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?