Kill Your Goals, Expectations and Stop Caring For a Better Life

Kill Your Goals, Expectations and Stop Caring For a Better Life

“Write down your goals.” The age old advice you’ll hear on every self-development blog. As if you just write them down, everything else will take care of itself.

Poof!

Life is complete and you can rest in peace.

Not quite.

I don’t really have a lot of goals. In fact, I make it a point to not have them because they make me miserable. That doesn’t mean I don’t aim and aspire to do awesome things. I do. Life wouldn’t be worth living without that. It’s just that I don’t have a goal sheet. I don’t have a list of achievements I want to make in the next 3 months, 6 months, or 5 years.

Why?

Because goals have hurt me more than they’ve helped.

If you’re anything like me, you want to do a lot. You don’t dream tiny. You dream big. Really big.

You-want-it-all.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that too often we get our goals caught up in who we are. If we don’t achieve them, we’re a failure. I’ve certainly felt like this. When I started this blog I made a goal to get 2,000 subscribers in one month. I didn’t reach that goal. It felt terrible. Not because I failed. On the contrary, I achieved a lot. I felt miserable because I put my sense of self worth in the accomplishment of a thing.

So instead of goals, I try to live based on principles. I try to live in alignment with what I value most. Instead of having unrealistic and fantastic goals, I have aspirations and dreams instead.

While goals seem nice and pretty on the outside, not so nice on the inside. You think they’ll help you. After all, isn’t the point of having goals to help you create a better life?

But exactly the opposite happens. They end up owning you.

You measure how much you’ve done to meet your goals. You usually shoot for the moon. You aim high when you set your goals and that’s a good thing right? The problem is you usually fall short. Then you punish yourself for not achieving everything you wanted to. Your mind thinks “if you don’t achieve this, if you don’t live up to this image of perfection, you’re not allowed to be happy.”

That’s ridiculous.

I’ve lived too long like that and I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t let seemingly positive things force me to walk around unhappy all the time because I’m falling short. It’s not worth it.

So as I said earlier, instead of goals I have ideals that I try to live by. I value certain things like family, freedom, fitness, and creativity. As long as I’m doing things that keep me in alignment with those things, I’m happy. I don’t have a goal to become more creative by reading 7 books next month. I don’t have a goal to run 6 miles a day. Because if I don’t, I’ll inevitably beat myself up. I failed. My ego gets wrapped up in it and I obsess over it.

Just like I’ve decided being lazy is better for me, I’ve decided to give up on goals.

I’ve also found a few other seemingly counterintuitive things work better for me:

  • I’ve stopped caring a lot.
  • I’ve learned that doing more doesn’t usually bring me more happiness. But doing less does.
  • I’ve learned that doing “what works” doesn’t really work for me.
  • I’ve learned that constantly trying to improve your life, can often make it worse.

I’ve learned that taking it easy and following your natural rhythms is much more important than productivity. What matters most is how much joy you’re currently experiencing in the present moment. If you’re putting off your happiness until you accomplish something, you’re failing at life.

We can’t wait to appreciate things another day. Our happiness cannot be determined by a to-do list or the achievement of goals.

I’ve stopped making goals because I often find myself living in the future. I’m so obsessed with completing the goal, it often makes the task a chore. I just want to finish it. I lose sight of why I’m doing it in the first place, to have a better life.

I’ve also stopped (as much as I can, it’s not easy) having expectations. That doesn’t mean I don’t put forth any effort to make things good, I do. I’m just not attached the outcome. If things don’t turn out the way I wanted them to, I’ll naturally get disappointed and start going on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s better to do what you can and let things happen as they will.

What do you think? Are goals getting in the way of your happiness? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

(PS: If goals are working for you, that’s awesome. They work better for some than others. For me, they get in the way.)

 

Follow a proven framework to earning a living from your passion

Our bestselling course on making your first $1k from your passion helped a community of over 2000 adventurers. You can be our next success story.

FIND OUT MORE

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply

121 Comments on "Kill Your Goals, Expectations and Stop Caring For a Better Life"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Parth
Guest

Very interesting post. But question, how is this not an excuse to be lazy? Wouldn’t someone say,
“I’m happy just sitting here and watching TV.” But I guess only a man with absolutely no dreams would say that?

