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.)

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Parth November 28, 2008 at 4:38 pm

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?

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Mike King November 28, 2008 at 5:39 pm

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 you can set goals to keep those, exercise those and gain happiness from those. Most people fail this point by making goals concrete with bad ways to measure things like money, things or #s of such and such.

Interesting perspective either way, I find it funny though that these things you call failures you attribute to not making you happy. And values and principles do. To me, that is just in what you call it, nothing else.

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Steve Williams November 28, 2008 at 6:32 pm

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

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Matt Caldwell - 15 Minutes to Riches! November 28, 2008 at 7:08 pm

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!

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Ryan November 28, 2008 at 7:24 pm

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.

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy November 28, 2008 at 8:11 pm

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.

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Laurie November 28, 2008 at 10:15 pm

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. I felt the outline held me to some structure that would squelch my creativity. Sounds like goal setting does this to you Jonathan. Do what works for you.

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Jayadeep Purushothaman November 28, 2008 at 11:19 pm

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.

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Bridget November 29, 2008 at 2:19 am

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!

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DiscoveredJoys November 29, 2008 at 2:40 am

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 less and less…

In the end I believe that you have to live your life, your way. If your actions and behaviours are true reflections of your values and meaning in life, and your attitudes are the result of the wisdom you have attained (and not the expectations of others), then I believe you have achieved ‘The Great Freedom’.

A zen poem, just for you:

You ask me why I live
In jade mountains.
I smile, unanswering.
My heart is calm.
Peach petals floating on the water,
Never come back.
There is a heaven and earth
Beyond the crowded town below.

– Li Bai (701-762)

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Doug Rosbury November 29, 2008 at 8:31 am

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.

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Doug Rosbury November 29, 2008 at 8:34 am

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

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Chris (from Lifestyle Project) November 29, 2008 at 8:35 am

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.

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Martin Wildam November 29, 2008 at 11:08 am

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!

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Lea November 29, 2008 at 11:09 am

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 college, my profession was outsourced overseas. I’m sure information of this possibility was in newspapers and the internet before hand, but I was so focused on my goal, apparently I wasn’t paying attention.

Have a great weekend!

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Wendy November 29, 2008 at 12:07 pm

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.

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Joanne November 29, 2008 at 12:08 pm

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 inclined to “let go, let god” so to say, and just keep moving along with the “vision” in mind, and within my general aim – and… I’m way nicer to myself!

It’s my way of “living on principles instead of living on goals” – we each have to do what feels right to us so we truly can enjoy the journey, because in truth, that’s really all there is!

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tigercub November 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm

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.

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Glen Allsopp November 29, 2008 at 1:46 pm

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

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Silvana November 29, 2008 at 3:05 pm

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 on my ‘birth congratulations card’ from work – after having given birth to my first child 6 weeks early. It read – “Trust you to deliver the goods ahead of schedule”. I still didn’t learn! I think the main thing I aspire to now, but infrequently manage – is to live in the ‘precious present’ – and try to enjoy it, without worrying that I haven’t achieved enough TODAY. There is always tomorrow. I am not advocating a ‘put off today what can be done tomorrow’ approach – just acknowledging that one can beat oneself up too much for not achieving what at the end of the day – in comparisaon to life and death – is minutia. Thank you for an excellent blog.

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Silvana November 29, 2008 at 3:12 pm

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!

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Jonathan November 29, 2008 at 5:00 pm

@ 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.

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Jonathan November 29, 2008 at 5:01 pm

@ 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.

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Jonathan November 29, 2008 at 5:09 pm

@ 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 like “I’ll lose 10 pounds by next January.” It seems like a semantic issue, but for me, it makes a lot of difference.

@ Silvana: I can’t believe they said that to you about your early delivery! Geez. Yeah, that’s probably a sign. =)

I think as much as possible it helps to refocus and think “am I placing my happiness in the future?” It’s so easy to get sucked into this cycle. We think we’ll be happen when we finish A, B and C. But then we still have E, D, F and G. And so on. A month goes by, then a year, 5 years. Then we never seem to get to that point where we feel like we deserve to be happy. We have to drastically change our mindsets to stop seeking permission from doing something to allow ourselves to be happy.

And yes, your comment is now approved. It’s just a safeguard so I can avoid getting spam on the posts. =)

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TheAndySan November 29, 2008 at 5:10 pm

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). Unless one of my posts got Dugg or Stumbled, I doubt that I would be able to reach that quota for this month. I’ll carry this goal over to the next month.

I’ll go over what I did to increase my RSS subscribers, such as commenting on other related blogs and leaving my feed URL, looking at how my visitors rate my posts via outbrain, and simply writing the best content that I can every day.

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Derek November 30, 2008 at 6:25 am

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.

