A Life Without Goals Can Be Successful

A Life Without Goals Can Be Successful

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a life without goals can be successful and easy

I’ve written several times of how I don’t like goals. I don’t like a life with goals. If I want to do something, I’ll do it. Other folks have written about this too like Zen Habits and Life Without Pants.

Did living a life without goals, mean I didn’t accomplish anything?

Now, there are quotes all over the place about how if you don’t set goals you’ll do nothing with your life. Like this one: “People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.” Really?

So, I’ve put it to the test. This year, I set zero goals for myself. I just lived my life how I normally would. Doing things I wanted to do.


I paid off my credit card.

This was my last bit of consumer debt. This could have been a goal. I could have crossed it off the list. But did I really need to write this down to remind myself to pay this off? Nope.

I still have an emergency fund.

This is a category where I can imagine myself setting some arbitrary goal for how much I would want in my emergency fund. And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have met it. But, who cares? I have an emergency fund and that’s all that really matters.

I kept close relationships.

“Be a better person” seems to come up a lot in goal lists. I was able to see new and old friends and family members this year. Don’t need a reminder for that.

I took care of my health.

I didn’t run much this year. And I’m sure that would have been a goal of mine. Some arbitrary number of miles that I would want to run in a year. And I wouldn’t have met it. But, who cares? I took care of myself in other ways. Eating more vegetables, cooking more meals at home, going to the doctor for health issues (instead of ignoring them). Sure, I can’t tell you a fancy number of miles, but these other things are still important. And these actions helped to build habits of eating a little bit healthier and taking time out for myself.

I read a bunch of books.

There are few goals sillier than “read X books this year”. Who cares? Read as many as you want to. Read as many as you find time for. Read lots so you can create the habit of reading daily. But don’t read just so you can tell people about a particular quantity. Don’t force yourself to read 4 books in a week just so you can meet this arbitrary number.

I increased my networth.

Again, I could have set an arbitrary goal to increase my networth by whatever percent. But I didn’t. And I still worked on increasing it. Yes, it’s still negative. But now it’s less negative. Who cares if I increased it by 25% or 1%? It’s getting better.

I began putting money into my 401K.

Finally. Just the act alone is extremely helpful for my financial situation. The amount of my monthly contribution or amount saved doesn’t matter right now.

I created two zines.

One cookbook and one comics collection. At the beginning of the year, drawing was barely on my radar. I probably would have made some creative-related goal about sewing. But instead of being limited by a goal, I was able to broaden my skills and be creative in a way I had never done before.


Looking At What You Did, Instead Of What You Didn’t

Looking at that list, I’ve had seven big accomplishments this year. I’m proud of that! Unfortunately, I know that if I had made an arbitrary goals list, I probably wouldn’t have reached most of them. And wouldn’t have felt nearly as proud for the things I did do. Because I’d be staring at this list of things I didn’t do.

Without having goals to focus on this year, did I just stay in bed all day racking up credit card debt? Nope! I did the things I wanted to do. And I never felt like I was living just to check something off a list.

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11 Replies to “A Life Without Goals Can Be Successful”

  1. “I was able to see new and old friends and family members this year. Don’t need a reminder for that.”

    I am ashamed to say I DO need a reminder for this, because my natural inclination otherwise is to sleep/eat/read/marathon TV shows all day. Hence one of my two NY goals!

    1. In this way I meant people who live far away that I would make a special trip to go see. Not necessarily friends who live nearby, because I certainly don’t see them enough. But I do try to use other forms of communication (email, twitter) to stay in touch with my friends. And by my definition, that counts as maintaining the friendship as well.

  2. I’m a big proponent of “do whatever works for you,” sort of person…but for me, unless I have something to work for…or have some finish line to keep my eyes on I won’t work as hard. It’s what keeps me moving forward.

    1. I agree to definitely find what works best for you. Unfortunately goal-setting doesn’t work for a lot of people and alternatives are rarely mentioned. Glad to hear you know what motivates you, stay focused!

  3. While I think some people do feel better about taking action by writing something down, I really like your closing argument to focus on what you did instead of what you didn’t do. What I can say I 100% despise is “The Secret” mentality which to me has been reduced to people thinking you can just wish something into existence. No, it takes hard work and some luck to make major changes.

  4. Goals are important to me, but not in the life or death sort of way — more of like a benchmark on what I am doing. You are so right that it’s about focusing on what you are doing, not what you aren’t. I also hate the Secret, and think it’s cultish. I have become more of a ‘positive thinker’, but that’s only because my life and sanity depend on it, as I suffer from depression. Making lasting change is really hard work, and takes a lot of action.

  5. By doing all of those things successfully, aren’t they still considered goals, because you wanted to achieve them, and you successfully did ?

  6. “People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.”
    This probably is statistically true, but certainly not universally. I think I recently read that a person is 40% more likely to accomplish goals than a person who didn’t. Even if that is true, it means that plenty of people are accomplishing goals just as quickly without writing anything down. The same probably goes for specificity. It is kind of ridiculous for us to assume these broad statements apply to everyone, but that is the typical rhetoric around goals.

    That said, I like goals. Goals really help me to focus, otherwise I can get too scattered. I still do what I want, but sometimes the things that are rewarding in the long term are something I might procrastinate on in the short term. Maybe you just don’t have my procrastinator mentality! :) Some goals are more “to do” lists or plans, and sometimes they are challenges which I use to create new habits.

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