Overcome the conflicting goals-trap

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… From time to time we have to choose between several goals to solve one at a time. The vernacular says: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”. If we are betwixt and between these goals, we can speak of goal conflict.

When we‘re trying to do the second or the third step before the first is another indicator of goal conflict. Trying so we‘ll proverbially stumble over own feet. However, some needs do feel so crucially important that one ignores the order of steps to do to reach his or her goals.

Compared to my needs, even my painful and destructive chronic inflammatory joint disease once felt like the lesser evil. For so long, my interest in recovering had to stand behind my interest in fulfilling these more urgent needs. Figuratively speaking I would run on crutches towards my more immediate needs, although I would have progressed unevenly better without RA, without pain and movement restrictions without my crutches. But my patience in first devoting myself to recovery, stopping my physical decay, wasn’t big enough. Only the desire to reach a seemingly urgent, more significant and more important goal was essential. That I would still be able to achieve it, as sick as I was, eventually turned out to be a fallacy.

Although I often no longer had the necessary strength for them at all, my strongest need felt so absolutely important that my actual condition and loss of power were less interesting to me. As I was right now, I didn’t meet my most urgent need for how I wanted to be, so my health at that moment was not my highest interest, my highest need.

Without what I wanted, I couldn’t be who I wanted to be, and that didn’t feel very good.

The mere fact that I tried to get my regular daily routine with family, work and household done, pushed my health far back until there were too little time and power left. And that, although I often did my work in pain and with limited movements. One day I found myself, despite my aching hands, still preparing the potatoes for the next meal. Let alone this simple work includes many individual steps (peeling, cutting, lifting the pot), which were all painful for me ill as I was. Anyway, I did them and watched myself in amazement. From my rheumatologist, I knew that the inflammatory process and the pain from the RA indicated that physical destruction was taking place at that moment, and yet I used my sick body for excessive work. I began to feel clear how nonsensical that was.

So reason told me, “Alright, but with RA and the meds you’re getting more and more miserable. Do something against this first. You also brush your teeth and don’t let them degrade – right?!”

My insight said, “Yes, I know. I should take care of my joints now. RA hurts and restricts me.”

My need responded: “I don’t care. At first, I want to be me. That, I am not what I want to be and that I do not have what I want is the worse fate to me. I’ve had too little time and opportunities for myself even before RA.”

I felt stress. 

That taught me that goal conflicts mean nothing but tension.

That’s why I was trying to clarify my situation. Once again, describing the problem as exact as possible turned out be very helpful. So my goal conflict had to come to the light of critical consideration. I became more aware of my actions, their reasons, and consequences. I adjusted my overall situation better than before: while I was ill, for example, I choose the meals that were easier to prepare, and I learned to be more considerate of myself and to ask others for help.

So I discovered that I could favor myself in many more situations than I thought. That was neither a failure nor was I ashamed to be dependent on help.

With inflamed joints, it is inappropriate to do too heavy work. And what is “too heavy” is defined by the current condition. For my joints, too heavy work included to cut an apple or a potato, to lift a box full of drinks, to carry a flower vase or to turn a key in the lock (especially not against resistance).

What struck me first in the stark contrast between my need/my goal, my daily errands with family, work and household and my condition, I now even found in situations that I had experienced as a healthy person before the RA. I had put myself last and did overloading work I was not sufficiently trained for. Partly also because treating myself with care (like a healthy lifestyle with sports, nutrition and adequate sleep) did not belong to my knowledge of my needs and habits. I had defined more about my accomplishments for others, keeping them so busy that my own life was mostly stress and wear for myself. So I had put my health below other priorities – down and down until it vanished from my focus every day for a very long time until I got seriously ill from that behaviour.

I had tried to fulfil expectations that others had in me or that I at least believed them to have. Over time, I questioned these expectations and changed my life accordingly.

It was not until many years after healing that I found The Work through a video with Vera F. Birkenbihl and successfully tried it out.

With Byron Katie’s “The Work”, more persistent fixations on negative beliefs, such as “I should / must” or “he/she should/must” can be revealed and solved.

Katie asks four (leading) questions about stressful thoughts that cause ongoing sadness. How we regard them, rational does not matter. She encourages the reader to be petty and to go into detail.

There is one thing that all the stressful thoughts have in common: as long as we think of them as true we can’t get rid of them. Katies questions can help to take a closer look at these subjective truths. With them, we can eliminate unnecessary pain that influence our lives in an unhealthy way.

Stressful thoughts are nothing unusual: each of us has their subjective sight that sometimes can cause a stressful thought.

We can’t escape ourselves.

