I’ve had a few people in the last year ask me about my goals for the future. I get questions like, “What does your ideal life look like?” or “Where do you want to be in 5 Years?” Questions like that imply that current life is inadequate and I should be striving for something more. What if I’m happy with my life now?
The Problem with Goals
I believe there is some value in setting goals and striving for more, but most goals and bucket list items seem to be superficial and self-serving. I don’t need a better job, more money, an advanced degree, more Twitter followers or a fancy house to be happy.
I don’t need to climb mountains, get lots of stamps in my passport or take up extreme sports. All of that is largely selfish and meaningless. I’m not trying to impress anyone, so why would I chase such silly pursuits?
There are many things I’d like to get more of, such as: health, knowledge and friends. Maybe I’d also like more patience, confidence and tolerance. However, none of those are an end goal, they are all part of how I choose to live my life.
I will get more health if I continue to eat healthy and exercise everyday. I will gain knowledge if I continue to make time for reading and talking to smart people. I will gain and improve my friendships if I make time for people. A quality life is not a destination you arrive at, it’s about the choices you make everyday.
I once chased goals such as growing my business, reaching a particular income level, buying a new car and getting the house I wanted. It took me several years to finally realize that those goals, which I thought were so important at the time, we’re getting in the way of what I most wanted. They took away time from the activities that brought me happiness and fulfillment every day.
What’s more effective: a goal to lose 20 pounds or just choosing to eat healthy and exercise everyday? There are many fad diets and insane exercise programs that you can follow for a short time to lose the weight, but it almost never lasts. Daily exercise and good nutrition will keep you healthy for the rest of your life.
What good is a goal to make $1 million if you spend $1.1 million? Wouldn’t it be better just to spend less than you earn for your entire life?
I worked in sales back in my university days. My managers would come up with arbitrary sales goals like, your target is $2000 today. Shortly after that, I had a $5000 day. My target then became $5,000. It wasn’t based on any meaningful measure. Sometimes I met the goal, most often I didn’t. One thing for certain, that number had no influence on my performance. If anything, it made me cynical about how poorly the business was managed.
An Alternative to Goals
Goals don’t deliver results, the process does. Invest in the process and you’ll achieve more.
In my sales example above, dollar value sales goals are largely pointless. They just make employees overly competitive. It would have been much more effective to create a daily process of productive activities like making 10 sales calls per day, writing thank you cards to past customers and perhaps spending 15 minutes a day learning more about the product. Those simple activities would increase sales over time.
Instead of setting a goal to lose weight, create a daily process of drinking water instead of soft drinks and going for a walk after dinner everyday. Those two things alone, if done daily, would help most people permanently keep the weight off.
If your goal is to have socially well-adjusted children, the most important thing a parent can do is sit down and have dinner together with them everyday. How much money you spend on them or the number of extra-curricular activities they do matter much less to their emotional well-being.
It really is that simple.
Daily action delivers improvements, not goals. In fact, most goals reward the wrong behaviour.
Corporate stock-price targets incentivize fraud. Teacher bonuses linked to grades, encourage cheating and grade inflation. Athletes resort to doping and steroids when the rewards for winning are so great. Companies can’t get sales people to collaborate and share best practices when bonuses are awarded for individual performance.
Any goal can be reached if we cheat. Is the objective to win at all costs, or is it to live to the best of our ability?
Life is Good
My life is great now. I can walk, talk, see and hear. Not everyone can say that. I have a great wife. I have friends I like spending time with. I’m working on projects that I believe contribute to the world. I have time for regular exercise, reading and the hobbies I enjoy. I can’t think of any goal that would make me happier and more fulfilled.
I don’t need material possessions, particular experiences or a certain income level to become happy. I enjoy what I do everyday.
I could definitely make more money, particularly if I choose to work in the oil sector or other jobs I know I would hate, but it’s not worth the emotional cost. I’d much rather make less money doing what I love, versus getting rich doing something I’d hate.
When people ask, where I want to be in 5 years? I generally respond with, “I want to continue doing the same things I’m doing now.” My life is great, there is nothing I need to accomplish to feel fulfilled.
Personal Development Bullshit
I just finished reading a popular personal development book where the author advises to go to work early and stay late because successful people work hard. He also talks of the importance of becoming one of the top performers in your company, implying that success means making as much money as you can. The author goes on to teach how to get good at sales. People who are good at getting others to buy more, make a lot more money.
What a bunch of bollocks. I don’t want to work 60 hours a week selling useless garbage to the world. That is not what success means to me.
I don’t know how many times I’ve read about the Harvard business school class that wrote down their goals and were immensely more successful after twenty years compared to peers that didn’t write down goals. It turns out that study doesn’t exist. It was completely made up.
I’d like my ideas to reach more people. I’d like to make a bigger contribution to the world. I’d even like to make more money. However, I don’t need any of that to be happy. If I can’t find satisfaction in what I do everyday, then I don’t see much benefit in striving for any goal.
The finish line of life, is death. I think we should strive to live as much as we can every day, not race to the end as fast as we can.
Where do I want to be in 5 years?
Right here. I’ll be doing what I’m doing now.
If you’re interested in an alternative view of success, you can read my free online book at:
Achieving without Goals on ZenHabits.net
Why Goal Setting Doesn’t Work on Psychology Today
Why Setting Goals Can Do More Harm Than Good Forbes.com
Consider Not Setting Goals Harvard Business Review