I still prefer to have goals

I'm a big fan of Leo Babauta and I like reading about minimalismsimplifying lifede-cluttering homes and heck, I try to do the same with my life and I'm happy with my first results. But there is one thing these guys are preaching which I'm not comfortable with, which is the idea of a goal-less life - meaning to live without goals and just to do every day what you're most excited about.
Goals vs Habits

The no-goals proponents argue that it's more sustainable to build good habits instead of pursuing goals. That it's better to create a habit of daily exercise instead of pursuing a goal of "losing 10 kg this year". 

I'm all for good habits. There are good habits and bad ones and I'm all for the building up the good ones. I like Leo's one-habit-a-month thing. Good habits are... good. But I disagree with the notion that when you focus on building habits you should disregard goals entirely.

Goal-less means aim-less

The problem I'm seeing with many entrepreneurs, startup owners/builders, students beginning their career or just people trying to get a job is the fact of how aimless many of them are. Sure thing, a goal of "I will be a partner in a major law firm by the time I'm 40" is a stretch and is a very lofty goal, but on the other hand "I will find a job that pays me big bucks now even if it's not something I'd put in my CV" is not a good idea either.

I see lots of people who have no career planning skills whatsoever and to plan your career you need goals. You can't just wake up in the morning and do what excites you the most... because if it's video-game-playing than it won't pay your bills... and if it's a shitty job but pays quite well (but in no way it's aligned with your career and personal development) you will lose your focus and will only have a short-term gain.

It reminds me of these dreadful articles of young student prostitutes who are paying for college by selling their body and say it's OK for now, and it pays better than other jobs... but they don't think about the long term effects such jobs will have on them.

Goal-less means short-term thinking, no big picture

That's what I'm getting at. Habits are long-term changes but going goal-less is short-term thinking. I prefer to have long term thinking. Sometimes you have to pay your dues to arrive at a better life. Going goal-less means you don't pay any dues.

I was always dreaming of running a successful startup company and now I do... but to get there I failed several times, had to work quite a few years doing consulting gigs to many customers (and some of them I didn't like) in the morning and working on my startup ideas at night, but it paid off. 

My goal was clear and was long term. So I stuck to it, persevered and achieved it... and now I have new, bigger goals. Wasn't easy, but hey, it was worth it.

Another example - a person I know had a goal to be a lawyer in a top-law firm. To get there she went through internships in many law firms, but always made sure the new one was better than the current one. Sometimes the pay was good, sometimes it was lousy. The pay (short-term gain) didn't matter, her goal was to make sure each new job was better in terms of her personal development than the past one and she did get to the top eventually. Short-term gains didn't stop her from the long-term goal.

Goals help you think big and steer your decisions

When you have goals you align your thinking to them. You make decisions according to your goals. You're on a path of personal development. You plan your career the way you want it to be. Even if your goals change or you miss some of them, you can re-calibrate them later. The goals simply help you stay on your long term course. Even though the course can change, it's better to go with one than without it.

I just don't like the extremes. I like building habits and I like doing what excites me today. But I don't like going the extreme and can't imagine my life without goals and I will not encourage people to drop their goals. I see too many people aimlessly going through life, thinking short-term about their paychecks and next day rewards. Without clear goals it's hard for them to get anywhere in the long run.

I still prefer to have goals. And what do you think?
I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Posted on Monday, January 9, 2012

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Jan 9, 2012 17:14
I agree with your disagreement with Leo's disagreement with goal setting habit.
Michael Sliwinski
Jan 9, 2012 17:39
Exactly right - goal setting habit is a good habit a zen habit site should habitually encourage, right? It's good to sometimes agree to disagree, Testeq :-)
Jeroen van Baardwijk
Jan 9, 2012 18:08
I think that if we were to put Michael Sliwinski, Leo Babauta and David 'GTD' Allen together in one room to talk about this, we would end up with a very interesting discussion. :-)
Thanh Pham
Jan 9, 2012 19:04
I completely agree with you Michael. When you don't know what you want in terms of goals, you tend to react too much what is going on in the present. It's hard to make decisions when you don't know what you might give up in the short-term in greater good of your bigger goal.
Michael Sliwinski
Jan 9, 2012 19:58
That's the thing - when you base your decision on short-term gains and not long term goals, these decisions may fire right back at you later. When you think long term, you even subconsciously align your decisions to your long term goals. Great point, Thanh!

Jeroen, yes, but I'd love to sit in one room with these guys at one time some day. I've talked to David but I have yet to meet Leo in person. And all of us together it'd be great fun!

Johan D'Haeseleer
Jan 10, 2012 15:12
I coudn't agree more with you Michael. It was the first I was displeased after reading Leo's blog.

I have read Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson. Well researched and proven insights in the practice of goal setting.

It's habit and goals. It's not one or the other. It's both.

Take care

Michael Sliwinski
Jan 10, 2012 15:39
Exactly it's both: goals and habits. And "no goals" means actually a goal to have no goals - it's impossible to live without goals, as they shape our decisions. Thanks Johan for a great comment! Spot on.