A State of Self-Awareness: What Goals Do Your Actions Serve?

  • Someday Lesson: Without self-awareness, personal growth won’t happen.

Elizabeth/Table4Five on flickr.comMost people think that getting over procrastination involves a famous slogan that politely tells us to get off our collective asses and start working – just do it.

However, it’s not that simple. If you don’t know why you procrastinate or what goals, desires and fears are working in contradiction to one another, no amount of just doing it will produce any results. Since understanding comes from self-awareness, for the second exercise in the ebook I’ll Get Around To It Someday, I asked the Lab Rats to monitor themselves for a few days looking at what actions they took and what goals each of those actions served.

Now, when I say “goals” in this instance, I don’t mean the thought-out planned goals. I mean the unconscious outcomes that we bring about by letting our actions just happen without conscious choice.

For example, I know that I have a tendency to fritter when I really want to be highly focused and that frittering serves a goal of avoiding hard work. That’s a part of who I am and that avoidance is just as much a goal as getting a book published one day. You can see however, that these two goals contradict one another, but by being aware of them, I have learned how to manage them so that they don’t interfere with each other.

The Lab Rats, however, haven’t reached that point yet. They’re at the awareness stage and this week we look at what goals they drew out of the exercise.

The Wrong Maze

Before we get started though, a side note. I wasn’t sure how many of the Lab Rats would actually get through this particular maze I set them, so it came as no surprise that two people decided not to enter it. Nor did it surprise me who were the two non-maze-runners.

First was Helen, whose life is more or less how she wants it and is highly busy, tracking her workday down to the quarter hour. Shoehorning in another tracking project to her already busy schedule was just not going to happen. But that’s okay – in Helen’s case I’d ask her to stop a moment before starting any task or choosing any piece of food throughout the day. And that question is:

How does doing this make my life better?

By asking herself that question, she creates self-awareness for all her actions but doesn’t need to actually track it. And if she asks it for everything she does, it will become a habit and will help her stop making less-than-healthy choices.

Who else didn’t submit? Marie – the dissertation student who admitted last week to a full-on procrastination problem. Marie knows what the problem is: she’s self-sabotaging due to doubts about her future, but like most normal people, she has no interest in facing this self-sabotage. Asking Marie to track her actions for a week asks her to face her self-destructive behavior full-on and honestly that’s not going to happen either – nor will it be very effective in curing her of her procrastination. Much better to let it go for a week and continue on with other exercises, coming at the problem from a different angle.

Now let’s take a look at what (positive and negative) goals our other Lab Rats pursue on a day to day basis.


Johnny would like to set his days as mornings for work and afternoons for planning his career. Unfortunately the career planning part holds a lot of uncertainty and fear, so he creates other activities to distract him from actually getting there.

His conflicting goals are as such:

  1. Find a career he’s passionate about.
  2. Avoid the huge knot of emotions the first goal generates.
  3. Get work done enough to feed the family.

Despite not really wanting to work at the last goal, the “feed the family” part is usually enough to get him moving on it even if he takes a long time to get around to it.

With the first one however, right now the protective avoidance keeps him from pursuing his passion. In his original notes to me Johnny confided that this sort of behavior happened regularly in the past – he would want very much to accomplish something but would procrastinate about it so much that he wouldn’t get it done.

Think of it as the little boy who has a crush on a little girl, but since he can’t deal with the overwhelming emotions concerning the girl, hits her and teases her instead of talking to her.


In looking at the goals served in a typical day for Joyce, one major issue jumped out at me. Almost every single one of her goals serves obligations and not desires:

  1. Pets’ wellbeing
  2. Family’s wellbeing
  3. Son’s education
  4. Business obligations
  5. Networking
  6. Joyce’s education
  7. Obligation to her body’s pain
  8. Obligation to her nicotine habit
  9. Friend’s wellbeing
  10. Desire to write

Obviously Joyce cares about the well-being of those around her; but in a typical day, almost all of the activities she does for reasons other than personal desire. Yes, Joyce chooses to smoke, but after many years of doing so her body has created an obligation – if she wants to feel good during the day, she needs to smoke. The (unhealthy) obligation is to her body’s cravings.

Only her own schooling and her writing speak directly to her needs and often she reaches the end of the day too tired to write, so even that goal doesn’t get served.

In last week’s worksheet however, Joyce didn’t mention a lot of these obligations because they are things she chooses to do and wants to do – which is great – but they don’t serve her needs directly[?] – which is not so great.

As we move forward with Joyce we’ll look for ways for her to find more time for her private goals.


Michelle tracked a whole week and discovered that her actions are completely governed by the needs, wants and reactions of others. It wasn’t a heartening realization for her, but an important one. It means that Michelle will likely make faster progress through subsequent mazes because a few small changes will likely produce rapid results.

An obstacle I do foresee for Michelle, however, is one that a commenter on a post last week discovered – that family doesn’t appreciate changes, even if the changes are better for everyone in the long run. Because of that Michelle will face a good deal of pushback from people who are used to how she is just as she is.

On a positive note, Michelle is so poised to make big changes in her life. Her comments show a high degree of self-awareness. She knows what she needs to change – she just hasn’t done it yet. Once the mazes give her a few decision-making and choice-making tools, she’ll just start plowing through the changes into the life she really wants.


Like many people with nine-to-five jobs, Kristin spends very little time at work actually working. That often happens for people who work in a time-based business world. Instead of focusing on results, employers look at time put in at the office.

Looking at her schedule, Kristin felt ashamed for not getting more done, but acknowledged that this is the point of her signing up to be a Lab Rat – to implement the changes.

She also realized that some of her goals serve the needs of other people who may not even care if she helps their goal and may even prefer that she work towards her own goals first and not focus on the needs of others so much..

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3 thoughts on “A State of Self-Awareness: What Goals Do Your Actions Serve?

  1. I really enjoyed reading all of the various insights on this topic. Thank you!
    .-= positively present´s last blog ..the power of acceptance: a path to an open heart =-.

  2. I love how you present your lesson by relating it to the goals of particular individuals. It gives the reader a flexibility in perspective, and a stronger likelihood of discovering the fundamentals of life, like self-awareness, that really make life worth living. Thanks for your time and effort to put together this site. I will definitely be keeping in touch in the near future.
    .-= Steven Handel´s last blog ..Six Aspects Of A Well-Balanced Person (Part 1) =-.

  3. Alex Fayle says:

    @Positively Present
    Thanks! This is a great group of Lab Rats!

    @Steven Handel
    I find these sorts of lessons work best when links to real examples – otherwise they’re just more talking without action. Thanks for coming by!

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