Bullet vs. Water – The 2 Ways to Achieve Your Goals

Personal Development

Do we always need clearly defined goals, to get wherever we want to go?
We are taught by all the gurus in the personal development industry, that it is all about defining goals.

Yet some of the most successful people have achieved enormous things without having a goal for a good part of the way.

I would like you to listen to one of the most successful managers alive today – Steven Jobs. In his Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005 he clearly states, that very often you can only connect the dots in hindsight. That means, very often you do things without knowing why, that make sense only in retrospect.

Does that sound like goal setting? No way. And yet he not only invented Apple, the Macintosh and Pixar – but he also brought design & typography to the computer world, just by going to a calligraphy course, that was at that time of no practical use for him. Listen to this speech – it has some enormous insights to offer.

So what about goal setting. I made up a model, that shows that there are essentially 2 approaches to “Goal Achieving”.

  • The Way of the Bullet
  • The Way of Water

The Push-Mode – The Bullet Approach

The bullet gets aimed at a target. And once it is shot, it goes straight to that target, either breaking through anything in it’s way or getting stuck in something in between his way and the target.

You want a goal, you define it, and you go out to get it. You push through obstacles to get it. And if an obstacle won’t move, you push harder. You make your goal not only top priority, but you make it so essential for your well-feeling, that you won’t be satisfied if you don’t accomplish it.
You are like a bullet then. You are aimed at a target and go straight to it. Anything that is in your way, you will either break through or get stuck in it.

And that is the danger. With this approach, you easily get into a stuck state. There is an obstacle in front of you, that won’t move. No matter how hard you push. You push and fight, and fight and push, until your head gets dizzy from all the stress. You get frustrated, angry and upset. You curse your fate, because it won’t allow you to become happy.
But what happens, when you are able to break through? Chances are you are even more stuck, than before. Of course sometimes, you get through, but another problem, another chance to get stuck is just lurking around the corner.

But what happens, when you achieved it? What comes next? Once we’ve achieved our goal, we realize, that we need another goal soon, because we feel empty without it. We define our happiness through the goal, but once we get it, we realize that happiness is vanishing soon, and so we need to get another chance to re-experience that high feeling of happiness.

This approach consumes vast amounts of energy. You have a very high chance of getting high blood pressure, circulatory troubles, heart problems, severe damages in your nerval system or several other related illnesses from living your life like this.

The Pull-Mode – The Water Approach

Water in the form of a river is constantly flowing. It has no map that shows you how to get to a goal. It is just flowing, because it is its natural way. If an obstacle comes in it’s way, it is easy for the river to look out for other routes to continue its way. A river has no need in achieving anything or getting anywhere to define its existence.

You want a goal. You take steps to achieve them. But you let go the need to achieve it. You visualize your goal. You let the “Why” you want to achieve it float your whole being. And then you go on doing steps that you enjoy, because they are part of your nature. You would even do them, if you had to pay for it.

So does that mean you give up, whenever there comes an obstacle? No. You persist. But you don’t push. You behave more like water. You have a “Why” to continue, but you are not stuck to a route to get there. And you get happiness from doing the steps. If an odd fate would not allow you to get to your goal, you wouldn’t destroy your happiness with it, you would take the route you’ve been on as a valuable experience and move on along the way your nature guides you.

The people at 3M wanted to create a super-adhesive, but they developed a glue, that was far from it. But their mind was like water, they turned it into 3M Post It’s. And they made millions more from this, than from any potential super-glue.

Yes water can undermine a mountain that is standing in it’s way, and it can easily take another direction and go around the mountain to continue it’s way. But it won’t stop. Not because it want’s to go to any specific location. There is no target needed for a river to flow. A river just flows.

So you might not even need a goal to achieve a lot. You can just enjoy the things you do and get even more out of it, than you would had you used the push-mode, which is 100% goal-oriented and of no use without a clearly defined goal. Remember Stevens Calligraphy lessons. Otherwise you would read this blog in “Courier” font. He just followed where his heart was. And that is the way of water. Keep going where your nature and your heart want to go and trust, that the dots will connect in hindsight.

Keeping the Balance

So define for yourself, how you from now on would like to live your life.

Are you (more) like a bullet or (more) like water?

I guess that both approaches have their validity, depending on context. But I assume, that the bullet mode is sometimes good to get you started, but can get you into serious trouble, if you don’t bring the water approach, to keep yourself flexible on the way.

And always look out, whether there isn’t another Post-It looking around the way. Maybe another chance was offered to you, that would be even better than your original goal.

Water would find it, the bullet would miss it. Stay flexible.

4 comments… add one
  • Patrick this post definitely resonated with me. I am totally for the water approach of achieving goals in life. I do believe that you need to have some type of a goal in front of you (pursuing your interest and becoming good at it is a goal too) but you must be flexible in your ways of getting there. If something does not work out just try it again or think of anew way of doing it. Maybe it’s just not meant to be and the universe is telling you that it is time to try something else. However, sometimes you have to give yourself some time to reach a goal because even water cuts through stone, it just takes some type. Overall I think that the water approach to life in general is the way of balanced living: no extremities, no harsh movements, no pushing. Just relaxed floating through the waves of life.

    .-= Anastasiya´s last blog ..The Myth of Personal Independence. Are You Falling for It? =-.

    • Patrick

      @Anastasiya: I agree with you. I’ve found that sometimes I need the bullet qualities to start a project, to break through some of my own resistance like procrastination. But once I am in the habit, I need to switch to water for the flexibility and peace that comes with it.

  • Very well said, Patrick. The bullet approach is single-minded, whereas the water approach is open and receptive to the unknown. When you define the goal, then let it go, you are freed up to be present with what you are doing, so you do it more efficiently. I’m definitely a water person, but could sometimes use a little more bullet! Thanks for the reminder.

    .-= Gail @ A Flourishing Life´s last blog ..Life Lessons from Our Elders #3: Don’t Wait =-.

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