5 Reasons Leo Babauta is Wrong About Goals (inc. Leo’s Response!)

5 Reasons Leo Babauta is Wrong About Goals (inc. Leo’s Response!)

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“…for the most part.”

Leo Babauta, founder of the popular blog ZenHabits, and I were talking just outside the Portland Art museum where the World Domination Summit was being held when he asked me a favor that he probably has long forgotten by now.

See, Babauta spoke at the conference about 3 main topics: Change Habits – Simplify – Live Without Goals. For the most part, we have all heard and, possibly, implemented the first two. For myself, doing those two actions has drastically changed the course I am on in my life in a positive way as many of you may have read over at The Minimalist Path when I ran that site.

However, that last topic of Living Without Goals is something I have disagreed with Leo for some time. In December 2010, Leo and I went back and forth in the comments section at The Art of Minimalism in an article posted by Mike Donghia titled The Unproductivity Manifesto (comments have since been turned off so we can’t see the conversation) which was followed by Leo with his article Achieving Without Goals (A Must Read!). By the way, I am “the minimalist blogging friend”.

This was extremely tough for me to grasp. I have led my life focused on goals and have been able to achieve much by doing so. In fact, my latest project Destination X is all about achieving a goal thus there is a concentration of focus on a goal. So, when Leo brought this topic up at WDS, I was again having inner struggles as I admire Leo for what he has accomplished, but I am unable to agree with him on such a hard and fast approach he has taken in his life.

By no means do I think Leo is wrong despite the title of this piece. My opinion is that goals are a significant part of life that I feel should be implemented. Do I crave for the mindset of living without goals? Absolutely. I just don’t think it is as much a reality as Leo.

What This Article Will Do For You

I am not hear to discredit Babauta. He is an amazing individual that I aspire to be like in many ways. Not emulate, but follow along a similar path. What this article is meant to do is open your mind to the possibility that having one hundred goals may not be for you, having no goals may not be for you, but having one specific goal to focus all your energy and intentions on may be for you.

In the following, you will find 5 reasons I feel Babauta is wrong about goals. In reality, I am not saying my approach is “more right” than Leo’s. I just know what has worked for me. As it would only be fair, I have asked Leo to add his rebuttal to my thoughts below each reason.

I am not here to tell you I am right or wrong about goals. I want to give you the most comprehensive approach to the notion of goals so that you walk away from this article and start achieving more whether that’s with or without goals.

DISCLAIMER: Leo Babauta is a brilliant individual. Yet, we should all accept that from time to time we may disagree even with those we admire the most. By no means are the following opinions correct. They are just a differing set of opinions to Babauta. As with anything you ever consume, take my opinion and apply where you deem necessary.

1. A goal can teach you how to handle your emotions. At WDS, Leo said that he never has the emotional peaks and valleys that come with setting goals. The first argument against this is that being emotional is not inherently bad. Some of my most connected moments with my inner self have come from being extremely dissatisfied with a result. Feeling dissatisfied with a result has powered me on to achieve MORE. Whereas, I have given up on actions far sooner when I do not tie in the emotional valley that came with original lack of success. The second argument against discounting emotional swings and goals is that I have learned to handle other situations, non-goal related, based on the practice of handling emotions in concurrence with goals. Emotions, happy or sad, are a part of who we are. I feel that a part of the power of emotions would be lost if goals were not included in my life.

Leo’s Response: To clarify, I wasn’t saying that emotional peaks and valleys are bad. I was talking about the emotional rollercoaster of failing at goals, when really it’s unnecessary — if you fail at a goal, it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters most is the doing, and the learning, not whether or not you hit a certain preconceived target. I would agree that learning to deal with emotions is a good thing, but I would argue that you don’t need goals to learn that — we will have emotions even without goals, and learn to deal with those regardless.

2. Focus on a goal can deliver measurable results. Let’s say your basketball coach wants you to be capable of making 75% of shots taken. Your goal is to make at least 75% of your shots because you want to make the team. Sure, you could go out and take basketball shots until your arms fall off, but even then you won’t know how accurate you are if you weren’t setting a goal and measuring said action. If you set a goal of making 75% of all shots unguarded, go out and practice shooting for 2 hours and end up shooting 80% by the end of such training, you wouldn’t need to continue to practice shooting that day as you met your goal. Whereas, if you set no goal shooting percentage, you could be shooting for hours on end and not know if you are meeting the necessary requirement or not. In this case, there is a primary goal of making the basketball team and a secondary goal tied to the primary goal of making 75% of shots taken. Yes, this focus’ more on the data collected from the action, but if the desired goal is not set prior to the action, then you may not be affording yourself the best use of time. In other words, if no measurable statistic was set to make the team, there would be no way of knowing if you are meeting the criteria to achieve said primary goal.

