Why I don’t believe in goals

Yep, you heard me. I don’t believe in goals. In the first weeks of this new year, I have seen a lot of posts about peoples’ plans for 2014: what they hope to accomplish, resolutions they’ve made, all kinds of measurable and immeasurable goals. Not that goals can’t have a place in someone’s life (and I wish you all the best in reaching yours), but for me, no way. And here’s why: goals distract me from the present moment.

Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” When I focus on goals, I am spending my days in the future–holding myself to some potential outcome that will presumably give me happiness, satisfaction, some inexpressible feeling of accomplishment that brings meaning to my life. But maybe, just maybe, all those things come not from some goal(s) to check off  a to do list. Instead, it is found by being fully present in each moment. By fully living my life.

Will I succeed in living in the present moment at all times? No. But to spend time in regret or self-flagellation is to live in the past. To strive to be better is to live in the future. The present moment just is. I accept that. And I accept it over and over. Can you?

I challenge each of you to embrace a life where there is no hope for the future, no reliance on that hope to give you happiness. Alan Watts wrote, “If to enjoy even an enjoyable present we must have the assurance of a happy future, we are ‘crying for the moon.’ We have no such assurance. The best predictions are still matters of probability rather than certainty, and to the best of our knowledge every one of us is going to suffer and die. If, then, we cannot live happily without an assured future, we are certainly not adapted to living in a finite world where, despite the best plans, accidents will happen, and where death comes at the end.”

I know setting goals isn’t the same as believing they will come to pass in the future, but there is such a temptation to give goals more power over our happiness than they deserve. Goals can have merit. They can give us the opportunity to evaluate what we value and how we wish to spend our time. But they are not a promise. They are not a measure of how good or bad our life is. They do not tell us how good or successful we are as human beings. They only carry the meaning we ascribe to them.

When my husband was helping me revise this post, he reminded me of a similar sentiment about goals shared by Leo Babauta at Zenhabits.net. If you are interested in another take on not goal setting, check out his wonderful post. A teaser quote: “I live without goals, for the most part. It’s absolutely liberating, and contrary to what you might have been taught, it absolutely doesn’t mean you stop achieving things. It means you stop letting yourself be limited by goals.”

So what are my writing plans for 2014?

  • I’m working on the third book in my Hidden Lines series. It’s almost completed, so there is a good probability it will be out this year.
  • Another story is in the works. Odds say I’ll finish it this year. I’m less confident that it will be published in 2014.
  • I recently found a bunch of old stories. Some are whispering in my ear to come back to them. That might come to pass.
  • Who knows what might inspire me in the next minute, day, month etc.? If it goes anywhere, I’ll probably talk about it here.

What I do know is the some things will happen–whether related to writing or not–and I want to be present in the moment that each of those things occur.

I wish you all a beautiful 2014 from moment to moment.

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2 thoughts on “Why I don’t believe in goals

    • I disagree because “goal” implies an end point and an effort to achieve something, which I see as antithetical to the very idea of living in the present moment. But we can certainly agree to disagree. 🙂 Words often fail to completely capture the idea behind them, and we each interpret them as is meaningful to us. That is why the label of “goal” may work very well or be more meaningful for someone else. I also think there could be other reasons to dislike goals than my own personal reasons for doing so.

      Thank you for commenting. I also think dialogue is great for spiritual practice.

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