I Didn’t Believe in “No Goals”, Until I Accidentally Started Living It

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I have been an avid follower of Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits, for many years now. In fact, Zen Habits was one of the major inspirations behind me starting my own blog. If you’ve never read Zen Habits I encourage you to check it out. Leo encourages simple living, mindfulness, and having no goals. Yeah, you read that last one right. Leo Babauta says you should live life without goals.

When I first read some of Leo’s posts about no goals I almost immediately decided that “no goals” was a terrible idea. I believe the word that came to mind was “bullshit“. I loved everything else about Zen Habits but having no goals seemed to go against everything I have ever read anywhere. Everybody says you should set goals, but Leo didn’t even want me to have a to do list! This made no sense. How do you get anything done without goals or lists? I disregarded the whole idea until just recently when I realized that was exactly what I’ve been doing for most of this year. I wasn’t aware of it at first. I was just doing things that made me feel good and seeing what happens. I have to admit too, just like Leo said, I have never been happier or more productive.

I started out just wanting do have something to do outside of my day job. My work is often boring and repetitive but also very time consuming. I am thoroughly burned out on it but I’m not in a position to leave so I thought maybe some new hobbies would liven up my days.

I started by writing 750 words a day. That was nice and it helped wake up the brains cells but after awhile I realized there was no opportunity for feedback and improvement because no one could read what I had written. So then I came here to WordPress to set up this here blog. It has been an incredible experience so far and I know I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what can happen through blogging. I come here everyday and do my best to express myself and also connect with new people. The thing is, I have no goal for this blog.

Yeah it’s nice to get more views and followers, but the real reward is hearing from my readers and improving my writing. Those aren’t measurable goals and there is no one way to get there. All I do is follow certain principles and I move along the path without even meaning to. I went back yesterday and re-read Leo’s posts about no goals and I found his list of “Tips for Living Without Goals“. They are:

  1. Start Small.
  2. Grow.
  3. Not Just Work.
  4. Let Go of Plans
  5. Don’t Worry About Mistakes.
  6. It’s All Good.

I encourage you to head over there and read more about each item yourself, but the overall idea seems to be just do what feels good and you will end up somewhere. He uses the analogy of taking a walk with out a destination in mind. Not having a destination does not mean you do not walk. It means you go out and do things and enjoy the journey. You get up, you make things, you write stuff, you do what you love doing and see what happens. If you follow that path you cannot help but to end up in a place of happiness. With goals you predetermine the path and the destination and you may just miss out on something more beautiful because your focus and passion were in the wrong place.

I mentioned before that I follow a certain set of principles everyday and that has helped me to achieve more and grow without really setting out to do so. Leo also mentions this idea in another post on “Achieving Without Goals“. His 4 principles are:

  1. Love what you do.
  2. Help Others.
  3. Build Relationships and Trust.
  4. Be Curious.

By keeping these simple principles in mind and doing things that fit in with your principles rather than what moves you toward your goals you go on achieving and you may even surprise yourself. I have noticed that everything I achieve without goals is all the sweeter because it happened without me having to try so hard. It almost feels like I have earned it more because it feels so natural. I have a few more principles to add to Leo’s list. Most of them I have collected from Crystal Moody’s blog Year of Creative Habits and Austin Kleons book “Steal Like an Artist“.

  1. Stay Creative.
  2. Share Your Work With People.
  3. Try New Things.

These may sound like goals on the surface but the difference is there is no real plan or path and there are no measurable results. I just wake up everyday and try to do things that I love and that fit in with these principles. I still have lists but I do not stress about them. They are more like reminders than to-do lists. In addition to writing and posting here on this blog I am also taking small steps everyday to use my hands and make things. I hope to share that with all of you too very soon. I’m making time to read other blogs and connect with others. I want to read more, I want to learn more. I want to start traveling and seeing new places. I want to do these things because I have realized these are the things I love. These are the things that make me feel good! I look forward to the destination but the journey is the both surprising and beautiful.

