achieving, without goals

By Leo Babauta

It was only a couple years ago that I was completely focused on goals … and I accomplished a lot by setting and working on goals.

I ran several marathons, lost a lot of weight, got out of debt, started a fairly successful blog … the list of goals I achieved is long. These days, for more than a year now, I’ve pretty much given up on goals, though I’m still learning how that works.

The question most people have is: how do you achieve anything without goals? And the short answer is: the same way as you always did — get excited about something and do it!

how we really achieve

Goals take credit for our accomplishments, like a bad boss does in the company’s annual report. But we all know who did the work to get those accomplishments — the workers. The boss just acted as a taskmaster but mostly got in the way with a lot of pressure and asking for time-consuming reports.

Goals are the same: we give them a lot of credit for our accomplishments, but they didn’t do the work. They might have given us a direction, but in the end, the work is done on a daily basis. Goals also require that we do a lot of admin work — assess and report on how we’re doing with our goals, etc.

But remove goals from the picture and look at the gritty details of how work gets done and accomplishments happen:

Notice that goals are only one way to do this.

with or without goals

A minimalist blogging friend, whom I respect, said in a little discussion on this yesterday that he accomplished a lot with goals — and that’s true. But I believe he would have accomplished great things even without goals — they just might not have been what he expected.

He also said, without goals, a lot of people wouldn’t do anything — which I don’t believe is true. Freed of goals, I highly doubt that most of us would just sit around doing nothing. That would bore us — interesting, talented people want to do something. So we would — we’d get excited and create. Sure, there would be a few people who sit around doing nothing — but those people are setting goals for themselves and are sitting around not achieving those goals, and feeling guilty about it.

That’s the thing: even with goals, some people aren’t going to achieve anything, because they haven’t figured out how to motivate themselves. Goals don’t do that for you — they just make you feel guilty that you haven’t gotten them done. And even without goals, people who are motivated are people who will get excited and do stuff. They’ll accomplish something great, no matter what.

I’ve done just as much without goals as I did with: I’ve self-published my latest book, moved to a city, given up my car, created bootcamps for bloggers, gotten in better shape than I’ve ever been in, read a ton of books, created another blog, eliminated ads on Zen Habits while making it more profitable than ever, and countless other things I won’t even mention.

life purpose

A few years ago, I did a post talking about your life’s purpose: The Key to Dying Happy.

It’s still a good method, but I don’t do it anymore. That doesn’t mean the things I set out as my purpose aren’t important to me anymore — I just go about doing them differently. Let’s take a quick look at how I do that. From the post:

Leo’s Mission

Here’s the remarkable thing — you could say those things about me right now. I mean, whether I’m a great writer or whether I make the lives of others better — those are debatable, sure. But I definitely try: I’m happy, and I do my best every day to be a good father, husband, writer and compassionate person.

So I’m not so focused on the end of my life — but on right now. Instead of setting these goals for the end of my life (which I did several years ago), I get excited about all these things, right now, and do them every day because I’m excited about them. I love being a dad, a husband, a writer, a friend. I absolutely get up excited about these things every day, and am grateful I have the chance to do them.

get excited and do things

You don’t need goals to tell you what to do. You know what to do (if you don’t, read this). You’re excited about doing it already — you just need to focus, and get to it.

Goals keep you focused on something in the future, instead of being present and enjoying what you’re doing right now. Goals keep you fixed on one path, which might not be the best path in a week or a month or a year. They keep you fixated on one thing, rather than being open to new opportunities, being flexible as the landscape changes, being free to pursue something you’re newly passionate about rather than sticking to something you’re tired of.

Being liberated from goals means you will always be excited about what you’re doing. And yes, you’ll accomplish things. You’ll get somewhere great — you just might not have known you’d ever end up there when you started.

Get excited, and do stuff.

Also: shake yo bambama.