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Tim Rosanelli November 30, 2008 at 7:53 am

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

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Dmitriy November 30, 2008 at 8:52 am

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 written down and I end up dissapointed with the outcome.

So, if you don’t write them down, then how can you keep track of your accomplishments?

-Dmitriy

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Vincent November 30, 2008 at 10:09 am

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

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Duff November 30, 2008 at 2:55 pm

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 it is the challenge. I too have lately been leaning towards being not in the world of goals and doing things.

Goals, intentions, and ideals can naturally emerge from our “true self”–the core of our being. The key is then finding a way to actually work on the goal from that place. It’s certainly a trick, one I can’t say I’ve mastered, but I’ve started getting some insight into it lately.

I’ve been experiencing a lot of success at reaching that true self, that core state of alignment with a technique called Core Transformation. Meditation and other forms of aligning one’s self or getting in tune also work for this purpose.

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tigercub November 30, 2008 at 3:57 pm

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!

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Michelle November 30, 2008 at 5:27 pm

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 value or worth. You can, however, increase or decrease your experience of that value and worth.”
I’m sure some people would disagree with that statement, but I find it powerful and provocative.

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MFK (Placeholder career success blog) November 30, 2008 at 7:24 pm

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, and I’m ultimately more successful by my scale AND by others’ scales.

MFK (Open-Source Career)
http://mfkblog.wordpress.com/

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Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome November 30, 2008 at 11:13 pm

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 5000 subscribers by the end of 2009) but then I’m happy as long as I’m moving in that direction – the actually number is completely arbitrary.

It’s the process, not the end that’s important – are you moving towards what you want? If not, why not? That’s all that a goal exists for.

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Tanya November 30, 2008 at 11:57 pm

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 successful one, in my mind. You have a better understanding of yourself because you didn’t reach your goal, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
I love setting goals, and I will continue to do so. When I don’t reach them, I will often wonder if that goal was really what I wanted. After reaching a couple of my own, I have realised that it is the ones that really count that I will reach.
I have learned to be very, very specific.
Thank you for your thoughts.

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Valery December 1, 2008 at 3:09 am

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 destructive. For me, living to meet your goals is living with an idea that your life makes jumps from one milestone to another. While living according to your pronciples seems more like smooth flowing.

Second, concrete goals just seem to box you in, I think. Let me share my own experience. I have always loved horses. To get to know them closer, I took up jumping but my progress is slow, which is disappointing. One day I ended up thinking that I am not “the right guy” to deal with horses just because I sucked as a rider.

The difficulties I faced while striving to meet my goal have almost killed my passion. My mistake was that I put too much effort and love into the goal instead of trying to simply live with that I loved. Instead of waiting to be happy some day in the future, I started doing small things that made me happy. I continued my jumping lessons but also started reading an equine psychology book, talked to equestrians and tried to be with horses as much as I could. And that shed some light of happiness on my life.

What I learned from my experience:

1) Living to achieve a goal often means missing out other great things/possibilities in life.

2) Your success or failure is not you. Your passion is, though.

3) Sometimes the best part of getting to a destination is the road itself.

Thank you for the bright post, and thanks to all the people who commented!

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Pat December 1, 2008 at 5:17 am

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.

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Umbratikus December 1, 2008 at 8:18 am

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.

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Hinna December 1, 2008 at 9:08 am

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…

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Silke (Organized Diva) December 1, 2008 at 10:07 am

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 could be to volunteer more. Another goal could be to help out your elderly neighbor a bit. Etc.

Goals don’t have to be a negative thing, something that stresses you out. Goals can be something good. They can be something that you want to achieve in your life. Spelling them out as goals just means you are seeing what you want to achieve.

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Ruth December 2, 2008 at 12:07 pm

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?

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Rita December 2, 2008 at 12:20 pm

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 failure is not always a bad thing. Indeed, to live by principles in itself may be a goal. Its all a matter of opinion, as you said, whatever works, apply it.

Nice post by the way, it was very enlightening.

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Deb December 2, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Thanks – I enjoyed having coffee with you :-)

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kathy December 2, 2008 at 8:03 pm

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.

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Brooke December 4, 2008 at 4:57 am

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

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Fiona December 4, 2008 at 7:13 am

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.

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Trudy December 7, 2008 at 3:32 am

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 is to lose weight; you need to decide how many times in a week you have to exercise and WHEN you are going to do the exercise for how long(every Tuesday night after i get home from work, i will go for a 20min walk).

I wrote an article on How to Turn Goals Into Behaviour, that you may be interested in: http://www.psycinreallife.com/how-to-turn-goals-into-behaviour/

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Pace December 9, 2008 at 10:30 am

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.

