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  • 3 Ways Competing Goals Bring Us Down
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    Henszey - October 21, 2014

    Recently a high school cross-country runner from Devils Lake, North Dakota, demonstrated her priorities in a thought-provoking way.

    During a cross-country race, Melanie Bailey encountered a fellow athlete limping along the course, sobbing in pain. While other runners steered around her, the petite Bailey chose a different response. She stopped and said to the larger, injured runner, "Here, hop on my back." And then the good Samaritan bent down, picked her up, and carried her to a medic.

    I'm not judging other athletes. I would expect top athletes to focus on winning the race. We don't know Bailey's athletic ability, her goals, and therefore whether she sacrificed those goals during the race. We only know that she said, "I felt so bad for her, I had to do something. I couldn't just leave her there." (See Devils Lake Journal, 10/17/2014 for the full article.)

    The story clearly illustrates how our priorities and values largely determine our choices. Inherent in the story is the idea that when we have competing goals, we can be forced to make a choice.

    We all face competing goals in life. We may want good health and a good career and yet we can't both be at a yoga class and at work finishing up a project. We may want to be a good parent and an attentive spouse, but it's hard to establish date night when our parenting role affords us few breaks. We may want to save money to buy a house in a better neighborhood, but we may also wish to spend money on dinner with friends to maintain strong social ties.

    Conflicting goals can result in unhappiness instead of action, according to research psychologists Robert Emmons and Laura King. By asking people about their goals and then monitoring them, the researchers identified three main consequences of conflicting goals. 

    3 Consequences

    1. We worry a lot. We waste time and energy contemplating the competing demands of our goals. Ruminating becomes a dominating, largely involuntary activity and our repetitive thoughts are largely unpleasant.

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