Lack of Consistent Goal Pursuit

I'm going to try to understand my own lack of consistent goal pursuit in this article. We must start by realizing that the odds that I will be very insightful or successful in this endeavor are low. I will approach it from two perspectives. I will lay out the ideas first and then see how they apply to my story.


First, a unique view that's no longer in favor from phenomenology and existentialism. The idea is that there is no unconscious. There is no repression. Instead, there are just things that we are not conscious of. There are things that we don't know. Instead of the idea that there are things that we were aware that were too painful, this idea says that we never really examined them in the first place.

Let's use an analogy. Imagine you're standing in the middle of a room looking towards one wall. Let's call that wall your conscious awareness. You can't see the wall behind you. With the more traditional idea of the unconscious and repression you aren't aware of the wall behind you because in your past you examined it and found that you didn't like it. Maybe it has black mold on it and you don't want to deal with the problem because it's such a big scary problem. Fair enough.

In the less traditional view the problem is that you haven't examined the wall yet. Maybe you haven't looked at it at all. Maybe you haven't looked at it in a long time. Maybe you passed by it but weren't really paying attention because you were focused on other things. It's not that you've repressed this problem into your unconscious, it's that it never really was in your conscious awareness.

This process of not paying attention to something could be reinforced by a light awareness. Let's say you turn around a bit and take a glance at the wall. It doesn't look that great. Well, you don't need to examine it right now. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. You still haven't examined it enough to really know the extent of the problem. You're not repressing it, you're just moving your attention away from it because it's uncomfortable. You have other things in life to deal with anyway.

If you do that enough then this pattern will become automatic. The process is even called automaticity. Your brain neurons fire in a certain sequence. Things called glial cells are floating around in your brain. They detect this firing and wrap themselves around the neuron. The glial cells harden into myelin. It's like insulation. The creation of this myelin sheath is how you develop habits, patterns, and skills of all sorts. The ends of your neurons also reach out with dendrites and axon terminals and make stronger and more complex connections to reinforce these pathways. Once you've built this pathway it's very hard to break it down. That's part of why habits are so hard to break and part of how addiction works. The myelin sheath will break down if you don't fire it for a long time, or in special circumstances like multiple sclerosis. But, that neural highway wants to be fired. It tries to get you to fire it. If it's something that makes you feel good, if it's something that releases dopamine into your system, then it's really going to pester you to fire it and it's going to be almost impossible to stop.

So, if over your life you deny truly examining and focusing on what you truly want to do then neural circuits will be made that move your awareness away from that option. It will become an automatic habit for you to not focus on what you actually want. You don't have to repress it, you never really examined it.

If you've built that neural circuitry then maybe you won't even be able to answer the question of what you really want.

You could do the same thing with valuing. You repeatedly choose one value over another, for whatever reason. You do this for months, years, decades. What are the odds that you're going to be able to rewire all of these neural pathways wrapped in all of these huge myelin sheaths in your brain? How long would it take? You're stuck.

What would happen if you had this automaticity built in where you didn't pay attention to what you really wanted because you were doing something else right now, and you consistently chose one type of value over another? Depending on what those choices were you might have built neural circuitry that stops you in your tracks.

The second view that I am going to look at is dissociation. It actually goes with what we've been talking about nicely. It doesn't really have to be separate, they can be combined, I think.

We view ourselves in different ways. I defined myself as an intelligent adventurer at one time. I had this symbolic image of a quite resourceful person in my head. I also held several images of myself in the future as what I might become.

The thing is, these ideas the self and the future conceptions were destroyed and left an unfilled vacuum. It wasn't a fast process. It's not so much a traumatic problem as a long, slow, painful destruction.

I had a misadventure in Kenya a few years ago. It was bad, I was told I was going to die, I thought I was going to die, I was locked inside of a room from the outside with bars on the window, with no money because mine had been stolen, vomiting blood and hallucinating, after being poisoned and having a bacterial infection. I ended up getting out alive. That's a chaotic story. But the real problem was what came after.

