Why Not Having Established Goals May Actually Help Accomplish Everything You Want
It's not uncommon to observe 20-somethings multitasking during their morning commutes on their smartphones, focused on their goals, to-do lists and routines.
I must admit, I used to be one of them. The real world has a funny way of conditioning us to embrace schedules and goals — everything from our nine-to-fives, to our meetings, to societal norms forces us to restrict ourselves to goals and schedules.
On top of that, our individualized culture values self-improvement and measurable goals as the only processes that lead to self-worth. Now, don't get me wrong, self-improvement is all fine and well, but it doesn't come without its own set of problems.
The problem with goals is that they box you into a limited, perceived outcome that causes you to cease living in the present. This leads to disappointment when things don’t work out as you planned.
Think about it: The second you establish a specific goal, you are automatically limited by a narrow pathway that enables you to reach said goal. If, on the other hand, you let go of the goal, you meet a myriad of pathways and possibilities that could lead to the same outcome.
Goal-setting also tends to support the illusion that you can control everything that happens to you in your day-to-day life. By setting a goal, you are, in essence, attempting to exert control over an existence that cannot be controlled.
But, when you relinquish this control, you gain the freedom to allow your life to take whatever shape it wants, without being dependant on a specific outcome.
Another problem with goals is that they breed discontentment; they tend to bring all of your focus to the ways that you don't measure up to certain expectations. Take, for example, a woman whose goal is losing 30 pounds.
Instead of realizing how fit, healthy and beautiful she already is, she focuses on the ways she doesn't measure up to her weight expectations, which leads to an array of insecurities and self-loathing.
A final problem with goals is that they take away from the joy of the journey. By focusing so much on the future, you’re likely to miss the present. Instead of smiling at the cute stranger on the subway and engaging in small talk, your eyes are glued to your iPhone as you obsess about an end-goal.
But, if you choose to live in the present and forgo the goals, the sudden positive direction your life takes may astonish you.
I hear you, analytical planners: “But how will you accomplish anything if you don't set goals?” Simple. You just act without goals. You participate in an activity of choice without an ulterior motive. Once you do this, your goals will no longer limit you. Instead, you'll be free to explore whichever way your activities lead you.
You can still productively act without goals — it’s just an alternative form of productivity that isn't governed by an anticipated outcome.
In the wise words of Lau Tzu,
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
So, forget the goals. Know that you are enough in this present moment and that by letting go of goals, you are not forgoing productivity, but are instead choosing to live a freer, more peaceful existence. Know that life is about colorful, spontaneous moments, not constricting yourself to goals.
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