Why Not Having Goals is a Recipe for Mediocrity

Do you have goals? Do you write them down?

Or do you simply go through each day as if it were its own?

Goals are important to lay the path to success and to lift you above ordinary.

If you don’t set goals, you are settling for whatever life brings your way.

The Goals vs. Zen Debate

I have been thinking lately about the Goals vs. Zen debate. It was brought to my attention again recently by a post by @CiaraColon on Lifehack.org. (See “Is It Time to Let Go of Productivity?”)

Recently, there seem to be two conflicting opinions in the great “Goals” debate.

On one side, you have those who think you should set goals and strive each and every day to achieve them.

On the contrary, is the zen-like view that you should not set goals. Instead, you should just do. And go through each day in a deliberate manner.

I love the action-orientation (just do!) and the “enjoy the journey” message of the second viewpoint.

However, that is about as far as I go with the “no goals” path.

I am firmly in the “have goals and achieve them” camp.

If you don’t have goals, you are simply going with the flow.

You end up with whatever life decides to bring your way.

Not having goals is a recipe for mediocrity.

The “non goals” crowd might counter that you can’t control life.

That is not my point.

None of us can control the river of life. But, you don’t have to be driftwood either.

Sometimes you have to determine your own destination.

And sometimes you have to swim upstream to do it.

Setting goals is about looking beyond the day.

It’s about going out and getting what you want.

Goals Lift You Above the Day-to-Day

Goals are intended to motivate you.

They are there to inspire you beyond normal.

Goals lift you above normal day-to-day occurrences.

If you simply go through the daily motions, you risk not being able to see beyond today.

Here are 6 Reasons Why You Need Goals to Be Successful:

  1. No Finish Line – Dreams without a goal are just that… dreams. Like a task without a deadline, dreams without a finish line don’t get done. Goals provide that finish line so that you know where you are going and when you get there.
  2. Provide Clarity – Goals clarify your vision and specify your destination. Similar to #1, you can’t get there if you don’t know where where is. By the way, you can change your goals. Too often, people avoid goal-setting because they are afraid of being “locked in.”
  3. Don’t Be Driftwood – I am a big believer that you make your own destiny in life. You may be riding the river of life, but be the captain of your own ship. If you go with the flow, you may enjoy the ride or you may end up on the rocks. Have a say in the matter.
  4. No One is Going to Give It to You. – Many people who don’t have goals are often waiting for life to “give it to them.” It may be a promotion, a new relationship, or simply a better existence. Don’t wait for life to provide it, go out and get it!
  5. You Are Stronger Than You Think – Goals help you stretch yourself beyond normal. Some people live their entire lives without knowing their limits. You are stronger than you think, set goals that test yourself and exceed your self-set limits.
  6. Winning Begets Winning – Winning feels good. It just does. Completing a goal feels great. Winners keep winning, and once you achieve one goal you lift yourself even closer to the next.

Goals Lead to Success

Set your goals today. Write them down. Tell others about them.

Let your goals lift you above the day-to-day.

You will never know how far you can go until you try.

Don’t settle for ordinary… make your goal extraordinary!

Question: Do you believe in setting goals or do you prefer no goals?

22 thoughts on “Why Not Having Goals is a Recipe for Mediocrity

  1. I definitely agree with you craig! I’m a goal setter.
    I do read Zen Habits, and I like Leo’s idea of a goal free lifestyle, but it’s just another idea that goes along with the lifestyle he blogs about.

    Not setting goals for your life will only work if you are absolutely intentional about how you spend your day. It probably takes a more disciplined person to succeed while not having goals than it does to have them.

    1. Thanks, Dan.

      I like Leo’s Zen Habits a lot. In fact, Leo helped me out along the way and we have met and chatted before.

      I think Zen Habits has evolved over the years. Leo wrote more about productivity and goal setting in his early writings… and now is much more about the Zen approach.

  2. Great post, Craig! I could not have said it better. Setting goals is about forward motion; it’s insulating yourself against defaulting to the status quo. If you don’t give yourself deadlines and force yourself to accomplish what you want, you are surrendering any semblance of control that you do have.

  3. Great post, but I believe there is a misinterpretation regarding the zen-like view. It’s not about having no goals, It’s about having goals but not being attached to those goals. Whenever you are to attached to something It prevents you from being in the moment. When you are not in the moment, you cannot perform the best you can. The 2 views are not opposite, they are complementary. You have to set goals, but you also have to be mindful and do what you have to do in each and every moment.

    1. I agree with concentrating on the moment… which for me, means today.

      Some of the zen-views do go a bit farther though… in terms of not setting goals at all. As in, no goals… no disappointment.

      1. As a general point of view, zen doesn’t say you shouldn’t set goals at all…zen doesn’t believe in goals at all. The reason zen doesn’t say you shouldn’t set goals is because to actively deny to pursue goals merely reinforces the existence of goals.

        If you want to argue against Zen, you need to know what zen says first, otherwise you are just punching the air.

  4. I agree with you in concept, but I have a hard time articulating my goals. Some of them are easy–I want to run a marathon. I found a coach who drafted a plan for me and I am sticking to the plan. Easy! But when it comes to longer term life goals, the steps to get there aren’t so clearly defined.

  5. I have used goals in the past, but I have to admit that my results have been disappointing. I have had more success by tracking my historical results and focusing on making progress. It is much more motivational to me.

    I think Steve Pavlina was on the right track with his article “Goals Into Habits”

    I still believe that goals can work, but quitting on goals is an extremely common phenomenon. The key is to focus on ways to make taking action sustainable, and I think changing your habits is an important factor.

    1. Good thoughts, Mark.

      I agree… goals are hard. And many people give up.

      Like your habits reference… to make goals a success you have to work on them “each and every day.”

  6. Setting goals is definitely a priority. I believe that there has to be direction. Movement is key. If there aren’t goals, then you don’t really know where you will end up. Thanks for the reminder.

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  10. The whole concept of “winners” indicates comparison to those who therefore must be “losers” in this writer’s model of a goal-driven individual. Pretty smug, egocentric view. Goals equate with measurement (i.e. meaduring one’s level of perceived success or personal worth to another). I’m not convinced that having no goals leads to mediocrity, except when comparing oneself to another — seems like a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction. Focusing more on systems is more in keeping with tens of thousands of years of human balance with nature and small communities.

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