The Uncomfortable Truth About Where Our Goals Are Really Coming From

When I was younger, I assumed my goals were self generated.
That they were coming from the inside.

If I were to illustrate it, the relationship would look something like this:

Me —-> Goal

Then, I read “Wanting” by Luke Burgis and it completely changed how I saw why we pursue what we do.

The key takeaway from the book is that your environment is heavily influencing what you want in life.

Roughly speaking, the relationship (according to Burgis) looks more like this:

Person —> Environmental Influence —> Goal

In essence, we want what our environment (the people and culture around us) is telling us is important and valuable to pursue.

When I reflected on a lot of the things I’ve pursued in the past, the environment almost always played a critical role.

In my teens I wanted to play gaelic football for my county.

As a student, I wanted to party as much as I could physically get away with.

In my 20s, I wanted to start a company.

Then, when I did start that company (which involved organising talks with leading psychologists), I too started to want to become a psychologist.

In every case, the intervening variable between me and what I wanted was the environmental influences surrounding me at the time.

Think for a second about our eating habits.

In the West, eating beef is perfectly normal for most of the population.

But doing so in India would be unthinkable.

Similarly, in Vietnam it’s perfectly normal to eat dogs — but to us that’s horrifying.

When it comes down to it, the only difference between the person in Vietnam who wants to eat dogs and us, is the cultural programming they’ve been immersed in.

Which illustrates just how powerfully our environment is shaping what we want.

Therefore, if we’re not careful, we can easily get sucked into pursuits and going down paths that we’d be better avoiding in the first place.

The solution is to better understand who we are and what really makes us tick, so that we choose what to pursue from a deep place within, rather than what the environment is telling us is important to go after at the time (e.g. crypto, AI, etc.)

One of the most effective ways to do this is an exercise called: “Finding the Common Thread”.

In a nutshell, this involves:

1.) Making a list of all of the peak experiences from your past that you found highly energising, meaningful, and fulfilling.

(Ideally something you were actively participating in – so watching a show on Netflix wouldn’t count.)

2.) Once you have your list, carefully run through it and ask:

Are there any elements or patterns that are common to all of these experiences?

For example, maybe you were solving problems to help others.

Or maybe you were in a process of creation and bringing something new into the world.

Then, the next time you feel that pull towards pursuing something your environment is telling you is important, ask yourself:

Is this aligned with my common thread?

If it’s not, then you might want to delay taking action.
Picture of Niall McKeever

Niall McKeever

Writer and Founder of The Weekend University. Passionate about making great ideas more accessible.

Read more about me »

The Question & Quote Newsletter

Twice monthly I publish the Question & Quote Newsletter, a short email containing 1 question and 1 quote, designed to help you find clarity, shift your perspective, and live a more creative, intentional and meaningful life. Sign up below to receive it: 

(I hate spam. You’ll only receive one email every two weeks, and you can unsubscribe at any time.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 questions & 2 quotes every 2 weeks to help you find clarity. Add the Question & Quote Newsletter to Your Inbox. 

Before you go...

Interested in reading more books? If so, check out this free guide which shows you 3 simple techniques to 3x your reading speed.