Are All Your Goals Materialistic Ones?

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If you’re reading Pick the Brain, it’s a fair bet that you have goals. You might even have written them down. Perhaps you read them every day, or have them pinned to a notice-board.

How many of those goals are materialistic ones? How many are focus on a dollar amount or a particular purchase?

I’ve been reading a book by Jack Canfield recently, and while I’ve found plenty of good advice in it, I’ve also been a little disturbed at times by his seeming equation of “success” with money and material goods:

Here are the life purpose statements of some of my friends. It is important to note that they have all become self-made millionaires through the fulfilment of their life purpose.

(Jack Canfield, The Success Principles, pg30 in UK edition)

It’s a common theme on blogs and forums, too: I’ve come across a number of people who are creating “vision boards” for goals that all about having expensive items – from watches to yachts – and expensive experiences.

Now, I’m not here to get judgmental. Perhaps it’s true that money really is going to bring happiness for those people. But if you’re finding it hard to pursue your goals, if you find that focusing on that stupendous salary or that huge house doesn’t seem to touch you deep down, or if your goals seem to be draining you rather than giving you energy, then ask …

What’s Behind the Money?

We never really want money itself. We want whatever it is that we believe money will bring us. For many people, this is “freedom” … but it’s worth asking yourself what price you’re paying for that. I was interested in time coach Mark Forster’s explanation of why he abandoned his goal of earning a million dollars:

So did I have to wait until I had earned a million dollars before I could have freedom? Weren’t there things I could achieve in the shorter term, or perhaps even immediately, which would have the same effect? I began to realise that the goal of a million dollars was in itself a burden. In order to reach freedom, I was proposing to enslave myself to a huge goal for an indefinite period of time.

(Mark Forster, How to Make Your Dreams Come True, p115 – currently out of print)

Even if your goals are objects or experiences, what’s the actual motivation behind them? Do you want a yacht to “prove that you’ve made it”? Is your desire for a big house really a desire for security? Do you want an expensive wardrobe so that you can attract the partner of your dreams?

Once you’ve figured out what your real goal or value is, it’s worth taking a long hard look at whether your current actions are getting you any closer. If what you really want is to meet a life partner, are your working hours making that hard? Will your kids really be happier if they have the latest and greatest toys each Christmas – or if you come home from work before bedtime once in a while?

Alex Blackwell wrote movingly about what he’d do differently if he could have his time as a father over again:

I would stay at the dinner table 15 minutes longer and not feel compelled to rush to my office and dig into my work. I would use those 15 minutes to ask one additional question about [my daughter’s] day, to provide the nurturing she wanted and to offer my help in any matter my daughter requested.

(Alex Blackwell, Confessions from a Recovering Father, The BridgeMaker)

What Are You Being Sold?

Marketers and advertisers play on our emotions. Rather than selling us a watch, a car or a holiday, they sell us a particular feeling – perhaps even succeeding in getting to the heart of what we really want. Next time you see an advert and think “I want that”, ask yourself what feeling or emotion you’re being sold. Security? Freedom? Escape from concerns?

Our culture is increasingly materialistic. Just pick up a magazine, watch television or catch a movie and you’ll see that. Even personal development gurus tell us to expect “abundance” and to “raise our financial thermostat”.

It’s often worth taking a step back. Ask yourself whether a new gadget or item will really make you happy. If not … what will? More leisure time, the freedom to be creative, deeper relationships? That’s what you should be pursuing.

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Related Articles:

Why Unmaterialistic People Should Want To Get Rich

The Beauty of Occasional Abundance


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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