Sometimes it’s Better When You’re a Giant Mess

It seems that there’s two divergent camps when it comes to strategies for living.

Camp one says: get organized, get clear, set goals, be concise, and dream big.

Camp two says: give up, stop caring, kills your goals and reclaim ownership of your mind.

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people lately about this topic. I’ve written a whole series about  following your dreams, then recently switched gears to writing about topics from the second camp. Some people have naturally been confused by this and one reader had this to say:

“I was just browsing the blog again, and I noticed things used to be all “You can do anything if you really want to” and “Dream big” and all, but lately it’s more like “Kill your goals,” “Stop caring” and “Give up.”

What happened?”

I can really see why people might get confused about this. I think the biggest problem is that people think “doing anything you want” and “giving up” are conflicting. Makes sense to me. The first is a very positive statement; the second seems negative.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s all about context.

If you have big dreams and a “go for it all” mindset, that’s awesome. But if you have the wrong kind of goals (usually ego-driven, instead of heart centered) you probably won’t succeed. And if you do, you’ll probably feel mildly fulfilled for a little while, but you’ll naturally end up craving another achievement.

Achievement (something intentionally positive) becomes an addiction. However, if you set heart driven goals, get really clear about them, and start taking action, you’ll feel a much different response. You’ll be naturally motivated.

Looking at the opposite side of the coin, giving up, killing your goals, and all of these seemingly negative decisions can be really positive. You can give up on things that don’t serve you. You can give up on goals driven by the fleeting desires of your ego. You can stop caring about things that really don’t matter, like pleasing others and trying to be perfect.

Of course, giving up on your dreams and what’s dear to your heart isn’t right either.

The difference is the context and making decisions from your heart.

Here’s the problem and it’s something I, myself, have struggled with…

Even heart-centered decisions can become unintentionally muddled with ego-driven conditioning.

I’ll just use myself as a quick example. I’m currently working on a book. It’s about reclaiming your dreams, and I talk about many of the principles this blog focuses on. Overall, I really believe in the stuff this book brings to the table. I think there are a lot of ideas and exercises (yes, actual actionable items, not just mental masturbation) that have been missing from this field. Some of them are just really cool things I’ve learned from other people, too, that I think deserve to be repeated.

So, as I’ve been writing this book — which is very authentic, and done with the intention of providing genuine value — I’ve gotten my ego caught up in it.

What if it’s a total failure? What if I make no money? I need to write x amount of pages every day. I need to do this and that in order for me to feel like I created something really grand, so people can stroke my ego until it balloons and explodes on itself.

All of these thoughts are my ego muddling my original and very authentic endeavor. I’ll be honest with you… it’s very hard not to do this. It’s damn hard, really.

The worst part is that it completely ruins things that should be fun and enjoyable. That’s not to say there won’t be times where things will be hard, or you’ll have to push yourself, you will. But usually you can do this by re-centering yourself on your heart-driven purpose.

It takes guts to do this. Sometimes it means dropping projects that you put a lot of work into. Work that you thought was meaningful, but really wasn’t. Probably because you were listening to someone else’s ideas of what meaning is.

What I’ve found is that organizing is great. Killing your goals, not caring, and giving up can do wonders for your success rate. Having big, massive, bulleted point plans with detailed to-do lists is fine, too.

What really matters is that that is where your heart lies.

If you thrive on details and really clear-cut goals with numbers you can quantify, more power to you. There’s no reason you should disengage from that if it truly makes you come alive. If you lean more toward being laid back, letting the cards fall where they may and using intention, values, and aspirations, you should keep that.

Just be heart-centered. Whenever you get off track, go back to your heart.

This might mean removing a lot of the background noise from your life. It could mean turning off the TV, ignoring your parents, peers, and co-workers. It might mean doing some real soul searching. You might have to go out to the desert on a vision quest, or do a walkabout. Whatever it takes, you can’t afford not to do this.

What this all comes down to (and the reason for the title of this post) is that life is pretty messy. You’ll probably never have everything figured out in advance. You probably won’t be able to create a complete step-by-step plan for your dreams because you won’t know what they are until you get there. You can’t calculate your heart’s desires. Sure, you can create a spreadsheet for your finances, how many calories and carbs you intake, but you just can’t do that with your heart.

