Living with aims, not goals

By John Shackleton on March 1, 2017 in Blog

For at least the last 35 years I’ve been an avid goal setter. Financial goals, health goals, sporting goals, business goals etc. I can remember sitting in an audience of business owners when I was 25 years old and learning about goal setting for the first time and I’ve been big believer in the process ever since. I’ve been advocating and teaching goal setting in my seminars for as long as I can remember but in the last few months I’ve experimented a little – I’ve been living without goals!

I would estimate that over the years I’ve achieved in the region of 75% of my goals within the time scale set and probably 90% of them in the long run. I suppose you could say that any success I’ve achieved in my life has been because of my goals but goal setting is not all wonderful and positive. There are many down sides to the story as well, especially those times when we don’t achieve what we’re striving for!

Some goals include winning or being number one and they are almost always a problem because we can’t control what other people are going to do so we can’t control the outcome. Some people would suggest that if you don’t win ‘you just didn’t try hard enough’ or ‘the other person wanted it more than you’. Either or both may be true but those ideas really don’t help us when we’ve set the goal of winning and lost!

Sometimes after you’ve set the goal and have been working towards it for several weeks or months you start to realise that you don’t really want the outcome you’ve been aiming at. If, when you set your goal, you announced it to all your friends (as is often advocated), you could now lose face or experience damage to your self-belief.

Also I’ve noticed a change in the power of the goal as I move towards its attainment. Often, when we set a goal, it can seem to be an amazing and attractive thing, huge and impressive and almost out of reach. However when we’ve been working toward it for a while and thinking about it constantly, it can lose some of it’s lustre and feels ‘ordinary’ or ‘commonplace’. In this situation when we eventually achieve the goal there is little or no enjoyment and very little celebration because we’ve been certain of its attainment for so long.

In my own life I found that an obsessive approach to goal setting has a number of serious downsides. Sometimes the goal becomes so important that we believe that we can only have happiness in our life when we’ve achieved it. Our mantra becomes ‘I’ll be happy when I’ve got my new car, when I’ve found a new partner, when I’ve won that race or when I’ve made a $million. So we spend six months, a year or even ten years being unhappy, chasing the goal so that we can have five minutes of happiness when we finally achieve it!

Sometimes goal setting will add huge amounts of stress to our lives and unchecked this can lead to some serious mental health issues. I’ve worked with many professional athletes who suffer from anxiety or depression as a result of having spent years being driven by their massive goals. Contrary to popular belief their depression is not a result of NOT achieving their goal. It’s a result of being goal obsessed. Often the winners are as mentally damaged as the ones that didn’t make it.

I recently read an article entitled 100 days with no goals by Joshua Millburn, and realised I wasn’t the only person questioning the goal setting process that we’ve all bought into. Like me Joshua had become a goal obsessive although his background was as a leader in the corporate world whereas mine is as an entrepreneur. After reading the article I decided to try life without goals but I didn’t set a goal of not having a goal for 6 months! I just decided to try if for a while and see what happened.

Now let me clarify what I’m saying here. It’s not as though I’m completely lost, stumbling through life aimlessly waiting for things to happen! I’ve come across so many people who have that approach and never get anywhere so I know that path isn’t for me. I read somewhere recently that it’s less stressful to live life with a compass rather than a road map and that is how I’ve approached this project.

I still know what direction I’m headed but I’ve dropped the absolute clarity and laser like focus that I used to have with my goals. I now moving in the general direction I’ve chosen with aims rather than goals and I’m loving the stress free feeling of freedom that it’s brought to my life. I’m still growing and achieving things but I’m not obsessed with specific numbers, positions or dates. I believe my productivity has increased because my stress levels are down and I also think I’ve become a better person (husband, father, friend) because I can now give others more attention as I’m not constantly thinking about what I must do next.

I’ll let you know the results of this experiment when I’m happy with all aspects of this new approach. However I can tell you that living without goals is exciting, relaxing and refreshing and I strongly urge you to try it for yourself.






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John ShackletonView all posts by John Shackleton