Goals That May Be in Contradiction

Today the subject is how to construct long-range goals and be clear about your direction, and how to make sure that you don’t inadvertently have other long or short-term goals that contradict these long-range goals.

How do we set the long-term direction? Well imagine it’s like having a GPS for the creative process. The first thing you set is your destination. Where do you want to be in five years, ten years, 20 years?

For many people there is what we could call a life-style/ career conflict. To pursue their career ambitions they need to live in an area they don’t particularly like, and if it weren’t for their careers, they wouldn’t live there. For others, life style is more important than career, so their career possibilities are limited by where they live.

There is no right answer except that your decision should reflect your longer-term goals and aspirations.

Remember that part of your job as a creator is to make the strategic secondary choices that support your primary choices. And only you can determine what you will make primary. But once you have made a primary choice, most other supportive choices are pretty self-evident.

Once you set your long-term goals, it is important to review your shorter-term goals and see where they stand. There will only be one of three possibilities: They will support them, the will be neutral, or they will contradict your long-term goals.

Of course the best of all possibilities is that they support your longer-term goals. And there may be some short-term goals that you haven’t thought of yet; goals that would help the longer term cause. Often there might be learning goals, skills goals, or experience goals that would be helpful in supporting longer-range aspirations.

And too often, we don’t think in those terms. But back to our creative GPS, once you set in your destination, you are given a few different paths, avoid toll roads, fastest way, most highways, and so on. What is the best way to achieve your long-term goals? Often the bigger and more important things in life involve some form of strategic planning, so you don’t happen to wonder into them, but you systematically take all the needed steps to first build the foundation, and then the later steps that give you the support you need.

We are talking about goals that often take years to accomplish. And you’re not just waiting around. You are building toward them over years of smaller goals that give you what you need, put you in the right and best position, and teach you what you need to know once you are there.
And how many of these long-term goals might you have? Well there is the inner goal, how you experience life, and that one can be achieved fairly quickly and then be in place during the entire trip. And the outer goals are a series of little success stories as you build a pattern of success. That doesn’t mean that everything you will try will work. But it does mean that you will work out how to learn and develop by every new creative process in which you engage.

And you will have aspects of longer-term goals that will be aligned: health, lifestyle, career, financial, creative, relationships, involvement with life and so on. But you’ve got to set the creative GPS with a clear destination. You won’t know the details, but you can get a sense of the overview and the overall destination. That’s all you need, as long as that is clear.

With that type of clarity, conflicts of longer-term goals hardly ever appear. And if they do, they can be sorted out by determining hierarchy. What is more important, and what is less important. Once you have made that choice everything else just falls into place.

Creating – A Different Way Of Life

After years, decades, centuries of people proposing answers to the question of how should we live our lives, it can become downright confusing as to who to listen to and what to do. Okay, so I have a point of view and favor being listened to as well. Then again, there is a difference between my point of view and most of the others, and it is not simply content, philosophy, or battling belief systems that are at odds with each other.

If anything, I begin by suggesting people rid themselves of philosophy or belief. Those abstract ideals don’t help much. After years of people trying their best to be true to this or that philosophy or belief, they still can’t seem to get it together. They can never live up to the ideal that demands strict adherence.

Most people who are ready to tell others how they should live their lives have a notion of just what that person should do in life. Most of these prescriptions come with approved values and morals. Do this, think that, act this way, believe these things, and on it goes. But, the creative process is different from any of these approaches because it is not a belief system, not philosophy, not psychology, not metaphysics, not the “right way to live,” not “how you should be,” or “how you should define yourself.”

Instead, it begins with a very simple yet profound question that only you can answer, which is, “what matters to me enough to create it?” What do you want to create? You can ask this question concerning just about anything? What do you want to create for dinner tonight? What living situations do you want to create? What career do you want to create for yourself? What kind of life do you want to create?

