Ditch goals. There are more powerful ways to change your life

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By: Amanda | Why We Money

A new year is a fresh start. A chance to clear the slate and reset. An opportunity to make changes in your life. 

So you set big goals to do something, be something, or start something different or new for next year. 

And why do you set these goals?

Because you’re not happy where you’re at right now. Because you want more. Because life “should” be something other than it was last year. 

You set goals because you see a problem in your life you’d like to solve. But setting goals might not be the right solution for you. 

Research has shown that less than 20% of people reach and maintain their New Year’s resolutions after 2 years. And almost 25% of them don’t last an entire week.

Yet, even after repeatedly failing to keep specific goals we set for ourselves, we use the same goal setting process over and over and over again.

If you’re not happy, you want more, and you think your life should be something other than it was last year –  setting SMART goals, stretch goals, BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), mini goals, or goals for your goals is not going to fix that.

The problems with goals

As a former incessant goal setter, I understand that goals can be useful. They can help you start to make positive changes and move you toward personal and professional growth. 

But, in my experience, rigid goal setting doesn’t work. In fact, depending on your personality and how your goals work out for you, it might even have negative consequences and prevent progress.

Achieving goals ≠ success

Many of us believe the opposite. Goal completed? Check. #winning.

You might think not achieving your goals is failing. It’s easy, then, to believe it’s you that’s the problem. In reality, it’s likely the goals. Maybe the goals weren’t for you, maybe they were too rigid, maybe life changed, or maybe you just need a different approach. 

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” – Bruce Lee

Goals won’t change your life (even if you think they will)

But the growth experienced along the journey toward a goal could be life-changing. This growth isn’t from the goal itself. It’s from the processes, systems, and habits you develop along the way.

Reaching goals isn’t satisfying

The end goal isn’t where the satisfaction lies, but figuring out how to maneuver through the struggles along the way empowers you and brings you pleasure. In fact, when you overcome all of the obstacles and finally reach a goal, the goal itself can sometimes be a letdown.

Goals can make you miserable

Having big goals moves happiness to some point the future. You know, when you achieve your goal – well, then you’ll be happy. And, quite often, it’s a moving target, pushing happiness further and further away.

(So many of us on the path to FI take this approach to our financial goals. “When I finally get 25x my expenses and reach FI, then I’ll be happy.” The stars will align, the angels will sing, and all will be right with the world always and forever. In reality, simply reaching FI will not make you happy.)

Goals imply you have complete control

Friends, life happens. We can only control so much. And if we’re too focused on results, when Life gets in the way, it’s easy to get frustrated, depressed, and stressed out.

Goals can slow you down

You aren’t likely to get creative, think outside of the box, or go the extra mile if you know your timeline is already being met.

Goals can burn you out – fast

Big goals usually mean big changes. When you go to extremes to reach colossal goals, you burn out quickly.  

Goals are band-aids

Setting goals just to set goals and then working harder, longer, and faster to achieve an outcome as fast as possible is a band-aid approach to change. Goals themselves don’t lead to long-lasting, satisfying life changes. It’s the habits and the journey that transform your life.

Reaching a goal doesn’t lead to happiness, joy, and contentment. Because happiness, joy, and contentment are not outcomes, they’re processes.

If not goals, then what? Alternatives to goal setting

By now you might be wondering – if you don’t set goals, how do you make progress and solve your problems? I mean, who wants to move aimlessly through life?

Start living the life you want right now

Don’t do what you “should” do

Too much of your life is spent on what you think you “should do.”

Whether it’s from your family, friends, co-workers, or society, someone is always telling you, directly or indirectly, what you should be doing, what your life should look like. Where you should live and study and work, whether you marry or have children, how much money you should make and save, what you need to do to move up the corporate ladder.

You feel pressure to do what’s expected of you.

And then the question becomes – Are the goals you set even your goals? Or are they someone else’s goals for you?

Sometimes, even if you have doubts about the goals that aren’t really your goals at all, you still set them and work on them. Because you think that’s what you “should” do.

In the meantime, you spend your life waiting. Waiting to live the life you dream about. Waiting to be happy.

Stop trying to catch up to your happiness.

Life doesn’t wait for the promotion in 2 years. It doesn’t halt until you find that “perfect” someone so you can live happily ever after. It doesn’t pause while you work tirelessly to save a few mil so you never have to work again.

Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.” – Zhuangzi

Align your life with your values

Living the life you want doesn’t mean you don’t have direction. It doesn’t mean you don’t make progress and change and grow.

In fact, I think progress and change and growth is the perfect indicator that you’re living life on your terms – if it’s aligned with your values and priorities.

Figuring out your values isn’t difficult. Ask yourself about:

*Times in your life when you were the happiest (what, who, why)
*Times in your life when you were the most satisfied (what, who, why)
*Times in your life when you were the proudest (what, who, why, meaning)

What common values can you pull out of these exercises? Here’s a good list of values to refer to. (Check out this article for more.)

When you align your time and money with your values, you’ll naturally be drawn toward growth. And when you experience growth and progress in one area of your life, it will spill over into the other areas.

