The Joys of Goal-Free Living

What is Goal-Free Living

What I’m going to challenge you to think about is what we’re calling “goal-free living.” This is another whole level of living. It means not just not setting a New Year’s resolution, but shifting out of the goal mentality completely and operating toward what it is that you desire in a completely different way.

In order to even talk about goal-free living, we first have to even understand what a goal is. The very common acronym people use around goals is SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable Results within a certain Time-frame.

In the US, being a very achievement and goal-oriented society, we are rewarded for setting goals. This is generally how people look to accomplish the things in their lives. In fact, if you’re not a goal-oriented person, you’re not perceived as smart.

What happens when you give a Type-A person a goal? I put myself, and probably most of you, in that category. What happens is that our adrenaline kicks in. We think,“This is exciting!” All of a sudden, from a biochemistry standpoint, the hormones are flowing in our body.

The second thing that happens is that our focus narrows. All of a sudden we are looking at a particular target. Our vision narrows so that we can hone in on that target that we’re looking to accomplish.

The third thing that happens is that our energy gets channeled into achieving that result. We put a lot of our time and effort into that particular goal. We have our adrenaline going, our focus and vision narrowed to that particular result ,and our energy is channeling to that particular achievement, as well.

These, as I said, can be good things.

There are downsides to this, however, especially in the hands of a Type-A person. What are they? We become adrenaline junkies and go into overload because we don’t know how to shut it off. We become a slave to the adrenaline hit of accomplishing our goals. We all know what that’s like. We think, “I checked something off the list. Woohoo!” We get that little hit. It’s almost like a little crack pipe. We say, “I have my list. I checked all five.” You get into that, not even really thinking, “What is the ultimate end of all this?”

The second downside is that, from a brain perspective, our reticular activating system gets triggered. That’s the part of our brain that filters out 99.9% of what we see so that we’re not overwhelmed by stimuli. That’s just so that we can operate in the world. This is something that our brain has developed so that we can function. Otherwise, we would be in complete overwhelm. What happens when that reticular activating system gets triggered is that we can miss important data that’s right in front of our faces because now our vision has narrowed. We’re filtering out 99.9% of what we see.

My favorite example of this is the “Gorillas in the Midst” video. That’s midst, not as in the jungles of Tanzania. It’s a very famous experiment. If you haven’t seen it, google it. It’s the experiment where there are people in white and black T-shirts passing a ball. The people who were the subjects in the experiment were given a task to focus on – count the number of passes between the people in the white T-shirts.

What they found in this experiment is that the focus narrowed so much that the majority of people completely missed that there was a person walking through the middle of this in a gorilla suit. The vast majority gave a number, but nobody saw the gorilla. Literally, this is what our brain does.

When this happens, we can miss important data and things that are life-changing opportunities. We’re so focused on that particular goal that we literally do not see something else going on.

The third downside is that we get impatient and dissatisfied. We’re looking for a particular result, and as long as that result isn’t here, we’re not happy. Basically, we end up in a spiral. We think, “I don’t have what I want. I want that. I’m not there yet. Therefore, I’m unhappy.” What we’re doing is creating our own unhappiness through impatience and dissatisfaction.

These are the things that can happen when we get overly invested in our goals.

Steps for Goal Free Living

Of course, the very first thing is to give up the goal. Oh my god! That’s a scary piece because I know my first question was, “What happens when I give up the goal? What am I going to do? Am I going to be floating around in life completely undirected?”

That’s our Type A personality that needs something to hang onto. We need a focusing tool. Giving up the goal does not mean being unfocused. It means shifting your focus from that SMART goal to a mantra.

“Mantra,” as a word, is overused, but one of the definitions of mantra is that it is an object of concentration. Pulling out that particular meaning is important because this mantra becomes a guide. It’s not a goal or specific, measurable, achievable result within a certain timeframe. It becomes an object of concentration.

The second thing is that mantras are sacred. They come from sacred texts. This means that what you choose has meaning, resonance and depth for you. These are the things we focus on when we become goal-free. What happens with a mantra is it becomes a guiding principle rather than a measurable, achievable result.

Let me give you an example. As you’re building these mantras for yourself, you can use one word or short statements. I’ll give you my list for this year. I didn’t set resolutions, but I did create a set of guiding principles and mantras for myself. A few from my list are financial wellbeing, vibrant health, extreme peace of mind, and joyful living.

What happens is that these words become a compass rather than a map. A map guides us to a specific destination. We look at something and say, “Here are the roadmap and markers we have to hit to get from Point A to Point B.” A compass guides us in the right direction. It lets us know that we’re on track, but a compass doesn’t have a destination. It’s just a guide that we’re moving in the correct direction.

Using mantras rather than goals allows you to live from a sense of purpose rather than plans. It leaves room for discovery. What happens is that, using mantras, you can focus on decisions rather than tasks. The mantras become the framework for decision making in the moment rather than a list of things to do

Coaching Action Steps

Make a list of the goals or typical New Year’s Resolutions you are willing to release.

Shift from SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable results within a certain time frame) to a Mantra (a guiding principle that has meaning or resonance). Some examples are financial well-being, vibrant health, extreme peace of mind, and joyful living.