#19: Setting Goals Doesn’t Work (what to do instead)

Over the course of my career, I’ve occasionally dabbled with setting various goal-setting methods. I’ve done SMART goals. I’ve done OKRs. I’ve done KPIs. None of them do it for me.

Here’s why:

1. Until you reach a goal, you’re not where you want to be.

As the Buddha teaches: desire is the root of all suffering, and if you’re constantly comparing your current situation to some ideal image, you won’t be able to appreciate what you have.

2. When you reach one, you’ll feel momentarily happy at best.

The grass is always greener on the other side, and the next goal is right around the corner. Sure, the rush of achievement is amazing, but are those short-term peaks worth the long-term self-imposed suffering?

3. Life is unpredictable, in ways good and bad.

You may get a stroke of luck to achieve your goal sooner than you thought was possible, or you’ll experience ruthless misfortune that’ll render your goal impossible or unimportant.

4. It conditions you to work towards a reward.

A healthier approach is focusing on making whatever it is you’re doing to reach your goal rewarding on its own.

5. It can lead you to push yourself beyond your limits.

Burnout is a big systemic issue, and overworking in order to reach some unreasonable standard plays a big role.

So if setting goals is bad, what’s the alternative?

What I’ve found to work well is setting ANTI-Goals. Clearly define a situation you don’t want and build a system to help you avoid it.

Here’s a practical example, by Andrew Wilkinson (Co-Founder at Tiny).

His worst possible day looked like this:

– Full of long meetings
– A packed calendar
– Dealing with people we don’t like or trust
– Owing people things / not being in control / obligations
– Having to be at the office
– Travel
– Tired

Working backwards from there, he made this set of Anti-Goals:

– Never schedule an in-person meeting when it can otherwise be accomplished via email or phone (or not at all)
– No more than 2 hours of scheduled time per day
– No business or obligations with people we don’t like—even just a slight bad vibe and it’s a hard no
– Never give up voting control of our businesses, no favors from people who could need something from us (ensure the rule of reciprocity doesn’t kick in)
– Work from a cafe across from a beautiful park where we can come and go as we please with nobody to bother us
– Video conference or pay for people to come visit us
– Never schedule morning meetings, sleep in when needed

What’s your Anti-Goal?

Actionable advice for this week: set your anti-goals.

Define your worst possible day or life and work backwards from there. What are some habits you can implement to stay away from this undesired situation?

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