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Rori Raye December 11, 2008 at 12:24 pm

This is so totally brilliant – To most of us, the distinction between goals and living your values actually, practically seems so subtle as to get erased every time we try to DO nearly anything. As though everything in life is wrapped up in a goal. I’ve noticed that we are all so very different on this. Some of us get caught up mentally in the “how” of things – the steps, the increments – and then never get our wishes and wants off the ground. Some of us just automatically lock in on our vision for what the whole thing would feel like when it’s the way we want it, and then the hows just sort of fall into place. I’m blessed with the ability to enjoy the hows that show up, really work hard on them, while not focusing on them. You’ve made it all very simple and accessible here, Thank you, Rori Raye

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Gail December 11, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Very interesting post….I agree with a lot of the thoughts you have expressed here. I am very similar in my orientation toward goals. I read somewhere that some people are goal-oriented, and some people are process-oriented. That helped me a little as far as understanding why deciding to set a goal seemed to be the most sure way to NOT achieve it. Not everyone is like that, but for those of us who are, it is helpful to have a different outlook toward improving our lives. I fully understand the desire to live with principles. One last thought…I think that it doesn’t have to be self-sabotage, to set goals…it’s good to keep in mind that a goal is something to consider, and not set in stone. A goal doesn’t have to be a giant “should.” I think that for me, once it turns into something I “should” do, that’s when it starts to own me and make me crazy. If I can keep some perspective about a goal, and not let it take over my life….that’s a good thing. It’s when I attach too much importance to it that I don’t want to ever consider using lists of goals again! I have found that making a list of things I’d like to do in my life, with no concrete time frame, has been helpful. Thanks!

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Natalie December 14, 2008 at 10:29 pm

I’m happy to hear that goals don’t work for everyone. I try to set goals, but I find that they typically make me more frustrated than anything. I want so badly to succeed, but when I try to force something that’s not right for me, I find it futile. It’s when I set an intention and then let go of it that things tend to start to come together.

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Jack December 21, 2008 at 5:17 am

If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans(goals).

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Bill December 26, 2008 at 11:02 am

Just stumbled on this via a link from Zen Habits, and I liked your thought “living on principles instead of living on goals.” I’d love to see an article elaborating on that and how to make it work.

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Mohammad Haidar December 29, 2008 at 1:26 am

‘Setting and Achieving’ goals is a skill, and people whom you see as successful people are artists of this skill.

Killing cluttered goals ,is like rebooting your computer because you opened many programs in a way your pc can’t handle. What are you going to do after reboot is up to you.

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frank p December 31, 2008 at 3:30 pm

I love this post. I used to think my life was a jumble because I didn’t have goals. After reading this post, I’ve realized that after 44 years going without goals, I’m obviously not a goal person, and that’s okay.
So here’s what I’m going to do; detail the checklists of the projects I want to complete – mostly stuff around the house – and prioritize them.
Also, I will write a list of things I need or want to change about myself or my life, and detail and prioritize them as well.
Sort of a bastardized New Year’s resolution list, but with prioritization, organization, flexibility and focus.
KISS – keep it simple, stupid. Goals are not simple. Enjoying life is.

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cris@MiamiLifeCoach January 27, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Thanks Jonathan. I believe there’s no evil with goal-setting. It’s just that we fail especially when we least expected. Because we made ourselves victims of expectations rather than accepting things for the better. Goals are friends, sometimes it looks as enemies to many once they fail. But even failures are not enemies, they are springboards toward success. And success is not a good idea from the start. It needs to face the giants and overcome it. Our perspective has something to do with it. The way we treat failures spell our success. Many times I fail and almost lose my hope and faith to death. However, I changed my values.I learned how to retreat but not surrender.I never quit until I killed the giants. Failures become my friends. I learned this way of thinking from my life-coaching mentor at kamja.Today, tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.

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brett February 9, 2009 at 6:36 pm

I read a business article once which was referring to business plans, and it said rather being ‘road maps’, “Business plans are best possible guesses as to what will hppen, not maps of some pre existing reality”.

I like this idea and feel it can apply to all goals, it seems to allow more flexibilty on my outlook on life; rather than having rigid goals.

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Bo April 18, 2009 at 6:09 pm

I agree completely.
I found completing and acheiving my goal as a musical artist has got in the way of how i want to live my life, happy.
Ive found myself searching for enjoyment and being left with faliure. My dreams overtake me and i feel that i need to base my life around them other wise theyll never get done. As a result of this i became completely depressed and in many ways still am. But ive learnt to stop caring so much and i am facing more open choices and im being almost attracted by big and exiting things because i feel like thats what i need to pick me up out of this slump, things like guns (not illlegially of course).

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Salutis April 20, 2009 at 12:51 am

This is incredible post. Truly illuminated! Thanks.

