zen habits : breathe

What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?

By Leo Babauta

I get asked about the idea of No Goals a lot.

That’s not surprising, given how deeply Goals are ingrained in us. And while these days I play with the line between having goals and not having them (it’s not solid line), I’ve learned a lot about myself by allowing myself to let go of how tightly I was holding onto my Goals.

Recently reader John asked:

‘I’m still playing with the idea of no goals, and I was wondering: how many projects have you stopped doing because you were no longer interested in them? Can you give some examples of them and your process? How often does that happen for you? I think it may help me with my own struggles to hear a bit about that.

‘My concern with no goals is that I’ll start several projects and then not finishing any of them because I’ll keep getting distracted by the next shiny thing. And then I’ll look back at my life and feel like I didn’t really accomplish anything.’

Great question.

What I’ve learned is that goals get a lot of credit for having us stick to projects, but they mask what really motivates us to stay with something:

  1. Commitment. If I commit to doing something to other people (say a business partner, a workout partner, or my blog readers), I’m much more likely to stick to it. This is true whether I set a goal for this commitment or not.
  2. Having a strong Why. If I really care about a project, it’s because there’s a very strong reason for me to do it. I think it’ll help a lot of people in an important way, for example. Or it will benefit people I care a lot about. Or it will change my life in a meaningful way. If I feel like quitting a project, I’ll check in with my Why and rarely will I quit if the reason is strong enough.

So yes, I’ll quit projects sometimes, but that’s usually because I’m not very committed to them or didn’t have a very strong Why in the first place. This doesn’t happen too often anymore, because I don’t usually take on a project these days unless I have both of these factors locked into place.

What I’ve learned is that Goals are great, but we think they are what motivate us when they aren’t. When we take away the goals, we can dig deeper into learning about ourselves and how we work.



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