Tag Archives: goal setting

How to create success without setting goals

Making resolutions and setting big goals are expected when the year comes to a close and a new one is set to begin. Nearly half of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. But less than 10 percent actually achieve them. And goal-setting, at any time of the year, often involves lofty aspirations and ambitious to-dos that don’t necessarily serve you well.

While goal-setting is meant to move you in the desired direction, it can do the opposite. It frequently fuels anxiety and heightens stress in a way that interferes with real progress. An outcome-based goal is a milestone, benchmark or metric that is not always met and, even when met, doesn’t always provide a deep sense of meaning.

If you hate setting goals or don’t find them particularly helpful, try a different approach that focuses on what you control and what drives you in the present.

This internally-oriented approach involves three main components:

1. Clarify your purpose 

Start by determining your top priorities, core values, and BIG WHY behind what you do and want to do.

Ask yourself what positive feelings you want to derive from the life you lead and create. Pick one to three defining words or themes to shape your year (or a shorter time period, such as 3 months or 6 months, if you prefer).

In 2006, my word was Adventure. It led me to jump out of an airplane and tandem skydive, say yes to more social events, and go rock climbing on a cliff.

In 2016, my word was Fluidity. I honed a work-life mix that involved doing extended work in the morning; playing/chatting with my toddler, responding to phone calls and emails, running errands, and working in short bursts during the day; enjoying family time over dinner; doing focused work after my kid went to bed; and then reflecting, planning and winding down.

When you define how you want to act in life and relate to others, you can make conscious choices and take deliberate action that align with your heartfelt wishes. You keep what’s vital to you and your environment and clear out the non-essentials.

“Success is a feeling; it’s not necessarily an accumulation.” – Simon Senek, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

“Stay anchored to the desired feeling, and open to the form in which it manifests.” – Danielle La Porte in The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul.

2. Focus on the process

Develop systems that do not rely on willpower to get the right things done. Be curious about what works and what doesn’t, build healthy habits, and develop routines and schedules that keep you on track no matter what. Concentrate on daily progress, instead of accomplishing the big goal.

Let go of limiting beliefs about what you should do and not do. I would not have started my own law firm, at the time that I did, if I held on to the belief that being successful meant having a brick-and-mortar office, hiring a full-time staff, and having more clients than I could personally handle. By building a remotely-run law practice from the ground up, I have a profitable business that gives me the freedom and flexibility to set my agenda, carefully choose clients and turn down cases, and work only on issues that interest me.

If you own a business, you cannot control how many products you sell or how many new clients you get in a month. But you can control how you engage with your community, treat existing customers, deliver and design a work product, respond to inquiries, and market your business.

Realize there are many paths to get to an ideal state. There’s no shame in choosing the easiest and quickest path (although taking a tough and long one is okay, too.)

If you’re a chronic multitasker who wants to develop mindfulness, you may start with mindful eating, instead of a formal meditation practice. Chew your food 30 times before you swallow. Pay attention to the taste, smell, look and texture. Notice when you get hungry and how full you feel before, during and after you eat. Think about the origins of what you ingest and digest.

It’s rare to achieve life-changing goals in the time frame and in the way that you plan. Commit to an effective process and take deliberate actions that naturally lead to positive, long-term results. Drop your fixation on specific outcomes and stay open to exploring new opportunities and shifting gears.

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.” – Scott Adams, creator of the syndicated Dilbert cartoons and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

3. Be kind to yourself

Above all, practice self-compassion. An internally-oriented approach to creating success doesn’t mean you will experience magical bliss and no anxiety or stress.

You will face shifting priorities, conflicting values and competing commitments that generate a sense of incompleteness and even guilt. You come back to the present, stop punishing yourself for things left undone, and acknowledge the actions you did take.

When your intentions fall through, don’t just throw up your hands and call yourself a failure. Decide whether you really want to do or create this thing. And if you do, roll up your sleeves. And. GET. TO. WORK.

Know that whether the important step is taken or the end goal is achieved, you are enough. Completing the marathon, building a sustainable business, launching your podcast, and raising a self-reliant child are all spectacular objectives. But failure to achieve them does not take away from your personal worth and individual contributions.

Radical self-acceptance is more effective than grand self-loathing. Acceptance is not the same as tolerating and putting up with crap. It is being aware of what is within your control and what is not. Acceptance doesn’t mean you will never change or change things for the better, but rather that the change comes from a healthier, stronger, and more grounded place.