In the creative process, there are no right or wrong answers. Some people think, well, people can’t just create what they want. They’ll be chaos in the streets, and nothing will ever get done. That idea, that people are not to be trusted, comes from a reaction to all the ways we have been taught we are supposed to be, which, of course, no one has ever quite got right. But, as it turns out, when people are given the chance to truthfully answer that question, we find something profoundly interesting. People would rather be productive that lie around the beach for the rest of their lives. Yes, a few weeks of lying around the beach is a very attractive proposition. But, then, there is a human hunger to do something else, be productive, build something, get involved with other people, make a life, make a society, make a civilization.
What is the focus of your life? For some, it is all the problems they have, the built –in limitation, the things that they think stop them. So all they are left with is the question: how to react against all that?

This is not what we might think of as a life well-lived. Instead, it feels like a constant struggle, fighting with the world just to survive. For others, life feels like a prison, and they are doing their time. This is the notion that life is about suffering, and the key is to reach perfection so you do not need to suffer your karma, and can be released from prison. For others, it is the ideals they think they must achieve, ideals that are impossible to ever reach on the planet Earth.

But, to a creator, none of these things matter, because there are always new sheets of paper to fill, new blank canvases to paint, new music to compose, new buildings to build, new frontiers to explore, new wonderful experiences to experience, new and old friends to enjoy, new moments to savor, something new to imagine, that has never been thought of before, that, no matter your age or situation, awakens the call to create, to bring into existence, that which, at first, was only a vision.

Bravo for Nike

Not too many billion-dollar companies have a moral compass. The usual corporate rule of thumb is to avoid controversy at all costs. But Nike is a company that stands for something. First and foremost, it stands for sports. I’ve worked with Nike, and, from an inside vantage point, they see sports as a civilizing force. Now they have created a new campaign that celebrates Colin Kaepernick’s stand against police violence on unarmed innocent young black men.

About Colin Kaepernick, his protest has been unfairly redefined as a protest against the flag, against the military, against mom and apple pie. It is easy to redefine something. You just lie about what someone says and what that person means. In fact, the real corruption of politics today is that lying has become standard operating practice. Objective reality is under attack. That means the decisions that many people make are not based on facts but impressions, mostly impressions designed to manipulate issues of identity. You can fool some of the people all of the time.

Of course, the big lie is nothing new. It takes a big lie to wipe out truth. Little lies don’t do the job. It has to be so outrageous and bizarre that the subconscious mind says, “It must be true. No one would believe this crazy thing that is so easily checked and disproved. So there’s got to be something too it.”

What is THE truth about Colin Kaepernick? First he sat on the bench while the national anthem was played. He did this for one reason, and one reason only. As has been said over and over, to call attention to the violent pattern of unarmed young black men being shot to death by police. He is using his public position to highlight this particular type of injustice. He found out that the act of sitting on the bench did have an implied subtext of disrespect for the flag. Once he found that out, he sought out Army Special Forces veteran Nate Boyer, who told him that kneeling on one knee, within the military, is seen as a sign of respect for a fallen comrade.

That’s it, no matter how the President tries to redefine it. Why would anyone try to redefine this very clear symbol of protest against injustice? To polarize people. To try to create a false controversy. To try to create an “us against them” mentality. Who is “us” and who is “them?” Comes down to race. Period.
Kaepernick is against the pattern of innocent black kids being killed by police, who then seem to get away with it. Who is in favor of innocent kids being killed? Doesn’t Kaepernick have the authority to say why he is doing what he is doing? Who gets to say that he doesn’t? Who gets to say that YOU are not the total and final authority of what you say and do and why you are saying and doing it? NO ONE but you has that authority. This principle holds true in this case as well.

Here is what Kaepernick has said:
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone.”

Of course, Kaepernick has paid a price for his kneel. He could have shut up and made a fortune. But, that would be a Faustian bargain, something some of our current politicians are happy to make.

Here is how Encyclopedia Britannica defines the term:

“Faustian bargain, a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches. The term refers to the legend of Faust (or Faustus, or Doctor Faustus), a character in German folklore and literature, who agrees to surrender his soul to an evil spirit (in some treatments, Mephistopheles, or Mephisto, a representative of Satan) after a certain period of time in exchange for otherwise unattainable knowledge and magical powers that give him access to all the world’s pleasures. A Faustian bargain is made with a power that the bargainer recognizes as evil or amoral. Faustian bargains are by their nature tragic or self-defeating for the person who makes them, because what is surrendered is ultimately far more valuable than what is obtained, whether or not the bargainer appreciates that fact.”

