Category Archives: Principles

Goals, Shmoals

Howdy! Pardon me while I clear out the cobwebs in the blogging corner of this site.

Recently I’ve started following the work of James Clear. He seems to be (at least trying to be) a 21st century version of Stephen Covey or maybe John Maxwell. Coincidentally, today I came across this tweet:

This post by James Clear, as you can imagine, talks about the possible overvaluing of goals. As with Brad, I’ve often been uncomfortable with the ever-present concept of goals-setting.

Why is that? I’m not a slouch with no vision for my future. While I am no Covey, Maxwell or Clear, I consider myself to be a very driven, and most of the time, effective person. But to me, the idea of goals has always felt a bit too much like a prison, or more, a chastising schoolmarm. When I think of goals, often my impatience kicks in. I just don’t have time or mental capacity (I am notoriously bad at multitasking) to worry about that possible future which may never materialize.

But I’m no dummy. I recognize you cannot get to where you want to go unless you know where that is.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

a common, but maybe slightly-out-of-context quote by Wayne Gretzky ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Several years ago, a group I was in read the book, “The Principle of the Path: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Andy Stanley. In that book, Andy makes the simple case that the best way to get to that future destination (your “goal”) is to get on the path and start walking. And that at any point, we can look down at our feet. If they are not on the path (or pointing the right direction), then we need to “recalculate”, and get back on the path.

This is my favorite way to look at goals. Because one thing I can definitely do is to take the next step in front of me. And trust that somewhere down the line, I will arrive at my destination. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that I am involved in many things with this same driving principle. My church‘s motto is “helping you take your next step”. The ministry I am heavily involved with, Celebrate Recovery, is a steps-based recovery program with a key motto, “one step at a time”.

Even with with learning new things… about 8 years ago, I started to learn the guitar. My primary encouragement was the comfort in knowing that even though it was harder than I thought it would be, and I was worse (longer) than I thought I would be, if I just kept playing, I could only keep improving until I die. Depending on how long I lived, I might eventually be decent. :)

This definitely also applies to my job and learning new things in programming (Vue/React anyone?). If I just keep writing/reading/doing, I won’t suck at it forever, and eventually, I’ll even be good at it.

And James Clear’s article resonates with that same principle. He states the case that Systems are often more valuable and productive than setting goals.

Because whether you call it systems, habits, or steps,

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Will Durant

But just like the principle of the path, where you need to know where the path should lead, you cannot build a system if you do not know what that system should accomplish. So as much as I dislike setting goals, they are still an integral part to becoming effective. The difference to me is that goals should not be the… goal… but rather a way to orient us on our paths and provide a structure to our systems.

My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the “boss” is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly take the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets “laid off,” nor has to go on a strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted; his kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town and village- in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed, & needed badly- the man who can carry a message to Garcia.

— A Message to Garcia By Elbert Hubbard, 1899 (h/t Brian Richards)