Leo: There are a lot of assumptions to question here. Why is making the team such an important goal in the first place? Why can’t you just enjoy the game of basketball with friends or neighbors? Is one better than the other? Why conform to the arbitrary goal set by the coach? Is making the team that important? Why is tracking your shot percentage and trying to reach an arbitrary number (that’s really a meaningless number, after all) such an important use of your time and energy? Why is tracking your activity and reaching this number a better use of your time than, say, enjoying the game of basketball, or living in the moment while playing?

3. The journey is more appreciated when you set your sights on “Destination X”. In 2008, my number 1 goal was to make it possible for myself to move to Australia. I achieved that goal and left for Australia in early 2009. On the flight over to Sydney, I thought back on all the struggles, sacrifices, and effort I put into the goal and had a new-found appreciation for my own power, my own control, and my own determination. Yes, I could have woken up every day in 2008 thinking about doing whatever I wanted that day. It was a lot more fun and exciting establishing the goal, knowing what I was working towards every day, and finally reaching my “Destination X”.

Leo: I’ve done goals for many years, and I’ve lived (mostly) without them for almost two years. I can say, through my experiments, that living without goals helps you appreciate the journey more, not less. You used the example of moving to Australia … how do you know that this wouldn’t have been achievable or more enjoyable if you hadn’t set goal? The only way to know is to try it, and I have … my experience is that goals make you focus less on the journey and more on the destination.

4. There’s faith that you will achieve a goal by just being and then there’s faith in focused action that you will achieve a goal. Babauta stated that he wakes up every morning and sets no goal for the day. He has faith that he will achieve as much if not more every day by not establishing a goal. I do believe he is right that we don’t just wake up and be slobs just because we don’t have a goal. However, I believe that we can achieve far greater things by establishing a plan of action towards a desired goal. Does this mean I don’t have days where I wake up and change all of my plans in regards to a goal? Absolutely not. By establishing a goal and plan of attack, I am able to come back to such approach following my reprieve from said goal. What this difference comes down to is just a differing outlook on whether more is achieved by doing whatever you feel like that day compared to having a plan of attack entering the day.

Leo: You say you “believe we can achieve far greater things by establishing a plan of action towards a desired goal” … but where is your evidence for that belief? You’ve achieved a lot with goals, and so have I … but I’ve achieved more without goals. It’s concrete evidence for my belief, but most people haven’t gathered the evidence for their belief in goals because they’ve never tried living for very long without them. I don’t just do whatever I feel like each day … I do what I’m most passionate about, and what’s in line with my values … which is a big difference. I end up working passionately, with focus and energy and motivation, rather than trying to get through a preconceived plan of action (that doesn’t take into account the changing situation) to get to an arbitrary goal that really is a meaningless number or predetermined destination. Why is that number or destination better than where I end up when I do what I’m passionate about?

5. A community is far likelier to back a goal than a way of life. Here I go, spouting a non-measurable statistic. I know, I know. This premise is simply built on my previous experience. When I told people I was saving for Australia, they opted to influence my choices and circumstances that assisted in my goal completion. Prior to 2008, when I would state, “I want to move to Australia,” those around me said, “That’s cool,” and would follow my highly influencing unproductive decision making. If I were in Leo’s footsteps, I think people would love my way of life, but rarely help me continue such way of life as they have no foundation for what ways they may impede or promote such way of life. Will there be people who appreciate such lack of goal focus as a way of life? Sure. However, I can not see them furthering my way of life unless i provide concrete examples (goals) that they can assist me with.

Leo: It’s amazing how much people have furthered my way of life without my having to have goals. People contribute to my life all the time, and I’m deeply grateful for that. But honestly, I don’t feel it’s important to have goals just to get people to help you with those goals — it’s been far better for me to try to help others in their lives, and forget about my goals — and in return, I get much more from others. At least, that’s been my experience. I don’t ask you to take my word for it — I suggest anyone who’d like to find the truth should actually try both methods and see what works for them.

______________

I cannot state enough that these are just my takeaways and opinions from this intellectual debate I have had with Leo. Just because we disagree on approach, does not mean we disrespect or dislike the other for differing minds. Through debates like these, we further our lives towards that which we so desire. If we choose not to debate, disagree, agree, discuss, we choose not to fulfill the dreams we so have.

At the beginning of this article, I stated a quote from Leo at the ZenHabits Meetup which followed his speech. “…for the most part.” This was Leo’s response to my question as to whether actions/choices like quitting smoking or losing weight were a goal. I came away thinking that Leo may not be as strongly against goals as much as he is just trying to bring about a differing perspective to goals. Whether I am right or wrong should not matter. What should matter is that the conventional approach to anything, including goals, may not be the proper approach. Question all and test everything for you may not truly know what approach is right for you.

104 Responses to 5 Reasons Leo Babauta is Wrong About Goals (inc. Leo’s Response!)

  1. Mark says:

    Great dialogue.

    I have this wacky belief that “goals have been set for me,” and I kind of walk into them. I don’t know if this is the most efficient way to live.

    With an obsessive mind, I am much happier when I take active interest in the lives of others. This gets to be annoying for my friends, but I love living without too much regard to my own path.

