Anything and everything we do has a purpose. Dr. Benjamin Hardy, an organizational psychologist, successful entrepreneur, and bestselling author, joins Penny Zenker to talk about goals and how they define your future self and shape your process and results. They also look into the labels of personality and how that can limit you. Want to know more about how you can set your goals? Join Dr. Hardy and Penny as they dive into the importance of identifying your goals to define how you see yourself and your daily behaviors.
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Defining Your Future Self Through Goals With Dr. Benjamin Hardy
Benjamin, welcome to the show.
I’m happy to be back with you. I love talking to you.
We’re going to continue the conversation that we had before in a little bit more depth in some other areas. This is to highlight your amazing book, Personality Isn’t Permanent and all the rich content that’s in there from understanding the labels of personality and how that can limit us through to understanding how goals are constructed. That’s what I want to talk about. We talked a little bit about our future self. Let’s talk about goals and how they shape our process and shape our results. In your book, you broke down what it is to have a goal and there are three areas you said that make up our ability to set a goal and to reach a goal. Let’s talk about what those are.
It’s important to realize, and I think a lot of people don’t understand this, that every human behavior is goal-driven. Even anyone reading this blog, you’re doing it for a reason. You may not be clear on that reason. Maybe it’s because you want to be entertained or because you’re distracting yourself or you want to be inspired. Anything and everything you do has a purpose. From a psychological perspective, every human behavior is goal or outcome seeking. When you realize that, then you can start to look at, “Why am I pursuing my goals?” It’s helpful to begin to define them. Sometimes we don’t even do that, but it’s like, “What am I seeking? What is it that I’m going for a lot?”
It will be helpful for people because by understanding what they’re going for, they can see if it’s what they want. You gave a great example in the book of somebody, Andre Norman. Maybe you could highlight that story.
I’ll tell that story and I’ll go into how goals are shaped because that story fundamentally explains it. I’ll walk you through Andre Norman. Andre is one of my friends. He’s brilliant. He grew up in the hood. He grew up in Boston and ended up going to prison. I’m trying to figure out what aspects of the story to highlight, but he went to prison because he ended up surrounding himself with some pretty rough crowds. In prison, he became very entrenched in that perspective and he was much seeking to become the top dog in the prison. That was his goal. Your goals do shape your identity. Your goals shape how you see yourself. He wanted to be that number one prison thug. He wanted to be the top guy and because of who he wanted to be, that’s led him to do what he wanted to do.
He would try to kill people in prison. He ended up becoming incarcerated, being put in solitary confinement. At some point or another, it dawned on him. It hit him square in the face that the path he was on, in his own words, he said it was like his Wizard of Oz moment. He realized that he had been on a path and then at the end of the path, at the end of the yellow brick road, there is no wizard. It’s a total hoax. He realized that the path he was on was nowhere. He said, “I’m going to be the king of nowhere.” It hit him in the face. It dawned on him that his pursuits were pretty shallow. It’s very much like the quote, “Sometimes you realize you’ve been climbing up the ladder of success or whatever they call it, and you realize the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall.”
He realized that what he’s been pursuing for so long in that was shaping everything about him. Once he began to question that goal, he then said, “If I’m not going to do this, then what should I do?” He concluded that he wanted to get out of prison, but he didn’t want to escape. He wanted to stay out of prison. He set the goal to go to Harvard because that was the only school this man had ever heard of. He was ignorant. He grew up literally in the hood of Boston. That’s a pretty good school to be the only one you’ve heard of. Once he set the goal to go to Harvard, then that goal became his new identity, his new purpose. That drove him and your purpose does drive what you’re doing. We all have a purpose even if it’s undefined. That became his purpose and it took him eight years to get out of prison from that point.
Because he wanted to become successful and he wanted to go to college and go to Harvard, that became his new thing. It led him to get therapy. He ended up meeting with a rabbi. He learned how to read. He learned how to study law because he had that goal. It changed him. It changed the people he hung around in prison. When he got out, it’s this idea that it’s important to consider how you’re defining yourself and about what you’re pursuing. A lot of people, their main goal, if they’re honest with themselves, is to get through the day or to make rent. You have to ask yourself, “What is it you’re going for and why did you settle on that?” The thing that you’re going for is defining your identity and it’s defining your daily behaviors.
