For those of you who may not know him, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits is one of, if not the, most respected personal development bloggers on the planet. What he’s done over the past couple of years at zenhabits.net, writetodone.com, and mnmlist.com is nothing short of amazing. All three are in my RSS reader, and a lot of the things I’ve read on those sites have made me think.
That being said, I’ve got some issues with a post he put up last week on mnmlist.com. It was entitled Minimalism’s logical extension: Break free from goals. You should read it (I wouldn’t link it if I didn’t think you should) and make your own decision.
I’d like to excerpt a passage:
More recently I’ve moved away from goals, broken free of the shackles of goals. I’ve liberated myself because goals are not ideal, in my way of thinking:
- They are artificial — you aren’t working because you love it, you’re working because you’ve set goals.
- They’re constraining — what if you want to work on something not in line with your goals? Shouldn’t we have that freedom?
- They put pressure on us to achieve, to get certain things done. Pressure is stressful, and not always in a good way.
- When we fail (and we always do), it’s discouraging.
- We’re always thinking about the future (goals) instead of the present. I prefer to live in the present.
But most of all, here’s the thing with goals: you’re never satisfied. Goals are a way of saying, “When I’ve accomplished this goal (or all these goals), I will be happy then. I’m not happy now, because I haven’t achieved my goals.” This is never said out loud, but it’s what goals really mean. The problem is, when we achieve the goals, we don’t achieve happiness. We set new goals, strive for something new.
For each point that Leo raises here, I disagree with either the actual statement, or the thought process behind it.
- They are artificial — you aren’t working because you love it, you’re working because you’ve set goals. As I’ve written previously, your goals need to stem from your most deeply-held values. Being a person of integrity demands this. If your goals feel artificial to you, then you need to set more meaningful goals.
- They’re constraining — what if you want to work on something not in line with your goals? Shouldn’t we have that freedom? Again, your goals need to flow from your values. Why would you ever want to work on something that contradicts your values?
- They put pressure on us to achieve, to get certain things done. Pressure is stressful, and not always in a good way. This, friends, is a slippery slope. We need to manage stress, certainly. Prolonged or repeated intense stress is definitely not good. BUT, a certain amount of stress and pressure is necessary in order for us to realize the potential that we have inside. Drifting aimlessly, with no goals, is not a way to live a fulfilling life.
- When we fail (and we always do), it’s discouraging. My answer to this statement is “So?”. I’m not sure I understand what’s inherently wrong with being discouraged. Granted, those who allow themselves to wallow in discouragement, or who don’t make an effort to move on from discouraging circumstances aren’t living a full life. However, most people, when faced with circumstances that are less than perfect, will utilize the lessons learned from that failure to make adjustments and try again. Taking your ball and going home, simply because you don’t like the way the game turned out, is what we try to discourage in our kids, right?
- We’re always thinking about the future (goals), instead of the present. A goal is a desired end state that you wish to reach. By definition, it occurs sometime in the future. However, in order to reach that goal, actions must be taken in the present to move ahead. I’ve always heard this saying: “Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery. Today is all we have. It’s a gift, which is why we call it the present“. I think I understand what Leo’s saying here: don’t get so focused on making tomorrow that you forget or neglect what’s happening today. But, if you’re setting meaningful goals and doing something every day to work toward them, you will be content with your present circumstances.
- Finally, Leo’s last paragraph about goals not leading to happiness. He says that goals are an implicit indication that you’re not happy where you’re at. That you’re looking for something else, some other circumstance, to make it all better. Look, accepting yourself for who you are is fine, but there’s an important caveat that needs to accompany that acceptance. You have to realize that, though you may be happy with who you are at this time, you certainly shouldn’t be happy if this is all you’re ever going to be. Goals propel us forward to become greater than what we are currently. None of us is perfect, none of us has it all together, and none of us will ever reach that place where we are. If you think you have, you’re fooling yourself. Be happy with who you are, but don’t be happy to remain where you are.
I hope this hasn’t come off as bitter or anything; that certainly wasn’t my intent. As I mentioned, I enjoy reading Leo’s stuff because it always makes me think. It just happens that this particular post made me think a lot, and I found I didn’t like what I read.
So, did I miss the point? Let me know if you think I mis-represented what Leo had to say, or took something the wrong way, or whatever. Conversely, did anything I said really resonate with you? Let us know everything in the comments…