Are Goals Necessary?

September 11, 2017

by Ravi Raman

My entire adult life I’ve been very goal oriented. Career goals. Fitness goals. Financial goals.

Some of these goals were worth the pursuit. Others, after years of struggle to achieve them, make me pause and wonder if it was worth it. Then, there is the graveyard of goals half-finished or false-started. I prefer not to think about those!

When it comes to the “success gospel” preached by many writers and self-help gurus, goals are viewed as a vital factor. In my own profession as an Executive Coach, I’m also a fan of helping clients shape goals that are not only SMART but in line with their highest values.

However, what’s odd, is that some of the most successful and happy people I know are not at all goal-oriented! In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

This has led me to look deeply into this idea of goal-setting. In doing so, I’ve had a startling insight.

Are goals required to live a fulfilling and fruitful life?

Of course not. Whether or not you are goal-driven isn’t the deciding factor for if you will be happy and satisfied. There are plenty of examples of people who have set goals and succeeded as well as those who have not set goals while doing just as well.

What matters most is the kind of person you are being in the pursuit of your goals.

Are you living in the present, contented, aware and falling in love with the daily process of living your life? Or, are you living the “deferred life plan,” waiting and hoping that the achievement of your goals will carry with it the happiness that you seek?

This year I’m far less goal oriented than I have been in a long time. I’m much more in tune with living in the present moment. I don’t have a significant athletic or work oriented goal on the horizon. Instead, I’m putting my energy into creating things and living life based on what feels right on a daily basis. Sometimes this includes long-term planning (e.g., like preparing for a backpacking trip or work-related project) but often it involves spur-of-the-moment choices and more intuitive decision making.

If we live our lives with the hope of a future reward, we can only guarantee one thing: disappointment. How can we expect to be happy in the future if we never learn to enjoy the here and now? The happiness of tomorrow will never come. The carrot on the end of the stick will be perpetually pushed into the future.

If we train ourselves to live for the promise of a future reward, we are destined for disappointment. 

Instead, we can trust that if we engage fully in life, here and now, that progress will happen without the need for excessive plotting and scheming. Goals will arise naturally and be accomplished (or not) without much ado.

That sounds like the kind of life worth living.

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