Mike King
Guest
While I can agree with some of your points that people loose site of making their life better, I don’t agree at all that is because of your goals. That just means you have the wrong type of goals. If you want more happiness, you need to know more about happiness and that is a huge problem area for people to actually know. If you have goals that focus on happiness (once you know what that is, which is easier said then done) your goals should be focused around that. The idea of principles and values is certainly true but… Read more »
Steve Williams
Guest

I think your perspective on goals makes sense for a lot of us. Holding on too tightly to goals can blur the journey for me. I’ll have to read through it a few more times but I think letting go is what I try and do on a daily basis.

Thanks for the great post!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Matt Caldwell - 15 Minutes to Riches!
Guest

Another great article, Jonathan. Living in the future can be a huge problem… it’s one that I’ve struggled with. For this reason, I’ve taken some of the same steps that you have… namely, caring less and learning to be satisfied with the way things are, no matter what. Thanks!

Ryan
Guest

I don’t have anything to add, other than that I agree and this was an awesome post. Seriously, you could elaborate on this and make it into a powerful ebook or something. Specific, enumerated, goals are for some people; not for you (obviously), and not for me, and not for a lot of people. The idea that one could strive to achieve certain values instead of numbers is powerful. We need more of it.

trackback

[…] as I was waiting for my pizza, I read a great piece on Illuminated Mind from Jonathon Nasman about the perils of setting goals. “While goals seem nice and pretty on the outside, not so […]

Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy
Guest

Great way to put a spin on the conventional self-help wisdom! I personally don’t like making big over-arching goals for myself either. My philosophy is to keep an open mind and to try everything once! If I like it, I work at it and make it a part of my life. If I don’t like it, I move on.

Laurie
Guest
I am probably somewhere in the middle. I have general goals, or ideas of where I want to be but they are definitely flexible. I may get better ideas or find other ways to get where I want to go, I may find a cool detour, or change the destination all together. I do have some short term goals that I will shoot for but don’t beat myself up if I don’t make them. I have a plan but all good plans can change with changing circumstances. I never did life outlining papers in school. I just wanted to write.… Read more »
Jayadeep Purushothaman
Guest

I had many of my goals way off the mark and after sometime I stopped worrying about the end results. Also I learned not to feel guilty as well. But more often, it is the goals that are the problem – the reason that you couldn’t achieve it was because it was not the right one for you, may be it was imposed on you. Or it may be too specific – a number attached to it(especially in business situations). Have a general direction than a destination – you might burn yourself out. Also slow down and take breaks.

Bridget
Guest

Uhhmm…..I do set goals and like you said they used to get in the way. However, I have found that what works for me are longer term goals. I find that I work towards them and achieve them progressively.

I like what you say about algining them to what you value the most such as family and fitness. It is very educative and so true because I tend to find when I attain a certain level or goal, am already looking at the next one. Not that am not happy, don’t get me wrong, I am…..I just want it all!

DiscoveredJoys
Guest
Great post. It echoes some of the things I have been thinking about recently. Just as there are people hooked on the ‘hedonic treadmill’ – always seeking greater pleasure – I think there are also many people hooked on the achievement treadmill. Depending on what their meaning of life is, the achievement treadmill may work for them. They may drag others into their world of course. Whichever treadmill people are on, they must always run faster and faster to maintain their level of satisfaction. Daft beggars. Of course there is also the ‘detachment treadmill’ where people get hooked on doing… Read more »
Doug Rosbury
Guest

In general, I agree with you. The better way is to engage in an
ongoing reexamination of your principles. And things you say have
a lasting effect with people. personal “GOALS” can become self
serving to the detriment of relationships. I think it’s much better to attend to principles of positive relationship and let that build in you a good and positive character. Good character
contributes much more to society than any goal ever could.
——Doug P.S. Watch your mouth. Be positive and complimentary.

Doug Rosbury
Guest

Personal goals can be too personal. Do what contributes to social
unity.——Doug

Chris (from Lifestyle Project)
Guest

I have ‘goals’ so that I can think of the bigger picture and what I am ultimately aiming for, however I am not a slave to my goals. I don’t have a lot of goals I am just trying to live my life in the moment (you could get hit by a bus tomorrow), whilst realising that in 10 years time I don’t want to look back and regret not taking the necessary actions to get me to where I want to be.

I guess like everything in life it’s about getting the right balance.

