Chasing Borrowed Goals

Most of our goals are borrowed goals, which explains why we don’t achieve them. We covet what others possess and desire it for ourselves: a fit body with chiseled abs like our favorite actor, a luxurious BMW like our colleague’s, or a spacious three-bedroom house like our boss’s. Our purchases – from clothes to amenities – are driven not by necessity but by a desire to emulate others.

It’s in our nature to mimic. When we’re little, we imitate our parents and siblings, and when we’re in school, we mirror the popular kid. Nature and nurture have conditioned us to mimic others’ behaviors and desires.

There are three problems with these borrowed goals:
• they hook us onto a hedonic treadmill
• they don’t motivate us into action
• they leave us disappointed

These borrowed goals get us hooked on a hedonic treadmill – an endless cycle of chasing satisfaction that never materializes. When I began working, I commuted by public bus and longed for a bike to bring me happiness. Once I acquired one, the joy lasted only six months before I yearned for a car to escape the rain and heat. After obtaining my car, I soon coveted bigger and better vehicles like my colleagues’. It’s the same in other areas.

We go from renting to buying homes, always looking for more space as we compare ourselves to others. Then, when we finally move into our spacious apartment, our coworkers move into villas, and we dream about buying one. Although we achieve our earlier wishes, our dreams and desires evolve and we are always on a treadmill, running but never arriving at what we want.

Secondly, these borrowed ambitions don’t inspire action. Instagram pictures of our friend’s trip might inspire us to visit Thailand, Prague, or the Arctic Circle, but once we realize the overheads of planning, saving, and traveling, we give up. We want to arrive without taking a step.

We all want a fit body. However, we’re reluctant to exercise and eat healthy. As we delay or drop doing those things, we invent excuses.

Because these borrowed goals aren’t tailored to our contexts, they don’t motivate us. We just fantasize about them without doing anything. We don’t achieve these goals because they aren’t ours; they belong to someone else.

As a result, these borrowed goals lead to disappointment and perpetual discontent. Either we don’t achieve them or we keep upgrading our ambitions without ever feeling satisfied. Our lives become marred by disappointment when we keep borrowing goals that weren’t meant for us.

We often get stuck in a cycle of setting loftier goals, then falling short and giving up. We’re stuck in this unending cycle of dissatisfaction, which keeps us from moving forward. Our sense of failure paralyzes us, making it hard for us to move forward and reach new milestones.


[…] often, we chase others’ dreams, running races not meant for us. This leaves us dissatisfied, disillusioned, and dismissive of […]