That’s because your heart is kind of a messy place. All the roads within it aren’t straight, parallel, and perpendicular. Sometimes they’re more like spaghetti.

In fact, you probably won’t know its path until you start walking. So maybe it’s better to embrace the mess and the discord. At least that’s what I’m learning to do… constantly moving and realigning with the direction of my heart.

Join me? Us dreamers could use some company.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Jay December 29, 2008 at 9:24 pm

I enjoy the point of view you take on life. Life is not ever going to be a smooth ride with checked off to-do list, and meditation journals filled with daily insights. Life is tough, messy, and unpredictable. Following the heart,like you stated is the only way to avoid getting lost. That darn ego will take you down the wrong path every time. Thanks for the reminder!

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Brian December 29, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Wow, this post hit all of the right notes. I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot lately and how my ego has gotten the best of it’s battle with my heart. I’m definitely going to turn a new leaf and follow my heart into the new year. Thanks for posting this, it always helps to see this support!

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Tom - StandOutBlogger.com December 29, 2008 at 9:42 pm

What a great read! So challenging. I am naturally a heart person, but lately I have been spending a lot of time look at my goals and working towards them, so this has been a real reality check!

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Barb Chamberlain December 29, 2008 at 10:15 pm

This reminds me of a similar blog post about being less intentional, at Halfway to Normal: http://twurl.cc/asb.

I’m reading your blogs and hers both thanks to Twitter, which for me is mostly about serendipity and not about meeting goals of a certain number of followers or building my personal brand or anything else all that measurable or concrete.

It’s fun, satisfying, and full of serendipitous discoveries like this one. I don’t think it would be nearly as enjoyable if I were hyper goal oriented.

However, I’d better make sure I don’t lose the time for following my real dreams in the addictive qualities of the Twitterverse :D.

@BarbChamberlain

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zennippon December 30, 2008 at 5:01 am

Great post as usual. I have consciously decided to drop a number of projects after asking what is the outcome of this project, what does it give me. If the end result is a good feeling I go for it. If it feels habitual and repeatitive I drop it. It seems to be working. I have rescaled one project to something more meaningful and present and that feels good.

About the going into the desert stuff. That isn’t an option for me, two very young children. However I have changed it to 5 minutes sitting on the edge of the bed after waking up. And just paying attention to the conscious mind as it begins it’s boot up sequence!

Happy Trails!

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J.D. Meier December 30, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Yeah, one big ball of mud!

Nice distillation and distinctions.

I think it’s Nightingale that framed two sets of people:
1. goal people
2. river people

Goal people are more about organizing goals and timelines and enjoy achievement. River people are more about going with the flow, exploring and enjoying the experience regardless of achievement. Neither is right or wrong, just different. But if you know your natural preference, you can use the right tools for the job.

Interestingly, I found a high correlation with the Myers Briggs types. For example, INFP seems to fit more river-oriented.

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jessica December 30, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Hi Jonathan,
So glad to see you back posting – I have missed your posts and check daily for updates!
Glad to hear you are nearly at the launch stage with your e-book, I can’t wait to download my copy and start reading when it becomes available.

And thanks for this post as well – I must admit, I was thinking the same thing as the person who wrote to you. I was wondering if maybe it had all becoe too hard and you were having some difficulties. I should have known better, this philosophy is something I’m trying to achieve. I’ve always been the kind of person who has goals but feels weird, even guilty, for the reasons behind those goals. For example, I’m working on my novel right now, and my lifelong dream is to be a successful novelist and have my books read my thousands (millions?) of people all over the world. I want to pour my heart out into my writing and for my readers to get chills when they read the nits that strike them personally. But I’m also feeling bad because I think: am i just doing this to get my ego stroked? Do I just want to be greedy and have heaps of money? Do I want to fame?
These things make me doubt myself, and my intentions. Lately I’ve been working on doing a 5 minute meditation (I am impatient) focusing on feeling joyful, utilising white light visualisation. It’s something of a mishmash of techniques that works for me, it helps to centre me, and most importantly, each time I do it I remember the true inclination of my heart and soul: I am a writer and a creator, and without writing and creating I would be a shell of the person I was meant to be.

