Are Goals Are a Waste of Time?

I’m a big advocate of settings goals. So, I was very surprised and intrigued when I got an email from Jeff Goins with the subject: Planning for the New Year: Why Goals Are a Waste of Time

In it Jeff writes:

Goals don’t work, and resolutions are a waste of time. For the first time in awhile, I’m not going to bother with any silly plans or projections for the new year.

What you need instead is one crucial ingredient: resolve. Not resolutions; resolve. The willingness to commit to a new way of living.

How do you do this? By creating hew habits. (Leo Babauta taught me this.)

I did this — stopped setting goals and started creating new habits — this year, and it made all the difference.

He goes on to list the many successes he had in 2011 with this approach.

Jeff is a very insightful guy, and this strategy obviously worked for him. Because it’s so radical from my own way of doing things, my mind hasn’t been able to let it go.

Good Habits are Productivity Multipliers

Good habits are productivity multipliers because they help you do things quickly without thinking about them. You probably have habits and routines for all sorts of tasks like mowing the lawn, to cleaning the house, to cooking a meal, to checking and responding to email.

Let’s say I want to visit my friend who lives 50 miles away. If I step out my front door and start walking, no amount of goal setting or will-power is going to get me to his house before dark. What I need is a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a new habit. I need to stop walking and bike it. (Or even better, tap into the power of automation and external power sources and drive a car.)

In that respect, I think Jeff is right. Often what keeps us from achieving our dreams are bad habits and poor organization. We need better systems.

Not the whole story

But with all due respect, I don’t think Jeff gave us the whole story in his blog post.

Some of the accomplishments Jeff listed included launching a new blog, getting a book deal, publishing a few ebooks, changing jobs, and running a half-marathon.

The habits that produced these results?

  • Started getting up early
  • Over-committed and over-delivered
  • Reached out and made new friends
  • Practiced generosity

Those are great habits to be sure, but if you do those things will you end up with a popular new blog, a book deal, and a medal for completing a half marathon? Not necessarily.

Somewhere along the way Jeff must have set goals for launching a new website, getting a book deal, completing a half marathon and the rest. He may not called them resolutions, or set a specific date or even written them down. But at some point those became goals that he decided to pursue. (Right Jeff?)

Walking may be inefficient, but if I don’t know where I’m going, neither a bike nor a car is not going to get me there faster.

If you want to succeed, it’s important to have both clear goals and good habits.

I think the reason why Jeff’s article has stayed on my mind is because I may be where he was last year. I’ve got a pretty clear idea of what my goals and dreams are. I need to put more attention on developing the habits that are going to empower me to get there.

What do you think? Are goals a waste of time? Have you set goals for 2012? Are you putting more emphasis on clarifying goals or developing better habits?

25 Responses to “Are Goals Are a Waste of Time?”

  1. Getting up early is a great start to achieve anything IMHO.

    greetings, have a nice 2012!

  2. Agreed! + persistence (in my opinion), but that might be another way of saying habits.

  3. want me to repost this on my blog? shoot me an email

  4. I agree with Jeff that sometimes we set unrealistic goals which will increase anxiety at best.

    Consistency and a reachable goal is a winning combination.

    • Thanks Nicolas! It’s an interesting tension. Sometimes setting challenging goals stretches us. Sometimes focusing on the process and letting the results take care of themselves seems better (especially if we don’t really have control over the results).

  5. I totally agree. Good habits lead to good results.

  6. I agree with you. i will add that unrealistic goals are almost always doomed to failure. If you set reasonable goals (SMART) then there is no reason why you cannot achieve them especially with an early morning start!

  7. Goals are the destination and good habits are the tools we use to get to that destination. You need both.

  8. I absolutely echo what Dana said. Add to the resolve/commitment. I would love to re-blog this is that is ok with you.

    • Thanks Kim. Sure, you can reblog it. I’d prefer you republish and excerpt of a few paragraphs and then link back to the original post here if you don’t mind.

  9. Of course everyone is different, but I can’t imagine not having goals. Matter of fact, ya gotta have a goal to develop a habit, right? Yes!

    Can’t see how a goal would waste my time. For instance, I have a goal to get my youngest out of diapers so I can be diaper/wipe free for the first time since 1995!

    Amen for goals!
    Sharon from EA

    • Hey Sharon, that was something I thought about but left out of the post. How do you know you’re developing the right habits unless you know your why (your goal) you’re developing them? Though, perhaps you could make the case that some habits like taking care of yourself physically and being generous will help you achieve any goal.

      Good luck with the diapers goal. I thought 8 years of was long enough. I can’t imagine 16!

  10. I need a goal as a sign post to use as a reminder to indicate the direction I need to be heading.

  11. Good points, Paul. This may be semantics, but I still think goals are largely a waste of time. I’ve made lots of goals and not stuck with them. How I changed my life (for better and for worse) was by creating habits.

    Sure, you need to know where you want to go, but this is your life’s story, not a business plan. (FYI: Most business plans aren’t very accurate, either.)

    Life is hard to predict; best to create some values that are important to you, live according to those, and build habits over time that move you in the direction or where you want to end up.

    Bottom line for me is this: Goals are about intention; habits are about action. I would rather act than plan. The truth is the plan comes together as we take steps forward.

    • Thanks Jeff, I appreciate you stopping by to comment. I’m totally with you as to the importance of setting values and building habits that will move you to where you want to end up.

      Not trying to debate you or disagree here, but I would like to get a little more clarity on your perspective on goals. At some point before you started working towards them you decided you were going to launch a new website, get a book deal and run a half-marathon, right? What did that look like for you? How is that different (if at all) from what you would consider setting goals.

      Thanks, bro!

  12. I always set up goals. I won;t be able to organise myself without goals.

  13. The main failure of those that set gaols is that they don’t first have a sound vision of their future. The only time goals work is when they support an individuals strong personal vision. Ric-orglearn

  14. Nice read, both the post and the comments. I agree with Ric that vision is paramount, goals should follow from and be aligned with that and habits support the actions to realize these goals. There is some “art” to goal setting though, making them SMART in my mind is not always straightforward (but very necessary).

    • Thanks Jeroen, alignment of vision, goals, habits and actions is really important. You’re the second person that’s mentioned SMART goals, so for those who might not be familiar with the term, I blogged about 2 years ago when discussing resolutions:

      Are Your New Year’s Resolutions SMART?

  15. Good point you have here.
    People can set goals all the time, but without adapting the necessary habits you increase your failure chances.

  16. Great read! thanks for sharing! 🙂

  17. I agree that good habits will lead to great results. However, setting goals will help you be organized. You can’t win soccer without a “goal”.

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