Martin Wildam
Guest

Actually I did not give much on goals for a long time because I felt: “Why should I make my happiness dependent from achieving a particular goal where I can either not guarantee that it will make me satisfied.”

Then I read a lot of the importance of setting goals (apart from the fact that also my father told me all the time that goal setting is important).

I like your thought “living on principles instead of living on goals” very much and find it interesting. Thanks!

Lea
Guest
I can relate to a lot that you said. In the past, I too have put too much focus on the end result instead of enjoying the journey, which might have given me more than what was eventually achieved. Being focused on our goals can cause some people to acquire tunnel vision, instead of being open to various opportunities that can arise along the way or blind us to signs that maybe we are going in the wrong direction. We have to be aware of the possibility of the unexpected. Like in my case, just as I was graduating from… Read more »
Wendy
Guest

This is so true for me. After I read Take Back Your Life, instead writing my biggest life goals, I decided *how* I wanted to live my life and renamed them Guiding Principles. It really opened things up for me.

Joanne
Guest
Most of what you speak to in this article resonates with my feelings on goal setting. I find that when I write down my goals, it turns into a “to do” list which, in a way, takes all the fun out of getting there because I get too focused on the achieving. Then, when I don’t get there (the deadline I set passes by) I get doubly-depressed and fall into “beating myself up” – and I suspect that’s true of a lot of folks. I’ve found that “Visioning” (dreaming, vision board creation) is way more effective and fun… I’m more… Read more »
tigercub
Guest

Please let me ask: why do you recommend things like the “Dream Manifesto Kit” then? Isn’t that a tool which helps you being constantly reminded of your goals?
I would appreciate hearing your comments on this as I am not sure myself about the value of written goals etc.

Glen Allsopp
Guest

I make it a point to not have them because they make me miserable. That doesn’t mean I don’t aim and aspire to do awesome things. I do. Life wouldn’t be worth living without that.

I always find it hard to explain that i’m happy and content with how things are, I accept the moment. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not pushing for something more and challenging myself.

Nice post picture ;)

Cheers,
Glen

Silvana
Guest
Wow! At last, after 6 months of reading various blogs – someone has told me I don’t need to be perfect! For years I have had a ‘to do list’ every day – which I rarely manage to complete – since I set my goals too high. I set these ‘too high’ goals in everything from work, to home, kids, friends etc. and then am often disapponted because I expect too much – mainly from myself – and then end up feeling like life isn’t working out as I would wish! To demonstrate this, I have never forgotten a comment… Read more »
Silvana
Guest

PS As someone who has left comment / feedback for the first time – am not quite sure how these things work – or am naieve! What does ‘your comment is awaiting moderation mean’? Sounds like I’ve been OTT and am in need of some censorship! Perhaps someone will be kind enough to let me know how these things work…..
Miffed from Wiltshire!

Cedric
Admin

@ Parth: I think there’s a big difference between someone who is denying their current state and someone who accepts that they need to change. The person in front of the TV would be the former. Goals or no goals.

@ Mike: I think you’re right about having the right type of goals. And I think it’s different for everyone, some people really thrive on having goals. I’m just the type of person that will set goals that are too outrageous and feel guilty for not achieving them.

Cedric
Admin

@ Ryan: You’re totally right man. Funny that you mention it, I’m actually working on an ebook right now that incorporates these ideas. It will be launching within a few weeks.

Cedric
Admin
@ Martin: I think you’re right. It’s making your happiness dependent on the achievement of a goal that’s the problem. @ Joanne: I think it’s a personality issue. Some people thrive on exact plans and for others, it just makes them depressed. It works in the opposite direction as well. @ tigercub: The Dream Wizard is more of a tool for intentions, rather than specific goals. That’s how I use it anyway. I’ll put an intention like “I’m making a lot of money doing what I love to serve the highest good of all.” I don’t use it for things… Read more »
TheAndySan
Guest
Interesting concept! It reminds me of something Steve Pavlina would say. I too find goals to be too locked-in. I think that following your core values matters the most. However, I like to challenge myself with some short-term goals. I try not to give myself a hard time if I don’t meet my quota. Instead, I analyse how close I got to my quota, what I did to get myself there, and what I can do to reach my quota. Say for instance, I wanted to increase my total RSS subscribers to 100 this month (I’m at 12 so far).… Read more »
trackback

[…] Kill Your Goals, Expectations and Stop Caring For a Better Life […]

Derek
Guest

You know, while I would love to agree with your post, I think you have to be very careful. You can’t just walk through life without a care in the world. Caring is what makes people human.

