The futility of goal setting and what to do instead.

‘A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.’
— Lao Tzu

The idea of having concrete, achievable goals seems to be deeply ingrained in our culture. And we have great names for them and we make diagrams like this and tell people to make them smart goals. I'm guilty as charged.

goals setting is stupid

This year however, I have decided to attempt to exist without goals, ( shudder from the audience ) and focus more on an overall vision for my life. 

It’s liberating, and frankly allows me to breath a sigh of relief, while being quietly terrified as well.

To date, I've managed to increase my productivity without having any goals.  For example, I started a pop up event evening once a month without a specific goal in mind. I wanted to create an experience and explore building conversations in my community.

I had no idea where or what it would lead to or if it would convert into anything, but it was something I have been thinking about for a long time. When the opportunity arrived I took INSPIRED ACTION. Already it’s bearing fruit through the positive experiences of the guests and my own personal experience and satisfaction.

how to be happier

Say good-by to goals and say hello to your Happiness Exchange Rate.

What is that?

If the aim of investing your life energy and money is to secure happiness for yourself and others, then anything that allows you to get more happiness out of the experiences of your life is your Happiness Exchange Rate -  every choice is an investment or unit of happiness, exchanged for experiences. Those experiences may grow you and bring fulfillment and meaning, or deplete you and bring struggle and confusion.

So, what does all this mean?  You can take the bar code off your forehead


It means you stop letting yourself be limited by goals and finish lines, and focus on the exchange of your time and life energy in things that support and nourish you, without needing to label them all.


You probably remember being told this time and time again:

You’ll never get anywhere unless you know where you’re going.

This seems like common sense and yet it’s obviously not true if you stop and ponder it.

For example, I could walk out my door and go for a walk in a random direction, perhaps down streets I don't normally go for my walk. After 30 minutes, I will be somewhere. It just happens to be a place I was not expecting, but I am still somewhere. You are always somewhere.

From a goal to a vision

And now we arrive at the sticky wicket:

You have to open your mind to going places you never expected to go. If you live without goals, you’ll have no choice but to explore new territory. You’ll experience the unexpected. You’ll end up in surprising places. That’s the beauty of this philosophy - it's foundation is based on creating a vision on not getting anywhere but enjoying where you get, and working from that place of freedom to explore what you are called to explore.

Some examples:

A goal might be:  walk for 30 minutes each and every day.

A vision might be: I want to enjoy a body that feels fit and healthy and moves with freedom.

The vision is the organizing principle, and goal is the signpost, but a signpost is not a destination. Some people might say it's semantics, but it does generate a very different feel to me. It feels lighter.


It can be difficult to make the shift in our  "goal oriented " obsessed culture.

Today, I live for the most part without goals. Now I know what you are thinking.

Ahhh, living without a goal is David's goal.

Actually it is not a goal but an direction or a path I want to explore, where I try to make things less concrete and more oriented on investing my life energy or units of me in things that bring me increased happiness at a lower cost and impact.

And If I am creating opportunities for myself that will increase happiness, then down the line it will ripple into every aspect of my life. It’s just something I’m starting to learn... that I enjoy creating experiences rather than having to make every thing so set in stone and goal oriented.

I'm still breathing and getting lots done, but it's feeling like I have a little more space around my life.

Why goals are problematic

We all set goals, like a goal for the year, and then sub-goals for each month. Then you figure out what action steps to take each week and each day, and you try to focus on that plan of action.

It can work very well for some people some of the time.  It's also good practice for moving people who are dreamers into action.

Unfortunately, it never ever works in the neat and precise way we all hope.

We have all experienced this. You know you need to work on one of your sub goals, and you try to keep the end goal in mind as a motivator, but maybe you are dreading taking the step and so you procrastinate. Enter Facebook, Twitter, binge chip eating, random snoozing or a pleasurable hour of candy crush or solitaire on your iPad, but the goal or even the sub goal does not get reached.

So you get discouraged, because you think to yourself, I'm lazy, I have no discipline or I am not smart enough.

And goals are hard right?

So now what? Well, let's do a review and maybe reset the goals. Back to the drawing board! But no real problem because...


My belief is, the problem isn’t really you, it’s the field you are playing on.

Goals as a playing field are a set up for feeling bad about ourselves, because it is rarely the outer goal we are after, so even achieving it often feels not quite good enough.  All really meaningful goals have an important interior goal ( emotional or spiritual), which means you are really trying to convert your desired interior state into an external result. So you make the translation into a goal and that leads to trouble.