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Zoe December 30, 2008 at 8:44 pm

A very intriguing post. I find it works best for me to be flexible and open when it comes to my broad “path” and direction. As long as I’m flexible in that respect, I can make lists and goals to stick to the smaller steps.

I’ve chosen a lifestyle of motion, one in which I have no idea where I’ll be by the end of 2009. And though it can be intimidating at times, it’s ultimately wonderful to fully embrace choices and possibilities.

I’m looking forward to checking out your book… :)

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Johnny Kuo December 30, 2008 at 8:54 pm

I’ve been trying to “kill my goals” and “follow my heart” in my own life, though I’ve been framing it a little differently in my own mind. I agree that ego-driven motivations bring only fleeting satisfaction and won’t give true contentment. Aligning your goals to match your personal values (i.e. following your heart) brings much greater fulfillment and allows you to let go of the burdens arising from ego-centric desires. Perceiving your personal values are, though, requires some reflection to untangle the metaphorical spaghetti strands of your heart.

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Pearl December 31, 2008 at 4:52 am

I love absolutely everything you have written, and I am looking very forward to reading your ebook when it comes out.

Sometimes I wish you wrote in a less conversational style, however. I think that the gravity of your ideas gets bogged down by this at times. I find myself skipping over whole phrases to get to the meat of what you’re saying.

This is perhaps because I no longer live in the U.S., and the wordy U.S. conversational speech style is not something I’m used to anymore. Please use fewer words if you find yourself typing many commas.

My 2 cents.

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Vincent December 31, 2008 at 10:21 am

Hi Jonathan,

It takes great courage to be able to forsake goals that we are working on but when we found that if the goals does not serve us, it will definitely be a wise decision to kill the goal.

Cheers
Vincent
Personal Development Blogger

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Linda Bouchard December 31, 2008 at 11:26 am

After spending some time looking for the perfect 2009 resolution, it suddenly became clear: I’m putting myself on auto-response.

I know my objective, as for the way to go… I’ll figure it out.

Thanks to you, have a good 2009! :-)

Linda

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Shann December 31, 2008 at 11:47 am

Hi Jonathan,

Another excellent post.

Thanks for your never ending, fine contribution to the land of personal development.

Happy New Year!

Shann
Personal Development Life Coach

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Jonathan December 31, 2008 at 3:14 pm

@Brian: You’re definitely not alone. There’s a lot of us out there. Keep dreaming man, don’t give up the fight.

@Pearl: Thanks for the suggestion. I’m actually a pretty big newbie in the writing world. I only started writing seriously in Feb. 08. So I definitely still have a lot to learn.

Balancing a conversational style with being informative, persuasive, philosophical and useful is definitely a challenge. But I’m up for it. =)

@Zoe: That’s exactly my intention for 2009. I have a lot of awesome ideas and aspirations. But I’d rather live based on simply being alignment with my values and release intentions instead. It’s just a lot more effective for me than setting concrete, tangible goals.

@Linda: Awesome. That’s something I’m still working on myself. Let me know how it goes.

@Shann: Thank you too for all your support in 2008. It’s been cool getting to know you and your blog. =)

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chris zydel January 1, 2009 at 1:37 am

Great Post Jonathan,

I notice for myself lately, that if I try to do the goal setting, rah rah thing from a non-heart centered place I get really, really tired and just can’t do it. It’s like I’ve just run out of gas for that old way of doing things. Which I know is a good thing but it still feels weird.

Like your analogy about how following your heart is like spaghetti. Messy, but way tastier than the old way.

Keep up the good writing work! And Happy New Year.

Chris

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Richard January 2, 2009 at 1:13 am

Hi Jonathan, I’ve been reading your site occasionally since around the third quarter of 2008 I enjoyed your articles about living your dreams and this one gives a whole new view on achieving things with a more natural (or lazy?) way of doing things. I’m now a subscriber and look forward to more articles from you. Keep up the good work!