I applaud Colin Kaepernick. To me, he shows strength of character for a noble cause. His actions are a profile in courage. I think those who criticize him can legitimately do so ONLY when they tell the truth about what and why he has taken a knee. If you distort what he is about, anything else you say is not to be taken seriously. Why should it?

And then there is Nike. I want to thank the company for the leadership role they have taken on. They knew there would be backlash. They knew some customers would leave the brand. But that didn’t matter. In a similar way that the Disney Corporation said no to the threats of some right wing Christian groups who tried to conduct a boycott against Disney World because they had an annual gay pride day, Nike has taken a stand for what is right rather than what is convenient. We seldom see such clarity of values from corporations.

Limitation

“IF YOU LIMIT YOURSELF TO WHAT SEEM POSSIBLE OR REASONABLE, ALL THAT IS LEFT IS A COMPROMISE.”

(Robert Fritz)

This is the most widely cited quote of mine. So let me say a few things about the thought.

Since the time we were young, we have been taught to limit our aspirations. The question, “What do you want?” is translated into, “Given your limitations, what do you want?”

When we ask people what they want, too often they are a lost. It isn’t that they don’t want things. It is that they have absolutely no idea how to think about the subject. On the one hand, they can only think in terms of what seems possible, reasonable, or available.

On the other hand, they are looking for something that will enrich their lives, enable them to become more involved, and fulfill the promise they intuitively understand and for which they long. Something they can’t seem to find by discovery or revelation or from goal setting courses or from the self-help world.

If you limit your choices, all that is left is a compromise, one that is incapable of inspiring the type of deeper involvement that most people crave. Another one of my quotes that seems to be everywhere in the world of the Internet these days can be considered the other part of the first one: You can’t invest your life spirit in a compromise.

Here are a few tips about how to become clear:

1. Separate what you want from what you think is possible

In fact, you don’t know what is possible, only what seem probable. If you begin to censor yourself before you even have a proper discussion with yourself, you are going to end up limiting yourself to only those things that seem doable. You are light-years away from thinking in terms of what you truly want. From this limited menu, there may not be much you actually want to order. No wonder it would be hard to know what you want when this were the case. Whatever you are left with is pretty unappetizing. Do NOT consider if what you want is possible when thinking about it. We divide and think: first a truthful understanding of what we truly want to create in our lives; then considerations about the strategy that might enable us to create it.

2. Rethink everything

We have all made certain promises to ourselves when we were young. We may have changed our minds. We are not stuck with some idea we had years ago. It is best to enter into a conversation with yourself with a clean slate, turning over a new leaf, a fresh start.

3. Start small

Most people are not in the habit of thinking about what they want. They react or respond to the circumstances they find themselves in, and so they can only think situationally. The best way to learn anything is to start small, build muscles and stamina, and create a body of experience. Make sure that these small things are really things you want. Get into the habit of checking with yourself about that.

4. Don’t think in terms of payoffs.

Too often, people are not able to think about what they really want because they expect the result to do things like make them happy, give them satisfaction, enlightenment, and a host of other payoffs. This burdens your ability to think in terms of what you want because you are speculating about the chances of the payoff being significant. Once you think in terms of the outcomes you want and not the payoff, you are free to get involved on the good days and the bad days. Remember, your emotional experiences are like the weather: sometimes it rains and sometimes it’s sunny. Don’t think in terms of consistent emotions. Think in terms of only one question: what do I really want?

So, if you limit yourself to what seems possible or reasonable, all that is left is compromise, and you can’t invest your life-spirit into a compromise. This is more than a good quote. It is a principle that, once taken on, can enable you to organize your life around your highest aspirations and deepest values.

Regeneration

The nature of regeneration in the creative process is a new cycle of growth after a period of stagnation. In the famous I Ching, it is represented by spring after winter. And there is something quite instructive about understanding the form of the seasons, and watch them play out in our lives.

