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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

This post marks the 500th entry on this blog.

Today I want to discuss how to have goals that are not goals.  How do you do this?

For most people the present is designed to give them a future they want.  For me, the future gives me the present I want.

Here’s what I mean in English…

Most people relate to their goals as something to achieve.  They will do things in the present in order to get to their desired future.

As a result, most people feel as though they are making sacrifices now (i.e., it is hard work) in order to fulfill on their goal and achieve happiness in the future. In fact, according to a survey I conducted, 58 percent of Americans are consciously and willingly “sacrificing today for the future.”  Unfortunately, 41 percent say that “achieving their goals has not made them happier and has only left them disillusioned.”  And that is for the people who achieved their goals.  Those who do not achieve their goals are typically even more unhappy.  And, as we know, most people don’t always get what they want (there’s a reason why the Rolling Stones wrote a song by a similar name).  In fact, according to my surveys, 92% of people say that they fail to fulfill on their New Year’s Resolutions, the most common goal-setting ritual.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have goals.  The issue is with how we relate to those goals.

For me, the future “goal” gives me the present.  That is, it provides a powerful “context” for the work I do now.  Here is an excerpt from the Goal-Free Living book that explains it with a simple example.

Book on Success, Happiness, and ProductivityContext is not a place to get to; it is something that changes your attitude and perception today. It is a mindset. To experience the power of context, imagine that as you read this, your phone rings. You answer the phone and the person on the other end notifies you that you won the raffle you entered last month. You and your family are going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii sometime next year. You jump for joy and become energized—now. Although this vacation is many months in the future, it changes your attitude today. This vacation hasn’t happened. It isn’t even real yet.

Imagine your future as a big and bold vacation. A vacation that is so exciting that you can hardly contain yourself now. A vacation that has you in action and playing hard every day. This is a vacation that you will never take. This is a vacation whose day will never come. Its sole purpose is to generate passion in your life today. A context. Something that calls you forward.

For me, my goals are not about actually achieving the result (although that would be nice).  Rather they are about playing full out each and every day.  I wake up every morning excited about what is going to take place that day.  Every day is a new learning experience with new insights and obstacles.  My “work” is never work and it is certainly not a sacrifice.  It is a joy. It is exciting.  When the future gives you a powerful present, the result is less important than the process. There is no sacrifice.  Each day is a new adventure.

  1. Stephen,

    I agree that setting and striving towards goals can create a lot of pain and unhappiness.

    I understand that for you the future goal provides ‘context’ and that works for you.

    Some people – who come at all this from a more Zen approach would say it is the ‘attachment’ to the goal that causes the pain and suffering.

    I actually find this perspective quite helpful and so, I try to operate somewhat like you with some future orientation, while also valuing the present and open to the possibility that the goal I had in mind might not be the best thing that could happen for me.

  2. Thanks Trudy. I completely agree with your point on attachment. In fact, I have an entire chapter dedicated to it in the goal-free living book.

    I personally struggled with detachment, until I got this simple concept…

    The best way to detach from a goal is to reattach yourself to something with a higher purposes, and one that ideally serves others.

    So instead of attaching to a sales goal (future, and about your accomplishment), attach to serving customers (present focused and about others).


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