How To Tell If You're Moving Closer or Further From Your Goals
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How To Tell If You’re Moving Closer or Further From Your Goals

Plus One, Minus One

Before you start reading, take a minute to think back on the major decisions you’ve made in your life. Regardless of your age and experience, I’m sure you can recall the huge moments in your life that have molded you into the person you are today. And I’m sure you also realize that if you were to have made a different decision during those big moments, your life would not be the same as it is right now.

But what if I told you that it’s not just the big stuff that matters? That even the small decisions you make on a daily basis accumulate over time to define the essence of your entire being? You may have heard of the butterfly effect, which hypothesizes that even the smallest change in the past could have resulted in a drastically different present or future. I’m not going to get into the whole mathematics of chaos theory or anything like that (thank God), but I do want to talk about how the choices and decisions we make today can have a dramatic effect on the people we become tomorrow.

I was struck by an idea discussed briefly in a video posted on Everyday Power Blog which our narrator credits to Abraham Maslow, who states that every decision we make in life has a positive or negative effect on ourselves and our world. We can think of these decisions as either being “plus one” or “minus one”; that is, they either help move us forward in life, or end up holding us back.

I recently wrote a piece for CareerAddict in which I discussed some of the “minus one” actions many of us take on a daily basis, sometimes without even realizing it, and how they build over time, pushing us farther and farther away from our goals. Although I want to identify these negative actions, I thought it would be a good idea to use this space to focus on the “plus one” actions we can that will ultimately propel us to greatness.

Making Moves

Minus One: Waiting for “When it’s right”

If you’re reading this, I imagine you have at least one major dream for what you want your life to be. Unfortunately, so many of us stop ourselves at the “dream” stage, coming up with excuse after excuse as to why you don’t want to get started working toward your dream right now. You know the kind: “I had a long week of work,” or “I’m feeling kind of sick today,” or “It’s raining out. Tomorrow will be nice and I’ll be much more motivated.” Every time you decide against moving forward, you’re not just standing still—you’re moving backwards.

Plus One: Just Do It

I hate to use the old Nike cliché, but if you have a dream, there is no better time to start working toward it than right now. Even if you’re tired or sick, do something that will get you closer to attaining your goals. The weather’s nasty? So what? Are you really going to let water falling from the sky stop you from getting where you want to be in life? I know you’d much rather curl up on the couch and throw on some Netflix, but how will that benefit the future “you”? It won’t. Do something that will add to your life in even the minutest way. These little “plus ones” will add up over time, and you’ll thank yourself when your efforts pay off.

Making Assumptions

Minus One: Assuming the Best or the Worst

Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthew Band sings in his song True Reflections: “You think your life is like a movie / Where it all works out in the end.” Newsflash: It’s nothing like a movie at all. Your life won’t simply run its course and “work out” for you if you haven’t put any effort into improving your situation. This goes along with the last “minus one,” in that every moment you excuse yourself from doing something to move forward in life—while thinking there will always be time “tomorrow”—is time lost that you’ll never get back.

On the other hand, assuming that nothing will ever go your way can be just as bad for your overall being. When you neglect to put effort into a task because you assume you’ll fail anyway, you’re letting your own mind get in the way of your goals. Ironically, though our minds are capable of great things, we can also let our thoughts hinder our ability to take steps in the right direction.

Plus One: Having Realistic Expectations

Let me be clear here: I’m not saying that if you always put 100% into everything you do that you will without a doubt achieve your goals. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. However, if you have realistic expectations about certain outcomes, you’ll be able to see the progress you’ve made for what it is, even if you fall short of your ultimate goal. You’ll find many more “plus one” experiences even in failure than you will by not even trying at all.

Facing Criticism

Minus One: Letting positive comments go to your head, and negative comments to get you down

Throughout your life, there will always be those skills which you excel in, and those which…well, aren’t your strong suit. And throughout your life, you’re going to be praised for your best performances, and admonished for your missteps. In either case, it’s how you react to these criticisms that define your being over your lifetime. If you live life thinking you’re simply the best at something and allow your inflated ego to make you lazy, you’ll never reach your true potential. On the other hand, if you take negative criticism to heart and think you’ll never succeed at a certain skill, you’ll have set yourself up for failure over and over again throughout your life.

Plus One: Using positive and negative comments as learning experiences

However, if you take your ego out of the equation, you’ll start taking criticism how it’s meant to be taken: as a means to improve. Of course it feels good to receive a compliment, but instead of allowing your emotions to take over, focus on what the compliment means: You have talent, so make sure you keep up the hard work. Don’t rest on your laurels, or you’ll end up falling behind someone else more willing to put in the effort necessary to succeed.

Similarly, while it definitely hurts your heart to receive negative commentary on your work, don’t take the words as a personal affront. Instead, realize that someone else went out of their way to pinpoint your shortcomings so that you don’t have to. Rather than getting down on yourself, focus on improving the area of your performance they commented on so that you can wow ‘em the next time around.

Seeking Perfection

Minus One: Playing Life on “Easy Mode”

This ties in everything we’ve spoken of so far, in that so many times we wait for when we’re absolutely certain we’ll succeed to even take a step in the right direction. We apply to the college we know we’ll get accepted into; we sign up for the classes we know we’ll pass with minimal effort; we take the job we know we’ll be good at, even if it isn’t what we really want to do with our lives. And we do all this because we want to be assured that we’ll succeed every step of the way. But are we really living? As the heading implies, this is the equivalent of playing a video game on “easy mode.” Sure, we were able to go through the motions and complete the obstacles in front of us, but because we set the bar so low we never ended up getting the full experience we should have gotten.

Plus One: Being the Best “You” that You Can Be

The most successful people in the world know there’s no such thing as perfection, at least in human form. They acknowledge, even embrace, their shortcomings, and use them as a springboard toward self-improvement. They never look for the easy way out; in fact, they continuously challenge themselves by purposely placing themselves in increasingly difficult situations. When you play life on “easy mode,” you might not face any “minus one’s,” but you also won’t face any “plus one’s” either. By seeking out opportunities to challenge yourself every chance you get, you may experience your fair share of setbacks, but in the long run you’ll ultimately end up much further ahead.

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