Who we become as a result of focusing on that as your focus. There is a quote and I wanted to read it for people. They’ll read it when they read the book, but Andre said, “Bad people don’t go to prison. Quitters do.” When we’re talking about our goals, how powerful is that? Prison being the metaphor.
It’s everything. Andre was in my living room and he told my kids that. The reason that’s so big is because when you quit on something you want, it leads to a fundamental drop in confidence. There’s an important quote with all of this. It says, “We’re kept from our goals, not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” Usually what happens is you are pursuing something and you hit some obstacle. If you quit and if you pursue something easier and less because psychologically, it’s important for us to have a clear path to something motivationally. We need a simple smooth path. We don’t like complexity. If we hit some wall and then we use it, it becomes a trauma. It becomes something where we create a fixed mindset and we say, “I’m no longer going to pursue this. I’m going to pursue something different.”
Anything and everything you do has a purpose. Click To Tweet It is because we can’t do it, we then label and limit ourselves.
It creates a fixed mindset. They say that trauma destroys imagination. If you have a negative experience and you can’t reframe it or you don’t take the time to reframe it or get support or coaching through it, then you’ll hit some event and you’ll quit. If you quit on what you want or what you were pursuing, then pursue something else like that by nature is living a pseudo-life. Unfortunately, for most people, that’s how their life and personality is. They had some negative events that occurred in the past. It shapes their identity. Their life and personality is to avoid the pain of dealing with it. It’s a key to define your future self and the goals you want and to shape those goals intentionally because those goals are ultimately who you become.
Everybody who’s reading, write your goals down. Even know what your goals are. Are you setting an intention for a long-term goal, midterm goal? You’re breaking it down and if you’re not, this is the perfect opportunity, especially since you’ve got a little bit more time at home to do that. Make sure that you’re intentional about the goals that you’re setting and why you’re setting them and what will be different in your life when you reach them.
I’ll explain the three goals that come from that, but I want to say one more time, how important this is that you pursue what you genuinely want. It’s important because I believe that most people have settled for lesser goals. If you’re genuine and you can take some time to journal or whatever, if you could have it and you’re not worried about what people think or you’re not worried about failures, what would you genuinely want? What would you genuinely seek? If you make that your identity by beginning to tell everyone that this is who you’re going to be and this is what you’re going for, it will take a lot of courage. It may shock people because it’s maybe been quite different from your former self and how you’ve been. It’s the only way to live in alignment.
Here’s where goals come from because what you want is not what your future self is going to want. These three goals come from three sources. One is what you’ve been exposed to. You can’t pursue something intentionally without knowing about it. Context matters here. It’s a recognition that you do have a limiting perspective and that what you’re pursuing is based on what you know. I’ll give a short story that I give in the book and that’s Charlie Trotter. He was the famous chef and he lived in Chicago. I think Oprah loved his restaurant back in the ‘90s. He introduced fine dining in a lot of ways to the US. What Charlie would do is he would bring in impoverished kids from the ghetto, homeless kids into his restaurant and give them a five star, full fine dining experience.
The reason he did that is because he wanted to shatter and expose them to something fundamentally different from what they’ve ever been exposed to. A lot of people criticized Charlie for this. They said, “You’re setting these kids up for failure,” but he wanted to expose them to new things that they could have new goals. This makes it crucial that you expose yourself to new and better things, breed new information, have new experiences. This is one of the reasons why I love reading biographies, but it’s also why I invest in mastermind groups and stuff because I love putting myself in new situations where I’m like, “I can’t believe how limited my perspective was.” The first one is exposure. Your goals are based on what you’ve been exposed to. If you begin exposing yourself to new and better things, you can then set new and better goals.
The second one is what you desire. Your goals are based on what you want and you have to own that what you’re pursuing may be something that you shouldn’t want anymore. Andre came to the conclusion that maybe he shouldn’t want to be the number one guy in prison. Maybe that’s a shallow desire. Your personality in a lot of ways is based on what you prefer. It’s based on what your preference is and also what you’re willing to tolerate. Your former self probably would have preferences that your current self doesn’t have, like your former self enjoyed doing things that you no longer like doing or that you’re no longer willing to do anymore. You have to own that your preferences can and should change and that you can adjust those. You can think to yourself, “What should I want?” You can train your desires.
