The Upside of Letting Go of Goals

What if I let go of my goals? The very idea of abandoning objectives I set for myself gave me anxiety.

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The Upside of Letting Go of Goals

For as long as I can remember, I’ve pictured my life as a road map with my goals as red-dot destinations. On milestone birthdays, New Year’s and random times of introspection, I take stock and survey my progress from a bird's eye view, overlaying where I am against where I believe I should be. So when I ran across a book, Living without a Goal in a used bookstore I picked it up—laughing at it almost—thinking it'd be a good gag gift for a friend.

As I waited to pay for it, I read the back. Freedom was in all caps and italics. The idea of consciously saying no to a goal seemed so foreign to me, so counter to everything I knew, to everything I've always known, I had to dig in and investigate. 

What if I let go of my goals? The very idea of abandoning objectives I set for myself gave me anxiety.

My heart-racing response gave me all the more reason to muddle through, face my fears, and give it a try.  For two full weeks I went on a goal diet. Whenever I felt the pull to work toward a self-imposed goal, I countered with a life-affirming thought of enjoying the moment. Let life lead me rather than the other way around.

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The first day of trying to live without a goal was like learning to meditate. My mind kept wandering to my old familiar habit of thinking that I needed to be working and then the nagging guilty feeling that I should be doing something else—or in the very least scribbling down a list of what I should be doing.

Goals, I realized, are my go-to. Over the years I had trained myself to be so focused on progress that giving myself a pass, even a temporary one was difficult.

I persevered. It wasn’t easy, but for 14 days I stuck to it. I should explain, for obvious reasons, I kept my work commitments, but all other optional self-imposed goals, I let go.  Here’s how what I learned:

1. I felt better. Once I gave myself permission to truly let go I found myself enjoying the moment. Possibilities opened up. I took longer walks and spent more time with my sons.

2. Now is a beautiful place. It’s easy for me to let my goals and my progress define me. Releasing myself of the pressure to achieve, and the judgement of winning or losing, helped me peacefully discover the beauty of right now.

3. Crazy as it sounds, I was more productive. By focusing on the moment rather than the end result I got more done. It’s as if my structured have-to thinking was interfering with my creativity. Lifting my goal didn’t mean I didn’t work—it just meant I didn’t feel  I had to work and that detail, made all the difference.

4. Goals don’t have to be all or nothing. It’s great to have something to work toward but not at the expense of robbing me of the joy of right now.

Goalless living gave me new perspective. I realized contentment and success aren't wrapped up in my achievements. I can live with intention, focus on the moment and  still follow my passions, appreciating where I am right here, right now.

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