Here’s my ‘goals or no goals’ story. When I had a job, I thought it sucked, but looking back there is one thing that made it worthwhile. I didn’t have to think. I went in, followed my schedule for the day, and then went home. It was easy. The owners or CEOs were the ones who focused on the goals for the company. I just focused on getting through the day.
When I decided to run my own online business, it was different. I made up the rules. I decided what my schedule would be like. And, I had to decide the goals that my business was striving for.
But for the past year, I have had a full-time ’employer’. He’s technically a client, but because I worked for him for so long, an employer seems more like an accurate word. I was his ghostwriter, and the ‘job’ took up most of my days, so I got back into the groove of letting someone else dictate what I do with my day. His schedule, his rules – and I just did the work. My biggest goal in life was making sure I finished his work!
About two months ago, my work with him all but disappeared. He decided that he only needed me one day a week. And because I’ve gotten so good at it, I can finish his work in a few hours.
That left me feeling very unproductive at the end of each day, and suddenly I realized that I needed to get my business back on track.
So, I refocused on my business and the goals I want to achieve with it. But, I jumped in with an all-or-nothing attitude because I want to recreate the success I was having with that ’employer’ who had very specific goals.
In short, I bought into the belief that I needed very concrete goals with specific steps to help me get there. And it stressed me out!
What’s worse is that I got to the point where I would try to make very specific goals in every area of my life. My business, my health, my relationships, my spiritual side, my personal growth and my home all had some specific goals attached to them.
Sabotaging My Goals
The thing is that I like the idea of goals. I like the idea of working towards something concrete and reaching the goal. But I kept self-handicapping myself because I was scared that things were not going to work out. I was scared that I was not good enough. I woke up scared of all the work I had to do during the day because my schedule was packed!
I tried my best for a short time, but my business (and my life) were not as organized as it was when I was ’employed’. Things were run systematically and I never had to deviate. Suddenly unexpected situations popped up, I would get lazy, stressed, and my days deviated from the plan that would help me reach my very concrete goals.
After a lot of stress and unproductive days, I realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough wiggle room in my goals. But, I felt that I had to minimize wiggle room if I wanted to achieve my goals quickly!
The less wiggle room there is, the faster I will reach my goals. Right?
Goals Or No Goals?
All of that brought me to a point of struggling with if I should have goals or no goals.
I read a post by Leo Babauta on having no goals, and it didn’t resonate with me.
He says, “If you live without goals, you’ll explore new territory.” Well, no, I find that if I live my life without goals, I often do nothing and get nowhere.
He also says that “Goals as a system are set up for failure.” But I still strongly see ‘no goals’ as a system for failure. Yes, you may be able to explore a little bit more, but without goals, you don’t have a plan to help you get where you are going. You go right, you go left, you go up, you go down, but you don’t actually move in a straight line towards what you want. When I want to go to the store for something, my goal is to get that something, and I drive there in a straight line to get what I need quickly.
I respect Leo and agree with a lot of things he says, so I started to think that maybe goals or no goals was different for everyone. Maybe what works for you doesn’t work for me. Maybe we are not all supposed to do the same thing! Maybe I need to stop stressing out about what is the right thing to do and do the right thing for me!
I started to feel a little bit better. I started to trust in the fact that I love goals and making goals, and maybe it’s alright to have them and give myself some wiggle room too.
Do We All View Goals Differently?
I reached out to some people to see how they felt about having goals or no goals in their life.
I believe in setting clear goals each month in different aspects of my life to stay on track and gain clarity on the direction I want to be heading. That being said, I tend to focus on what I feel like doing (i.e follow my intuition) on a day to day basis as I am more productive when I am doing something that makes me feel good in the moment.
I’ve tried both.
I know the theoretical power of goals. But they don’t work for me.
Life keeps getting in the way, so I don’t get to work on what I had planned.
Nowadays I have a few things in my head that I try to work on most days. I cannot do everything, so I do whatever I am in the mood to do. I have to feel good about what I do, so matching the task with my mood is important to me.
I am a goal-oriented guy. I create resolutions for myself, plan things in advance, and execute them accordingly. This is applicable to my career, investments, traveling and family matters. Without keeping things organized, it creates a mess for me.
Keeping your goals fixed makes you more productive. I strongly believe everyone should prioritize their goals.
I think it’s important to have clearly defined goals in the areas of your life you want to improve the most, not necessarily all areas. If you’re most concerned about losing weight, for example, you should work on that first, then work on other goals after you’ve accomplished that one.
Don’t Limit Yourself
For me, I think the most important thing I’ve learned while trying to figure out if I should have goals or no goals is that I shouldn’t limit yourself.
I can’t be as anal as I’ve been and expect to be happy.
I can’t set my schedule down to the minute because life happens and things don’t always work out the way I want them to.
Moreover, unexpected surprises come and doors open up, and if I limit myself, I can’t enjoy them or take advantage of them.
I want to be successful. I want to be so successful that my main goals in life will be having fun and enjoying the view I have from my secluded cabin by the ocean. But to have the type of success I want, I believe, I need to understand where I am going (have clear goals) and take action to get there.
Moving forward, I’m going to set goals, but not limits. I’m going to stick with my yearly, monthly, and weekly goals, but I’m not going to limit myself from the choice of taking a new turn if an opportunity presents itself.
I’m excited about my goals now that I’m no longer struggling with the question of whether I should have goals or no goals!
I’m no longer self-handicapping. I’m no longer stressing out about my daily routine. Instead, I’m doing the things that I know are going to help me get to where I want to be, and I am starting to feel more productive in my life.
And I’m looking forward to that view of the ocean from my cabin!
My Advice For You
If you are struggling with the question of having goals or no goals, my biggest advice is to do what feels right for you. Don’t listen to your best friend, mother, or anyone else. Don’t set strict goals or no goals just because an expert said that’s the way you have to do it.
When you do what resonates with you as right, then you will feel much better about your days and you will be much more productive. I’ve found that the stress of not knowing what to do will hold you back much more than having a plan different from everyone else.