On Not Having Goals
Having goals is not everything
Is it necessary to have goals in life?
In general, it's considered essential to have goals. They give you purpose and meaning in life. And it feels like we're built to pursue our goals to live a more fulfilling life.
But, goals could be the very things that prevent you from getting yourself to where you want to be.
Clock Time and Psychological Time
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle talks about "clock time" and "psychological time."
"If you set yourself a goal and work toward it, you are using clock time. You are aware of where you want to go, but you honor and give your fullest attention to the step that you are taking at this moment.
If you then become excessively focused on the goal, perhaps because you are seeking happiness, fulfillment, or a more complete sense of self in it, the Now is no longer honored. It becomes reduced to a mere stepping stone to the future, with no intrinsic value.
Clock time then turns into psychological time. Your life's journey is no longer an adventure, just an obsessive need to arrive, to attain, to 'make it.'"
If you set a goal and give your fullest attention to the step just ahead of you, you know where you're going, and you're also living in the process.
But, obsessing over your goal rather than the present makes you unable to take appropriate actions for your objective. Your 'adventure' turns into a mere task you have to complete.
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, talks about how goal setting leads to failure in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.
"To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That's literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal.
In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game."
It's a familiar feeling to feel not enough for not living up to your standards. When you feel that way, you're obsessing over your goals.
Systems Conquer Goals
Scott, instead, introduces the concept of having a system as a replacement for a goal.
"let's say a goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don't sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it's a system. If you're waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it's a goal… The minimum requirement of a system is that a reasonable person expects it to work more often than not. Buying lottery tickets is not a system no matter how regularly you do it."
A system, or a habit, is still in some way a goal. Still, it is a collection of small things you do regularly. It's less likely that you obsess over them because it's always about doing at the moment.
But if you start treating your habits as just something you have to do every day, they are in control of you. You don't perform at your best or get energized. They just become another thing that drains you.
You're at Your Best When You Do What You Like
So, it's best that you like what you do. And to do so, you want to be deliberately and fully present and recognize the joy/beauty of it.
If you can find joy in anything, you start liking it. And what you like gives you energy.
Scott uses the amount of energy as his primary metric, prioritizing things he enjoys doing.
"The way I approach the problem of multiple priorities is by focusing on just one main metric: my energy. I make choices that maximize my personal energy because that makes it easier to manage all of the other priorities."
When you feel unmotivated or stuck, it's easier to start by doing what you like, which gives you a boost to do other things.
"The less you want something, the less you're thinking about it, the less you're obsessing over it, the more you're going to do it in a natural way. The more you're going to do it for yourself. You're going to do it in a way you're good at, and you're going to stick with it. The people around you will see the quality of your work is higher."
Doing what you like in the most natural way without thinking about your goal is paradoxically the best way to get to where you want.
Luckily, in Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, Dr. Hanson states that liking and wanting are not connecting in your brain.
"In your subcortex and brain stem, connected but separate circuits handle liking and wanting. This means you can like something without wanting it."
You don't have to want something for you to like it.
I tend to think that just doing what you like is not sufficient. But it's true that you're the most natural when you do what makes you happy. And that way, your performance is at its peak.
As Naval also says,
"No one can compete with you on being you."
What are the things do you enjoy doing in and of itself? What feels like play to you?
This saying below encapsulates the dichotomy of liking and wanting.
"Liking without wanting is heaven, wanting without liking is hell."
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