The Ultimate Oxymoron: The Best Goal is No Goal


Photo credit: Timothy Krause via Flickr

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.” –Lau Tzu

Goal setting seems like a given for most people. In an individualistic society characterized by self-improvement and measurable accomplishments, the concept of having no goals is often scoffed at.

Heck, I used to scoff at those people. Lazy, I would think. Undedicated with no purpose or passion.

But lately, I’ve become one of them. And I have never felt so liberated.

The problem with goals are that they box you into a constricted perceived outcome that causes you to cease living in the present. This leads to disappointment when things don’t work out the way you planned.

James Clear wrote a fantastic post about this, in which he makes the distinction between systems and goals: systems are focused on the process or journey, while goals are focused on the final outcome. When you focus on the process as opposed to the outcome, you can appreciate the journey, instead of getting hung up on the outcome.

Having control over your life is an illusion

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” –Lau Tzu

It’s a radical notion I know: we can’t control our lives. Goal-setting and excessive planning tend to go hand in hand with the false belief that we can control everything that happens to us.

News flash: we can’t.

When we relinquish control over our lives, we can open ourselves to an array of experiences and opportunities we never saw before.

Goal-setting leads to discontent

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” –Shakespeare

When you focus strictly on goals, you tend to focus on where you’re not, as opposed to where you are. When you focus on where you are not, this can adversely influence your self-esteem, and tends to lead to the belief that you are not good enough.

Take, for example, a woman trying to lose 15 pounds. Instead of focusing on how beautiful she already is, she is focusing on what she is not: 15 pounds lighter.

Stop stop and stop. By focusing on where we are instead of where we are not, we can bring our attention back to the journey, as opposed to the outcome.

The joy is in the journey

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” –Greg Anderson

Lost in a schedule with a blind eye pointed solely to one target is a losing battle.

By focusing on the target, you miss so much: the girl who smiles at you on the metro, the smell of the breeze, the color of the night sky. Not only this, but by focusing on one constricted outcome, you are missing the joy of the action. Constantly focused on the future, you can no longer enjoy your present activity.

Now I’m not saying to become unproductive; on the contrary. No goals is just a different approach to productivity. Instead of focusing on the final destination, you are instead bringing your attention to the process of engaging in that activity.


Now tell me: goals or no goals?

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3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Oxymoron: The Best Goal is No Goal

  1. I note with interest Leo Babauta’s U turn on goal setting having just read his book The Power Of Less. I feel liberated simply at the idea of not having goals. I’m definitely going to put my lists to one side and give it a try. Nice post.

    • You’re so right! I followed him for years before he made the viewpoint switch, which is funny because at the time I scoffed at him until I came to the same conclusion myself later. Funny how that happens!

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