There used to be a lot of people who wrote in their bios how goal-oriented they are, as if it’s a personality trait that makes them better than “normies”.
People since then have gotten fed up with the pressure to be goal-focused on everything in life. As many have believed in it and implemented it in their own lives, they saw the cost it comes with, and how it doesn’t really work for everyone. The idea of being goal-oriented was about being organized in your approach, being clear with yourself about what you want, what you’re moving towards, and coming to terms with the reality of the price you have to pay to achieve it, and to come up with an optimal path towards it, regardless of what your ego says.
But it doesn’t usually work out that way. What ends up happening with many people is that this goal becomes a source of torment. It becomes a harsh relentless judge that is merciless, and never quiets down. It doesn’t become a vision of hope, but a monster that takes your faith away. It turns bad really fast. And as this happens within some people, they keep hearing how this manner of being goal-oriented is what will save them from their chaotic lives and will help them gain control over their lives.
This creates a conflict within people where they’re constantly being told that this demon that hurts them is the best thing for them. It confuses people. Hurts them very deeply. If they internalize it, it destroys their confidence and convictions and any hint of belief in themselves.
People started to steer towards a different pattern: being process-oriented.
They start to see how, in reality, you can’t define the proper goal from your current vantage point, because you don’t know anything. You’re ignorant and inexperienced. As you move towards your goal, your goal will change, because this experience will teach you things you didn’t know, which will help you come up with a better goal. And this can seem like lack of commitment towards the goal. At that moment, being goal-oriented starts to feel like you’re not learning, not thinking for yourself, and instead doing what you’re supposed to do (because you committed to something in the past), rather than doing what you think is best (now that you’ve learned something new from your experiences.)
People started to see how being goal-oriented is something that sounds good but in practice is quite brutish. It doesn’t seem to go well with the Zen idea of being fluid like water.
So people started focusing on investing in their systems of behavior and improvement, rather than on individual goals. Part of the appeal of the idea is that a system is something flexible and learns over time. It is minimal. It’s all about learning as you move forward, rather than assuming you already know everything. There’s a lot of experience in society that shows us that a flexible approach is better in many ways.
I don’t think being goal-oriented and being process-oriented are opposites. And I don’t think it’s either-or.
People have turned away from being goal-oriented mainly because of its rigidity. For good reason. And moved towards being process-oriented for its flexibility and capacity to be reasonable. Also for good reason. What you ideally want is a balance of both.
The dark side of being process-oriented is that you can turn blind to the results. It’s easy then to become so obsessed with following the system that you ignore the results, or lack thereof. Which isn’t good, because then, what’re you working towards? What is the system serving? Why have the system if it achieves nothing?
The dark side of being goal-oriented is that it can also turn blind. It turns blind to new possibilities, to errors in judgment when we have committed to the goal in the past. It turns blind to unfolding events. It gets to a point where you may ask: What is the point of achieving this goal, if this is the cost of it? You may have started the goal not knowing the extent of the cost, which is very very common. So you need some flexibility to incorporate what you learn from your journey towards the goal.
The benefit of being process-oriented is that you don’t worry about the results or the goal all the time. You lessen the weight on yourself. You give yourself a break. Some of it comes from compassion, where you tell yourself “you only have to do these few things today, and that’s enough.” The process-orientation is also wise in that it can let go of the result, and trust that the result will come someday somehow. The process is great for complex environment where you lack control or where your vision isn’t entirely reliable. If you’re in a situation where you can’t trust your judgment moment-by-moment, you can put your trust on the system which will make the decisions for you. A good system will relieve you of the pressure to decide anything. All you have to do is operate it, and you will arrive at your destination.
The benefit of being goal-oriented is that you remain focused on what’s important. Sometimes you get easily distracted. Sometimes things get hard and maybe you have a tendency to quit when things get a little challenging. Sometimes you tell yourself lies on the way to stop yourself from moving forward. Maybe you tell yourself along the way to the goal that what you achieved so far is enough, or that what little you got was your goal. But being goal-oriented means to stay focused on the prize, and not be distracted by little things on the way. To remain focused on what’s important.
You can see how they don’t really oppose each other. You can be flexible while being focused on what’s important. You can set a goal, then adjust it later. That’s ok. I think we sometimes struggle with this because when we set a goal, we really want that goal. To adjust it means we never get that thing we wanted when we set the goal. You can notice the attachment to the goal there. Instead, set a goal, but don’t be attached to it. Set a goal, and understand that the goal is just a compass for you. It’s not a candy to motivate you. It’s a way of setting direction and guiding decision-making. That’s all.
Have goals, and setup systems of processes to get you there, and feel free to adjust course. Nothing needs to be set in stone, but commit to moving forward.