How To Be Goal-Free When You Have Obligations
“How can someone be goal-free when they have obligations?” This is a great question and one of the most frequently asked in regards to leading a goal-free lifestyle. The essence of Goal-Free Living is about being present and having the life you want now. But when you have obligations, it may often appear necessary to sacrifice present moment happiness in order to satisfy established commitments. Fortunately, this is not true. You simply need to shift your relationship to commitments by using three simple concepts.
- External Integrity vs Internal Integrity
- Positions vs Interests
- Choosing When You Have Only One Option
External Integrity vs Internal Integrity
If you never commit to anything, you never have to worry about keeping your commitments. However, this is neither realistic nor desirable. I have often heard the misconception stated that Goal-Free Living is a lifestyle to support “commitment-phobes.” In reality, it is quite the opposite. Being goal-free is about the ability to powerfully commit to each and every moment. This starts by ensuring that both internal and external integrity are in alignment.
For many, integrity means “being your word.” I refer to this as “external integrity.” Very simply put, you do what you said you would do.
For example, you said that you would attend a friend’s Tupperware party Saturday night, but now you have a better offer. Cancelling your original plans would show a lack of integrity. The same is true with the commitment of marriage. We make a vow to love, honor, and cherish till death do us part. But sometimes seemingly better offers come about that make us question or reconsider our original commitment. Pursuing a path of infidelity or stopping the marriage prior to the originally negotiated date of “death do we part” is again, a lack of integrity.
External integrity is important. It is what keeps society together. However, it is only half of the equation.
When faced with a commitment, have you ever said “yes” to requests when you really want to say “no?”
This leads to the second half of integrity – “internal integrity” – which is “your word being you.” This is about making commitments that are truly in line with your personal compass. Obvious as that may seem, most people at one point or another commit to things that are not consistent with their values or interests.
You say “yes” to attend your friend’s Tupperware party because you want to support her, even though you would rather be doing something else. Or, after feeling pressure from your significant other, you decide to make the leap into wedded bliss so as not to run the risk of losing your mate. It is in these cases where internal and external integrity are out of alignment, making the commitment feel burdensome.
Do you want to be happier? Make commitments you are willing to keep AND that support your values and interests. This is not always an easy task. It may involve leaning how to say “no” constructively. Or better yet, it may mean generating creative solutions that meet the needs of both parties.
Positions vs Interests
I recently attended a class on negotiating, where two types of negotiating were discussed: position-based negotiating and interest-based negotiating.
Position-based negotiating is when you negotiate over one particular desired outcome, such as the specific amount of money you are willing to pay/receive for a given item. This type of negotiating is one dimensional and leaves little room for creativity. This treats negotiating like a goal. “I want x dollars, and I am going to do what I can to get it.”
On the other hand, interest-based negotiating focuses on the intent behind the goal. What are the wants, needs, and desires that led to the creation of the goal.
Why is this important? If you are in a situation where you made a commitment that is no longer in line with your interests (or never was to begin with), do not view your options as simply black or white: “stay married OR get a divorce” or “go to the party OR do not.” Instead, try to understand the intent behind the original commitment to see if there is another way to satisfy the other’s true need while maintaining your internal integrity.
You no longer want to go to the Tupperware party. Ask your friend why she wanted you there. Maybe it was because she wanted someone to serve food. Or maybe it was because she needed someone to manage the guests. Maybe there is a way you can meet her needs and desires, without actually being in attendance at the party. Or perhaps you only need to be there for the first 30 minutes for your friend to feel satisfied.
Or, your marriage is no longer working for you. Rather than assuming divorce is the only solution, dig deeper. Explore hidden beliefs/assumptions about how you think your marriage should look. There is no one right model for a marriage. Explore the interests, needs, and desires of you and your spouse. Maybe your assumptions – such as how much time you should spend together, what tasks you should perform, or how you should prioritize your financial investments – are not true. This isn’t a negotiation, but rather an exploratory discussion.
Focusing on interests means of finding creative solutions where both parties are willing to change the terms of the commitment so that everyone is happy because it meets the “intent” of the original commitment. Maintaining commitments as they currently exist is a goal. Instead, strive to honor the “intent” of your commitment while meeting the needs of all parties involved. Doing so, you may find that you can develop a win-win solution.
Of course, this is not always possible. There are times when you must honor your commitments, on their original terms. In this situation, the solution is to “choose when you have only one option.”
Choosing when you have one option
This is one of the most powerful concepts, because there are times in life when you don’t have a choice – other than one option. When you can learn to embrace that option – powerfully – you increase your resilience and happiness.
When my wife asked for a divorce many years back, I did not want the marriage to end. Although I pleaded my case, her mind was made up. I would have preferred to make the marriage work, but MY only choice at that point was divorce. Rather than hoping, wishing, and dreaming it could be different, I “chose” divorce and got on with my life. I embraced the one and only option I had.
Conversely, if you no longer want to be married but feel the need to honor your obligation, your only option is to choose marriage. This means giving up the right to wish it were different. You should no longer daydream about how life could have been. You can’t be jealous of others who have the life you (think you) want. When you wish for it to be different, you are not “present” in the marriage. If you can powerfully choose and embrace your one option – marriage – then you can begin to create a new relationship that works for all parties.
Or, back to our Tupperware party example. You agreed to go to the party to be supportive. Afterwards you had regrets. You wished you had said “no.” You start thinking up hollow excuses to get you out of the situation. Doing so would be a lack of integrity. Instead, if you are going to go, choose that option. Stop considering the possibility of bailing out. Don’t “want” other options. Want what you have. Embrace your choice. Doing so will almost always change your attitude about the situation. Therefore, when you do go to the party, you can be “present” rather than having your mind wander off and wish you were somewhere else.
It’s all a matter of choice. Powerfully embrace your responsibilities, not because you have to, but because you want to. Doing so can make any commitment a thing of passion.
Consider these three concepts while making and keeping commitments. Make commitments that are in line with your compass – and then honor those commitments. However, if your interests change over time, “renegotiate” the commitment such that all parties feel whole and complete. And in those cases where changing the terms of a commitment is not possible, powerfully embrace your original obligation with no regrets. These three steps can help anyone live goal-free in a life filled with obligations.