Our own spring can happen at any time of the calendar year. But it is always following by a period of withdrawal. Winter leads into spring. What is going on during the moments in our life in which we retreat? We often think of those periods as something to be avoided, something bad, something to overcome.

But without these periods, nothing new can grow. Growth is more than renewal. It is a type of transcendence in which something is given a new chance to begin over, to re-think one’s life, to find new impetus, to find new interests, to, no matter what the past has been, to begin with a clean sheet of paper, a new canvas, a new chance.

But renewal is more than the chance to begin again. It is the drive to make the most of the possibility. From where does this drive come? From our human instinct to create. It is the essence of our dynamic urge, to make something new, to explore unseen territory, to engage life to the fullest.

Regeneration is almost always propelled from its opposite. It is a type of death followed by a type of resurrection. And the sequence does not have to be juxtaposed chronologically. Winter may have been spread out over years, life had seem to drift to limitation or burden or malaise or encumbrances of various sorts. And then, maybe out of nowhere, spring emerges suddenly and a new chapter opens to you.

But, for this type of regeneration to lead somewhere, it must have an object of its desire, so to speak. Just the same way the expression goes “In spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” so in this type of spring, the object of thoughts is also love, but not the romantic kind, the creative kind. There is something new we want to create, something we haven’t created or done before, and because of this, the full cycle of regeneration takes its place in your life.

It is in the Learning Dimension

Occasionally some people I meet say to me, “Robert, I love your information.” I can never relate to this, because, even though I write books and create courses, my approach has never been the distribution of information. It has been to encourage new practices, new approaches to living life, new insight that leads to action.

You don’t learn unless you are turning that learning into action. Those who look for new ideas, concepts, theories, and “information,” often have the notion that it is knowing something that changes things.

I challenge that notion. It is hardly ever the case in real life. For years, people knew of the dangers of smoking, but they continued to smoke, even after all of the dire warnings were put on the cigarette packs.
But a lot of people who are veterans of the self-help world have been told that insight, revelation, awareness and understanding are all you need to change your life patterns. If you thought that were the case, you would run around looking for more and more “information” while consistently missing the point of it all.

Think about this in terms of how we learn music. The information you may get at your piano lesson is only as good as it leads to practice. And your practice is only as good as it leads to your ability to play. No amount of insight about the theory of playing the piano will enable you to play if you don’t practice.

The Structure of Things

Very nice people with good values and high aspirations, who are hard working and industrious, often find that their best efforts do not lead to the final outcomes they want. Is it fate? Is it some deep-seated psychological conflict? Are some people simply luckier than others?

While it can seem like there is something in the stars, the real answer to understanding this phenomenon is much closer to home than most people think. It is right there in the structures in their lives. And this is the reason that understanding structural dynamics is critical if you want to create the life you want.

What is essential to know is this: the underlying structure of anything will determine its behavior.

Think about that for a moment. This insight explains so much. It explains why some people find themselves in oscillating patterns in which success is followed (predictably) by a reversal that takes them away from the outcomes they’ve worked so hard to achieve, and some people are able to create what they want and have that success become the platform for future success.

This is not how most people think. They think situationally. Structure is invisible to them, so they are left with the usual empty declarations: you need more willpower, you need to believe in yourself, you need to clean up your past, you need to surrender, you need to breath differently, you need a positive attitude, you need to love yourself, you need to eat brown rice, etc. When you understand how the structural dynamics works in people’s lives, you would find these bromides laughable. It is like saying you need to think positively about gravity so it will do what it does or not do what it does.

Structure is physics, it is nature, it is how everything works from music to aerodynamics to computers to cars to screenplays to… well, everything.

Structure typically produces two types of behavior: oscillating and advancement. That means your life will fall into one of these two camps. Everyone has examples of both. But the most important question is where do you spend most of your time? If it is an oscillation structure, your successes are not sustainable any more than jumping up in the air will lead to staying in the air.

Look, structure isn’t everything, but it is in everything, including your life. Years ago I made a film about the Fibonacci series, a mathematical proportion that is found throughout nature and art. The last two shots in the film are a spiraled nautilus shell dissolving into a spiraled galaxy, and the structure is identical in the small shell and the vast galaxy. We may not ever know the mysteries of the universe, but one thing we can know for sure, there is structure in the universe. Everywhere in the universe.

