I’m going to make $100,000 this year. I’m going to sign up my 500th client by the end of the month. I’m going to close that big sale this week. I’m going to make MDRT. I’m going to … Does this sound familiar?
Being in a sales-predicated business, it’s hard to imagine not having goals. But, that’s exactly what you need to do to become more successful—jettison the hard-core goals.
If going cold turkey on getting rid of your business goals seems out of reach, start small, says Stephen Shapiro, author of Goal-Free Living. Try going goal-free in other areas of your life, such as with your vacation or attending conferences. Approach those activities with no goals in mind, and see where they take you.
Stephen Shapiro, an ex-corporate consultant, was once a goal addict and found undreamt of success in the business world. He had followed the proscribed formula: Stay focused on the goal, work hard and success will follow. But that success did not bring happiness. In fact, it left in its wake a broken marriage and an unfulfilling career. So, he set off in search of answers. After crisscrossing the country and interviewing 150 people who are living “extraordinary” lives, he found what he was looking for. People are happiest, he realized, during the “unscripted acts of life.” The results of his quest are laid out in his new book, Goal-Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want Now! (Wiley, 2006.)
Why be goal-free?
It seems counterintuitive to get rid of goals when this is such a results-oriented business. But Shapiro points out the problem with setting goals. “We get a little myopic; we lose our peripheral vision and all the other opportunities out there tend to get missed because we have this laser focus on our goals,” he says. “We also tend to set ourselves up for failure. The numbers that we choose as our goals are somewhat arbitrary, and we set ourselves up for: ‘I’m a winner. I’m a loser.’ And it’s not a healthy relationship because a lot of people are unsuccessful in achieving their goals.”
And even if you do reach your goals, it doesn’t mean you will feel happy or satisfied. According to Shapiro’s research, 41 percent of people who do achieve their goals find that it doesn’t really give them the satisfaction they are looking for.
Goals vs. aspirations
According to his book, goal-free living does not mean getting rid of all goals; instead, it means being free from the burden of goals. The way to do this, says Shapiro, is to focus on aspirations. The origin of the word goal, he explains, is from the Old English word for obstacle, barrier or hindrance. Aspiration, on the other hand, is derived from the root “aspire,” which means to breathe life into. “The difference is, with a goal we tend to push ourselves forward towards it—that tends to be hard work, whereas an aspiration sort of pulls us forward,” he says.
To begin your switch from goals to aspirations, Shapiro recommends that you set a one-word theme for yourself. The theme is meant to get you inspired and motivated, something for you to have fun with. “Mine this year is ‘impact’—about making a difference,” he says. “But it could be ‘serendipity,’ or ‘me’—as in I want to take care of myself for once—but it could be anything. I find that if you remind yourself of your theme, it changes your attitude everyday.”
THE EIGHT SECRETS OF GOAL-FREE LIVING
- Use a compass, not a map.
- Trust that you are never lost.
- Remember that opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly.
- Want what you have.
- Seek out adventure.
- Become a people magnet.
- Embrace your limits.
- Remain detached.
Of Shapiro’s eight secrets of living goal-free (see box), the last—remain detached—may be the hardest to put into action. The focus of your work should not be the end-game, he says. It’s not about the $100,000 or closing the sale. Instead, it’s about being in the moment. That means you should forget about converting that prospect sitting in front of you into your 500th client, and focus instead on attending to his needs and enjoying your time with him—that is where the seed of your success is planted.
If you’ve been living in a goal-focused environment, it may be hard to give up the habit, but it’s something you should try. “Letting go means committing to the moment instead of the outcome. Goals are just trying to control the uncontrollable. When you don’t try to force things, better things show up,” says Shapiro.