When Goals Make You Crazy

New Year’s resolutions. End-of-year planning.

Goals. Plans. Hopeful futures.

They say goals are important. They make us happier and help us accomplish more. They’re the cornerstone of a fulfilled and productive life.

But what about when goals make us unhappy? What happens when we get so wrapped up in chasing goals that we can’t be happy in the present anymore?

I tend to set and pursue goals like most people do, but more and more I’m wondering where it all leads. Is life supposed to be a series of goal planning/chasing/accomplishing cycles?

Where does it all lead?

Maybe goals are like cameras. If you spend an entire vacation behind a camera, do you really experience it? Sure, you captured some shots to look at later, but how often will you really look back on them?

If you spend every moment chasing goals and shaping your future, are you ever happy in the moment?

If goals have been making you feel a little crazy lately, here are a four ideas for planning less and living more:

  1. Set goals for the present.
  2. We tend to think of goals as being in the future. What about the present? Why not set goals for the present?

    Try balancing your future goals with present goals as well. Set goals for living in the moment. Set goals for being present during your activities and meetings. Set goals for forgetting about the future for a while.

    Try making a goal to fully engage with your activities today. If you’re with other people, really be there. If you’re relaxing, really relax. If you’re doing something, really do it.

    <strong><li>Set goals for inputs, not outputs.</li></strong>

    Sometimes goals make us crazy simply because we try to control things that cannot be controlled.

    We usually can’t control outcomes, but people set goals as if they can. For example, let’s say you set a goal to lose 10 pounds over the next month. Can you really control that specific outcome? What if you do everything you possibly can and still don’t achieve your goal?

    Outcome-specific goals often set us up for failure.

    Instead of focusing on the outcome, try setting goals for what you can control. If you want to lose 10 pounds, what actions can you take to make that outcome more likely? You can eat less, eat specific foods and exercise more. Set goals for the specific steps you’ll take, like eating certain things or a certain number of calories, or doing certain exercises for a certain amount of time every day.

    Set goals for the actions you have control over, and then let the outcome happen as it will.

    <strong><li>Live without goals for a while.</li></strong>

    Most of us accept that goals are a requirement for a happy, productive life. Somehow this has become part of our societal values.

    But what if you could live without goals entirely? What if goals were actually holding you back?

    Leo from Zen Habits has been living without goals for a while and says it’s liberating and that he’s been accomplishing more now without goals than he did before with them.

    Living without goals doesn’t mean you don’t do anything. It simply means that you let your passion guide you and don’t put limits on where you let your days take you.

    Life is a grand experiment. I’m considering living without goals for a while to see what happens. If you try this, please let me know how your life changes as a result.

    <strong><li>Take time out for gratitude.</li></strong>

    Scientific studies have shown that the simple act of writing down things you're thankful for can make you happier.

    In a 2003 study, people who wrote down five things they were grateful for that had happened in the last week for 10 weeks felt 25% happier than people in the study who didn't.

    These people were also more optimistic about the future, they felt better about their lives and they even did almost 1.5 hours more exercise a week than the other people in the study who didn't do the simple act of writing down what they were grateful for.

Goal setting can be useful, but it can also be taken to extremes that become counter-productive.

If you’ve living according to goals but haven’t been much happier, consider what you’re trying to achieve. Could you change your goal-setting strategy and enjoy your life more? Are you chasing goals for their own sake?

There is always a future, but there is only one present.

Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey. -Alex Noble

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Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I’ve been writing here since 2009. Join my email list for new articles about supporting yourself doing something you love: