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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

In 2005, I wrote a book about living a life without goals. Sort of. I’m not anti-goal by any stretch. But there are times that an obsession with goals can negatively impact your performance and happiness. In the book, I talk about setting themes rather than resolutions for the new year. Here’s an article I wrote on that specific topic. The article was so popular the Wall Street Journal reprinted it on a full page (yes, on paper). In it, I share some interesting statistics from some research I commissioned.

Soon after, I received an email from a researcher at a major national TV talk show.  They were doing a episode on New Year’s Resolutions and saw my article. They wanted to know if I had more details on the statistics referenced in the article.

I went back to the research we did with the help of Opinion Corporation of Princeton, NJ, and found the following interesting tid bits.  The survey has a margin of error of 3%.

  • 45% of Americans usually set New Year’s Resolutions; 17% infrequently set resolutions; 38% absolutely never set resolutions.
  • Only 8% of people are always successful in achieving their resolutions. 19% achieve their resolutions every other year.  49% have infrequent success.  24% (one in four people) NEVER succeed and have failed on every resolution every year. That means that 3 out of 4 people almost never succeed.
  • Of those who do set resolutions (these add to more than 100% because some people set multiple resolutions):
    • 34% set resolutions related to money
    • 38% set resolutions related to weight
    • 47% set resolutions related to self-improvement or education
    • 31% set resolutions related to relationships
  • It appears that the younger you are, the more likely you are to achieve your resolutions
    • 39% of those in their twenties achieve their resolutions every year or every other year
    • Less than 15% of those over 50 achieve their resolutions every year or every other year

Here are maybe the two most important findings.

  • The less happy you are, the more likely you are to set New Year’s Resolutions.  This is especially true for those who set money-related resolutions: 41% are not happy, 34% are moderately happy, and 25% are happy.
  • And, there is no correlation between happiness and resolution setting/success.  People who achieve their resolutions every year are NO happier than those who do not set resolutions or who are unsuccessful in achieving them.

What Does This Really Mean?

We seem to be a society that chases happiness in the future. But what could you do to improve your level of happiness TODAY, rather than believing your happiness lies in the future?

Instead of just looking forward to what you want, spend your time reflecting on what you already have.  This is especially important during these challenging times.  One of my recent podcast episodes includes me reading a portion from the Goal-Free Living book called “Want What You Have.”  Take a listen. I think you’ll like it.

What will be your theme for the New Year?

I’m hoping that 2022 is your best year yet!

  1. Great article, thank you for putting it out there, again. And so helpful right about now.

    I have rarely ever set such resolutions. In fact, I have been (mostly unconsciously) ‘anti-goal’ to the extreme my whole life. And now I’ll be the first to admit I have been anti-goal to my own detriment.

    I think your message is well positioned, to put it in enneagram terms, for the Ones, the Threes, the Eights, and Maybe Sixes and Nines who each for their own reasons benefit from the buttresses of goals and goal setting. But as a style Four, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this camp, we instinctively loathe goal setting as something that the ‘conforming masses’ do. We would rather fashion our own ‘unique’ path to success and move our goal posts wherever we like to move them thank you very much. Great for spontaneous creativity, not great for keeping our own house in order.

    A few years ago, a wake-up call for me was sitting for the Swarm Vision innovator’s assessment and realizing how low my ‘Control’ score was. Control is the measure of how one manages a new venture, minding the details, counting the dollars, having a really strong metric-based financial orientation to steer the venture carefully towards product-market fit. At that moment, I looked back across my many entrepreneurial ventures, and I saw a pattern. I didn’t set enough goals and mindfully manage those ventures.

    Lately, my ‘Control muscle’ is getting stronger. My goals are specific and short-term, orient around hypotheses and ‘themes’ that allow me to test the viability of ideas more quickly. I line up short-term learns. And based on those results, incorporate what I need to change, and then learn again. It is becoming 2nd nature and feels really good. Instead of “this business will be the one that makes me a million”, it’s “I wonder if this way of packaging the service will work better?”.

    Perhaps I’ve taken your article in a direction you might not have intended, but since many of us (your readers) are in the innovation worlds, thought I’d share how goals and goal setting have worked (or not) for this innovator.

    My themes for 2023? Integration and Shine.

    • Stephen Shapiro says:

      Hey Curtis, fantastic insights here!

      I’m a 7 and a bit of a 5 (for those who know about the enneagram). So in general, I like to live life by the seat of the pants. What I find is that most “creative” individuals fall into this category.

      When I wrote Goal-Free Living, I thought it would be the antidote for a systemic societal issue. What I discovered was that the book was a manifesto for people who, like us, find goal-setting limiting. It’s not the right way to live, it’s just a way to live.

      It really comes down to one’s life goals (ha ha – pun intended).

      If wealth is someone’s goal, then goal-setting might (see below why I say “might”) be helpful. If traditional success is important, goals may play a part. However, if someone’s life purpose is happiness, contentment, or something like that, then goal-setting may not be the strategy.

      I’m reminded of a study. The findings were that there is a correlation between money and happiness. Most people conclude from this that money creates happiness. But in fact, the research found exactly the opposite. Happiness created wealth.

      Is there a correlation between goal-setting and success? Or is it one’s state of mind that creates the success?

      I’m not anti-goal. In the book, I make this very clear. Short term objectives are excellent. It keeps you on track with your higher-level aspirations. In the book, I call it “meandering with purpose.” Have a sense of direction, not a specific destination, and then allow life to unfold. Change direction when it suits you. Learn as you go.

      There’s so much more I could talk about related to this, but I’ll save it for someone who wants to read the book.

      Thanks for taking the time to providing this thoughtful comment!

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