Remember Aladdin and his magic lamp? Most of us grew up hearing this classic tale from The Arabian Nights which also inspired Aladdin, the popular Disney animated film with the genie brought to life by actor Robin Williams.
What if we could be granted a gift as incredible as one fulfilled wish? Would we wish for health, happiness or something materialistic, like a trip around the world or a winning lottery ticket?
I share something simple, but very effective, called The Genie Exercise in my book, Beyond Willpower and I’m going to share it with you now. Close your eyes and imagine that Aladdin’s genie is standing right in front of you. The two of you are totally alone. The genie grants you one wish and there are just two catches. You can’t wish for more wishes and you can’t ask for something that will take away someone else’s free will.
What’s the first wish that pops into your head? Embrace that gut reaction and don’t filter your response. I know it’s difficult, but don’t wish for what you think your friends, family and other loved ones would expect or approve from you. This is between you and the genie.
We live in a society of dreamers and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as I mentioned last week, we can unintentionally sabotage our achievement of those dreams and goals. The problem isn’t within the practice of goal setting, which in and of itself is very positive, but rather the goals we set for ourselves and our attitudes toward them. When our goals are externally-focused and we fear not achieving them, it actually creates stress, which holds us back in every single area of our life.
External goals will never get us what we really want because you will invariably experience one of three possible outcomes:
- If you achieve your external or goal, you’ll experience temporary joy. A dear friend of mine dreamed of writing a New York Times bestseller. Finally, after 25 years of pursuing this goal, he did it! Two and a half weeks later he confided in me that he felt a major let down and he went into a deep depression and developed some health problems. Why? He had hinged all his hopes on this one goal to remove all of his problems in life and make a particular set of dreams come true. Before long he put it behind him, only to move on to the next external thing that he thought would bring him happiness -- a typical cycle of stress that so many of us subscribe to.
- If you achieve your external goal, you’ll immediately feel like your ladder is up against the wrong building. Like a popular band that finally has a hit record, we often feel disillusioned once we achieve a goal we’ve worked toward for so long. I work with a lot of performers, entertainers, professional athletes and others who are multimillionaires. The majority of them are stressed to the max, feverishly working toward their next platinum album or sports record or sales goal, paranoid they are going to blow it and lose it all Occasionally I’ll come across that rare individual who is wealthy and famous AND happy and content. They’ll tell me that they’re not happy and content because of the money and fame. On the contrary, it’s because they know that internal love and truth are more important than any end result or external circumstance.
- If you don’t achieve your external goal, you will often go into full-blown hopelessness and despair with no turning back. Sadly I have seen many people toward the end of their lives deal with regret for the life they did not lead. I’ve worked with elderly country music stars who would curse the many awards lining their walls, saying, “I’d give every bit of this fame to live in love and joy and peace, to have prioritized my family and spent time with them and the people I love.”
These are the reasons why an external circumstance is always the wrong answer to the question, “What do you want right now more than anything else?”
Now reflect on that answer again and ask yourself two more questions:
- If you got what you most wanted in question 1, what would that do for you and what would it change in your life?
- If you got the things that were your answers to both questions 1 and 2, how would you feel?
The answer to this last question is your true goal. It’s the ultimate internal state, the feeling of peace, contentment, joy, happiness, that you hope will be brought about by the external response you might give the genie.
The path toward healthy goals is to focus on the internal state you want in question 3. If you want peace, seek peace in the present. If you want love, seek love in the present. This takes the pressure off to achieve the external circumstance, which paradoxically, frees you up to actually go after that external goal. When you can go for that goal because you want it, not because you need it for love/joy/peace, you are energized to pursue it for the right reasons, and not reasons fueled by stress.
This New Year, let’s focus on achieving love, joy and peace rather than a promotion, a boyfriend or a better body. There is nothing wrong with those things, but they won’t buy you your true goal – the inner peace you truly seek.