Not Setting Goals

You probably know that setting goals is generally a good way to motivate yourself to get better at something or to get things done. While goals are powerful tools, they aren’t necessary for improvement.

If you set a goal, you’re adding a bit of pressure and stress to your life. And if you end up short of your goal (which may happen a lot), you may not feel that great. Goals can be very restrictive, taking a day off might be off-limits — you have to force yourself to keep working (which may be a blessing or a curse).

So, here’s where the idea of being goalless comes in. If you want to improve one of the aspects of your life, as long as you put in time and effort to improving or completing something, then you can get results close to if you were to set a goal, but without the related stress.

When you decide to improve something in your life (e.g. fitness, weight, knowledge, etc.), you can choose to set no goals, but just keep the intention of improvement and set time aside to work on them. Throughout the improvement over time, you get to focus more on the here and now rather than some target that may seem too far away. It helps you stay grounded in the present rather than in the dream world of the future.

You may think that you won’t make progress in some areas if you don’t set goals, which may be true in many circumstances. However, you can make progress fuelled by a passion for what you’re improving. If progress on your goals is really difficult and you don’t have much passion for them, perhaps it may be time to drop that pursuit and find other things which really get you going.

In my life, one example of going without goals is with running. Most days I go out running around the fields near my home. Each day I run around 1–3km, and I’m increasing the distance gradually, so I don’t overdo it and end up with injuries. I have no goal set at all, I just feel like I’d like to be able to run a half or full marathon one day. You may call this a goal, but there is no set time frame, nor is it set in stone, so it’s closer to a desire than a proper goal. Each time I run I’m always grounded in the here and now. Each day I’ll run whatever I feel like, whether I want to run a shorter distance in a quicker time or a longer distance while pacing myself. I have no pressure to complete any goal, so if I want to take a day off to rest, then I can. If I get injured, then I can take some time off without feeling guilty. While I don’t have a goal, I still want to go out running every day and it feels like an enjoyable experience each time I go out. I’ll still improve over time, just maybe slightly slower than if I had concrete goals.

Another example from my own life is learning languages, I’m currently trying to get back on my feet with German after not really touching the language much for two years. Each day I’ll be spending at least half an hour learning German again, without any goals in mind. It can be quite hard to set goals in learning languages anyway, due to how learning a language is quite broad and can be difficult to measure over time. Working without goals is nice and stress-free, if I don’t feel like working on my German one day, it’s no problem. If I have a lot of other work to do, I can put German on the backburner for a while too.

I love improving without goals because of the flexibility and the relaxed nature of the improvement. I’m grounded in the present moment, without being pinned to an expectation of myself in the future. It’s not always the right choice, especially if you lack discipline in whatever area you need to work at. If you don’t feel passion or enjoyment in improving in a certain area, then perhaps you either need goals to motivate you, or you should focus your energy elsewhere into something that you’re more passionate about.

In my own life, I use a mixture of goals and no goals. With blogging, I generally need to set goals because I can get lazy from time to time, and I know that if I spend time writing articles then I won’t regret it.

Some people may find they really need goals to keep yourself moving forward. For others, goalless living may be much more enjoyable. For you, you’ll need to experiment with setting goals and not setting goals for improvement. Some areas of life may be better suited to goals, some may be better going without. It’s all down to preference.