VISION : I wish to be financially free

Converts to

GOAL:   I want to make 6 figures a year

I know some folks who are financially free on very little income and I have worked with some very wealthy clients who seemed to be wounded by their own success and can't buy their way out of it.

So the interior goal state is converted into the external state - financially free becomes 6 figures.

I hate my job - now what?

That doesn't have to be a problem, but it often becomes one down the line for people who start doing and living in ways to reach the goal, in this case of 6 figures, but who perhaps don't love their jobs, or have to become workaholics to reach the goals, or start to impact the health of their bodies and minds to reach the external goal,  or even do things that step on their deep core values, which makes them feel even worse, so they can reach their goal....but in truth they want the internal goal of feeling free, which isn't a number, it's a state of mind.

You see it over and over again.... people exchange so much happiness in the process of trying to reach their external goals, and they make their Happiness Exchange Rate plummet in the wake of all the insanity to reach the goal, and then when they reach it, they wonder why it doesn't feel better, so immediately set a new goal.

Where is the new goal now? It's once again in the future, because in spite of getting the 6 figures a year, they don't feel freedom... if what it took to get the 6 figures requires the sacrifice of freedom, which is really the goal, then they mistakenly create a bigger goal, maybe 7 figures a year and then...freedom?

But if the happiness exchange rate to achieve the goal isn't making your feel free, reaching the goal won't help change that.

Also, even when you do things perfectly according to the plan, it’s not very motivating or empowering because you are extremely limited in your choices. When you don’t feel like doing something, you force yourself. Your path is chosen, you have a map with a line on it so you don’t have room to explore new territory. Have you ever created a really good plan that you did not feel very excited about, because it's what you are supposed to do, even when you’re passionate about something else?

Of course some goal systems are more flexible than others, but nothing is as flexible as creating and achieving without having the need for goals.

How it works

So what does a life without goals look and feel like?

No yearly goal, no monthly goal, no anything goal. You can free yourself from the obsession to track everything or taking your action steps. You don’t even need a to-do list, though if you do want one, I have a much easier and simple system that is kind of radical and cool.

So, what do you actually do then?

Couch potato?  Binge watch Downtown Abbey, and order pizza?

No,  just take inspired action. You find stuff you’re passionate about, and do it.  You create, you produce, you follow your passion. You exchange your time and energy and money for things that deliver what you are actually looking for - happiness.

happiness is not a goal , its a by product of a well lived life

Goals don't make us happy. Becoming the person it takes to live with purpose and passion does.

 I have experimented with both systems and they can both work well, but one feels much easier, and you end up achieving more. But whether I achieve or not isn’t the point at all: all that matters is that I’m living my days with purpose and fulfillment and inspired action.

I end up in places that are wonderful, surprising, and sometimes they are places I don't want to stay in, so I move on.

Tips for living without goals

Start small. You don’t need to drastically change your life in order to experiment with this mind shift away from goal setting. Just try a few hours without predetermined goals or actions. See what you notice.

Incremental Growth. If you like this idea and feel like it works for you, allow yourself to be free for longer periods. Eventually you’ll feel confident enough to give up on certain goals and just take inspired action on what is next for you.

You can try it in just one area of your life.

Take health and fitness: 

Many of us can become very goal oriented about our bodies,  living in a 24 hour a day boot camp, in the hope a better or perfect body image will make us feel better, when the real need we're after is the ability to love and care for ourselves, and accept the inevitable changes our body will face over the years.

Our goals slowly can make us lose sight of the very thing we are trying to feel. We spend more time counting calories than enjoying them. Our plates may become battle grounds. We may spend more and more time working out and less and less time enjoying it, or it may even become another addiction. Our relentless goals can turn our beautiful selves into a number on a scale.

Imagine how your body must feel - never being good enough, and needing to be weighed day after day after day. Being punished every time you look in the mirror.

I used to love my Fit-bit till I lost it, but then I thought, this is good news. I was tired of being a slave to 10 thousand steps, and the truth is I love to walk and do so daily, so I don't need to measure it or motivate myself. It's one of the great pleasure in my life and it's free. No equipment needed except my body and my dog biscuit.

And if none of this makes any sense, and you love goal setting, then stick with it. I've also seen lots of incredible results from it!

The journey is all.

The destination is nowhere because we all have to keep moving till the day we die.

Love to know what you think. Leave a comment about your own experiences with goals and if you like this article share it with a friend.

Master Coach David Frank Gomes, one of the top life coaches in Canada