DR JOHN DEMARTINI - Updated 10 months ago
What is the difference between a fantasy and a real objective goal?
Every perception you have has a ratio of benefits to drawbacks to it, and every resultant attractive or repulsive emotion you experience is a bi-product of your ratio of perception.
When you perceive that an event has more BENEFITS than drawbacks, you will label it as a supportive and beneficial situation. In this case, you are likely more conscious of the upsides and unconscious of the downsides.
When you perceive that an event has more DRAWBACKS than benefits, you will label it as a challenging and detrimental situation. In this case, you are likely more conscious of the downsides and unconscious of the upsides.
Think of a magnet with a positive and negative pole. Now imagine trying to cut the magnet in half so you can keep only the positive pole. It’s not possible. Cut a magnet in half, and you will be left with two magnets, each containing both a positive and negative pole.
It is unlikely anyone would dedicate their existence to creating a one-sided magnet. Yet, so many people spend decades striving for a one-sided life - the positive without the negative, good without bad, upsides without downsides, and support without challenge.
Trying to create or look for a one-sided life is as fruitless and impossible as trying to find a one-sided magnet – the one side or pole cannot exist without its other complementary opposite.
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Here are three examples of fantasies versus actual objective goals:
- A fantasy or lopsided goal involves an assumption of a monopole or a one-sided outcome.
Any time you strive for something one-sided, a pleasure without a pain, upsides without downsides, your goal is most certainly a fantasy.
It could be at the start of a relationship when you think, “He’s the one” and how “perfect” he is, only to later discover all the downsides to his upsides and negatives to his positives.
Another example could be a family who emigrates and thinks of the perfect life they will have in their new opportune country, only to discover the challenges and losses that come with the corresponding support and gains.
Any time you have a one-sided awareness and are subjectively biased instead of seeing both sides when you set a goal, it is probably not an actual authentic and objective goal and it is a goal that you are unlikely to achieve – for it is partly a fantasy.
The more polarized your perception, the more unobtainable your fantasy goal becomes.
One of my favorite examples of this involves asking a roomful of people how many of them would love to be financially independent. Each and every hand goes up.
I then ask how many of them are already financially independent or well on their way to becoming financially independent, and 99% of their hands go down.
Why? Because it’s more often a fantasy and not an actual objective goal.
What most of them would truly love is immediate gratification that comes from spending money like water without having to save and invest patiently, curb their spending on depreciating consumables, and actually invest their money wisely in true long-term sustainable asset accumulation.
- Setting a fantasy goal generally means you are setting goals that are not congruent with your highest values or priorities.
Each individual has a unique set of values in life that are fingerprint specific to them.
When you set goals aligned with what you value most, they’re more likely to be objectives or goals that are more objective.
Objective goals or objectives are neutral and balanced. Objectivity implies a “balanced mind”. Subjectivity means a polarized mind, or an opinion, and being subjectively biased.
- Anytime you set a goal that is truly aligned with what you value most, you have the highest probability of having an actual, balanced, objective goal.
- Anytime you set a goal that’s NOT really important to you or anytime you’re striving for something that you THINK is important but that your life doesn’t show any evidence of consistently pursuing it or making it come true, you are likely chasing a fantasy.
- A fantasy goal has no strategy or roadmap.
Another example of a fantasy is when you set a so-called goal, but you don’t have a strategy designed to achieve it.
The likely outcome is that you pursue it haphazardly, don’t pre-empt and plan for potential pitfalls and challenges, and tend to become self-defeating and give up at some point.
In my mind, all three scenarios could, by definition, be a fantasy: seeking a one-sided outcome, pursuing something that is not high on your values despite you thinking it was important, and not having a strategy in place to achieve an actual objective goal.
What happens in the brain when you set goals?
The ratio of your perceptions – are what determine your emotions. They also impact your internal chemistry.
Research shows that the neurochemistry in your brain differs significantly when you think about a FANTASY as opposed to an actual, objective GOAL.
A one-sided positive fantasy, or philia, that you can see in your imagination often stimulates a dopamine rush from your amygdala, the desire center in the subcortical area of your brain, which elevates the levels of oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin, endorphins and sometimes even estrogen.
As a result, your entire body may be flooded with a transient feeling of ‘elation’, which facilitates the subjectively biased fantasy you create about what could happen in the future – one where you are conscious of more upsides and rewards than downsides and challenges. This initial exuberance can make you feel like you are on a high.
A nightmare, phobia, or an unmet or challenged fantasy that you can see in your imagination, but where you don’t have a clear strategy to solve it likely results in a different set of neurotransmitters firing off, such as osteocalcin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, histamine and testosterone.
On the other hand, an actual strategically designed objective goal likely results in a clear vision in your mind’s eye and a balanced neurochemistry.
In other words, your neurochemistry depends on whether you truly believe with more certainty that you can reach your goal, whether you have a clear strategy to back up your actual objective goal, or whether you are chasing a fantasy
Most goals eventually create dopamine when you perceive that you’re making progress towards it or if you can see it in your mind.
The difference between an actual objective goal and a fantasy is that a fantasy is perceived in the imagination in the FUTURE, and an objective is seen in the NOW.
If you have an actual, objective, or balanced goal, you won’t perceive it into the future – it will be present in your mind. This is because you’ve strategized and mitigated the risks, can see how you can do it, and can you see there’s nothing in the way. You are rewarded with balanced chemistry instead of polarized chemistry when you do.
