It shows up at job interviews, relationships when searching for a mate, and in our finances (as evidenced by the abundance of posts on goals published in early 2012).
If you don’t have goals, you’re likely to be labeled as lazy, unambitious, and lacking direction in life.
But is that fair? And is it true?
I was recently heard of the “no goals” concept on the Man vs. Debt Podcast, and now it’s really got me thinking. Baker interviewed Leo Babauta from Zen Habits fame about his stance on not setting goals.
Here’s Leo’s take on his problem with goals. (note that while this isn’t plagiarism anyway, I think it’s way cool that Zen Habits is uncopyrighted)
“In the past, I’d set a goal or three for the year, and then sub-goals for each month. Then I’d figure out what action steps to take each week and each day, and try to focus my day on those steps.
Unfortunately, it never, ever works out this neatly. You all know this. You know you need to work on an action step, and you try to keep the end goal in mind to motivate yourself. But this action step might be something you dread, and so you procrastinate. You do other work, or you check email or Facebook, or you goof off.
And so your weekly goals and monthly goals get pushed back or side-tracked, and you get discouraged because you have no discipline. And goals are too hard to achieve. So now what? Well, you review your goals and reset them. You create a new set of sub-goals and action plans. You know where you’re going, because you have goals!
Of course, you don’t actually end up getting there. Sometimes you achieve the goal and then you feel amazing. But most of the time you don’t achieve them and you blame it on yourself.
Here’s the secret: the problem isn’t you, it’s the system! Goals as a system are set up for failure.
Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.
Some goal systems are more flexible, but nothing is as flexible as having no goals.”
I don’t know about you, but this definitely describes some of the situations in my life. Getting sidetracked, getting discouraged, and things just not working out as planned are all goal-related letdowns I’ve felt.
But as someone who considers themselves an ambitious person, the idea of having zero goals is a hard one to grasp for me. I’m not ready to give up yet, and I do think that I’m more successful when I have something to shoot for. I was pretty successful when I set up monthly money goals last year, too.
But I do see some merit in letting go of goals. I hate when I’m asked what my “5-year plan” is. There’s no way I can give a real answer for that (I usually just refuse anyway). Besides, how many people hit their 5-year goals anyway?
Here are five reasons why giving up on goals could be a good idea.
Let go of what you’re not enthusiastic about. This is the comment by Leo from the podcast that stuck with me the most. Once we set goals, we become very attached to them. But sometimes adaptability is better when we lose interest in something we were once excited about.
Don’t waste your time setting up goals. Setting goals can be a long and time-consuming process. You might create goals for many aspects of life, like money, health, travel, etc. Then you might set monthly, quarterly, yearly, and multi-year goals. Once you set them, you ideally check in on your progress. While it may be a good thing to take all these steps, it’s definitely something that takes time. Could this time be better spent on other tasks? In some cases, I think so.
Don’t set yourself up to be let down. No one hits 100% of what they set out to do all of the time. When we come up short, even if it’s not our fault, there’s often a sense of failure and letdown. Goals shouldn’t be about getting upset when you don’t accomplish what you hoped.
Concentrate on what’s most important. Goals may clash with what you want to do or need to do. What if a new opportunity comes up, and you have to make a choice between that and your goals?
Discover new things. Goals are somewhat limiting. The more specific you get, the less room there may be to expand beyond or outside the limits you’ve set. Without them, you don’t have to worry about screwing up your plans. You’re free to move in any direction you’d like.
I’m going to stick with some of my goals for now, and I’ll still take them seriously. But I’m not going to worry about changing or failing to meet my them. Either way, I think this is a good discussion to have.
Going forward, I think the most effective goal setting will be short-term, where I can have a reasonable chance of success for hitting them.
Do you feel goals give you the best chance to succeed?
$ $ $ $
photo by: lululemon athletica