“As you learn self-acceptance, realize that it is always available to you, and you can have it no matter what you do. You can learn, create interesting things, make connections with others, with self-acceptance at the center of that.” – Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits. 

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Goal-setting can be a very useful planning tool for achieving what you seek. But an outcome-based mindset is not necessary to creating success. When you can be with yourself unconditionally and fully appreciate where you’re at, you’re more likely to make choices and act in accordance with what you truly want. Only then do you have genuine success.


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Photo by: Andrew Stawarz

10 Excuses That Can Make Your Year Crappy (and how to beat them)

The end of year encourages us to reflect on where we have been, where we are, and where we want to be. It’s prime time for mapping out goals and setting resolutions for the year ahead.

A new year symbolizes a fresh start and a revived opportunity to break bad habits, start healthy routines, and create our desired lifestyle.

But as the days, weeks and months roll on, it’s easy to slip back into default mode and settle for mediocrity.

The most common excuses that lead you to abandon your goals or resolutions and can make your year crappy are:

I don’t have time. Long-term goals often fall to the wayside when you barely have time to fulfill daily obligations, meet deadlines at work, run errands, or do household chores. Having more time, however, doesn’t necessarily make you more productive, effective, or efficient.

Carve out and schedule time blocks for your big goals. Work on them when your energy is at its highest or when distractions and interruptions are at their lowest. Just set aside 15 minutes a day, an hour a week, or a day in the month to make small, consistent progress.

Stop wasting time watching TV, surfing the Internet, and engaging in other activities that have minimal effect on the quality of your life. Wake up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later. Use the extra time to focus on the tasks that really matter.

I don’t have the money. Not all goals and dreams are realistic. But many are within your reach even when it seems you don’t have the resources to pursue them. You just need to get creative with exploring options.

If one gym membership fee is out of your price range, find a competitor that offers similar services at a fraction of the price. And if you want to learn Sun Salutations or other basic asanas, you can invest in a yoga DVD and cultivate a home practice or attend sessions at a “pay as you go” studio. You don’t need to travel to India for a yoga retreat or take a pricey yoga class with a world-renowned yoga master.

I’m too tired/ill. Exhaustion, illness, or injury slows you down. While it’s important to rest and recover, you don’t always have to be in peak physical condition to accomplish what you want. Deliberate, ongoing engagement with meaningful activities can energize you and help restore you mentally and physically.

I’m afraid. Playing it safe or staying within your comfort zone makes it hard to thrive and flourish. Going for your dreams and goals involves taking risks. The sooner you face your fears, the quicker you will gain the experience, knowledge, skills and confidence to maximize your potential and step up to the next level.

Fear is a natural, human emotion that demands respect. You can still take effective action despite your fears.

I’m not inspired or motivated. Sometimes you have to take action first to get unstuck and fired up. Favorable results or good feelings from the thing you do can spur you on to keep doing it.

Sometimes the resolution you set for yourself just isn’t right for you.  It might not tie into your big vision or connect with who you are at the core. If you really don’t care much about what you’re trying to achieve, it will be an uphill battle to dedicate your time and energy to it. If that’s the case, feel free to redefine and reframe your goal.

I’m bored. Repetitive behavior can be tedious. Certain tasks might never gel well with you. So mix it up. To get fit, you don’t have to run or work out in the gym every day. You could dance or play racquetball to get the heart rate up and build your strength and stamina.

To help me improve my piano playing skills, my piano teacher prescribes Hanon exercises. While I know they’re good for me, I don’t particularly enjoy them. So after I’m done with one Hanon exercise, I follow it with an improvised piece or sheet music that I love. This keeps me from getting bored with my practice.

I lack willpower.  Willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations and delay gratification to meet long-term goals. It’s a limited resource that doesn’t run at 100% all the time. But you can refocus and recommit if you get delayed or derailed.

There are ways to stay on the path and hold yourself accountable even when your willpower is depleted. For example, keep a log of your progress, automate or routinize desired habits, and share your goals with trusted friends and family members who will support you when the chips are down.

I don’t want to upset the people around me.  Your friends, relatives or colleagues might not want to see you make changes, especially when the status quo works for them. Your ability to deal with judgment is critical.

You can talk it out to get to the root of the issue (perhaps their concerns are legitimate). You can also choose to ignore their comments. Or you can end the relationship if it’s toxic and non-supportive.