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Kurt April 20, 2009 at 5:23 am

It seems to me that your problem wasn’t so much with the goals, it was the impact on not achieving those goals that was the real problem.

I was once like you until someone send me a quote along the lines of ‘Dreaming big like a child while LIVING HAPPY UNTIL THE DREAM IS ACHIEVED is the real secret to life’ (capitalization from my side).

Same thing kinda as what you’re saying however I chose to still have goals and no longer let them control my life. Which, as I write these words is pretty similar to what you have said in your post.

Oh well, seems we’re both happier now that we figured this one out. And that is all that matters.

Enjoy,

Kurt

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Lori April 21, 2009 at 11:01 am

This is me exactly. I have tried so hard, millions of times to set those goals and have not really ever achieved them, and it makes me miserable. I have lists upon lists upon lists and about 4 different planners. I have thought about “killing” my goals, but couldn’t fully commit, because I thought I “shouldn’t” and I’d get those odd looks from people that seem to say, “what?? are you crazy? you HAVE to have goals!!” I always end up giving them up anyway, because I get too overwhelmed and paralyzed, so nothing gets done anyway. The only time things do get done is when I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to be the perfect speaker of 10 languages or get up right at 5am every morning to be super productive (I’ve never in my life been able to get up much before 7:30 am), or whatever the “goal” is, when I let those go, I tend to do more, and then as I do more, I think I’d better organize it all (in all those planners) and then there I am again, in that cycle of setting goals, driving myself crazy. No more.

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Ericka April 24, 2009 at 10:46 am

Johnathan, you’re awesome for writing this. Thank God I’ve found someone that feels the same as me…now I don’t feel so lame [for no reason].

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Jack Dalton April 27, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Around 20 years ago, I was being interviewed for an article about “perpetual students.” Caught off guard by the inevitable question, “What are your goals?” I blurted out, “I think it’s important *not* to have goals,” and gave very similar arguments about tying self-worth to accomplishments. They published a picture of me at work in front of a beautiful display of produce, built by someone else, with a contented smile as if to tell the world, “this I have done!” They captioned it, “Jack Dalton – Important not to have goals.”

Still, 20 years of not having goals has taken me pretty much where you might expect. It was not until less than a year ago that I became acquainted with the notion of simply refusing to rating myself. By rejecting notions of high or low self-esteem in favor of unconditional self-acceptance, I now am able to accommodate “targets” for my projects without fear of letting myself down.

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Mama Bird May 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

Oh my word. I have the urge to forward this post to a bunch of people and I never get that urge when I read blogs.

I feel freed all of a sudden. I have felt for a while now that goals, or my lack of clear ones, are holding me back. And the fact that my husband doesn’t set goals has really bothered me. I kept thinking that since he doesn’t have any set goals that he doesn’t really know what he wants and that he is going to latch onto mine and not really achieve what he wants out of life. Yet, he always manages to be doing something he enjoys. I see now that he is much more a “living by principles” kind of guy like you.

I also see that just because you set goals (like my parents did and always taught me to do), does NOT mean you will achieve them. My parents are no more successful now than they were when I was younger. They did set certain goals, but didn’t achieve them and I wonder now how that makes them feel.

I was just telling my husband the other day that what I want also seems to change depending on my mood, so it’s hard for me to set clear goals and stick with them. I feel like I’m always revising them. Like you, I want so many thing…I want it all. Maybe I’m not a goal person after all.

Very interesting post. I’m going to go back and read it again and few times. Thanks for the insight.

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Isobel May 9, 2009 at 5:14 am

Just found your blog through Project Mojave – and what a find! :)

I’ll quibble a bit; what you call goals – “get 2,000 subscribers in one month” – I would call targets, something you aim at on the way to a major desire such as “write an authentic, popular blog”.

I do however totally agree that being ruled by a To Do list can suck the joy out of life. I’ve had more success by becoming clear on what I want and then being open to its coming in ways I can’t imagine right now. My job is to stay focused, line up with it and take inspired action at the right time. In the meantime, I only have NOW so I might as well enjoy it :) Real tough to turn that philosphy into a “system” though for people who believe that joy only comes through hard work.

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Sue May 9, 2009 at 10:41 am

Hi. I just came across your website today, via the Zen Habits web site. I’ve been reading through a few of your articles this morning, and I have to say many of your points really resonated with me. My dream is to free myself from a particularly toxic cubicle existence in order to find a way to apply my research and writing skills in a way that works best for me and makes a positive difference in the world.

