Goal-setting alone goes nowhere

This is an angry blog-post, fuelled by failure and feeling lost.
Trying to “get what you want” and “achieve goals” has driven me mad.
At the age of 35, I’ve had enough.

It may have started with my parents, who either pushed me towards goals or didn’t stop me from my own endless pursuit of the achievement of goals. It continued in school, where top grades were sought out for no reason but their own apparent top-grade value. And since day one in the corporate world, it has been shoved down my throat by Covey-inspired managers …and later reinforced by performance bonuses and general back-slapping. It hasn’t stopped. Goal, goal, goal. Do, do, do. Achieve, achieve, achieve.

But in a world where it is “good” to achieve targets, I fear that this achievement itself has become some kind of altar at which people like me pray. But where is the god of purpose for which this altar was erected? Without that, the prayer of achievement loses all sense.


When you get into the process (and life) of setting goals and achieving targets, it is fun. You can put ticks in boxes and say “I succeeded”. If you have an app like “Lift” you can share your goals and your success with other people, who will congratulate you for being like them and achieving what you all set out to do.

But I wonder how many people installed “Lift” and did like I did, just browsing though the habits and goals to choose from and picking things that sounded cool, then setting their goals? Or sat down on New Year’s Eve (or performance-review day) and asked themselves “What goal can I have for next year?” Like an achiever’s buffet-bar. Eat all you can.

In my own case, with the “Lift” app, it would surely have been better to actually have a real goal in mind (or better yet, some sense of purpose) before downloading the app and then use it’s social reinforcement mechanisms to help me get it done. But that’s not what I did. I heard about an app that let’s you share and track goals and thought it would be “good” just because it helps you share and track goals and because that is in itself a “good thing”. I think I am obsessed with (or at the very least, attached to) achieving. And apps that help you achieve are “good”. But what am I actually achieving? What is it all working towards?


And so I write this angry post: Goal-setting and achieving targets is bad. Dangerous. Goal-setting should be a means to a purposeful end, but for workaholic, other-oriented, self-esteem-seeking people like myself, it becomes the end in itself. And it is an end which goes nowhere when you lack any sense of what is “good” or purposeful outside of the goal itself.


As of today, instead of setting goals outside of myself for things to get, be or do I am going rather to focus on looking inside and stripping away everything I don’t want to get, be or do. I have always been told that I should create smart goals that are positive and focus on what I want to achieve. But since I now reject goals and don’t really know what I want to achieve, I will just be negative. I will instead focus on what I don’t want and just see where that takes me. Instead of trying to make a pretty garden with no clear vision of what “pretty” is, I am just going to focus on pulling out the weeds.


Maybe when everything is stripped bare and I’m left with nothing to be, have, do or achieve, I’ll know who I really am, what I really want and what can be done.

I suspect that then I will probably no longer care about goal-setting and achievement.

Just the garden itself.



About Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

Posted on September 1, 2013, in Leadership, Self-Effectiveness and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Fabulous words of wisdom! Seems our non-goal life leads us into a beautiful, amazing, and fulfilling life. Been living the non-goal life for a year and it couldn’t be better. And I am still achieving but in a better way.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      Tell more about that goalless life…


      • Ok. The goal less life for me was about letting go of what I “should” do or what I am “supposed” to do or worse “what others expected of me.” And, I understand being an achievement junkie — certainly was my name! I had a personal crisis that caused me to stay nothing matters any longer. So I just let go and allowed myself to start pursuing what I loved. I also allowed myself (for the first time ever) to put myself first. I was shocked at how little i had to give to others before this. My inner well was e-m-p-t-y.

        Well, I was very concerned about achieving during this. Wondered if my life would just go in reverse. It didn’t. It catapulted forward. This letting go was weird. What was i to do each day — live a boring life? Always worried about that. Those things that were buried inside me that I really wanted to do started coming up for me when I listened to the inside of me. I learned along the way that tapping into our own hearts desires get us to a fulfilled place. I always thought that would take me to a selfish place — but it doesnt! It takes us to a place to live life the way we believe it should be for us.

      • I love this story
        Thank you for taking the time to share..
        Post more on your blog. I’ll read…

      • Ok. Kinda long, but I will start writing about it.


      • Ok, I posted a couple things. http://spiritualrev.com/  Hope they are useful to you.  I will continue to add more.  Know that I am new to blogging so it may be a bit disorderly.  

        Glad you asked me to post.  People have been telling me I have to write my story down, but it didn’t seem all that fascinating.  But, hey, thanks for helping me get started!  



  2. To me the ‘why’ is of uttermost importance.

    If you set a goal, ask yourself ‘why should I achieve this goal?’, ‘what will it bring me?’, ‘what will I lose if I achieve this goal?’, ‘what is there to gain with this goal?’, ‘what will be the effect of achieving this goal on myself, my family, my friends, my health,…’, ‘do I really want to achieve this or is it a goal inspired by society/culture/media/…?’, ‘what higher purpose/value am I trying to achieve with this goal?’, and ‘is this goal the best way to live this higher purpose/value?’.

    So you’re absolutely right, Dan, in stating that goal setting alone goes nowhere.

    By the way, I recognize the ‘Lift’-app experience 🙂


    • I think a more honest blog-post from me might simply have said “I feel like I lack purpose in many of the things I am doing” or that the purpose I had doesn’t seem so relevant any more.

      I agree with what you say.

      What troubles me is the idea or feeling that I get caught up in the pursuit or goals.. any goal. An achievement junkie!

      I recognise the importance of purpose, passion and “why” but this still needs to be discovered. And I think it’s time to strip things away and look inwards, rather than add more on the outside.

      Growth, via weeding 😉

      Thanks got your comment Wim!
      Take care

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