There is a class of questions associated with desert islands.
What is it about packing for desert islands that captures imaginations so?
There is little I’m sure to recommend actual desert island stays.
What eight records would you bring?
Who would you take?
What 3 books would you bring?
There is an implication that things are somehow limited, somehow finite on this desert island and that you don’t have vast resources. That you have to choose.
I think that, the attraction is that things seem slightly simpler in our mind, in these desert island questions. That the restriction really lets you refine your thinking. Makes your prioritizing simpler.
Simpler than what? Who knows.
But here are some similar questions that I find at least as interesting and only slightly less simple.
- Which 150 people?
- Which 500 books?
- Which 71 years do I want?
(1) Dunbar’s number is a suggested limit to the amount of people one can maintain social relationships with. Different values have been given for it , but usually somewhere from 100 to 250, and most often 150.
Who have I let into my 150 and why? Should I keep them there?
(2) If I read one book a month for the rest of my life, maybe I have 500 books left. What have been my first 500 , what are my next 500 going to be? Why?
(3) Globally the average life expectancy of a man is 71. What have I done with them? Why? What am I doing with the rest of them? Why? Would I let these years I have already lived happen this way again? What would I change? What am I changing to make this year different from last? And next year better than this year?
I live in a Labyrinth of Glass and Mirrors, around which I wander, turning this way and that, largely unaware that most of what I think of as “my” decisions are reactions to these invisible barriers and reflections of myself that I mistake for the universe.
And even these decisions, revisions, re-revisions, epiphanies and re-epiphanies that I have and make in reactions to these barriers and reflections are themselves formed more than anything by barriers and reflections.
I walk a path along a cliffs edge, and it never occurs to me to take a left turn and walk off, because I have a whole bunch of beliefs about my ability to cope with the situation of falling rapidly towards sharp rocks.
We are limited by thousands if not millions of beliefs, and this is largely a good thing. I do not believe I can fly, so I do not try to fly off of tall things. Yay for the Labyrinth!!!
The science varies, but seems in broad agreement we can only keep something like 3-10 things on our mind at a time. So, of course you can’t possibly walk around rethinking every one of your thousands or millions of beliefs at every second. You would be paralysed by analysis.
But there are some things that are unsatisfactory about this whole arrangement. It is great that I don’t have to constantly re-evaluate the option of walking off the cliff, and just get to choose to walk this way or that way, along the path.
But sometimes the path does not lie along a cliff edge and sometimes the best things in life are some distance from the path.
So, I can decide, right that does it, I’m losing weight.
I can make perfectly sensible plans for that, and…. nothing happens… time after time.
Because, familiar, easy to follow paths start appearing everywhere. With names like, don’t rock the boat, its rude to say no, keep your head down, be normal, eat or starve, start tomorrow and on and on…
Is there anything that you want to do? That somehow never makes it through these elaborate, mostly useful, arrangements of glass and mirrors.
And of course the unvicious circle of setting a goal and actually attaining that goal can be a wonderful thing.
1) I can have a goal hit a golf ball towards a tree that is five miles away.
2) I can have a goal to hit a ball that far.
3) I can have a goal to be perfect.
4) I can have a goal to be better than I can possibly be.
5) I can have a goal to paint like a digital camera.
6) I want to be able to play as drums like a drum machine.
7) I want to be able to bench press 5000 kilograms
None of these are an attainable goal. But they are goals for giving me a through line.
For some people some of those goals are so poorly formed they will annoy them greatly for others, they encapsulate some feeling so they’re fine.
So a goal doesn’t have to be attainable but you do want them to be able to give you the basis to inform your decision making.
Given that I want X, is doing Y congruent with that.
OK, given that I want to be able to do 5000 pull ups is chopping my hands off congruent with that?
Well, not really.
OK, how about going for a run?
Well that’s better but I’m not really sure.
How about asking Bob, coach to the pull up king of the universe, what he thinks?
Yes that sounds appropriate.
So you can use vague high level unattainable goals to inform making lower level goals.
You can use vague goals on lower levels to inform specific actions.
You can use unattainable goals, to set concrete sub goals, to set unattainable goals, to set direct concrete action or inaction. I wouldn’t recommend it.
The point is if you get yourself lined up inside towards something that matters, with a plan you believe is truly moving you towards that, you will know. And then you wont really care about how its formulated.
It can be a great thing having a measurable goal. I can tell whether I’m there, or not. I can tell how far I have to go. It can be very motivating.
It can be a terrible thing to have a measurable goal. I can see the yawning chasm between where I need to be and where I am. It can be very demoralizing.
It can be a great thing to have a measurable goal. I can see all the progress I have made by that measure. I can focus on that one next action that moves the needle.
It can be a terrible thing to have a measurable goal. It can blinker my attention on the measurement, when I need to be realizing something else.
It can be a great thing to have a measurable goal. It can really free up my attention to notice what really matters.
It can be a great thing to have a hammer, as long as I keep my eye on what I’m hitting with it and why.
It can be a terrible thing to have a hammer when a 2 year old gets a a hold of it and starts hitting things in my house to see what happens.
What are your goals? What three things do you want most in life?
When my friend asked her 7 year old this, her daughter had started answering before my friend had finished the question. She spoke instantly and doubtlessly.
“Be a princess, live on farm, have a hundred horses.”
It is surprising, impressive and a little bit intimidating to watch someone reach into their mind and instantly verbalize desire so simply and finally. And it is powerful to know what you want, to name it and to pursue it. Being an “adult”, I frequently find this hard and sometimes impossible.
For some things it is really obvious, I’m going to watch some more episodes of Outlander tonight and eat chocolate, which moves me towards my goal of eating all of the chocolate and watching all of the Outlander series. My definite steps are my definite goals.
On another note I’m reading Wittgenstein, I don’t really know why, but I’m interested in infinity and logic at the moment and a random comment in an Amazon review lead me there. I read a bit, don’t hugely understand it, get a bit bored, but something keeps bringing me back, there is something there, an itch.
Feelings and words don’t always match up .Something can not make sense and feel right. Something can make perfect sense and feel completely wrong.
Apparently the Gold Standard in goal setting is and has been SMART goals, you’ve probably heard of them.
But, I’ve been thinking a lot of the best things I’ve done in my life have been some or none of these. So peoples goals don’t have to be S.M.A.R.T. They don’t need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic or timely. They don’t even need to be recognizable as goals.
Jan can think, there is a sense of yearning that I get when I look at that beautiful oil painting.
For someone else an adequate response to that feeling, that they’ve attached to those words, might be might be to decide they actually want more day to day beauty in their life, maybe a living room makeover is in order.
For someone else that feeling they have attached to those words may recall to them their favourite poet and an idea they have hidden somewhere in them, a great poem or thought that they have a deep desire to share with the world.
For someone else that feeling they’ve attached to those words, may be the call to embark on a hobby or career as an artist, start drinking lots of absinthe and chop some of their ear off.
For someone else that feeling they have attached to those words, might be due to the shed in the corner of the painting, that reminds them that they feel one with the world when they garden and how they’ve really been meaning to put in that shed at the bottom of the lawn, so they can really take their gardening to the next level.
Jan does not need a perfect formulation to begin, she is not Moses on a mountain waiting on the Lord for laws written in stone, she is Jan saying quietly to herself, “How about this? How about that? And how could I begin?”