It took six months and three antibiotic treatments to kill the bacteria. I still didn't get better and found out I have four major spinal deformities. One bone in particular was pressing against my brainstem, which was why I was losing my short and long term memory, had a really high heart rate, an insane migraine for many, many months, and other unfun things.

Over the next couple of years as I struggled forward my ideas about myself and my future slowly died. Failure by failure, my future possibilities were erased. This decreasing ability was devasting. I got a job, couldn't do it. Did it again. And again. And again. I had never had to quite a job because I couldn't do it before. My memory had been above average, I watched it decrease, and decrease, and decrease, until it was well below average. I had had near perfect reading comprehension. Then, I watched myself struggle to understand what I was reading more and more.

I had already chosen to pursue more experiential values over my life and leave creative values until later in life. Now it was only logical to choose quick experiential values. When you don't know if you're going to have a future there is no point in planning for one. Not that that happened right away. I made plans, then realized that it was probably pointless to be making future plans when I did something that made me realize my quite limited abilities and health. Then I would repeat the process. How many repetitions do you need before you just stop thinking about building the future?

Over the last couple of years I've started to rebuild my health. My mind, memory, and reading comprehension are strong. My body is fairly strong. But I'm having a hard time focusing on and doing things that would really build my future.

It's not that I'm not doing anything. I'm editing an international flash fiction horror anthology with my Russian friend Oleg. I contributed a story and we're publishing it later this year. I'm officiating my cousin's wedding next month. I teach English online to kids in China every morning. I'm giving speeches at a Harry Potter festival this summer. I'm writing a comic book with an illustrator. I write articles analyzing lyrics for 88.9 Hey Radio. I have other things in the works. But that's not good enough. It's not good enough by a long shot.

What should I really be doing? I'm not sure. What should I really be pursuing? I'm not sure. What should I really be making? I'm not sure. That's an issue. I'm not sure what I want to make, create, or build to make money. That's a major issue. I still have some limitations physically, so I can't go lift boxes all day, and I need weekly chiropractic adjustments. I also haven't structured my life to have a bunch of third party credentials, i.e. degrees. That means I can't do nothing and fall back on what I've got and coast, because nothing's there to fall back on and there's no momentum to coast on.

I have to be active, and I am active, but I'm still mostly active in the collecting of interesting life experiences rather than the pursuit of a longer term creation. That needs to change, and I know it needs to change, and nevertheless I've been having a hard time doing anything about it for the last 6 months.

One of the problems is inconsistent goal determination. A business owner named Grant Cardone recommends writing down your goals every morning and every night. Other successful people do this too. You start with a fresh sheet. One of the issues that I encountered with this is that my goals switch around a lot. You would think this would resolve itself over some time, but with me it does not. That falls right in line with my personality traits, but I need to transcend those to overcome this barrier to further advancement.

Another thing that is coming into play here is that there are two types of trying. You can try to achieve some specific thing. Or, you can try something out. That's the difference between a static state value and a process value. Some people exercise because they want to be a certain weight or have a certain amount of strength. Other people exercise because they like to exercise. I mostly do things because I like the doing, I like the experience, I mostly have process values. Maybe that's an issue. I'm not fully sure.

Over all of these years of choosing process values and experiential values maybe I've built the neural circuitry that moves my awareness away from state values and creative values. Maybe that keeps me from making things and finishing them. I think that's true. These circuits need to be rewired and rebuilt.

Over the last few years I've lost the projection of myself into the future. Maybe that's part of why my values about things in the future don't stabilize. I think that's true. I think it's also a natural tendency because of my personality traits. That combination is devasting to consistent goal pursuit and accomplishment.

What to do? I have several ideas. I'll cover just a couple here. One, I've designed a system for tracking values across multiple time periods and categories. It seems to have some utility. Also, I've been incorporating some of the parts of my personality that I seem to have symbolically dissociated in my past. That definitely has utility. Now, I need to use a similar technique oriented towards my future.

I think it's possible that these things can be part of rebuilding what I need to find consistent goal pursuit and incorporate it into my life. Time will tell.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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