Forget Goals: Create A Story You Can Live Into

“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” ~ Lao Tzu

DSC01756Not sure about you, but I’m not a big fan of goals. There. I said it. And I’ve said it before.

Truth is, I’m more of a “journey not the destination” kind of person. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to get to Rome, but I know that many roads will get me there. Besides, I think it’s kind of boring to lock into a pre-determined route proceed full speed ahead. That could mean missing so much of what the journey has to offer!

If you’ve ever seen a road trip movie – and who hasn’t? – you know the real adventure is in the unanticipated problems that arise along the way. I think it’s the same with life. It’s an adventure with new challenges; and if you pay attention, new opportunities!

Realize Goals Are Limiting

Over the course of my life, I’ve set plenty of goals, and then proceeded to not enjoy reaching them. Why? Like Leo Babauta, as he described in his wonderful blog post, I found the process of setting, implementing, and tracking goals to be frustrating. And frankly, I’m not keen on living a project-managed life.

Even before seeing Leo’s post, I had already adopted the view that goals keep us so future focused that they diminish our ability to live in the current moment. Put another way, I began to discern that striving for a future that is better and happier than today, is a kind of trap. In fact, according to Peter Bregman, there is good evidence of harm caused when goals lead to unintended consequences. Better, he says, is to translate goal areas of focus; that is, focus on activities you want to spend your time on.

Makes sense to me.

Yet, even better is to take the more open-ended approach proposed by Stephen Shapiro in his book Goal-Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want NOW! In it, he provides eight secrets for living goal free, including using a compass versus a map, trusting you’re never lost, remaining open to opportunities, and seeking out adventure.

Totally works for me.

Make Your Plans Expansive

Given how I feel about goals, I found myself amazed that I enjoyed getting and reading an early copy of Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. Essentially, the authors lay out a framework for a designed life leading to specific ends, and a known path for getting there. So, here, in what can only seem like a direct challenge to my way of thinking, is a book promoting a planned life!

Yet, having worked with mid-career professionals and executives on the non-financial elements of preparing for retirement, I was curious to see what these authors had to say.

Happily, I think the approach they outline is very solid, and a great start for people who want to be more intentional about living happier and more fulfilling lives – starting now! In particular, I like how they established the foundation for a meaningful life in terms of what matters most and personal legacy. I also loved the way they framed the nine basic “life accounts” in terms of being, relating, and doing. As well, I loved their four-quadrant life assessment profile based on passion and progress.

Perhaps the one thing that I had mixed feelings about was the authors’ use of a GPS metaphor. Unlike a compass, which tells you the general directions and leaves the choice of path flexible, a GPS seems too locked in to a predetermined path or some recalculated variation thereof. The risk is a GPS can be “set and forget,” thereby limiting opportunities to go off the beaten path.

Envision A Story To Live Into

One of the things that I especially loved about Living Forward, is that rather than recommending goals for each of one’s life accounts, they recommended taking an “envisioned future” approach to creating a life plan. To do this, they recommend using your imagination and fives senses to see yourself living as if what you want to achieve is already a reality.

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How? Well, here’s the magic: Use the present tense to describe what you envision; that is, say “I am” as opposed to “I want.”

For example, instead of saying “I want to be lean and strong, with vibrant health and energy,” say: “I am lean and strong, with vibrant health and energy.”

This is no small thing.

Why? Because in creating a detailed picture of a positive end-state, we give your brains a story to live into. I know it seems kind of woo woo, but research on anticipatory joy tends to support this.

As I see it, creating a story I can live into establishes a quest. And that’s much more appealing than project management.

What do you think?

Some Thoughts On Restoring Personal Vitality

IMG_8788Recently, I was sorting through some photos and was struck by the quirkiness of one in particular. It’s a photo of our cat Einstein giving me a quizzical look. For whatever reasons, this shot always provides me a little reminder to focus on what’s important in life.

