Why I Stopped Setting Goals

I have officially quit!  That’s it, I’ve had enough.  I hereby decree that I will no longer set goals for myself.

For as long as I can remember I have been taught that come January 1st,  I should sit down and write out a list of things that I want to accomplish for the year.   I resolve to make no more resolutions.

This seems to have happened to me organically as opposed to a conscious decision.  For the last few years I have not actually sat down and set out my goals in the traditional manner.

Has it cost me?  Have I achieved less these past few years then when I would sit down and meticulously document every last item that I wanted to have, own or achieve?

Happy-WorkplacesOn the contrary, these last few years have been the happiest and most productive of my life.  I want to share what works for me. I cannot speak to what may or may not work for you.  All I can do is tell you my story and suggest that if traditional goal setting is not getting you where you want to be you might want to consider another way.  I feel like I should have the small print, fast talking disclaimer here.  “Results not typical and may vary from human being to human being. Changing your goal setting methodology is not a guarantee of happiness.  If it last for more than four hours please consult your doctor.”  You know what I mean.

I have always been a driven individual with an unquenchable thirst for self improvement.  To me success has always been about being just a little bit better today than I was yesterday.  OK, that is not entirely true.  In my 20’s I wanted to “HAVE” all the stuff.  I wanted the income, the lifestyle, the Porsche.  Well I got it all.  I always managed to check the materialistic items off my annual goal list.  Typically that list revolved around income.  Let’s face it, who could say money doesn’t buy happiness.  Oh, right! Everyone.  I forgot.  I also believed that the people who said that were the ones who didn’t have any money.  Alas, I was wrong.  Sigh.  For years I chased monetary success and found it.  Don’t get me wrong I’m no Warren Buffet or Bill Gates but I have done reasonably well.

From that first six figure income goal in my mid twenties and beyond, I typically hit most of the financial milestones I put in front of myself.  Year after year I’d hit them.  I had the family I had always wanted, a beautiful wife, a daughter, a son and a nice house in the burbs.  I was living the dream right?

There was still something missing.  A lack of fulfillment.  A missing piece of the puzzle.  While I convinced myself that it was important to my personal development to hit these goals, I started to see that this was not really the case.  Please don’t get me wrong I am extremely grateful for everything that has happened in my life.  I have been blessed beyond all deserving.  However, when I reflect on these past 2 or 3 years which have been the happiest of my life I realize that contentment comes from having let go of some of those traditional goals.

You see there are some inherent flaws in the traditional model of goal setting that we don’t always talk about. Let’s explore these flaws.

  1. Traditional Goals leave you open for failure
    I know, I know you are screaming it at the top of your lungs right now.  “But Mike, failure is good!  Failure is how we learn!”.  So let’s get that out of the way.  You are right, I agree with you 100%.  I have nothing against failing and believe if you are not failing in some aspect you are not stepping far enough out of your comfort zone to do big things.  The problem with traditional goals is that they set a false measuring stick.  Are you really a failure if you don’t earn that six figure income?  Of course not.  I am not opposed to having a wish list of material things but we need to change what goes on the score card.
  2. What you THINK you want may not actually BE  what you want
    Lets take the six figure income goal as an example.  It’s not likely the six figures that you want.  More likely it is what you think that kind of income will allow you to have.  The house, the car, the boat, the toys, the trips.  Even those may not be your end desire.  What you are really looking for is how those possessions will make you feel.  Whether it is status, prestige, security, time with the family or maybe just plain ol fun the income is really just a means to an end, not the end itself.
  3. Traditional goals potentially blind us to other possibilities
    If we are so blindly focused on the means, the six figure income for example, we may actually miss other options to achieve our real desires.  Even worse, the pursuit of those artificial goals may in fact take us further away from our true desires. If family time is our true priority then trust me, chasing an income goal is probably the easiest way to get further and further away from it.  Somehow we justify it in our tiny little brains.  “I’m staying extra hours at the office so I can earn more income, so I can provide more for my family and have more time with them.” Guess what?  This isn’t rocket science.  If you want more time with your family then spend LESS time at the office and MORE time with your family. Duh! The problem is your six figure income goal may be in direct conflict with the real desired outcome.
  4. You may not like who you become
    Chasing materialistic goals may cause you to compromise values with the justification that it is what the goal requires.  Working extra hours may certainly get you that six figure income but does it come at the expense of missing your daughters dance recital?  Do you justify a moral lapse that will get you that big deal?

What is the alternative?  This is how I approach it now instead of traditional goal setting:

Values, Intentions and MIlestones

First off, understand most of what I have discovered has happened to me by accident.  I wish I could say I had some sort of epiphany.  That the skies parted and I had a vision, a divine message but nope it’s just the way things turned out..  What follows are the changes in my process that evolved naturally, pulled out in hindsight  My hope is that you can take from this the things that resonate with you and implement those things on purpose rather than by trial and error.


The biggest thing for me has been to really sit down and reflect on who I want to be.  While values have always been important to me I now make WHO I want to become a priority over WHAT I want to have.  I have set this as the highest measure on my score card.  Do I really give a shit if I don’t hit the income target this year if I can close out the year saying that I have become the kind of man that I strive to be.  Clearly I don’t.  There are all kinds of thought leaders in this area and a plethora of books to guide you if you want guidance in this area.  The beauty of this kind of mindset is that it is all completely in your control.  Think about that for a minute.  It is ALL in your control.  Things like income goals are not.  Yes, we can have a significant impact on them but if the market crashes or people stop buying what you are selling then those are circumstances beyond your control.  We can, however, have full control of our thoughts and our actions which is essentially “who we are”.


I don’t mean to go all new age on you by using the word intention.  I do not mean it in a “woo woo” sort of way but it is the best word to describe how I have approached my life of late.  For example, this year one of my “goals” was to help as many people as I possibly can.  While I had listed that as a goal I realize now that that is really more of an intention.  Another one was that I want to be more patient.  (Yes, if you work for me you know I’m still working on that one).  Setting intentions will allow you to measure behaviors based on intentions and insure that you are in fact taking the actions you should.


This gets closer to goal setting in the traditional sense.  I still set milestones that I want to accomplish, although I have moved those away from financial and made them more specific around family and health.  My fitness one was kind of funny as I had made an off hand comment to a friend about wanting to be one of those “fit fucks”.  So again, we go back to who I wanted to be and from there I found sports and exercise I enjoyed and set milestones around those.  Here are some of the milestones I set around fitness.  I am happy to report I have hit all of them.

  • I want to complete an Ironman triathlon
  • I want to run a marathon.
  • I want to be able to hold a headstand in yoga.
  • I want to be able to do Crow pose.
  • I will eat healthier foods

Some of the milestones I am still working on:

  • Climb a 5.11
  • Rock concert with my daughter
  • Talk to two new interesting people per day.

Now, will I hit all these milestones every time?  Who cares!  The bottom line is by shifting my focus from “WHAT” I want to have to ‘WHO’ I want to become I am assured success no matter the outcome..  They can take away what you have but they can never take away who you are.  Focus on becoming more not having more.

So there you have it.  That is why I have stopped setting goals. Love to know if this resonates with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.  What are some things that work well for you?

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Alyson Thiessen
8 years ago

Nailed it! Values are the key to this and life is an every changing landscape and goals can blind me to the beauty of the shifting beauty before me. What you value is what you believe…what you believe is what you think…what you think is what you create….and what you create is what you value. Look around…what are you creating and connect the dots backwards…your values are there whether you believe it or not. Great article again Mike 🙂

8 years ago

Michael, I am completely on-board with you and my experience with goals has been very similar.

Starting with values is really the key (to me). I’ve set goals, hit them and then thought to myself “man, I thought this would feel better?”

On the other hand, I’ve set “intentions” (like being more present with my kids when I am with them) and have experienced a level of joy beyond what any goal has ever provided.

Know who you are, what you are all about and what lights you up and then align your life (thoughts, actions, words) with that and amazing things happen.

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