Additionally, without goals, how can you expect to accomplish anything? You need aspirations to be successful.

Tim Rosanelli
Guest

You know, I use written goals and I am almost always late in achieving them. I feel the lateness is a test to see if I will keep going after I miss the deadline. It never fails that if I persist, Poof, I achieve the goal just a few months later.

I think you need to re-define your idea of failure. My idea of failure is that “You only fail if you quit. As long as I am striving towards the goal and not defeated, I can not fail. I just have not reach it yet.”

Tim Rosanelli
timrosanelli.blogspot.com
60situpschallenge.blogspot.com

Dmitriy
Guest
Hi Jonathan, I think the real problem here is that people set unrealistic goals. Why are these goals unrealistic? Because some people simply don’t have the time to accomplish them. Like reading 7 books a month for example. That goal would be very very unrealistic for me because I work all day and I usually have very limited time. So, maybe the goal should be reduced by 6 books. Instead of reading 7 books a month, read 1 book a month. As far as writing down the goals. I agree with you. I never accomplish all the goals that I’ve… Read more »
Vincent
Guest

Hey Jonathan,

I believe everybody have their own ways of doing things. I believe that not achieving our goals will demoralize us but it is this feeling that will spur us into taking consistent action to achieve it.

For me, I still prefer to set goals to have a look at what I want to achieve. I will still aim big and even if I fail, I still land on the clouds. :)

Cheers
Vincent
Personal Development Blogger

Duff
Guest
Good timing with this post, and your one on ZenHabits. I’ve been thinking along the same lines for a while, and am working on a new website around a new paradigm that I see emerging in personal development. Goals are nearly always ego-driven, because the ego is a habit pattern of the mind of craving and aversion. Most personal development approaches accentuate this tendency, linking pain to failure and pleasure to success (Tony Robbins being the guru of this). I think you are perhaps too far the other direction in this post however. Being in the world but not of… Read more »
tigercub
Guest

You seem to differentiate between dreams (=positive), intentions (=positive) and goals (=negative). Thank you very much for commenting on my comment and making that distinction ! I’d find it incredibly interesting to learn more about that, perhaps even in a separate article… just a thought. For me the difference is not clear, perhaps not only because English is not my mother tongue. Thanks again!

Michelle
Guest
I was delighted to read your post! I took a five year hiatus from goal-setting because I was making myself miserable, even when I achieved my goals. As your post indicated, most of us are trained to try to get our value/worth from achievement. This is different from genuinely enjoying successes because when we try to prove our worth/value through achievement, the enjoyment is fleeting, at best. And pretty much right away, we’re on to the next goal/achievement. A teacher once told me, “You (meaning ALL of us) are already 100% worthy and valuable. You cannot increase or decrease your… Read more »
MFK (Placeholder career success blog)
Guest
I really appreciate this post – I think I was a lot happier back when my goals were vaguer and I didn’t have my MBA. (The MBA has a lot to do with my being in a goal-intensive culture now.) The corollary to this idea is to also be vigilant about not letting others define for you what success should look like. Every time I’ve bought into others’ ideas about what success is, I’ve been a depressed wreck. When I studiously shut out those voices and listen only to my own, I’m a calm cool cat, I have more fun,… Read more »
Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome
Guest
I’m like this with planning – I can overplan things very easily which will lead me to experiencing all the emotions related to both success and failure which then means I don’t have to actually do the task I was planning because I’ve already lived it without doing the work. That doesn’t mean I don’t plan. I still plan – I’d never get anything coherently done if I didn’t plan, but I do so in broad brush strokes only. Since goals are a part of planning, I approach them the same way. I might stick in a specific number (like… Read more »
Tanya
Guest
I set goals, and I have big dreams. What is important I find, is to remember that it is the journey that we take that is of utmost importance. In the end, the goal will often serve as a bi-product. Some icing on the cake. The things to learn along the way make it worth while, and make it make sense (sometimes only in hindsight of course). Your journey has taken you to a place where your ideas about how you want to live are challenged. The journey you have taken on the road towards your goals is an incredibly… Read more »
Valery
Guest
Hello Jonathan, and congratulations on this great post! The idea you expressed about disconnecting your self-esteem from your goals was like a breath of fresh air for me. To me, setting well-defined goals is just the same as saying that you can control the universe. You say to yourself that you want this or that, but how do you what it’s supposed to look like? It seems that strictly defined goals are an attempt to reshape the universe according to your own will. This is ridiculous. Goals are not bad in themselves, it’s your attachment to them that makes them… Read more »
Pat
Guest
I can’t agree with you more. I don’t have a lot of goals like you. If you care about everything ? you’ll do nothing. Thinking how to achieve the goals all the time is a boring and difficult thing. Too many goals make us lose our way easily. A goal sheet seems wonderful, but you must feel it terrible more a few days later. We just need do what we should do and try our best, ignoring the goals. Keep these in mind and follow our own style, a better life is on the way.
Umbratikus
Guest

