New Year’s Resolution: No new goals?

Editor’s Note: It’s that time of year again: time to plan, predict, calculate and lay out our goals for the new year. Setting goals is a good thing right? How will you ever get what you want if you don’t have clearly established goals? Well over at Zen Habits, Leo Babauta has some interesting ideas about setting goals. He, for the most part, lives without goals and argues that letting go of them prevents us from being limited. I’m not sure I can “un-goal” to the degree he has, but does he have a point? Read what Leo has to say and then decide for yourself…

the best goal is no goal – Leo Babauta

The idea of having concrete, achievable goals seem to be deeply ingrained in our culture. I know I lived with goals for many years, and in fact a big part of my writings here on Zen Habits are about how to set and achieve goals.

These days, however, I live without goals, for the most part. It’s absolutely liberating, and contrary to what you might have been taught, it absolutely doesn’t mean you stop achieving things.

It means you stop letting yourself be limited by goals.

Consider this common belief: “You’ll never get anywhere unless you know where you’re going.” This seems so common sensical, and yet it’s obviously not true if you stop to think about it. Conduct a simple experiment: go outside and walk in a random direction, and feel free to change directions randomly. After 20 minutes, an hour … you’ll be somewhere! It’s just that you didn’t know you were going to end up there.

And there’s the rub: you have to open your mind to going places you never expected to go. If you live without goals, you’ll explore new territory. You’ll learn some unexpected things. You’ll end up in surprising places. That’s the beauty of this philosophy, but it’s also a difficult transition.

Today, I live mostly without goals. Now and then I start coming up with a goal, but I’m letting them go. Living without goals hasn’t ever been an actual goal of mine … it’s just something I’m learning that I enjoy more, that is incredibly freeing, that works with the lifestyle of following my passion that I’ve developed.

The problem with goals

In the past, I’d set a goal or three for the year, and then sub-goals for each month. Then I’d figure out what action steps to take each week and each day, and try to focus my day on those steps.

Unfortunately, it never, ever works out this neatly. You all know this. You know you need to work on an action step, and you try to keep the end goal in mind to motivate yourself. But this action step might be something you dread, and so you procrastinate. You do other work, or you check email or Facebook, or you goof off.

And so your weekly goals and monthly goals get pushed back or side-tracked, and you get discouraged because you have no discipline. And goals are too hard to achieve. So now what? Well, you review your goals and reset them. You create a new set of sub-goals and action plans. You know where you’re going, because you have goals!

Of course, you don’t actually end up getting there. Sometimes you achieve the goal and then you feel amazing. But most of the time you don’t achieve them and you blame it on yourself.

Here’s the secret: the problem isn’t you, it’s the system! Goals as a system are set up for failure.

Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

Some goal systems are more flexible, but nothing is as flexible as having no goals. Continue reading New Year’s Resolution: No new goals?

2011, 21 days at a time

21Editor’s Note: Happy New Year WAF! I took a couple of weeks off but I’m back in front of the old laptop (nope, didn’t get a new one for Christmas) ready to hear and share a new crop of stories from women at forty. What are your big plans for 2011? I’ve decided to write my plans in pencil, starting with my plan not to make resolutions. Sort of…

It’s taken me 40 years but this year, for the first time ever, I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions. Why? Because as far back as I can remember making them, I remember breaking them. Every one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I have made significant changes in my life over the years but very few of them, if any, came as a result of something I wrote on a piece of paper on December 31st.

That said, the start of a new year is a great time to take a life inventory, so I’m not knocking resolutions entirely. I’ve just decided to handle them a little differently.

For starters, no more sweeping declarations about what I am and am not going to do…blah…blah…blah. If I learned one thing in 2010 it was that the plans we often have for our lives, are just that – plans. Reality usually takes us in a completely different direction. So this year I’m taking advice from an unlikely source, Jon Bon Jovi, who says, “Map out your future, but do it in pencil.”

Continue reading 2011, 21 days at a time