I’ve noticed that sometimes setting small manageable goals works for me and sometimes (most times) it doesn’t–especially when I start trying to force things along to meet my expectations/goals. I generally cringe at having to write down my “goals” on performance evaluation forms but then I also detest all of these time management/planning tools that take more time to fill out every day than it takes to just get working on the projects. It seems that most of these “productivity” tools actually subvert and divert energy from actually being productive. Likewise, getting too hung up on achieving one’s goals is ultimately counterproductive and often demoralizing when one falls off the “progress wagon”. Thanks for having the courage to challenge the “conventional wisdom” and offer alternatives for those of us who just don’t quite fit into the existing templates.

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Adam Jackson May 18, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Hi Jonathan,

Thoroughly enjoyed your post. I am a huge believer in goals BUT not for goals sake. Earl Nightingale defined success not by a specific outcome but by ‘the progressive realization of a worthy ideal’ (ideal/goal/dream, call it what you will).

To my mind, it is the journey, not the destination that brings feelings of self-worth and, for that matter, happiness. Having goals/dreams just gives you a direction in which to travel rather than the alternative which is drifting aimlessly. Living by a set of values is, I would suggest, about maintaining integrity and self-respect, but this doesn’t negate the need for working towards one’s dreams and aspirations.

I can say, without hesitation, that having goals (and writing them down and reviewing them regularly) had a huge impact on my life. I came across a wonderful little book called ‘It Works’ (anonynous author) which advises readers to write down their goals/dreams, carry them round with them (in say a wallet), and refer to them three times a day (and not to mention them to other people). This focuses the mind and consciousness on the things that matter to us, and this then directs our energy, our resources and our time.

I was very interested on your view of ‘failure’. I believe that one of the biggest obstacles that we all face in life is overcoming the negative perception of failure. Failure is nothing other than a learning experience and we often forget that the most successful people (in virtually any field – sports/business/financial/arts) are people who have learned to embrace failure because they understand that failure is a necessary prerequisite to success.

One other comment I’d like to make relates to your views on ‘expectation’ I think you are confusing ‘hope’ with ‘expectation’. I would refer you to a wonderful book by Professor Dan Ariely ‘Predictably Irrational’ (HarperCollins) who has done a huge amount of research into how our expectations affect not just our perceptions, but also our reality. Whilst I was researching my own book ‘The Flipside’ (Headline), it became apparent that the most vital characteristic seen in people who find the Flipside (i.e. those people who are able to turn a problem/obstacle and even severe adversity into an opportunity) are that they are all optimists. Optimism is defined by Psychologists as ‘the general expectation of good things’. This is contrasted with hope which is attached to a specific outcome and I think you allude – quite rightly – to the dangers of becoming too attached to a specific outcome in your article. But developing an optimistic mindset has been shown to be the most important factor in success in virtually any area of life one cares to mention. (see the work of Professor Martin Seligman on Learned Helplessness and Learned Optimism and how these impact our lives).

My comments are intended only as a personal response some of the points discussed – not criticisms – and I may be wrong and, as you rightly say, things that work for some people may not work for others. Also, if something does work for you, then I completely agree with you – why not use it! I have to say that I found your article to be a refreshing and honest commentary which raises some very important issues and valid points (e.g. learning to be detached from an outcome). It also echoes in some respects the approach of Toaism (not sure if you’ve read The Tao of Pooh but there is a lot in there that will resonate with your thoughts).

Congratulations on putting together a really thought-provoking blog too!

With sincere best wishes,

Adam Jackson

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Valerie June 18, 2009 at 9:30 am

I LOVE setting goals, putting them in writing and attaining them. I bring in each year with a list and generally speaking succeed in many of them and the ones I don’t succeed in, I improve in often. I wonder if it has a lot to do with personality. What works for me wouldn’t work for everyone, obviously, it doesn’t work for you. This was an interesting read and the comments were too. http://valeriedykstra.typepad.com/valerie_dykstra/2009/01/goals-for-2009.html Here are my 2009 goals. I’m rockin’. :-)

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Cat June 26, 2009 at 1:02 am

This is a great post (just discovered your blog!), and I wish I’d read it years ago. When I was younger I was really into Tony Robbins & similar stuff, and had tons of rigid goals, with my life all mapped out (goals for the next 5 years, 1 year, 6 months, 1 month etc), and a daily schedule for working towards them. I’d be inspired when writing the goals down, but that was actually the only part of the process that I enjoyed – after a few days I’d soon start procrastinating and then feeling like a self-sabotaging failure.

I stopped with the rigid goals a few years ago, but still felt like somehow I ‘should’ be living that way, if I wanted to change anything about my life (I’ve got a great life, but there were still things I wanted to do). It’s only more recently that I’ve realised that I don’t want to plan my life to the extent of leaving no room for spontaneity, I don’t want a daily schedule, and I don’t want to spend all my time living for the future while never enjoying life right now. I certainly don’t want my passions to start feeling like chores (which is what was happening).

I still have goals, in the sense of having clear ideas about the things that I desire to be/do/have, but they’re more generalised and, as you say, based around certain values, like health and creativity. I no longer quantify them – no rigid timetables or number/date-based targets – and instead I’ve learned to respect the natural ebb and flow of my energy and inspiration. I take action when it feels most joyful to do so, and enjoy the journey, the sense of living my desires and values right now, today, rather than keeping my attention on some future destination. I’m not knocking the traditional approach to goal setting, as it’s obviously enjoyable and effective for many people, but it didn’t work for me, so I’ve stopped trying to make myself conform to someone else’s idea of the best way to do things. Life is so much more relaxed and fun these days!

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Louie V. July 6, 2009 at 9:17 am

Your obsession to reach the ideal is your failure…

It is not an accomplishment to attain 75% of your goal? You aren’t happy with 1,500 subscribers in one month? How do you determine if your values are aligned without more clarification? How do you measure your success rate with your family, your freedom, your fitness, and your creativity?

“Reach for the stars; if you fall short and grab just a few clouds, you may still in fact find that you’ve already fulfilled your dreams.” ~ LH

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H July 16, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Yes. I agree with the original post. I’m in high school (I’m graduating in June 2010) and after thinking about these statements, I realize that Jonathan (the author of this article) is right.
I put so much value into getting into AP classes, achieving high grades and test scores that my ego is becoming entrenched with the certification as averse to the “real” joy in learning.
Perhaps this is why I get frustrated during my studies…

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Alexander Fürstenberg August 29, 2009 at 11:40 am

Stop Caring For a Better Life? I’m convinced that a good life consists in the balanced acquisition of long-term and short-term values. You seem to abandon the long-term for the short-term. While this might feel good in the present, it certainly will hurt you in the long-run. So I’d prefer to experiment with productivity enhancing visualizations and meta-cognitions to secure and expand everything that is worthwhile having in life if ordinary goal-setting won’t work for you.

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Karen September 13, 2009 at 12:17 am

I sent my Best Friend this message yesterday:

I wanna talk about EXPECTATIONS. You mentioned that you have all these ideas in your head of exactly what a fun event will be. But, you know what? Of all the things I’ve heard of that make people unhappy, disappointed and frustrated with their lives, expectations have to be Number One. People are disappointed by a great stage show because it wasn’t quite what they expected. People are disappointed when they have a date with someone because he/she didn’t act quite how they expected. People buy an amazing dress for a party or some other major event then take it back to the store next day because when they tried it on in their own bedroom it wasn’t quite what they expected it to look like. You see what I’m saying? All of these things were absolutely FINE in themselves, and the problem is caused by the dissonance between the actuality and the expectation. Expectations are damaging and corrosive. They are unhealthy. They can make people bitter and cynical because everything always falls short of what they hoped for so life is one long series of disappointments.

So what I’m saying is that it’s better to keep your mind as blank as possible about something that’s about to happen. Don’t anticipate it. Don’t picture it. Don’t fantasize about it. Don’t worry about how it might turn out. Switch off your imagination and try to put all of your concentration into ACTIONS rather than creating mental scenarios. Got it?!

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Karen September 13, 2009 at 12:49 am

When we got down to discussing this, my best friend began to talk about goals and how having all of these goals ahead of her, that had always been a huge part of her life, were like dead weights around her neck, pulling her down and making her discontented, anxious and frustrated.

By a dialectical process we eventually arrived at the conclusion that she should reconfigure her consciousness to end the perception that life is a near-impossible struggle up a near-vertical mountain to reach a near-unattainable peak from which the only possible progression would be downward.

The reconfigured perception is that consciousness is like a journey on a long, long river and the journey continues no matter what you do. Along the way, you have “attachments”, where you share your consciousness with things, whether career moves, hobbies or whatever. But you have to accept that as the journey continues you may become detached from some or all of them.

We talked about Richard S. Fuld and how he had always worked for Lehmann Brothers and finally became CEO and boss of 30,000 people. He speculated that he must have felt that he had achieved all of his career goals and was now in a kind of Nirvana because he had no intention of leaving and there was nowhere higher he could go. But if he was still to motivate himself with goals, they had to be business goals, and increasingly bold and daring.

Then Lehmann Brothers collapsed. It turned out that being CEO of Lehmanns wasn’t Nirvana after all, it was an attachment and now he was detached from it. But he was still alive and still conscious and able to look back on the whole thing as something that had happened somewhere back up the river. It was a FEATURE of his life but not actually his life.

My Best Friend is finding it hard to abandon the goals that seemed to be the entire purpose of her life. But now we’re focusing our minds on how to retain the aspirations and accord them their appropriate value, but see them as ongoing ideals, and – no matter how vitally important they may be – treat them as “attachments” to central consciousness.

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Sheryl September 14, 2009 at 12:47 am

I was thrilled to read this article!!!! This resonates SO strongly with me that it almost sounded identical to many conversations I’ve had. Music to my ears. Thank you so very much for sharing.

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Suja November 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm

It’s better to do what you can and let things happen as they will.

Life can be wonderful if u follow this.

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Ahmed December 3, 2009 at 5:38 am

I have had too many goals and expectations of myself, my work and everything else and usually they don’t work for me.. and thank God! Now, I know there are people like me…

Thank you for the great post

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Rod January 2, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Thank you very much for this – I – just in the last two days have decided to divorce myself from expectations as some reading I have been doing has directed me that much of my life frustrations stems from
these “so-called Great Expectations”. Additionally, it seems people who care less and are lazy often fall into the perfect job and great satisfaction which comes from their way of life…..I am glad you wrote this piece….as it is very timely with regard to where I am right at this moment with regard to goals……totally done with setting them…..worthless…..

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Walter January 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Hi Jonathan, you probably wrote this six months ago, I recieved your mail back then! But I am only writing this now. I do have a goal, but I still have not reached it, my goal is to let the world know what I am writing about, but money is what makes the world go round, and without money very few people will know what I am writing about. At first it drove me up the wall, but what you say is true, if the world wants to know, only a very few people need to first know about it, if those few people know they will tell a few more, and eventually the world will know, how long this will take is anybody’s quess, for me to kill myself over it is just going to get me killed and then I won’t know if the world actually eventually read my books. I hope you don’t mind, my books names are “Jesus the Keeper of the Truth”, “Unchaste Deception”, and FSH By Walter Muller. At a very young age I wanted to write books, I just never knew about what, as the years went by the ‘what’ became clear at the age of plus minus twenty, then in 2007 at the age of 49 the first one were done, then 2008 the second and in 2009 the third one, so eventually it took thirty years to fullfill the first task, that of writing what I want the world to know, should I kill myself to inform the world that the books are written if I am a poor man who cannot afford to pay publishers incredible amounts of money which I do not have!

No, I took a second option, self publishing, cheap? Definately, but very little exposure, so, few people see it, but who knows, those few people might eventually tell millions, my dream has been achieved, although still in the making, it has started. Thank you very much for your site and e mails young man; YOU ARE DOING AN INCREDIBLE JOB.
Walter.

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Kenyon February 21, 2010 at 11:35 pm

The best materials I have every encountered for goal achievement – which is different than goal setting comes from Douglas Vermeeren. He is the author of Guerrilla Achiever with Jay Levinson. Doug is considered the modern day version of Napoleon Hill, although many feel his work surpasses Hill’s in every way. Vermeeren has worked with more than 400 of the world’s top achievers. Not many success teachers can say that and many are just simply teaching everyone else’s stuff. You should do a little research to see where a lot of what is being taught today comes form it’s pretty interesting. In Guerrilla Achiever Doug Vermeeren points out how most of it came from the industrial era and specifically manufacturing for an assembly line. Much of what is taught in goal achievement today is a lie and counter productive.

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Seun Kilanko March 21, 2010 at 11:30 am

This, really, is interesting to read. It’s got me thinking again on the importance of goals and their link to happiness.
Anyway, you have done your best in pouring out your mind. Good work!

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Jason lennick March 27, 2010 at 11:21 am

I love the way your posts challenge a lot of the conventional wisdom that has become so accepted in the self-development arena. This is no exception and has certainly got me thinking about my recent obsession with success, goals, To-do lists, etc.

Glad I found your site, I’ve just downloaded your free e-book and look forward to more of your challenging and stimulating musings. It may also help to inspire me in my own quest to find an authentic and passionate path in life.

Thanks!

Jason
London, UK.

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Patricia May 15, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I really thank you for this article. I give up the goal of writing the smartest comment and tell you that I know exactly what it is to be caught up in goals, worse than that defined through them. The freedom I received as soon as I stopped valuing myself through goals is immense.
Still I have a lot of new dreams that do not obsess me but let me respect natural rhythms and gain wisdom. I love your articles because they help us move forward and be optimistic but without leaving individual responsibility out of sight. Keep sincere,love Patricia

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Kenyon June 16, 2010 at 9:42 pm

I keep hearing about a new law of attraction film called How Thoughts Become Things. Does anyone know where I can get a copy?

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Matt July 29, 2010 at 10:28 am

Don’t give up on goals.

While living according to ideals is certainly valuable, this does not require “killing your goals.” Goals can help you live according to your ideals.