Jonathan, this is twice in a row you have impressed me with your thinking. Goals are important, but far more important is to be clear about what you want in life, about what is important to you. I mean crystal clear, which isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. Once you know truly what you want, goals tend to take care of themselves.

Hinna
Guest

Wonderful piece. I think it’s important/imperative that readers realize that goals in themselves are not what are negative…they only become negative when they become a means of of stifling, discouraging and over-importance…

Silke (Organized Diva)
Guest
Your post rather shook me. I have actually been enjoying identifying and working toward my goals in the past years. They let me know that I’m on track to fulfilling something I want and not what someone else wants (boss, customer, parents, etc.). That doesn’t mean I accomplish them in a short time or even a long time period. It just means that I am moving towards something I want. I also think that goals can and do come from principles. Let’s say your principle is to “be kind to others”. Your goals can then come from that. One goal… Read more »
Ruth
Guest

One thing I keep getting from your posts is a reminder that I have permission to be who I am and accept my own natural inclinations and rhythms. I don’t feel that you are telling everyone to stop making goals or have no aspirations. You seem to just be saying that at least for some people, focusing on goals is counterproductive and makes us achieve less.
100 years from now we will all be gone, and I think the important question is, am I living my life the way I want to live it?

Rita
Guest
I guess it is all a matter of opinion. Its one thing to dream, and another to dream BIG. Both are ideal, however the goals set to reach for those dreams are usually the problem. Some people refuse to take the steps and instead try to make the big leap. The problem with the big leap is that it leaves plenty of room for error and as you said, when people fail at their goals, it hurts. But the dream can not be blamed because not all dreams are meant to come true. Instead people learn from the journey, and… Read more »
Deb
Guest

Thanks – I enjoyed having coffee with you :-)

kathy
Guest

I find that those things that I write down usually happen even when I don’t obsess over them as goals. Just seeing what I want in print sets my mind toward finding a way to get there. When I go back and read things I wrote down that I wanted to do or accomplish – I am surprised to see that I have actually done many of them already just in my natural rhythm and flow of life.

Brooke
Guest

I’ve signed up for your e-mails, but haven’t recieved any

Fiona
Guest

Hi Jonathan,

I agree with you. I have tried both; having goals and not having goals. The outcome was good in both the cases, but I dare to say that I enjoyed the process more in the one without a goal. The Hindu philosophy advocates ” Do your duty and don’t expect for the outcome “, which atcually says live in the present moment.

Trudy
Guest
I think the problem with setting goals is that a lot of people have a bit of an idea in their mind about what they want to achieve, but they don’t know HOW achieve it. And that’s when goals can affect your happiness. To avoid disappointment of not achieving goals, you need to sit down and break your goals down into Implementation Intentions; which is where you decide what it is that you have to do to achieve your goal, AND when you are going to do each action that will help you achieve it! For example, if your goal… Read more »
Pace
Guest

For me, the difference between helpful goals and harmful goals is whether the goals make my life better today. If a goal helps me shape my life or my routine in a way that makes me happier, then it’s helpful. If it motivates me in a way that makes me feel better NOW (for instance by giving me something to look forward to) then it’s helpful. But if it stresses me out or makes me feel guilty if I don’t achieve it, it’s harmful and I’d be best served to ditch it ASAP.

wpDiscuz

Previous post:

Next post: