October 15, 2007

Most people will never know what they want. I don’t know what I want. If you ask me what I want to do in the next five months for language learning, on the other hand, I do know. It’s a matter of specificity. “What do you want?” is too imprecise to produce a meaningful and actionable answer. Forget about it.

“What are your goals?” is similarly fated for confusion and guesswork. To rephrase the question, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Let’s assume we have 10 goals and we achieve them — what is the desired outcome that makes all the effort worthwhile? The most common response is what I also would have suggested five years ago: happiness. I no longer believe this is a good answer. Happiness can be bought with a bottle of wine and has become ambiguous through overuse. There is a more precise alternative that reflects what I believe the actual objective is.

Bear with me. What is the opposite of happiness? Sadness? No. Just as love and hate are two sides of the same coin, so are happiness and sadness. Crying out of happiness is a perfect illustration of this. The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is — here’s the clincher — boredom.

Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.

This brings us full circle. The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”

– Tim Ferriss from The 4-Hour Workweek

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