The third one is confidence. Confidence is the belief that you can accomplish something. You’re not going to set something out if you don’t think you do it. Confidence is the basis of imagination. As you build confidence, your willingness where your belief in setting bigger or different goals is going to adjust. Confidence and flexibility are very connected. You’ll be more flexible and see different possibilities if you’re confident and you have to build confidence daily. Confidence grows as you make progress towards goals.
Micro accomplishments, it’s in every little thing that you do and that you say you’re going to do builds confidence.
If your future self has more confidence than your current self, it’s because they’ve followed through, learned, overcome challenges. They’ve done baby steps daily and moved forward. You build confidence by moving in the direction you genuinely want to go by living intentionally, then your future self’s imagination will be much bigger and they’ll have bigger goals than your current self.
It is a big thing for me also in that confidence piece and recognizing where you’ve made progress. It’s not always about it, but people don’t. They move on to the next thing. We’re always onto the next thing. When I meet with one of my friends, we coach each other once a week and we go through our pros and grows like our wins and things that are what would work and what we are learning. It was huge for me when we started to do this because, at the end of the day, I was always feeling unproductive or unaccomplished, not recognizing the things that I did do. Maybe it wasn’t everything that was on my list, but what I thought I should be doing. When I looked and I was like, “This is substantial and mention-worthy,” but I was dismissing it. It’s important that we recognize the progress that we’ve made and take time to look back and say, “Look at where I’ve come and how I’ve changed and how I see things differently.”
What you’re describing is one of the absolute keys to mental well-being. It’s important that I’m glad you brought it up. I had a conversation with my mother-in-law. I showed her all my journals. I ask myself what are the wins from the last 90 days? I asked her, “Janae, take a second to think about all the positive things that have happened in the last 90 days. Some of them have been challenging, but things you’ve worked through. What are all the things that you’ve done in the last 90 days?” She pulled out her journal and I gave her twenty minutes and she made a list. She realized it’s so easy to forget, but if you’re moving forward and you give yourself the space, even daily, you need to think like, “What were the wins?” You can train yourself. Dan Sullivan talks about measuring the gain, not the gap. If you measure the gain, it does build a huge confidence because you realize, “Over the last couple of months, I’ve made some pretty amazing progress,” and you could acknowledge that. By acknowledging it, it boosts you because you see change. You see progress and it then excites you to keep going.
I wanted people to see that that’s all part of building confidence and getting that clarity. I love it that you broke down those goals into those three areas. Is there anything else that you wanted to share that you have in the book Personality Isn’t Permanent around goals that you feel would be or not in the book that would help people to understand this idea around how important goals are?
There’s one element in the book that I think is crucial that’s a different approach to goals than I think is often talked about and it’s served me very well. It makes sense motivationally. When it comes to thinking about where you want your life to go rather than starting with a goal, you want to start with your identity. Who is your future self? Frame that out and define the future self and define who you want to be because identity is what drives everything. Identity is far more powerful than personality. Your identity is self-chosen and it’s what drives ultimately who your personality becomes. After you’ve defined your future self, then it’s powerful to think about what is one key outcome? I call it a keystone goal. What is the one tangible thing that would make your future self possible?
Your goals shape your identity and how you see yourself. Click To Tweet There’s the book called The One Thing. You may have other minor goals but having one major goal that you believe will allow your future self to become possible. The reason it’s important is because from a psychological perspective, motivation does require a clear goal, a clear path and the confidence that you can get there. When you have one major goal, it allows you to reverse engineer a process, but also then it clarifies your identity and it becomes a story that you can use as your future narratives. As an example, when I was a graduate student, I wanted to become a professional writer. That was my future self. The one goal after getting a lot of education on how to do that was I wanted to get a six-figure book deal. I wanted to have a book deal from one of the big five publishers in New York. My future self was an identity in a situation. My goal to get there is one goal. It’s key to think of what’s the one goal that would allow that to be possible.