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Julie Acda (Fitness Wife) January 4, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Hi Jonathan,

It’s my first time visiting your blog. Wow, what a great, thought provoking post. You’re absolutely right. I sometimes find myself getting inspired to start a new project, and then get too caught up in the lists, plans, and “must get this done by x date” that it starts to become a chore, and I forget why I started it in the first place. What I’m trying to remember is it’s okay (and healthy) to diverge from or even completely abandon “the plan” to achieve my original intention, as long as my original intention was from the heart. I also try to make sure the action I’m taking is out of INSPIRATION, not DESPERATION.

Keep the great posts coming!

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Grady Ormsby January 4, 2009 at 4:01 pm

The problem with dreams and goals is that they are projections into the future. Except as an ego-driven and illusory attachment, the future doesn’t exist.

Want to fulfill your wildest dreams? Simply know who you are. Be who you are. Enjoy who you are.

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99ppp January 4, 2009 at 11:53 pm

This post uses the second person quite a bit. Too many “You”s, not enough “I”s or at the very least “we”, imo.

Each frames the world in a personal unique way, although there may be similarities. What works for one, may not work for another.

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Danny Dawson January 5, 2009 at 9:04 am

When your life is as messed up as mine its as hard to abandon your targets as it is to reach them.

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Jenna Schieffer January 5, 2009 at 4:01 pm

I agree, live from the heart, however make sure it is a coherent heart. Heart rate variability has a huge effect on our mental and physical processes. It can be coherent or chaotic, it is along a spectrum. We can learn to generate a coherent HRV and transform internal perceptions and stressors. I like to use Heart Math tools for this. Check out the research on neurocardiology and get to know about your heart brain!

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CathD January 6, 2009 at 5:27 am

Hi Jonathan,

I’ve enjoyed following your progress and the shifts you’re making in your ideas about personal development. I went through the same process, where I initially began with what I now understand to be “fear-based” personal development methods. This is the stuff that emphasizes the idea of control and has an underlying assumption that, if you just plan and do enough, and create enough structures to anticipate and control enough elements in the system, you’ll get what you want. This works as a basic success strategy – planning, preparation and hard work usually gets you above-average results. More recently, I’m coming to understand that this strategy can only take you so far. It soon becomes a limitation if it’s the only strategy you have, because it’s based on the belief that you can control all the elements in the system – and therefore places great responsibility on you to try to control the elements. I call this success strategy “surviving and striving”. What I want is “thriving”. And for me, thriving is about giving up the NEED to control everything. If you’re trying to control everything, you’ll have to keep your game small. If you give up the need to control everything, you can open yourself to much bigger games. Of course this is scary and takes alot of courage – which is the reason why so many people stick with “surviving and striving”. For me, “thriving” is a love-based strategy, because I see love as the opposite of fear. Love is open, accepting, unconditional, doesn’t measure everything, enjoys being in the moment rather than getting lost in worrying about the future or feeling bad about the past, and love wants to expand, and is willing to give up trying to control in order to expand. What shifted me? I’d love to say that it was my incisive mind and ability to make sense of it all, but it was probably events that made it blatantly obvious to me that, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t control everything – so I might as well stop trying. What a release! My tagline “success to significance” reminds me of this shift from surviving and striving to thriving everyday. And gradually, I’m learning to be more by letting go.

It’s always nice to read or hear someone else’s story that resonates with you – thanks for sharing.

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Kristin T. January 6, 2009 at 10:39 am

Hi. I’m reading your blog for the first time, and it seems like the perfect complement to things I’ve been thinking and blogging about. I love it when that happens!

In particular, I’ve been struggling with how much I over-plan and -think everything. It’s my nature, but the best things in my life have been unplanned–they’ve come about when I was open and attentive. So for 2009, I’m experimenting with the idea of being “less intentional” about everything. I really like how you put it: Life is messy. You won’t be able to plan out every step. Be heart-centered.

Just what I needed to hear. Thanks for this post!