So many people spend their lives pursuing fantasies, which often results in polarized or vacillating chemistry where anxieties, phobias, and distresses because they can’t achieve their desired one-sided outcome.
Instead, it is wise to pursue an actual objective goal that is congruent with your highest values, where you’ve mitigated the risks on and thought through all the different challenges to compile a strategy, and where you can see it so clearly in your mind’s eye that it is almost impossible for you not to fulfill it. It’s almost as if it is destined.
That’s when you know you’re not living in fantasy.
What happens in the brain when you achieve a goal?
Anytime you perceive you’re making progress towards a fantasy, you’re likely to get a dopamine fix from the desire center of your brain, the amygdala, because a desire is being perceived to be met.
However, suppose it is an actual objective goal that you are progressively reaching instead of a fantasy. In that case, it’s likely to result in more balanced chemistry.
Fantasies create complementary opposite responses or nightmares to counterbalance them. I often say that depression, which is associated with an imbalanced chemistry, is a comparison of your current reality to a fantasy you’re holding onto.
So, whenever you have something that you don’t have a strategy for, that’s not really aligned with your highest values, that’s one-sided, that’s unobtainable, depression is a potential compensation for it.
When pursuing a fantasy, you can fluctuate back and forth between these two sides, and both poles lead to different opposite chemistries.
However, if you set an actual, objective goal, mitigate the risks, and pursue challenges that truly inspire you, you tend to have a balanced chemistry. It’s not just a dopamine rush; but instead, you get both sides of the autonomic response in both sides of the brain because you articulate the strategy with the left hemisphere. You see it visually in the right hemisphere. In other words, you literally have a balanced chemistry.
The reward is not a localized amygdala-dopamine response but a more holistic brain response with all the different components in the mind that you see fulfilled in its vision. You can simultaneously see it, hear it and smell it. It’s gestalt.
The more gestalt your objective is, the more effectively your neurochemistry utilizes glucose and oxygen. It’s amazing what that can do to your physiology.
I often tell people to prioritize their time pursuing goals that are true objectives, that are deeply meaningful and serve others.
Those are the ones that result in the most balanced chemistry where you get so much more than dopamine, but also chemistries that come from pursuing challenges that inspire you.
For example, hormesis occurs and balanced chemistries are released when you have inspired, but challenging chemistries, which can powerfully boost your immune system.
Pursuing challenges that inspire you is one of the keys to achieving your true objective goals.
What do you do when you feel you’re not making progress?
When you go after a fantasy, you’re likely setting yourself up for a nightmare because it’s not obtainable nor sustainable.
As the Buddha is paraphrased as saying, the desire for that which is unobtainable (the fantasy) and the desire to avoid that which is unavoidable (the nightmare) is a source of human suffering.
Most people don’t understand how important it is to set actual objective goals that are truly aligned with their highest values.
That’s why in the Breakthrough Experience program that I teach most every week, I make sure that people make a clear distinction between goals that are lopsided fantasies and ones that are actually balanced objectives.
I’ve heard hundreds of New Year’s resolutions that are almost complete fantasies. I’ve seen people set goals that are complete fantasies. Then they have let-downs and depressions and often beat themselves up for being ‘lazy’, ‘undisciplined’ or a ‘failure’ – wondering why their assumed to be goals are unachieved.
Instead, it’s wise to set goals that are truly aligned to what you value most while also ensuring that you have a strategy in mind of how to achieve them (which you’ll have if your goal is congruent with what you really value and you have with foresight mitigated your risks and obstacles, which balances the equation of your now objective). Then you have transformed your goal from a polarized fantasy into a true and balanced objective.
One of the purposes of the executive center in the forebrain, the medial prefrontal cortex, is to transform such immediate gratifying fantasies into true longer term objectives.
You have a measuring system in the frontal cortex that measures the probability of achieving your goals based on the perceived and accumulated data.
You get one response if you perceive that you can achieve your goal and another response when you don’t feel like you’re getting what you set out to do. One balances your neurochemistry, one polarizes it further, resulting in feelings of initially elation and then depression and frustration.
Whenever you perceive you’re not achieving what you think is your goal, because it’s a polarized fantasy, you stimulate adrenaline and cortisol, which often results in a “fight or flight” response because you feel like you’re being challenged by overlooked obstacles (you respond to the challenge as if it was a predator chasing you). As a result, you break down and catabolize your physiology, resulting in entropy and aging.
So it’s so important not to pursue fantasies but to pursue high priority, truly meaningful objectives. And if they’re massive objectives such as Elon Musk getting in the pursuit of reaching Mars, then it is even wiser to make sure that:
- Your goal is aligned with your highest values;
- You have a clear strategy in place to mitigate all potential risks and challenges; and
- All the people involved are working on tasks and deliverables aligned with their own highest values. If not, you’ll have a decreasing probability of achieving them doing it because they won’t be engaged, and you’ll likely have to micromanage and push people uphill to attempt to get things done.
If you don’t reach your goal, you will get feedback – often misinterpreted as failure.
Your physiology and psychology will give you feedback to let you know that you’re not pursuing an actually meaningful and spontaneously inspiring objective.
Anytime you’re inauthentic, your physiology and psychology will offer you feedback in the form of physiological and psychological symptoms to try to get you to be authentic and on to actual objectives that are really important to you and that have a detailed strategy.
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