Like it or not, you live within a structure. And, if you are like most people, the structure you live in does you no good. Not to say that everything is bad. Just to say that your best efforts will be thwarted. This it is nothing personal anymore than not being able to float in contradiction to the laws of gravity is personal.

It is hard to do science without the math, and trying to create your life without a basic understanding of structure is also hard. All of the doisms of how you should behave not withstanding, any advice which is structurally unsound will not work no matter how good it looks on paper. You can’t fool Mother Structure. If you are in a rocking chair, your movement forward will be followed by movement backward.

There is nothing wrong with the rocking chair. It is simply the wrong structure if you happen to want to go somewhere.
What a waste of time, trying this or that in the wrong structure. Most of what is offered in self-help supports an oscillating structure, not an advancing one.

If you are in an oscillating structure, you can’t get very far. If you are in a rocking chair, you may be able to move ahead little by little, but you will not go where you want to go. It will feel like pushing boulders up hill. Hard to accomplish and impossible to sustain. Mother structure can work with you, but you have to work with her, not against her. Otherwise, expect that boulder to run right over you as it heads for the lowest ground. That’s the path of least resistance. That is where energy finds it easiest to go.

This is not a problem to solve. Why try to fix something that is not broken? There is nothing wrong with a rocking chair. It is simply the wrong structure unless you want to go back and forth. It is important to gain a fundamental understanding of how things work or don’t work so you can work with the forces in play in your life, not against them.

No matter what you say, what you think, how sincere and pure you are, if your life is in a rocking chair, and you want to move ahead, seeking to create your highest aspirations, organizing your life around those things that matter most to you, you will be unable to succeed in the end. You can’t get there from here. First you must change the underlying structure you are in. First you must go somewhere else. And that is the point.

So, while we teach the creative process, we also understand it is not the creative process alone that will lead to success. It is a combination of the creative process and the structural dynamics that can make such a profound difference in people’s lives as it has time and again.

The Arts/Science Vs Politics

The Age of Enlightenment brought a new idea to world civilization: a sense of seeking reality as it truly is. This was nothing short of a revolution in thinking. It was not a political revolution in which, as Robert Frost observed “the same people end up on top,” but one of science and the arts.

Good old Wikipedia says this about it: The Age of Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state.

From this period in history, the world saw amazing advancement, one of the most important, the development of democracy. The founders of the United States were children of the Age of Enlightenment, steeped in the notion that reason would be the driving force to build a better and fairer social order.

In the arts and science, the Age of Enlightenment has never stopped. This is because to make art or science, one needs a competent fix on reality as it is. This is how a violinist plays in tune and a doctor measures a patient’s temperature.

In the creative process, reality is a critical factor. Where are we now in relationship to our vision of where we want to be? Artists and scientists are trained to describe reality as it is, independent of how they might like it to be. You can’t make art or science based on a lie.

Contrast that with what’s going on in politics these days. There’s always been “spin” where politicians try to describe things to their advantage. But there has never been such an excess in blatant lies before now. Have we entered an Age of Unenlightenment?

What is especially harmful to society is the acceptance of some of the most obvious lies by politicians simply to support their positions of power. They have taken lying to a new low. Have they no shame?

 
 

Patterns and Structures

If we back up, we can see patterns fairly clearly. However, most of us are too close to see the patterns we are in. It is hard to see a pattern when you are in the pattern.

If you think about your own history, you will notice that many episodes in your life seem awfully familiar, almost as if it’s happened before. And, in fact, it has. Patterns have a beginning, a development, an ending, all typical of how things happen in your life. Sometimes, the pattern move very quickly, in a matter of days or weeks. But sometimes, a pattern can move very slowly, so slowly that it is hard to see that you are in a pattern. Perhaps one of the steps takes three years to move to the next step. The pattern has an inevitable sequence, but it is practically invisible.

In our lives and organizations, there are two basic types of patterns, oscillating and advancing. Too often, the oscillating patterns are more common than the advancing one. In this pattern, movement forward, toward what you want, has a turning point, an event that is a reversal. You no longer are able to sustain the success you wanted. You now move away from what you wanted.

