When Committing to Your Goals Stops Being a Good Thing

Breaking our promises to ourselves is how we build better lives around who we are today.

David Rhoades

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Photo by José Martín Ramírez Carrasco on Unsplash

I make plans compulsively. When my wife and I went to a food truck festival with friends, I planned for how to maximize the number of stalls we could hit with minimal wait times. As soon as I got food from one stall, I rushed our friends to the next. God bless them for patiently following me along instead of telling me to chill the fuck out.

It’s not like I enjoy making plans. I do it because I buy into the illusion that, by making plans, I can control the future. But I can’t. It sounds ridiculous even as I type it out. So then, what are plans actually for?

Plans are about the present, not the future

Oliver Burke’s description of plans in Four Thousand Weeks resonates with me; because certainty is not guaranteed, our plans are nothing more than statements of intent. They’re good for exactly that reason: they clarify your intent in the present. They’re not guarantees of what will happen, and they’re not protections against the unexpected. Plans are incredibly fragile because they’re based on who we are and what we know now, not based on what will happen in the future.

When we worry about the future, we use plans to comfort ourselves in the present.

But I’m learning a better way of engaging with the future. Instead of compulsively holding onto plans out of anxiety, I’m learning to be curious. I’ll ask myself why I’m worried, or what I’m anxious about. I still use plans to clarify my intent (it’s not a bad thing to sketch out how you want to spend your time, after all), but I don’t pretend that my plans protect me from the unexpected. It’s made me a lot more open to changing my plans, to be more flexible.

We should break (some) of our commitments

In fact, I think changing our plans frequently is actually a good thing in some cases. How many of us are holding ourselves to a commitment we made when we were completely different people? How many of us are holding ourselves to commitments that no longer apply to who we are or what we believe in? I don’t want to…

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David Rhoades

I write about life as a working writer and how to practice sustained creativity for long periods. Subscribe to my weekly newsletter: https://www.rhoadey.com.