I don’t know where to start. Start small. Start today. Set mini-goals for each day, week or month, instead of one big goal for the year. Get specific. If you want to author a novel, write a page a day. If you want to develop fluency in a foreign language, learn five new words or phrases every week. If you want to become more cultured, visit an art museum, read a classic book, or see a play once a month.

I can’t stand the pressure.  Setting resolutions and goals can create tension and stress, which in turn triggers procrastination, indecision and inaction for some.

In The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul, Danielle LaPorte encourages us to identify our “core desired feelings” and create practical “goals with soul” to generate those feelings. Instead of chasing after goals with numbers, dates and targets, she suggests we create a journey that feels the way we want the destination to feel.

Chris Brogan, author of The Impact Equation, advises us to choose three guiding words to help us focus our goals and efforts. In one new year’s post, he states:

Resolutions are often too vague, or too directed towards one goal. It might be “quit smoking” or “lose 20 pounds” or “get hired.” These are all fine aspirations, but I challenge you to dig deeper, to find three words that could be used as lighthouses to guide you through stormy seas, that can be used as flags on the battlefield of your challenges, words that will bolster you and give you a direction that goes beyond the goals you might attach as a result of these words.

Throughout the year, you can focus on your core desired feelings or your three words (e.g. Patience. Presence. Partnership) to guide you in your choices, actions and behaviors — without the unnecessary pressure.

To avoid obsessing over end goals, attend to the process itself. Set intentions to choose, act and behave in ways that that are aligned with your deepest values and heartfelt desires. Refrain from going purely after external rewards.

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Excuses undermine the changes you wish to make and sabotage the results you seek to achieve. They can make your year crappy. Knowing how to beat them will help you make the year a happy one that truly counts.


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Photo by: SJ Photography

Setting flexible goals

Some view goal setting as necessary to achieving success and creating the life they want. Others consider it a source of anxiety, stress and frustration.

While goal making is not inherently positive or negative, you need to be open to  arising twists and turns to truly benefit from it.

When you wish to reach a certain destination, you identify a plan and create action steps to help you get there.

But making the path too rigid can leave you blind to unexpected opportunities and solutions.

Yesterday evening, I arrived at the Minneapolis airport through the Hubert Humphrey Terminal after attending a five-day conference in Fort Lauderdale. After the pilot landed the airplane and taxied it to the jetway, I quickly proceeded with my action plan to get home.

First, I exited the plane with my colleague/travel companion. Then we walked straight toward Baggage Claim and took the escalator down to the carousel to collect our luggage. Next, I pulled my luggage off from the carousel and began to search for my phone. I needed to call my husband Michael to see when he would arrive at the airport to drive me home. I expected him to be running late because he had to attend a class that same evening.  I thought I would wait inside the airport until he pulled up curbside for me.

I stooped down to rummage through my bag and retrieve my phone. In my peripheral vision, I noticed a man looking down at me. After a few seconds, I looked up and made eye contact. It was Michael. I was pleasantly surprised.

He had arrived early at the airport and parked his car. He was standing at the top of the escalator when my colleague and I walked right by him to get to Baggage Claim. For kicks, he decided not to call out to us and instead followed us to the carousel, where he stood next to me the entire time. It took me a while to notice him because I was overly focused on my pre-conceived action plan.  I didn’t expect him to show up where and when he did.

If I had not let go of my action plan (my sub goals), I would have kept searching for my phone to make the telephone call. But when I took time to observe what was happening in the moment, I was able to adapt. This experience reminded me of the following:

Be flexible and fluid in how you set and achieve your goals. Rigid action steps can leave you unresponsive to changing circumstances.

When you set your goals, stay open to unexpected opportunities. You obtain the most reliable information while you’re working on a project, not before you start it.

Be willing to question and modify your plan. Don’t blindly follow a plan that is no longer grounded in reality. Explore, improvise and innovate.

A plan is just a road map. You might have detours and short cuts along the way. It doesn’t mean you won’t get there; you could just get there later or earlier, using a modified path.

Savor the process without getting too tied to the action plan. Step back, check in, re-evaluate, and get some perspective.  Examine the big picture. It’s okay to reshape or forego your goals when they no longer resonate with you.

Use your goals to help you channel your energy and guide you in the right direction.  But don’t get so carried away with goal setting that it severely limits the possibilities or stops you from exploring viable options.


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Photo by: Angie Torres