I’m sympathetic to the sentiments expressed in this post, yet I agree with some others here that the problem is misdiagnosed. Having unrealistic goals, or goals that are not broken down into achievable tasks, is indeed a recipe for frustration at best. And that seems to be the case with the examples given.

Provided they are achievable and “actionable,” goals can help you realize your values more fully, yielding dividends for your self-worth. For instance, I’m working on a PhD dissertation at the moment. Without breaking this large project down into sub-projects and concrete action steps, I would find it very difficult to make progress toward my degree. And progressing towards my degree allows me to deepen my commitment to one of my core values (educating myself and others).

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ders verenler August 18, 2010 at 9:30 pm

I think it is impossible not having any goals; but I aggree that “instead of goals, I try to live based on principles” will make us happier!

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Eva September 1, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Thank you for this post! It makes sense to me. I’m like you in a way that I am constantly striving to achieve “goals”. But “Goals” are what I score in soccer games. And my life is not a sport.
When I have achieved goals, I’m not gonna lie it feels pretty good but I’m still unhappy. It feels everything leading up to this moment was as you said “owned” by my goal. Life should be more fun and less deadline driven and time constrained. Focusing all our efforts on goals leads to imbalances in other areas of our lives. So I think we should do things we enjoy instead of conquering some feat. And before we realize it, we will probably have achieved more than if we had had goals written down.

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Ramblings of a Woman September 7, 2010 at 4:55 am

This is a great post even though it is 2 years old! I had been feeling some of the same pressure and actually wrote the post below last week.
I think we need something to strive for, but we also need to enjoy where we are!
Bernice
http://bernicewood.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/so-what-is-good-enough/

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Maria February 2, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Hi everyone,

This blog definitely hits home. I somehow feel relieved to know that I am not the only one not succeeding at achieving goals. They seem to frustrate me more than anything and live with the thought of “Someday”. I recall few times in my life getting to the point that I would just give up, then beautiful unexpected things would happen and so much better than my “goals”. I somehow get back to setting goals and go through the same misery! Won’t I learn?!! I’m going back to let the flow of life unfold. The “Let Go, let God” philosophy.

Wonderful people here, thank you to all. Be happy now! :)

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Toby March 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Controversial.

Inspiring stuff, of which I shall refer to often! I have a theoretical rebuttal : You said goals work for others, but I wonder if there is ZERO function of goal-setting for personality ‘types’ like you. Seems like a flaw in nature’s great design.

Allow me to give an example. Say you catch a ball that comes straight to you. No problem. No stretch. Then you are thrown another one which is out of reach. That very moment you prepare to stretch for it, this is a goal in itself. You may not be conscious of it intellectually, but the moment before you stretch out for it, there is a split-second expectation to make effort. The effort, if incremental, is enjoyable and yet testing. As you mention, it seems like the attachment to this effort’s outcome is the source of frustration,e.g.instead of just doing it, you have invited your ego to judge your ball-catching abilities – for that split second you have got ahead of the present moment and to the future outcome, where your dependent and demanding ego waits. The way you write suggests that you are fed up and rebelling against its demands.

I think the organic ideal is a individually-tailored balance between the emotions of zone-like ‘play’ and reward-based ‘seeking’ (from a fascinating book about the 7 neuroscientifically-measured root emotions). Zen talks about being in ‘flow’, and correlates with playing. Notoriously frustrating society encourages constant expectations. And while our expectations are under constant societal pressures, I think there must be useful room for it.

My golden example is Roger Federer. He claims the reason he’s been playing so long is because he so enjoys hitting the ball. And we all know him to be mr smooth hitter. But he can’t win matches alone with that mentality though, he needs an overall goal to win the match, to keep him on track. I would bet that his ‘playing’ and ‘seeking’ are an ongoing duet with each other, in need of conducting where necessary. And, as a bonus, the joy of play acts as a safety net emotion to possible disappointments – a ‘failed’ long-term goal means little regret if you danced and sang on your almighty quest to get there. That’s my guess anyway :)

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cooshow.eportfolio.hcu.edu.tw April 25, 2013 at 9:47 pm

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Sneha September 14, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Well its an awesome post.. I usually like things which are out of track from the boring general thinking of d so called society..

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Diana November 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I just googled why do I live my life without goals and this came up.
I’m only 24 and I think life should be without these “life chores”
I take my day, day by day and that’s the only way i can truly be happy with my life..
whatever the day brings and what you can make out of it works for me..

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Sebastian May 30, 2014 at 1:33 am

Hey there!

That is brilliant stuff, that comes just right. My own goals are increasing my dissappointment and doubts constantly because I always have the feeling of not doing too much or nothing at all. I really love the way you inspired me to think about this now.

I let this soak in and see what happens …

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