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BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 2018
Achieving Goals in an Unpredictable World
We live in a dynamic environment. When planning, we can't account for all possibilities. We must be flexible.
Bend, shift and dodge all those walloping haymakers that life unpredictable throws. We are goal directed. Our behaviors move us towards a purpose, whether the goal is consciously defined or not. We male plans; we implement structure, and we gather resources with the purpose obtaining or gaining something of worth. We see a destination and chart our path. This is what we do. We can foresee some of the problems that may interfere with goal obtainment but not all. The surrounding environment changes and success depends on our ability flexibly adapt.
Some goals are very broad like avoiding pain and securing happiness; other goals very specific like getting a date with Jennifer or being promoted to program manager. The broad goals, such as avoiding pain, are biologically programmed and are a driving force for action. We often function unaware of many of these biological drives. They easily become maladaptive focusing on immediate feedback from the environment—we feel sad, guilty, happy, or angry. The specific goals are conscious efforts to achieve the underlying current of the biological goals. We want to date Jennifer because we believe it will satisfy our need for happiness.
Underlying all goals is the desire to survive. Whether that desire is formed by an entire organism or possibly as Richard Dawkins suggests from the bundle of selfish genes making up the individual. Charles Darwin’s research concludes that it’s not the strongest that survives, nor the most intelligent but the one that is most adaptable to change. This is not only true for a species but for individuals. The ability to adapt to a wide variety of environments is key to goal fulfillment.
An elegant and successful approach to life requires not only an eye on the final target but conscious recognition of the surrounding morass where we currently reside.
We live in a dynamic environment, constantly moving and evolving. Encountering unplanned events is the norm not a disastrous anomaly of bad luck. Life doesn’t go as planned. Our success in maneuvering around and through the obstacles builds or destroys our futures. Characteristics and values remain steadfast; but behaviors must be flexible. We must redirect focus, re-channeling emotions to adapt to new sets of contexts if we are to successfully navigate the complexity of life. Rigid goal adherence may prove fatal. We must retain sufficient flexibility to recognize when the chosen path proves inadequate, and then make appropriate changes. These changes include massive life changes such as divorce, or something routine such as moving from patience to active pursuit and then back to patience. The flexibility allows us to re-channel the emotion to act into an appropriate behavior within the current context of the environment.
"An elegant and successful approach to life requires not only an eye on the final target but conscious recognition of the surrounding morass where we currently reside."
The concept of flexibility seems simple but the implementation extremely complex, demanding mental resources to discriminate the subtle difference in life demands and opportunities in a wide variety of situations; and then adjust responses to effectively respond.
Many goals are enjoyed in the comfortable, protected confines of our mind. We bounce the pleasurable thoughts through the pleasure-seeking circuits of the brain, pondering how wonderful it will be to have money, lose the weight, or get married to Jennifer. The contemplation perceives no challenge—just the reward.
But life interferes, once we step foot on the path to obtainment. The strength of the desire is often shaken when we engage in the hot emotions of change as we encounter the frustrations and temptations of the unyielding world. We must shift focus back and forth between the goal and the current environment, re-evaluating plans, adjusting routes and gathering sufficient resources. Sometimes the anticipated joys collapse, and we quit. Oddly, quitting may be an adaptive and appropriate response; other times quickly relinquishing goals hampers our lives and relegates us to a limited existence in an unsatisfying world.
The skill to properly use flexibility must constantly be nurtured. We improve when we are open to wisdom, learning from the environment, others and painful failures. We gather knowledge throughout life giving the wisdom to know when to stand, when to walk, and when to turn and run. We better succeed when we can accept change—the ebb and flow of existence. Our success follows constant evaluations of our current direction, the surrounding environment, and the willingness to make necessary adjustments.