Just because you decide to live the life you want right now, doesn’t mean it won’t require effort. You willhave to set your direction and work at it. (Read on…)

Also, living the life you want doesn’t mean life will unravel the way you think it will. The fact is, life will inevitably change. It will challenge you. But as long as you use your values as your compass, you’ll know what direction you need to go no matter what life throws at you.

Pick your direction (Set your intentions)

An intention, like a goal, is still focused on what you want in life, but it’s more about the person you want to become and the life you want to create. Intentions provide direction.

Intentions can be set for how you want to act (e.g., patient) or who you want to become (e.g., healthy). They can be set for each day, each month, or each year.

With intention, you focus on what you’re thinking and doing without expectation of specific results. You don’t limit yourself with set outcomes and timelines.

When your intentions align with your values – and you’re moving in the direction you want – happiness, joy, and contentment naturally accompany progress. 

The great thing about intention is it helps you to pay attention to how you go through your days. You are more likely to be aware of how you behave. You’re more open to what comes your way. You’re more curious and creative.

Use the past to inform your direction

Tim Ferriss utilizes an alternative to New Year’s resolutions he calls Past Year Reviews. The idea is to look through each week of your calendar from last year. On paper, make a Negative and Positive column. List out the experiences, people, and obligations from your calendar into the Negative column or the Positive column. And then pick out (circle) the top positives and negatives from the past year.

When you have this data, you can use it to figure out your direction. The objective, then, for the next year is to do more of the top positive things on the list, and limit or eliminate the biggest negatives. 

The only way to actually win is to get better each day. In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, “The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.” – James Clear

Focus on the behaviors you can control

A goal itself doesn’t bring growth and change, but the habits – the behaviors and actions you take each day – compound into lasting satisfaction and progress. So rather than focus on the end “goal,” it is far more useful to work to build the habits, processes, and systems that move you in the direction you want to go. 

Again, it’s not about the goal – two people can set the exact same goal with strikingly different outcomes. It’s the behavior that determines the results.

Let’s say two people have the same exact goal to lose 20 lbs in 6 months. Just because they’ve both set the same goal doesn’t mean they’ll both lose the 20 lbs. It’s the actions they each take every day that determine if they’ll lose the weight and keep it off long-term.


Are you heading in the direction you want? Check in periodically to see.

Even though you may not be aiming for specific outcomes, you still need to check in to see if you’re making progress, growing, and otherwise moving in a direction that supports the life you want to live.

Mark your calendar to check in each month, quarter and/or year and make time to reflect on the past. 


  • What was the most memorable part of this month (or quarter)?
  • What are the top takeaways, or lessons, from this month (or quarter)?
  • When were you the happiest or most content? Why?
  • How have you changed from the previous month? What’s better/worse?
  • Which people have made the most positive impact/impression on you?
  • What direction do you want to go next month (or quarter)?
    • What do you want to do more of?
    • What can you limit or remove?

    Reevaluate your direction and change course as you go. Life changes and your direction will change with it. Don’t limit yourself by specific expectations.

    Aim for mastery over performance (intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation)

    When it comes right down to it, what we’re talking about is motivation. Figuring out what really motivates you is the key to satisfaction, progress, and change. And aiming for mastery is going to get you further, and fulfill you more than performance ever will.

    Mastery requires learning, taking action, and setting up processes for continual improvement. On the other hand, performance is aimed at competing against others and receiving a reward. 

    An essential distinction between mastery and performance is the source of motivation. 

    Performance is based on extrinsic motivation. This type of motivation comes from outside of yourself. Extrinsic motivation means you do something to get an external reward (or to avoid negative consequences of not doing it). Money, awards, attention, grades, and recognition are a few examples of extrinsic motivators.

    While performance can be motivating for some people, for many it leads to anxiety and fear of failure.

    Mastery is based on intrinsic motivation.  This motivation comes from within yourself. Intrinsic motivation means you do something because it’s enjoyable and satisfying to you. You take action because the action itself is personally rewarding.

    With mastery, you’re much less likely to procrastinate because you personally enjoy the process as much as the outcome.

    When you can see mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at, it starts to feel accessible and attainable. Most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core, mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience.” – Gary Keller

    Do what works for you

    In the end, you have to do what works for you. It might take a little experimenting, but if goal-setting hasn’t been effective for you, as it’s not for so many others, or if it takes over your life and makes you miserable (hello!), try doing something different

    As a reformed goal setter (as of now, haha!), I wrote this post for me. This year, I’m not setting goals. I’m setting my direction, using much of what I’ve written about here. I’ll let you know how it turns out!


Republished with the permission of WhyWeMoney.com.

1 thought on “Ditch goals. There are more powerful ways to change your life”

  1. Confidence – The Only Plan You Need To Achieve Your Goals

    You only need Three Ingredients Needed for Your Success

    1.Have a burning desire for personal improvement i.e. the pain to move forward will be less than the pain of remaining stationary and not changing.
    2. Have a plan. Like the Cat said to Alice in Alice in Wonderland. If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go. Your plan is your odometer and speedometer.
    3. A 100% commitment to see it through. Like the Duracell Bunny, you just gotta keep on going and going and going!

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