If I got a six-figure book deal and I would have the freedom, I’d be able to support my family. I’d be able to do what I wanted. Also, I’ll have the flexibility. I was thinking about my future self, but then this one goal would allow that to happen. With that one tangible goal, your brain from a goal perspective, tangible things like measurable, whether it’s a number or it’s an event, those things your brain can focus on. Our brain, we selectively attend to things that matter to us. By having something tangible, you can then train your brain to find it, but also you can then reverse engineer a process to get it. Your goal shaped your process and I think that the reason why I was able to accelerate so fast as a writer is because I had a very clear goal and an identity behind the goal. The identity and the situation was the why. The goal was the what.
You’re a good writer because let’s face it, if you can’t write and you want to be a good writer.
I couldn’t write before I did that. I wanted to be a writer. It was through the process and this book was not easy for me to write. It took a year and a half. It took a year longer than was expected. There were many times when I wanted to quit because I didn’t think I could do it. You shouldn’t pursue what you think is going to be easy or natural. You should pursue what you genuinely want to do. I think I’ve become a good writer to some degree, but it was never easier naturally. It was all focused on the future, I wanted to create and then through the process of change, I became it, but it was never easy and it’s still not easy.
Everybody, don’t expect it to be easy.
The idea is that you should pursue what’s natural to you. I don’t think anyone who’d ever become brilliant at anything said it was easy.
If it’s easy, there’s no growth. There’s no fulfillment and there’s probably very little impact if it’s easy.
This isn’t to say you should do something painful and difficult for the sake of pain and difficulty. It’s owning the fact that the idea of deliberate practice, which is genuine learning, is that it’s going to be challenging. It’s going to be difficult and hard. It’s going to push you to become an expert. You can become brilliant at essentially whatever you want but getting there is not going to be an easy natural path.
I know you’re the master of quotes. You use a lot of quotes. Do you have a quote to close this out?
The big thing that I love in this book is labels. Labels create tunnel vision is one fact. When you assume a label, it creates tunnel vision. I also love the idea that your labels should support your goals. You should intentionally call yourself or tell yourself whatever you want, but your goals, the things that you pursue should never support the labels that you’ve adopted. If you think you’re an introvert or something, then you would set introverted goals. I think it’s better to have your labels on how you define yourself and be supportive of the goals you genuinely want rather than letting your goals be a byproduct of how you define yourself.
Thank you so much for being here and sharing a little bit about your book Personality Isn’t Permanent.
I would like to challenge you and it’s going to shock you. One of the things we didn’t talk about is that this book debunks the whole personality test industry. I believe that this book will show you why you are the way you are and help you then define who you want to be and become that person. It will prove you with science and with provocative stories and common sense that you’re not just the way you are.
I love that you gave a description that said that these types of tests are not only psychologically destructive, but they’re no more scientific than horoscopes.
I learned that on my PhD program and it shocked me. I assumed even in my undergrad and psych that tests are interesting. Once I got deep into test development, it’s called psychometrics. All my professors were like, “Anything that categorizes people into broad types, ignores context is non-consistent and non-valid.” These things are not true tests and that’s what all those popular tests are. I don’t want to take them seriously, a snapshot from one perspective.
I do believe that it can help you with certain things. I think it can help you to understand better communication with other people.
We're kept from our goals not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal. Click To Tweet It can help you. It can open up perspectives you may not have had.
Read the book and you’ll find out more about why this is not the end-all-be-all. It’s been great having you here. Thank you all for being here. Without you, there wouldn’t be a show. Go and get the book. Check it out. It’s going to give you some deep thoughts. It’s going to challenge you in a number of different areas of your life that are going to make you a better person. We’ll see you in the next episode.
- Benjamin Hardy
- The One Thing
- Personality Isn’t Permanent
- Will Power Doesn’t Work
About Dr. Benjamin Hardy
Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist, successful entrepreneur and bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work. His blog is read by millions of people monthly and featured on Forbes, Fortune, CNBC, Cheddar, Big Think, and many others and adds priceless value to your audience by helping them to break free from the shackles of what they perceive as a permanent personality. He is a regular contributor to Inc. and Psychology Today and one of the most popular writers on Medium. He speaks and trains at a wide range of events. He is also training for his first Ironman. He and his wife Lauren adopted three children through the foster system in February 2018 and, one month later, Lauren became pregnant with twins, who were born in December of 2018. They live in Orlando.
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