The New Year is a great time to start afresh. We put up a blank calendar just waiting for us to fill it with new goals and achievements, benchmarks and priorities. It seems like most people make new year’s resolutions of some kind. But for most people, those resolutions fail. Often, we stall out within a month—two if we’re really determined.
But what if the way to succeed was by forgetting about your goals?
This doesn’t mean you should have no goal at all. Knowing your endpoint is necessary to aim at what you want, so you do have to set a goal of some kind. What it does mean is that you can be more successful if you focus harder on the process of getting there than on checking boxes on your to-do list.
What would happen if you stopped constantly updating your lists, worrying about the goal, and beating yourself up for falling short?
I’m pretty sure you’d get more work done.
Which means that you’re fulfilling your goals more efficiently by not obsessing over them.
Let’s explore this concept a little further.
Goals vs. Process
Both winners and losers have the same goals: to reach the objective. Every sports team wants to win, even if they ultimately lose. If you asked both teams before the game what goal they want to achieve, they’d both say, “To win!”
But at the end of the game period, only one team will have succeeded at meeting their goal.
Clearly, it’s more than just goal-setting that gets you there. So what’s the difference?
Leaving aside a comparative analysis of your determination or how many hours of work you put in, there‘s one thing that separates those who succeed from those who fail:
The route they choose to get there.
Each team has a different process because they have diverse coaches, unique players, and individual game strategies. If both winners and losers share the same goal, then goals can’t be the key to success—it has to be a different variable.
The best assurance of success is finding the method that works for you in the long term. Imagine if a coach poured every ounce of his effort into the first game of the year. Even if the team wins, it might come at the expense of the entire season and make the team lose the championship.
Going full-effort on every single goal can result in burnout and sabotage the ultimate purpose of your efforts. There’s a reason that slow and steady wins the race.
Each Goal Can Become an Isolated Incident
Sometimes, the problem with achieving a goal is that the effect doesn’t last long.
Think about mowing the lawn: you achieve your goal, only to do it all over again the next week. The lawn will always need to be trimmed, but if your goal is to spend less time on yard work, you need to get more efficient or outsource the task. No matter how many times you achieve the goal of mowing the lawn, it will always come back again.
Other day-to-day goals can become just as endlessly repetitive. It can trap you in a cycle of expending energy to reach a goal, only to do it all again in a day, a week, or a month. When this happens, you don’t feel like you’ve made any progress at all, and can lose motivation for the day.
If you focus on smaller micro-goals, you can maintain a continuous burst of success that will enhance your motivation. Mini-goals can consist of figuring out where you’re wasting the most time, finding a better way to organize your files, or prioritizing your tasks by deadline. Resolving these issues will give you a sense of accomplishment, even when your larger goals are still in progress.
It’s also much more useful to focus on the process and spend less overall time working on the task.
Think about it this way: do you want to achieve the goal of answering all of your emails, or would you rather improve your habits so that it takes far less time to do so?
Either way, you’ll still reply to all your messages. The only difference is—how long will this recurrent task take you? It all comes down to how you’d prefer to measure success. Total emails answered is nowhere near as satisfying (or helpful) as becoming more efficient at the process.
Goals Can Begin to Disrupt your Happiness
If you invest all of your energy into completing goals, you can fall into the trap of making your happiness dependent on them. But it’s impossible to meet all your goals–leading to a neverending yo-yo of temporary satisfaction and ultimate disappointment. Don’t ever tell yourself that you can only be happy once you complete this one task.
You’re ultimately cheating yourself of true fulfillment if you let your goals define your happiness. Forcing yourself to do everything exactly as you planned it out is doomed to failure, because nothing ever goes perfectly to plan. In fact, obsessing over individual goals can cripple your ability to innovate and think on your feet.
Would you rather derive joy from every moment of the day, or only once or twice per week? The choice is yours. You can take a quick breath between tasks to savor your victory, or you can gain an ongoing sense of satisfaction in the progress you’re making every single day.
Make your happiness rely on day-to-day progress and improving your systems. That will provide an ongoing sense of self-worth that constant goal-setting just won’t bring you. When you get your structure up and running, you can fall in love with how it works and find fulfillment as it proceeds through the background of your daily struggles. Goals may shift, but your system will always be there for you.
Individual Goals Can Get in the Way of True Progress
Though it’s difficult to see in the moment, all too often, focusing on small goals can obscure the larger picture. If all your energy goes toward a particular outcome, it will dissipate as soon as you mentally hit the finish line. Truly great athletes don’t stop training once they win an event or beat a personal record. They don’t even stop after hitting a world record.
No, they keep pushing themselves to improve and never stop training.
That’s the mindset you need to bring to your daily goals. When you focus on small, everyday instances of improvement, you don’t let everything ride on arbitrary milestones that could change at any moment. You gain a deepening sense of ongoing success and take pride every time you enhance something along the way.
Get Comfortable with Systems
The best way to avoid the vicious cycle of endless goals that keep coming back is to set them aside altogether. Focus on your system for getting things done. Try to make your process more efficient. For instance, try doing things in a different order throughout the day.
If you’ve been completing your most demanding task first thing in the morning, try leaving it until after you’ve hit your stride. If you have a midday slump, save your low-effort jobs for that time of day to give yourself a mental break. The possibilities are endless, and the outcomes depend on your unique traits as an individual.
It’s far more productive (in the long run) to streamline your methods than to worry about the goals you set for yourself along the way.
It may take a while to break out of the habits we’ve learned from years of self-help gurus, and stop measuring our success by the arbitrary goalposts we build for ourselves. But that hard work will be worth it in the end. If you consistently focus on how to get there, your final destination will take care of itself.
You only have to let yourself enjoy the journey.