Life goals by negation

Life goals by negation

Keen minds are ever obsessed with fine-tuning life's machinery. The old refrains play like mantras: "Pursue your passions", "embrace your calling", "establish targets", "sketch out your utopia". All are attempts to prompt the subconscious—our built-in AI—to lend a hand in navigating this relentless cycle of existence towards some semblance of satisfaction.

But usually, these efforts converge to one pursuit: "How can I shape my life for maximum joy?" A sound inquiry, indeed, seemingly embedded with a recipe for contentment. It whispers: "Achieve A and B, and happiness shall follow."

Yet, upon scrutiny, one might find "How can I shape my life for maximum joy?" to be a flawed prompt. The variables are simply too vast, overwhelming. A and B are essentially sprawling constellations of factors. So, I propose a flip—let's start with known quantities: "What in my life obstructs my path to peace and happiness?"

Now we're cooking. We've got a foothold, a point of inquiry. We've swapped "what ifs" for "what is".

Welcome to your Shit List

Fetch a clean sheet, reserve a ten-minute slot for reflection, then carve out four columns, labelled "What", "Why", "How", "When".

This is making of your Shit List. A list of conceptual enemies we will try and eliminate. The sappers of joy, peace and contentment.


In "What," spill out all the things you know sap your joy—those gnats buzzing around your happy moments, slowly draining them of joy. Think pet peeves. They might be frequent nuisances or occasional irritants, but when they occur, they dent your subjective happiness index. But also your biggest fears. Examples include "Not being able to afford retirement","my country's economy is collapsing","A slowly deteriorating health condition is just over the horizon","my slowly expanding waste", etc.


For "Why", delve into why these things rob you of happiness. Be specific and be generous with your emotions. You might have several 'Whys' for a single 'What', and that's perfectly fine.


For "How", devise potential strategies to neutralize these irritants. These aren't mandatory actions, but ideas that could potentially ease your pain. Be creative and open-minded.


For "When", jot down how frequently this misery invades your life, or how often it keeps you awake in the wee hours.

What Why How When
  • Expensive
  • Waste of productive time
  • Dangerous
  • Polutes the environment
  • My work does not NEED me to site in the office and the whole feels like an offensive charade
  • Get a more fuel efficient vehicle
  • Bike to work
  • Carpool or take a bus
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Move closer to work
  • Get a job that's closer to home
  • Get a fully remote job

Once your Shit List is complete, you'll then rank them in four ways:

  1. By the amount of misery they inflict.
  2. By their frequency.
  3. By how easy they are to fix.
  4. Lastly, flip it over and rank them by how difficult they are to fix.

Quick wins

Your immediate victories are likely found where high-frequency and easy-to-fix problems intersect. These are your low-hanging fruits. Addressing these can offer swift improvements to your quality of life.

For example, one of my quick fixes was subscribing to YouTube Premium. The annoyance caused by ads was a constant, unnecessary thorn in my side, disrupting my peace daily. This tiny tweak made a disproportionate difference in the quality of my day-to-day life.

Then comes the tougher part, the thornier issues. The remaining points on your list are likely to be more challenging and entrenched. We'll categorize these into Medium Term Goals and Life Goals.

Medium Term Goals

Medium Term Goals are an overlap of your high-misery and easiest-to-fix categories (sans the quick wins). These could be your objectives for the next few years. The 'How' column could be the spark that ignites solutions to these issues.

Life Goals

Life Goals are found at the intersection of your high-misery and hardest-to-fix categories (again, excluding the quick wins and Medium Term Goals). They break down into two subsets: Long Term Life Goals and First Priority Goals.

Long Term Life Goals

Long Term Goals are your mountains—issues that you cannot currently affect much, but may have the opportunity to climb in the future. They aren't immediate concerns and can wait while you tackle your Medium Term Goals.

First Priotiy Life Goals

First Priority Goals are your blazing house—urgent issues requiring immediate attention. These problems demand your focus before anything else can be addressed.


There you have it, a roadmap of your troubles and solutions to enhance your existence. Ticking off these items guarantees an elevation in your contentment—no ambiguity or pie-in-the-sky dreaming. May this pragmatic approach to life optimisation truly uplift your existence.

Please let me know what you think on Twitter @RikNieu

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