I encourage all of you to try living without goals and see what happens. I’d also like to know what you all think? Goals or no goals? What principles do you apply to everything you do? Let me know in the comments :)

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Published by

Lisa

Hello! My name is Lisa. I find the human condition fascinating and I often write stuff about that. I blog at zenandpi.com but you can also find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, and if you like what I do, consider signing up for my newsletter. Thanks :)

12 thoughts on “I Didn’t Believe in “No Goals”, Until I Accidentally Started Living It”

  1. Interesting thoughts. I wonder if you can do both: goals and no goals. Just to play the other side though, isn’t having no goals a goal. I mean waking up and doing what you love, that’s a goal that I think a lot of people would like to achieve.
    Personally, I think I’m both and I think the most important part of doing what you love is to do it. Unfortunately, there are times that life gets in the way.

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    1. I guess it’s more about the mindset. I think it’s about doing things without a end game in mind. I do what I love because I love it not because it will get me anything in particular. Also when we set goals and fail it can be devastating but if you go into something with no goal you can be more relaxed and just enjoy the process. Thanks for reading :)

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  2. Interesting thinking, I am a definite to do list, goals kind of person. I could argue that stating I want to start traveling and see new places is a goal in itself. Where the no end game part comes in is you don’t specify where other than new places or when. For me, I do not beat myself up about my goals and to-do lists and realize that my goals need to be adjusted from time to time to work for me.

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    1. I was really into goals and to-do lists before but right now I just like winging it. The traveling and doing new things are just as they come up. I have friends who just happened to invite me to Florida next year and I get invited on camping trips. They are not things I actively work towards though. I guess I just say yes more often and make time to do more things. Like I said I do still keep lists handy but there aren’t many deadlines to meet, I just do what I can when I can and only if I want to. Thank you for reading :)

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  3. I really love this. I feel if you have goals you very often get stuck because you can not see outside this box anymore or you feel too much pressure. And in the end you feel frustration because you might have not achieved the goal in the time you set for yourself. I know what I am talking about, believe me… So I sort of have the no goal approach for a while as well (not that I was aware of it) but it actually works and it does not mean that you let go of your ideas.

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    1. Exactly! In the past I have set goals and pushed myself too hard and then was devastated when things didn’t work out. Right now I have no goal I just do what feels right everyday and I have to say I actually do feel like I am accomplishing more than I ever did before. Thank you for reading!

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  4. Well written and from the heart, Lisa! You touched an interesting aspect of what I apply while working, however, I’m completely the opposite in private. You’re very right that it’s when we don’t set goals, destinations, expectations, that we see what’s out there and enjoy the ride.

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    1. Thank you! And yeah I am all about enjoying the ride right now! I still make lists of reminders and ideas but they are more things to explore not actual goals. Thank you for reading :)

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  5. Hi Lisa, very glad I came across your blog. Enjoying your lovely relaxed style of writing. Enjoyed this post, too. When I moved to the US, I was taken aback by how goal-oriented so many people were, not just in their work life, but in their private life too. Life seemed very pressurized. On the other hand, I imagine the danger of having no goals is that we feel life is passing us by and we’re not in control. So a bit of balance is probably needed — like much else in life.:)

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  6. Mmm. I personally think I have goals and no goals.

    I do have some things I feel I need to achieve at this point.

    But when I went for a job interview a while back and I told the managing director that I was not a 100 percent sure where I want to be in five years, well, that did not go down well.

    I don’t think this shows a lack of motivation. I just think that I am relatively young and that I am discovering new opportunities every day that I never thought before existed. A rigorous plan would make me less likely to make use of these opportunities as they come my way.

    Besides, life throws curve balls all the time. The best laid plans…

    When I learned to drive, my instructor once commented that although I did not always do the “correct” thing, I had the innate ability to intuitively correct.

    This is part of how I live my life. I identify threats and opportunities and I respond accordingly. My “goals” relate mostly to acquiring various skills that would enable me to respond to identified threats and opportunities more rapidly.

    For instance, I would not advise a university student not to have the goal of completing their degree!

    Nor would I advise against dreaming big, breaking your dream into small chunks and working towards making it a reality.

    Anyways, just my two cents.

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    1. Thanks for reading, and for the feedback. Like you, most people seem to like a half and half approach. I think I’ll explore the idea more from that perspective and look at when goals are necessary and when they aren’t. I also like the idea of acquiring skills rather than shooting for a specific job opportunities. This way when the best laid plans don’t work out you can adjust accordingly. Thanks again :)

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