Goals are for suckers

Want to lose 10 pounds? Presto! You’re failing at that, right now.


…as soon as you set a goal, you’re a failure. Want to lose 10 pounds? Presto! You’re failing at that, right now. You’ll only be a success when you get there.

Even if you fight through that and reach your goal, you’ll quit. I’ve seen this in budo (modern Japanese martial arts) many times. People have the goal of earning a black belt. Most never make it, because it takes 3-6 years of steady work, depending on art and school and standards. Of the minority who get there, most quit within a year. Why? They’ve lost their emotional drive. The goal was to get a black belt. That’s done. Time to take up skydiving.

This is not purely an American thing. Same trait applies to Japanese students. I’ve seen it. We’re all just human beings.

What works for me, what’s delivered results, is process.

I have one I’ve been applying, and it’s great. It involves going to bed and reading, getting up, writing, and exercising, at a certain time, every day. That’s it. I am confident that if I do that, every day or most days, I will lose weight, have more energy, and write at least a novel a year. It’s inevitable. It cannot fail.

Where I get fat, don’t write, and feel tired is when I don’t follow this schedule. So it’s not “Do you want to write a novel this year?,” but rather “Do you want to feel good today?” Why, yes. Yes I do. OK, do whatever’s next: get up, write, exercise, or go to bed and read.

Note that there are no goals to this. I just lather, rinse, repeat, and whatever happens, happens. I find it mentally freeing. And just for validation, I’ve lost 10 pounds in two months and written 50,000 words (some on one manuscript, some on another).

This will make no sense to the kind of people who think in bullet points, Gantt charts, and deadlines. Objective people irritate the shit out of me, except when I agree with them or need their help.

Same goes for budo. The people who stick with karate or aikido for 10 years + didn’t do it for the black belt. It’s a nice achievement, but they did it because they enjoy the process, i.e., they enjoy training. My little karate club has members who’ve been with me for a decade. We don’t have degrees or titles. We don’t give trophies for sparring. We just have white belts and black belts and we work out together. If you like training, you’ll stick with it. If you’re there for something else, you’ll quit. It’s a wonderful filter that’s kept our group small and friendly. I just hadn’t thought clearly about how to apply that philosophy to other areas of my life.

The way is process. Not goals.

Goals are for suckers.