My Goal to Get Rid of Goals

A new way to set goals that is more fluid, more thoughtful, and more focused on reflection.

I’ve been trying to find the perfect approach to goal setting for a few years. Every time the new year hits, I’m the kind of guy who spends hours and hours – ok more like days and days – deciding on my perfect set of goals, and a plan around how to execute on them. I really got into this a couple years ago when I introduced a “goals system” into my life. 🤓 I’m happy to report, up until the past month or so, I’ve been pretty committed to this system. Here’s the thing, though… It’s exhausting! And so I began to think to myself, are hitting these goals really helping me become the person I want to become? Or are they just something my overactive perfectionist side cannot cope with failing at? (Spoiler alert: it’s option b)

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve come up with something shiny and new, and much less structured, while hopefully keeping me aligned with what I value most in life. And today, on World Mental Health Day, I’m writing it all down and sharing it out to whoever ends up reading this. Why? For a couple reasons – it’s a good way for me to make sure it all makes sense in my head, while also perhaps giving you bits and pieces to add to your own way of setting goals.

Let’s begin with what I was doing before. Once upon a time, at the beginning of each year, I’d come up with mega goals I wanted to focus on for the whole year. I’d try to make them fun 🕺, although I’m not always the most creative when it comes to catchy names so don’t judge what follows. In 2020 my four were: Dare weight to rise above 175, Eat Less Taste More (I was proud of this one 🤣), Eradicate Anxiety, and Advocate Swift. Then each month I’d pick a sub goal related back to each of these mega goals. For example, the first month I had: join a gym, learn how to make cheese, find a therapist, and go through Combine tutorials (a new Swift framework at the time). Pretty typical goal setting. I would check in on them at the end of the month and give myself a ✅ or ❌. Then at the end of the year, I’d evaluate how many of these goals I actually completed, and usually get real sad by all the goals I missed (I’m half kidding about the sad part). The most exhausting aspect of this whole thing was the dreaded end of the month. I’d do a shit ton of overthinking on goals for next month. My perfectionist side would kick in so we’d (me and Mr. Perfectionist) would argue for hours on what to go with. What would I enjoy? What means something? Is it something I even have time to do? Or… I haven’t the slightest clue and the new month starts tomorrow! 😱🔥 Ultimately I’d just end up coming up with goals that weren’t meaningful. Kinda counter intuitive, right? 🤦‍♂️

So it was time for a change. What really sparked this was one of my four 2021 goals – self compassion. All of what I just wrote about wasn’t very self compassionate. It was this mean judgy personal goal trainer yelling at me at the end of every month (and he was extra mean at the end of the year!). Damn. 😥 I needed some kinder goal trainer. Knowing how I work, though, I still needed something that has a little structure. Some kind of system still. Just saying, “oh I’m going to go out and just be better at x, y, z” wouldn’t work. I envy people who that does work for and if that’s you, do that. But for me, I need to have some structure, some self accountability, some proof almost? 🤷‍♂️

What I ended up landing on is based on this concept of a Level 10 Life, which is based on something introduced in Hal Erod’s Miracle Morning. Don’t let that throw you, though. I know nothing about the book. I only imagine it has something to do with “doing these 25 things before 5am will turn you into the next CEO.” Which I definitely don’t buy into (I also have nothing against per se, just not my can of Pringles). Even when I heard about this Level 10 Life thing from my wife I was a bit skeptical. I was struggling to keep up with four goals, and now there are 10?! Uhhh. 😱 But after I started looking into it some more, I opened up to the idea. And now I’m mostly all in. It’s the basis of what I like to think is having goals without really having goals. My goal to get rid of goals is finally becoming a reality!

Before I get to what it means to not have goals, let me quickly explain, at least my interpretation, of this Level 10 Life thang. You pick ten areas of your life which make you whole (I know… sounds corny… bear with me). The ten areas shouldn’t be all that specific. Just think about it this way: without one of these ten things you’d have a pretty shitty life. Ok, so next you rate each of these areas on where you think you’re at. Lots of people seem to get creative with this. Do a quick Google search and you’ll see all kinds of colorful bar graphs and pie charts and doodles and spirals and whatever elaborate designs. I’m not all that creative when it comes to these things, so I went with a bar graph. But! I’m proud of my emoji and associated color based categories (and of course I’ve defined the hex value for each color so I can make sure it’s the same everywhere 🤓). So here’s what I came up with. You’ll see the ten categories I’ve chosen, and how I rated my current state for each one.

My Level 10 Life Chart

Next step was just to jot some things down in each category I felt I was already doing pretty well, and things I want to do or be better at (I did this before coming up with the rating to help figure out where I fell on each category). The idea here is to get an idea of where I should be focusing my energy over the next month, few months, year (still TBD).

Finally to put this all into place, I migrated these categories to all the apps I use to keep myself organized. I use Things for my todos, so now Things has these ten categories as areas (their term for projects). Tags for my time tracking app. Even on Twitter, I created custom lists around some of these categories. If I’m feeling like I need a little hit of my fun category, I’ll look at my fun Twitter list – no politics, no programming, just silly stuff to make me laugh. As far as self accountability, my plan is to just reflect on progress weekly and monthly by journaling. No more pass/fail. Just a “hey how’s it going” type of thing. Doesn’t that sound much more kind and self compassionate? ❤️

Here’s the thing I’ll leave you with. So much of our life today is dictated by deadlines. Someone always needs something from you by a certain date. Why double down on that nonsense and give yourself more to stress about? I do, however, find value in constantly evaluating if what you’re prioritizing at any given time is what’s most meaningful. But instead of committing to doing four things by the end of the month and/or year, for instance, make it simple. Sure the list might be a bit longer than four concrete goals, but it’s also way more fluid, more thoughtful, and more focused on reflection. It’s ongoing. It’s not black and white. Or put another way, it’s giving yourself a method to stay on track to what matters most in a way that’s both self compassionate and not one more fucking deadline.

Check back for a future post where I plan to nerd out a bit in what apps I use to keep this all organized. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below or reach out on Twitter - would love to hear your thoughts! Oh and most importantly on this World Mental Health Day, do something for yourself or help someone who is struggling 🧠🌎❤️

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