But we can get to know ourselves better.

We can learn to recognize suffering and stress as essential sources of information, as physical-mental-spiritual warning signals and thus eliminate the trigger. So it is not about trying to declare our subjectivity as wrong and dangerous. On the contrary: our subjectivity itself is the source of acting ability and our self-worth. So I expanded Katie’s third question:

What reason what proper function does my stress fulfil?

What does it do to me now in a very concrete and practical way?

Did it perhaps warn me about something I have previously overlooked?

Does it motivate me to defend my position in precarious situations instead of withdrawing?

Or have I manoeuvred myself into a corner with a conviction from that holds me there?

Nobody has to suffer from bad experiences and unfavourable facts for a long time. If you do, it is because of the power you give to the pain and has the advantage that you’re able to change it.

For me, bad and my suffering was inextricably linked for many – too many – years. I took the context of: “I have experienced something bad, and therefore it is natural and inevitable that I must suffer,” as mandatory. I was mistaken.

Longlasting grief is no duty.

We can help ourselves by formulating our wishes, with which we associate a solution to our grief and more personal freedom, as separate sentences and then ask Katie’s four questions.

As I tried out The Work, I learned that the stressful thought I wanted to work with must be formulated correctly when one or other of my attempts went nowhere. It is important not to give up at such moments. Stay tuned is worth it. If you mentally engage with your convictions and sorrows, you will get the right and most important thought sooner or later, and the knot that you did not have before can break away with The Work. And that is a relatively short time compared to the period during which one has suffered his conviction. Different individual negative beliefs are considered and questioned individually. Thus, they are made clear as allegations that, in more detail, no longer exist.

In the following two examples, I have applied the four questions from Katie (in italics) to one of my negative beliefs at that time. Katie’s questions are also on the worksheet “Examine Conviction” I found on The Work and come from her book, “Loving What Is“:

In my conviction: “I have had too little time and opportunities for myself even before RA.” I found my first stressful thought: “I should have more time and opportunities for me.” My goal conflict (and thus constant tension) was that I considered my everyday life with work, household and family as fundamentally immutable hindering my own development.

The first question is subjective truth. It reads, “Is that true?” I would have answered it very clearly with “yes” because that would have best met my conviction.

The second question concerns the verification of the conviction: “Can you know with absolute certainty that this is true?” Here it becomes clear that the subjective and the objective truth are different. So my answer would have been “no” because, in fact, I had enough time and opportunities.

To the third question: “How do you react, what happens if you believe in this thought?” My answer was: “I am sad and see no opportunities.”

The fourth question is: “Who would you be without it?” My answer was, “I would be happier because I would take my time and opportunities.”

After these four questions, the stressful thought can now be reversed, and it is considered whether something true can be found in the new, more objective sentence.

My reversed thought then read like this: „I possess plenty of time and chances.“ But beware: Just to turn words around is easy. But if done without logic it won‘t emerge in anything true. Turning the stressful thought I suffered from was my opportunity for changing my point of view, it leads to critical thought about what I took for self-evident. This was the reason for my reversed thought to be true – I reversed it in a logical way.

“Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction.”

Francis-Marie Martinez Picabia

Bitter sorrow and worries can end and we get a new scope to take better care of ourselves.

My second stressful thought was:

“I should be better/faster/more successful in my HeilÜben.”

The first question: “Is that true?”

My answer: “Yes, it feels true to me.”

The second question: “Can you know with absolute certainty that this is true?”

My answer: “No, I’m already doing my best.”

The third question: “How do you react, what happens if you believe in this thought?”

My answer: “I am depressed and have too little drive, little hope.”

The fourth question: “Who would you be without this thought?”

My answer: “I would have more courage, more energy, and more self-confidence through the things I have already accomplished.”

Now I turn the stressful thought into: “I am good and successful, in and with my HeilÜben-exercises.”

Of course, The Work can also be used on any other stressful thoughts such as, “I do not deserve that.”; “I can not do that because I’m too stupid.”; “I should first achieve this or that before I can take care of my health.” Dissatisfaction with an existing condition and the sincere desire for improvement is adequately employed, a powerful engine that drives us to get out of our worries, fears, and worries. This is a great way to lower our tension level. And for me, it helped to relieve the tension damaging my joints.

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1 Byron, Kathleen Mitchell, Loving What Is, arkana 2002

2 Vera F. Birkenbihl and Byron, Kathleen Mitchell, Loving What Is, Wieviel Ärger braucht der Mensch? Vera F. Birkenbihl “workt” mit Moritz Boerner über ihr berufliches und privates Umfeld.

3 worksheet

picture credits

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