Frankly, I’ve always felt as though I was doing that. But then I hit a wall, and realized I could do better. Here’s what happened:

This past June, I spent the better part of my birthday on a pre-op appointment, and a few days later had foot surgery; and that was followed by more than six weeks of recovery. I had chosen to keep my client work to a minimum, and to spend my days reading. Perhaps it was the sudden change of pace, my recent birthday, or maybe my wife’s comment about how the change would be like being retired, but this was the first time in my life I felt truly old. Not just old, actually, but in a slump.

It was not a good feeling, and sparked some reflection on what it would take to re-energize.

Learning To Let Go

I’ve long realized that everything we have in life has a cost. Fundamentally, we trade our time for possessions, experiences, learning, and even relationships. Mostly, this is a good thing. After all, most of us truly do enjoy what comes into our lives, most especially our relationships.

Yet, there does seem to be an outside limit on satisfaction; and a time to let go. [Tweet this]

But letting go is hard, at least for me. So, I was fortunate to discover, read, and start applying the principles Marie Kondo presents in her excellent The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. What amazed me was how her simple standard of joy could be so powerful. Specifically, Kondo advises that in tidying up, you hold each item you own and ask if it sparks joy. If not, thank it for it’s service and let it go!

Seems to me like a great standard for deciding what to keep in life: If there is no joy in it, let it go! [Tweet this]

Yes! Of Course There’s More

Frankly, in itself, seeking joy is not a sufficient basis for satisfaction in life. In fact, if we only strive to be happy, we’re bound to be disappointed. As Tom Rath points out in his excellent Are You Fully Charged? pursuing happiness is shortsighted. Rather, happiness is a by-product of pursuing meaning, especially in activities that make a difference for others.

Yet, as I’ve advised clients it takes work. As Rath puts it:

“Meaning does not happen to you — you create it. One of the most important elements of building a great career and life is attaching what you do each day to a broader mission. Until you understand how your efforts contribute to the world, you are simply going through the motions each day.”

While creating meaning sets the broader context for an energized life, your personal vitality also benefits from your daily practices. While these can differ from person to person, here, based on Rath’s work as well as other resources, are five ideas that you may find beneficial:

Harness the Power of Intrinsic Motivation. When we think of motivation, most of us tend to tie it to external outcomes, like earning a paycheck. Yet, we’re also motivated by internal factors, and do things because we want to do them. While both forms of motivation work, it turns out that intrinsic motivation is much more powerful, a fact well documented by Dan Pink in his fascinating book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In applying this to your personal vitality, start to focus more energy on the things you want to do – both at work and in other parts of your life.

Take Control of Your Health and Well-Being. Controlling your health and well-being may seem like it involves too much work, change, and discomfort. And confusion! Frankly, we’re exposed to so much conflicting health information it’s hard to know where to start! Yet, according to Rath, it all comes down to some basic management of how we eat, move, and sleep. If you like, you can find detailed information in his Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. You can make a project out if it, and it would be worthwhile. In the meantime, I found using a fitness tracker not only provides data to show how you’re doing but can also fuel your motivation to do better.

Cultivate Friendships. Most of us realize that relationships are important to business and career success. So, we network. Yet, nurturing friendships is even more important to living a satisfying and successful life. After all, friendships have health as well as social benefits. On some level, we all need to find belonging and are better off when we do. Investing time in creating friendships, both in person and online, can have a big positive impact on your personal vitality.

Focus On the Before and After of Experiences. It’s not possessions but life experiences that support a happier life. No doubt you’ve heard that, as it’s an idea that’s been around since the ancient times! Yet, recent research on spending habits indicates that purchasing experiences, especially with other people, enhances well-being. What’s more, it turns out that more than the experience itself, anticipation and memory make a greater contribution to overall well-being. So, make sure to enjoy planning and remembering as well as the doing!

Be Ready to Respond to Stress and Hardship. No doubt about it, no matter how well things may be going, we all face occasional hardships. The trick is to realize that you already have or can develop resilience skills. In fact, if you’re already managing your personal vitality, you’re well on your way. Still, helpful resources are not hard to find.