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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

In Goal-Free Living I discuss a powerful technique for increasing your creativity: standing in someone else’s shoes. The idea being, that when you “make believe” you are someone else, you begin to see the world through their eyes. You become that other person. At a recent speech, one young woman in attendance – someone who recently graduated from high school — shared a personal story that illustrates the incredible power of this approach.

She told the story of a time when she needed to take an important math test. Math was never one of her strong subjects, so she was concerned. Overly concerned. In the time leading up to the test, she became increasingly stressed with the goal of doing well. This is not surprising. We put incredible pressure on students to perform well on these tests. The stress was overwhelming. Halfway through the exam, she walked out. She could not handle the pressure.

One week before I met her, she was given the opportunity to take the test again. This time, instead of being overly worried, she decided to turn the exam into a game — a very goal-free approach. She walked into the examination room making believe she was Condoleezza Rice, the United States Secretary of State — a very successful and highly educated woman. Standing in her shoes, she had incredible confidence. Dr. Rice wouldn’t worry, right? So she didn’t worry. The result of playing this game? She received a 90% — something beyond her wildest expectations.

When we get overly focused on the goal, we create stress. By turning everything we do into a game – something kids do naturally – we create success without the effort.

  1. lynda bennett says:

    I am quite new to the concept of “goal free living”, and frankly I’m baffled. To me it seems you are NOT moving away from goals, but rather adjusting goals to be more focused on the present rather than the future, and to incororate more flexibility. You seem to be encouraging pursuit of an enriched life that is not based on external social success. But that IS working toward a goal, albeit a very different one than advertisers point us toward. Am I missing something here?

  2. Thanks for visiting the website. Being goal-free does not mean having no goals. It means being free from from the burden and limitation of traditional goals. Having said that, it is also about avoiding SMART goals — those that are specific, measurable, achievable, results-based, and time oriented. These types of goals limit us even further. Goal-Free Living is best described as meandering with purpose — or, as is the first secret, “Use a Compass, Not a Map.”

    In the example of this high school student, instead of focusing on the goal of doing well (which caused stress and ultimate failure) she played a game. By focusing on something other than the obvious and immediate goal, she was able to create success with less effort.

    Hopefully as you read this blog, and the book, you will get a better sense of the concepts association with Goal-Free Living.

  3. Thanks for the clarification. It helps. I have ordered the book and look forward to reading further to fully explore the points you are making.

    I had to laugh at my initial reaction… sounded like blasphemy to someone who has been as programmed by “personal power” programs as I have in the past. My mantra for many years has been to live a life by design rather than default. However, I can see the difference between mindful intention and SMART goals. Knowing what general direction I want to move in is useful. Yet I am beginning to conceive how being too honed in on the specifics of dreams can do our spirit serious disservice. Thanks for the insight. It will be interesting to see to what degree I do or do not choose to incorporate this very different way of thinking.

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