The Problem With Goals

The Problem With Goals

As the new year starts, many people have resolutions or goals that they’ll be working on…at least for a few weeks. The monthly search volume for “Gym Membership” is a perfect example of the fickleness of people’s goals.


The problem with goals
Goals can play an important role in helping us lead purposeful, productive lives, but goals on their own simply aren’t very powerful. We tend to think of them as a sort of magnet that draws us to the prize. This can be true for small goals, but they are almost never strong enough to pull you through the setbacks and dips you experience when pursuing something really meaningful.

Far more powerful than goals are disciplines. Having the goal of weighing a certain amount by a certain date won’t get you anywhere in the long-run; the discipline of changing how you eat/exercise day-after-day will.

1,000 Words
One discipline I’m developing is to write 1,000 words per day. Chris Guillebeau and Nathan Barry have set awesome examples in this discipline and I’m following their lead. Both of those guys have written books, built huge followings, and helped many people by simply committing to write every single day.

Why Writing?
Here are some of the reasons I’m working on writing:

  • The ability to communicate effectively is an incredibly valuable skill-set and practicing it via writing will help me improve
  • Organizing information into cohesive, written thoughts massively increases my ability to learn
  • It would be awesome if my writing could help other people.

Time vs. Word Quota
As I considered how to develop the discipline of writing I debated whether I should focus on the amount of time I spend doing it or the amount of words I put out. There are a couple reasons I ended up going with the word quota.

  • It’s highly trackable  – I can see very clearly whether I followed my commitment or not. Time is a little fuzzy – interruptions, higher or lower productivity at different points of time and a myriad of other factors make it a hard thing to quantify.
  • Better Results – In the past when I budgeted time for writing I would fritter it all away writing a few lines of garbage, deleting them and starting over. Before I knew it all my time was used up and I had barely anything to show for it. Writing one-thousand words forces me to get past writer’s block and actually produce something.

Next Month
I’m using a neat app called Lift to track my progress each day. Next month I’ll publish real data on how I did on my commitment and what kind of impact writing 1,000 words per day is having on my life. Stay tuned!

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4 Comments

  • Another way to look at it is building the right infrastructure to support your goals. A goal is a great way to start, especially if it’s clearly defined, but like you say by itself it won’t do you much good.

    If your goal is to eat some Mac & Cheese, you still need to buy macaroni, cheese and what not. No matter how hungry you are. And if you’ve never made Mac & Cheese before you probably want to find a recipe as well. Finding the recipe, buying the ingredients, figuring out how the oven works, that’s what I’d call building the right infrastructure.

    Building the infrastructure is also about dealing with potential problems down the road. What if you’re sick for a few days and can’t write. You’ll break the chain of writing daily, will this demotivate you? What if you write 900 words, but it’s a really great article, does this still count? What about 2,000 words that hardly make any sense because you lack inspiration that day?

    Don’t leave any loopholes for your future self :)

    By the way, feel free to add me on Lift (@marckohlbrugge). I’m doing a 30-day try out myself. (workout daily)

    • Grant says:

      Great points Marc – thank you so much for writing. What you said rings very true. Stuff will inevitably happen that sets us back (last week I got pretty sick and had to call off my goal for a couple of days). When things do go wrong we need to have the right attitude and systems in place that let us get back on track.

  • Another way to look at it is building the right infrastructure to support your goals. A goal is a great way to start, especially if it’s clearly defined, but like you say by itself it won’t do you much good.

    If your goal is to eat some Mac & Cheese, you still need to buy macaroni, cheese and what not. No matter how hungry you are. And if you’ve never made Mac & Cheese before you probably want to find a recipe as well. Finding the recipe, buying the ingredients, figuring out how the oven works, that’s what I’d call building the right infrastructure.

    Building the infrastructure is also about dealing with potential problems down the road. What if you’re sick for a few days and can’t write. You’ll break the chain of writing daily, will this demotivate you? What if you write 900 words, but it’s a really great article, does this still count? What about 2,000 words that hardly make any sense because you lack inspiration that day?

    Don’t leave any loopholes for your future self :)

    By the way, feel free to add me on Lift (@marckohlbrugge). I’m doing a 30-day try out myself. (workout daily)

    • Grant says:

      Great points Marc – thank you so much for writing. What you said rings very true. Stuff will inevitably happen that sets us back (last week I got pretty sick and had to call off my goal for a couple of days). When things do go wrong we need to have the right attitude and systems in place that let us get back on track.