Since most people think situationally, they have plenty of explanations of why things went wrong. These explanations follow the form of one event caused because of a previous event. The business failed because we were in the wrong location. The relationship failed because I was a Leo and he was a Capricorn. I didn’t get the job because they were looking for someone younger. The project didn’t last because some of the key players got transferred.

There is no doubt that these events happened as described. But, if we back up, we can see that the actual event is consistent with the types of events that always happen at that part of the story.

These types of patterns, what I have termed macrostructural patterns, may take place over short or long periods of time, but they always have the same sequence. The same way you usually get out of bed and go through your morning routine in the same order of steps, so too the patterns in your life go through the same set of steps in the same order. They are hard to see because the actual events may look very different from similar other events. If you back up, you may be able to see that, while the details are different, the type of step it is, is the same.

We can see the patterns we are in, and yet not be able to change them. When I first began to work with pattern many decades ago, I thought by knowing the pattern, people could avoid living through it yet again. But, as it turned out, even if some of the types of steps were deliberately changed by doing something that was not typical at that point in the pattern, somehow, the missing steps eventually routed back to the pattern.

This is why it is important to understand the underlying structures that generate the pattern. Structure gives rise to the pattern, which gives rise to the events of the pattern.

If you are a coach, consultant, manager, or someone in the helping professions, your clients or colleagues will be in their own patterns. Without knowing how the underlying structure works, your best efforts will be temporary. Without a change of underlying structure, the person or organization will revert back to the same patterns you’ve been trying to help them to change. That is why training in structural dynamics is one of the most important tools in your tool box.

 

Nelson and Robinson

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were just sitting there, like so many people do at a Starbucks. They were waiting for another person to arrive for a business meeting. They didn’t order anything. And that, as we all know by now, set off a chain of events in which they were led away in handcuffs.

We can blame the store manager, since fired. We can blame the police who actually arrested them for not leaving the premises when ordered to. (Why were they ordered to leave when white people in the same situation would not be?) We can blame society. So many targets to blame. This case is not a symbol but, more importantly, an illustration of the issue of identity. Of course, this example is a particularly American one. But the issue is the basis of much of the world’s history throughout the centuries. Prejudice.

In our book IDENTITY, Dr. Wayne Andersen and I wrote:

In 1954, psychologist Gordon Allport related prejudice to categorical thinking. Because we think in terms of generalized categories, Allport suggested that prejudice is a natural and normal process for humans. He wrote: “The human mind must think with the aid of categories. Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibility avoid this process. Orderly living depends upon it.”

While the mind runs on automatic, we have the added control of observation and reason. Here is the mix. There are three forces at play: automatic categorization, observation, and reason. In a way, sometimes they are in competition, especially when observation and reason contradict the attributes of some category the mind has generated.

It is easier to give in to the assumptions of the category than to observe more closely; and from that vantage point, use reason to come to a conclusion. It is easier to be prejudiced than not. Prejudice means you have come to conclusions BEFORE you have observed, which is completely different from true judgment, in which you reach a conclusion AFTER you have looked at facts and evidence.
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We can understand the underlying structure of prejudice. That doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. We can see in this Starbucks example the indignation of injustice. Two innocent guys doing what others have done from the inception of that company, sitting at a table minding their own business. And because of two facts alone, they were black and the store manager was white, the episode was able to take place. If the facts went like this: The men were white and the store manager was black, we can imagine a vastly different outcome.

One helpful effect of this event was the outpouring of outrage from most parts of our society. That demonstrates that people care about right over wrong, justice over injustice, and fairness as a value.

Here’s the thing: as Allport implies, the mind sorts things into generalized categories of similarities and differences. That is how we process the world. But our values are often in contradiction to our mind’s mindless groupings. This insight gives us a chance to support our values over our mind’s automatic predisposition. We could say that anyone who is a member of a group different from ours, whatever our group is, will have an automatic reaction that divides us from them. That fact does not lead to the action of discrimination.

When we add observation and reason to the mix, we are able to support our values over our instincts, and a higher social order becomes possible.

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