It’s that time of year again. That time of year when everyone is telling you to set resolutions or goals. When they bombard you with obnoxious posts about getting rock solid on your “mission” or building strategies. But, what if it’s okay to “just be”. What an interesting concept! Allowing yourself to “just be”, to just rest your mind. What if it’s not a bad thing to give yourself a break, relax, and be alright with the idea of having nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no pressure of goals to attain?
Sadly, this time of year can feel like a reinforcement of failure or inadequacy. I get it. I get the feelings of emptiness, the feeling of pointlessness, even the hell of having given it your all and failed. I get the unhappiness, the self-recrimination, the fear, the frustration, the confusion, and the sick irony that you know you would be amazing if the world made even just a little sense. So, this New Year, why not resolve to “just be.” To not put pressure on yourself or make yourself miserable trying to achieve a goal.
Because it’s not that you don’t have ambitions, goals, and dreams; those dreams just haven’t fit into the slots and boxes of old systems and preconceived societal notions.
You don’t even consider yourself a maverick in any kind of way. What kind of narcissistic fool actively thinks of themselves as a maverick? But, well, the world attaches a lot of silly stuff to ambitions, goals, and dreams.
You’re supposed to be type-A go-getter material! On the job, on the climb, networking, branching and leaning in and synergizing and earning plaudits before eventually winding up on the lecture circuit telling others in your field how they, too, can follow your path.
You’re supposed to reach for the moon, grab it, sell condos on it, then off to Venus for the next round of real estate.
But what if your ambition is simply to live? And by live, I mean experience each moment by being inside each moment, not with an eye for future benefits.
My guess is you’ve heard a variation of the “If he’d only apply himself, he could be a star” speech of concern from family and friends, which assumes that money and stature are your goals.
And because you’re not seeking those out, you’re circling the slow drain of impending failure, yes?
Listen to me now and hear me later: you are a human BEING and that is enough. If you are BEING kind, considerate, respectful, compassionate, and doing YOUR best (not other people’s definition of best) then you’re already doing something right. Hell, that counts as a huge win in a world which seems intent on grinding 99% of us into usable dust.
So here are my reasons why setting goals in the new year is a bad idea. These are my own experiences and reflections and don’t necessarily reflect other people’s experiences.
1.) Setting goals doesn't work
Some people set goals and they are amazing at keeping them (rare). I’m not one of them. I’ve looked back at my patterns and I’ve seen that there’s no positive correlation between setting goals and level of ‘accomplishment’.
Actually, there’s an inverse relationship between setting goals and accomplishment for me. Meaning the more I set goals the less I actually accomplish.
2) Setting goals takes the fun out of an activity
I’ve found the act of setting goals made me more ambitious, but at the same time, it lessened the enjoyment of the actual work that needed to be done to accomplish the goal.
When I do work spontaneously, that’s when work becomes play. When it’s planned, it becomes drudgery.
3) Goals help create anxiety and depression
Setting goals are bad because they create anxiety when trying to keep them and also when you fail.
In creating illusions about the future, they also create depression. You go from a high when you’re creating a goal -and sometimes in the active process of trying to accomplish it – to a low when the illusions you’ve built about your future come crashing against reality.
4) Goal-setting is a distraction and often a form procrastination
I’ve found for myself that goal-setting turned out to be one big distraction.
Goals are very enjoyable to create, but setting them also makes them less enjoyable to implement.
I’m more prone to set goals when I don’t like what I’m doing. I believe that people do this to distract themselves from the life they’re living – a form of procrastination.
When you’re in a state of flow and really enjoying what you’re doing, you’re not interested in setting goals.
4) Goals create illusions
People love thinking about what life will be like when we accomplish XYZ. If you look back at your history, you’ll see that all of your thinking was just an illusion. Life usually isn’t much better now than it was – at least not because of your goals/goal setting.
Are you happier now than you were 5 years ago after hundreds or thousands of goals? Unlikely.
5) Goals are there to motivate us to do things we don’t want to do
People set goals to accomplish something they wouldn’t do if not for setting the goal.
I believe when we stop setting goals, our biology knows what we need to do to make us happy. We are drawn to what we truly want to do in life.
6) Goals delay you from finding your passion
The point of a goal is to try to get you to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do.
If you’re passionate about something then I promise you that you don’t need to set goals to do it. You will be driven to it. You will not be able to hold back, if anything. The more goals you set, the less time you’re engaged in activities that you actually like to do or are passionate about.
Whatever it is you like to do, eventually you will become a master at it. I can’t promise you’ll make a lot of money doing it, but you’ll almost certainly enjoy your life more.
7) Setting goals kills creativity
There’s no question that when I don’t set goals I am significantly more creative.
If you listen to Tim Ferriss’s podcasts, he discusses writer’s block, creativity, and happiness a lot. I see he’s struggling with these things while I don’t. Ferriss sets goals.
Whenever I also set goals, I have the same problems as him – writer’s block, diminished creativity and I become significantly less happy.
At its core, creativity is a process of discovering something that you didn’t plan to discover. Goals are accomplishments that are planned.
When I don’t set goals, I have an endless amount to write about and my creative mind is in overdrive. With no goals, I start getting a bug to write about a topic and I have an endless amount to say.
In fact, I have writer’s overflow where I don’t feel I can get most of my ideas out, which is why I don’t even reread articles (hence the errors). For every article I write, there are 10 more that I’m itching to write.
When I do set goals, it takes me much longer to write an article and I also get writer’s block.
8) Goals require will power
Whenever we set goals, it requires willpower to implement them.
Willpower is a limited resource. You get burnt out when you expend too much will power.
Bonus: The Doer vs The Creator
I’ve noticed that society has both ‘doers’ and ‘creators. Some people are both or none.
The do-ers love doing and the creatives love creating. Do-ers like the process of getting things done. Creatives like the process of thinking/imagining and creating something new or novel.
If you are a doer you will have the bug to get things done. If you are a creator, you will have the bug to create. This will happen whether you set goals or not.
There’s obviously a spectrum in each of these. Some people are extreme doers and creators – Jobs, Musk, etc…
Setting goals doesn’t make these people accomplish. It’s their innate drive.
So, this year, let’s resolve to “just be” and to throw caution to the wind. Let’s let life unfold however it decides to unfold. You never know what you may find. Happy 2019 everybody!