jobs nowadays have clear goals. Fewer still provide goals that are the worker’s own, rather than the organisations. … Much of what modern workers are required to do on the job is dictated by demands that make sense at some higher organisational level, but are obscure to the worker. … Without well defined goals, both long-term and moment by moment, it is difficult to enjoy what one is doing.”

It seems that we do all, in fact, want well defined goals, but their absence or lack of meaning to us personally in the workplace can make a job highly unpleasant. I’m glad to learn that this sentiment isn’t just confined to me.

Our choice is this: we find an organisation to work for whose goals are clear and align to our own values, or we make a routine of spending and hour or so a day outside of work building a business with a clear goal and suitable values so that it gradually become our bread and butter. This determination requires a focused schedule, and comes about through organisation of your time so that it can happen.

It’s the simplest of things: a goal, and the discipline to say no to things that get in the way. And it can be a small goal like spending an hour a day on building your own business. I agree that focusing on the small goals does bring a lot of peace into my own life. Small goals allow us to focus on the resolvable problems that dissolve our anxiety, rather than add to it.