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Danielle LaPorte January 6, 2009 at 1:57 pm

J,
this is fine philosophical stuff. It points people to be responsible to their own truth – and it’s show that your mind is ever opening. The best teaching is sharing the journey – so way to go.
Love,
Danielle
http://www.whitehottruth.com

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Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching January 6, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Thanks for this post. One perspective that came to mind when you were talking about the frustration with the ego interfering with your writing process was how much knowledge of yourself you must be gaining in your project. On one level it’s annoying when “I’ve got to impress people” and other ego-driven urges come up, and on the other every time we confront the ego, and see that it’s separate from us, we get a clearer idea of who we are and aren’t. — Best, Chris

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Katie West/Life Renovations January 8, 2009 at 6:14 am

Thanks Jonathan.
I like how you pulled together the two different ways of thinking about dreams. I also continually enjoy your maverick style with personal development. You often take an approach that makes me do a bit of a mental sommersault which helps me to arrive at new conclusions.
Thanks for the breath of the new.
Peaceout,
Katie

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Very Evolved January 9, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I’m a neurosceintist so I follow my brain rather than my heart, but your sentiments are good ones.

Getting organized, setting goals or letting go and killing your goals are all valid approaches. The only thing that matters is that you discover what you like doing and then go after that anyway that works.

Patrick
veryevolved.com

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Tara January 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Hi Jonathan – I think the perceived conflict between “doing what you want” and “giving up” is similar to the misperceptions about the Buddhist tenet of non-attachment. Non-attachment does not mean that you are detached from caring about anything. It means you have released your grasp on the outcome, and opened yourself to opportunity. It is in perfect alignment with your points about killing goals that may actually be limiting.

Thanks for the great post!

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Elizabeth January 11, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Jonathan —
Your post reminds me of a Fast Company article I wrote about here http://originalremixed.wordpress.com/2008/02/22/on-work-life-balance/. The premise of the article (“Balance Is Bunk”) is that our quest for balance (on an every day basis) is an elusive one, particularly if we are high achieving sorts, because success in our various endeavors necessitates our undivided attention. We may have to ignore our spouse or child while cramming to finish a report. The author of the article suggests that we “embrace imbalance.” Over time, we end up with a “balanced portfolio” of successes in various life areas.

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LifeMadeGreat | Juliet January 11, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Hi

I go with you on the importance of being heart-centred. I can really relate to all of your ego-issues when writing the book.

In terms of the two different techniques or approaches that you have been writing about, I think that it is a matter of the context. Each one will have instances where it is appropriate, but it is a matter of having that underlying foundation of conviction that will enable you to choose when to apply which methodology.

Juliet

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Dmitri Eroshenko January 12, 2009 at 9:01 am

Great post Jonathan. Accepting things as they are makes life so much easier. Especially accepting that perfect order is utopia. Be here and now, even if it’s a mess :)

http://twitter.com/dmitri_e

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Rebecca January 24, 2009 at 10:51 pm

You post reminded me of the a piece of advice my PhD supevisor gave me way to know when to give up. He obviously didn’t intend for me to give up my main goal of gaining the degree, but to know when to stop attempting a portion of my project that wasn’t gaining results. Sometimes we need to stop and find a new path to the our goal.

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Chad Prigmore March 28, 2009 at 10:29 am

Love this post – this is a message that needs to be heard. We can get so wound up in the details of the journey, that we never have time to enjoy the journey.

I don’t think it’s possible to live in the moment if we’re constantly analyzing, adjusting, and planning every aspect of our lives. We need to exist where we are – right here and right now.

Life isn’t like a highway with nice, predetermined directions. It’s a river that we need to flow with.

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Sara March 30, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Jonathan,

This is my favorite line of this post, “Whenever you get off track, go back to your heart.” Don’t get me wrong, I loved everything you said, but this line captured my attention. Lately, I’ve been getting off track with my blog by looking at stats and then basing my success or failure on them. I realized I was forcing my writing, rather than letting it just come from heart. I appreciate this excellent reminder:~)

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Jim January 20, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Ha ha great post.. Sometimes the more we try to get organized the more we get disorganized

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