“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
~ Lao Tzu
The notion of concrete, achievable goals seems to be deeply ingrained in our culture.
I’m guilty of this. I use various strategies to help people create a vision for themselves, and I have never been fond of the word goal.
I have decided to not set goals this year and instead focus on my overall vision for the living of my life.
It feels a lot lighter and allows me to breathe a sigh of relief, but I’m also quietly terrified.
We can increase our productivity without having any goals.
For example, I started a pop up event evening once a month without a specific goal in mind. I wanted to create an experience and explore building conversations in my community.
I had no idea where or what it would lead to or if it would convert into anything, but it was something I had been thinking about for a long time.
When the opportunity arrived, I took inspired action. Already, it’s bearing fruit through the positive experiences of the guests and my own personal experience and satisfaction.
Say goodbye to goals and say hello to the Happiness Exchange Rate.
If the aim of investing our life energy and money is to secure happiness for ourselves and others, then anything that allows us to get more happiness out of the experiences of our lives is increasing our Happiness Exchange Rate.
Every choice is an investment or unit of experience exchanged for happiness. Those experiences may help us grow and bring fulfillment and meaning, or deplete us and bring struggle and confusion.
So, what does all this mean?
It means we can stop letting ourselves be limited by goals and finish lines, and focus on the exchange of our time and life energy in things that support and nourish us, without needing to label them. Remember being told time and time again “You’ll never get anywhere unless you know where you’re going?” This seems like common sense and yet it’s not true if we stop and think about it.
For example, I could walk out my door and go for a walk in a random direction, perhaps down streets I don’t normally visit. After 30 minutes I will be somewhere, even if it is a place I was not expecting to be.
Goals versus Visions
A goal might be to walk for 30 minutes each and every day.
A vision might be enjoying a body that feels fit and healthy and moves with freedom.
The vision is the organizing principle, the goal is a signpost.
A signpost is not what any of us are seeking or where we are heading, it’s just a marker. A vision creates a very different energy to live and move in.
We have to open our minds to going places we may never have contemplated heading towards.
If we live without goals, we’ll have no choice but to explore new territory, experience the unexpected and end up in surprising places. The beauty of this philosophy is that its foundation is based on creating a vision of not getting anywhere and enjoying the outcome anyway.
It is about working from a place of freedom to explore what you are called to explore. It can be a difficult shift to make in our “finish line” obsessed culture.
Today, I live for the most part without goals.
I try to make things less concrete and more focused on investing my energy in activities that bring me increased happiness at a lower cost and impact.
If I am creating opportunities for myself that increase happiness, then it will overflow into every aspect of my life.
This is a process I’m starting to appreciate. I enjoy creating experiences rather than having to make everything set in stone and goal-oriented. I’m still getting a lot done, but it feels like I have a little more space in my life.
Why goals are problematic.
We all set goals.
In goal-oriented practice, we set a goal for the year, and then sub-goals for each month and we may even break it down further. We then figure out what the action steps are and focus on those steps.
I do this for many of my clients, using a more detailed system, and it works well for some people in certain times or places in their lives. It’s an effective practice for helping people who are dreamers move into action.
Unfortunately, it hardly ever works in the way we hope.
We have all experienced this. We know we’re supposed to work on one of our sub-goals, and we try to keep the end goal in mind as a motivator, but perhaps we’re dreading taking the next step and so we procrastinate. Enter Facebook, Twitter, binge eating, snoozing or an hour of Candy Crush or solitaire on the iPad.
The goal or even the sub-goal does not get reached. Discouragement sets in and the little voice in our head whispers, “I’m lazy, I have no discipline” or “I’m not smart enough.”
Attaining goals are difficult, right?
We know where we are going because we have goals.
My belief is, the problem isn’t really you, it’s the field you are playing on. Goals as a playing field are a set up to make us feel bad about ourselves because it is rarely the outer goal we are after.
So, even if we achieve it, it often feels like it is not good enough.
All meaningful goals have an important interior component, emotional or spiritual. What this means is that you are trying to convert your desired interior state into an external result. You make the translation into a goal and that can lead to trouble. For example:
Vision: I wish to be financially free. This converts to—Goal: I want to make six figures a year.
The interior goal state is converted into the external state. Financial freedom becomes attached to the goal of attaining six figures.
That doesn’t have to be a problem, but it often becomes one for people who start doing and living in ways to reach the goal, in this case, a six figure income.
Often in the process of wanting freedom, we give up freedom in the hope we can find it at the finish line. We exchange happiness in the process of trying to reach our external goals, and we make our Happiness Exchange Rate plummet in order to reach the goal.
When we reach it, we wonder why it doesn’t feel better and immediately set a new goal. If the Happiness Exchange Rate it takes to achieve the goal isn’t making us feel free, reaching the external goal won’t change that.
Even when we’re doing things perfectly according to the plan, it’s not very motivating or empowering because we’re limited.
When we don’t feel like doing something, we force things.
Have you ever created a really good plan that you did not feel excited about, because it’s what you are supposed to do, even when you’re passionate about something else? Of course some goal systems are more flexible than others, but nothing is as flexible as creating and achieving without having the need for goals.
How it works.
What does a life free from the obsession to track everything look like? What happens? Couch potato? Order pizza and binge on Downton Abbey?
No, just take inspired action.
Find stuff you’re passionate about, and do it. Create, produce, follow where passion leads. Exchange time, energy and money for things that deliver happiness.
Goals don’t make us happy, living with purpose and passion does.
I have experimented with both systems and they can both work well, but one feels much easier, and we end up achieving more with a vision-based approach. Whether we achieve or not isn’t the point at all. All that matters is that we live our days with passion and inspired action.
Tips for living without goals.
We don’t need to drastically change our life in order to experiment with this mind shift away from goal setting. Try a few hours without predetermined goals or actions. See what you notice.
You can try it in just one area of your life, for example, health and fitness. Many of us can become very goal-oriented about our bodies.
We can live as though we are in a 24 hour a day boot camp, in the hope a better body will make us feel good but in fact, the real need we have is the ability to love and care for ourselves, and accept the inevitable changes our body will face over the years.
Our goals can make us lose sight of the very thing we are trying to feel.
We spend more time counting calories than enjoying them. Our plates may become battle grounds. We may spend more and more time working out and less and less time enjoying it, or it may become another addiction.
Our relentless goals can turn our beautiful selves into a number on a scale.
Imagine how you begin to feel, never being good enough, needing to stand on the scale day after day. I love to walk and do so daily. I don’t need to measure it or motivate myself. It’s one of the great pleasures in my life and it’s free. No equipment is required except my body and my dog biscuit.
Ultimately, the journey is the destination. We all have to keep moving until the day we die.
Author: David Frank Gomes
Photo: Michael Gomes, used with permission via author
Editor: Lieselle Davidson