    Perhaps I’ll set a goal for goal-setting this summer. Thanks for the inspirator.

    • David says:

      Hey Mark—

      Glad I could be of some inspiration to you.

      I believe the dialogue Leo and I set shows that there is no right or wrong. In fact, I hope you and every other reader takes that thought away as well.

      Thanks for sharing and hope you continue to follow!

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

    • Hi Mark,

      what an interesting thought: “I have this wacky belief that “goals have been set for me,” and I kind of walk into them.”

      So in your concept we do have the openness for the next goals coming up included. And then naturally a path leading to and through them… I like that. Maybe your version is able to marry the best of the goal + the non-goal-approach like this “Trust in the right goals coming up for you. Don’t overly adhere to old goals, be open for new ones. And let them be your direction signs on the way.”
      Thanx for the inspiration to the 3 of you ß sunny greets from Bonn!

    • Katie says:

      I am intrigued by this idea of “goals have been set for me.” When I read that I think of goals having been set for me by other people–society, friends, family members. (Would love to know what that says about me!) And all the goals that are set and I don’t want, such as the typical go to school, get a 9-5 job, get a place of your own, get married, have kids, etc. To me those are goals that I chafe against; I don’t want other people setting goals for me, setting benchmarks that I have to meet.
      But I get the impression you are talking about goals you actually want to meet, and the idea that by living life and being open to new things we can walk into goals that are “good” for us. That is an interesting idea. Thanks for that one, I will have to take that into consideration.

  2. Nice debate, David, and I’m glad you had Leo weigh in with his responses.

    I definitely get his “don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it” point. I often feel like saying the same thing when people tell me that a plant-based is unhealthy: “Hey, I’ve tried it both ways, and plant-based works better for me. You’ve only tried it one way. How do you know that it’s best for you?”

    But I too have reservations about going goalless. I love life experiments so I’ll probably end up trying to live without goals at some point, but I suspect you need to have a solid foundation before you can do that. Leo mentioned at WDS that he worked his ass off that first year trying to get Zen Habits off the ground. I wonder if he would have had the same success early on without goals?

    As such, I’m inclined to believe that a life without goals is a luxury of the rich and famous. I could of course be wrong, but I’m not willing to find out by giving up goals while I’m still trying to “make it” myself.

  3. David – what a fabulous article. Great idea, gutsy, good topic – and something I was thinking about too, during the conference. Kudos to you for tackling the question and asking REALLY GOOD questions about what it means to have goals.

    I think ‘goals’ can be both good and bad; depending on your attitude, objectives, and the path you set out to take when you want to achieve them. If it’s all about achievement or end products, then we’re missing the point. If it’s about the journey, and a goal helps you get there (especically small goals), I’m all for them.

    GREAT discussion! Love this!

    • David says:

      Hey Sarah –

      I feel the same as you. Just because you set a goal, doesn’t mean you automatically stop thinking about the journey. Do some people (including myself) at times? Sure, but I tend to enjoy the journey as well.

      Whichever way you choose, just realize that if one way is not making you happy, there are a billion other approaches to take as well.

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  4. [...] discussion on this topic: 5 Reasons Leo Babauta is Wrong About Goals — [...]

  5. Maria Brophy says:

    This is the best article I’ve read in a long time – thank you!

    I’ve been following Leo’s writings, and I was perplexed about his belief in living without goals, until now.

    Now it is apparent to me – Leo is living at a higher level than most. That’s why he’s able to do this. I’m not quite there yet, I still need goals to ground me, keep me pointed in the right direction. Otherwise, I start walking around in circles, confused, and accomplishing nothing that makes me feel good.

    Thanks for an insightful, brilliant read!

    • David says:

      Hey Maria—

      I am glad you enjoyed this discussion and two differing perspectives.

      I think I fall somewhere in between you and Leo. I focus on one goal while most focus on many.

      By no means is Leo wrong. The title of this article has caught some ire, but it’s intentions was to catch the readers eye and then delve into the topic.

      I am trying to implement more of leo’s approach to goals. Time will tell if his approach or my current approach is right for me in the long haul.

      Hope you stay a reader!

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  6. Leo says:

    Hi Maria … actually, anyone can live without goals. They just have to give it a try. It’s a scary and weird thing, I admit, but very liberating, and very powerful. It’s possible to achieve more without them — something I didn’t think was possible until I tried. You don’t have to be at a higher level to try it — just drop your goals for a day or two and see what happens!

    • David says:

      Testing is the key to any and everything.

      I plan to do more of this with(out) goals soon.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Leo!

      I greatly appreciate everything you do.

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

    • Ralf says:

      Sorry, Leo, I’ve followed your writings for a while and mostly enjoy them. But here I disagree. It depends a lot on what you do for a living whether you can afford to live without goals. Working in a company or even self-employed offering services, there’s no reasonable way to do without goals. My clients want to know what I am going to deliver, and when. If I just say “something, someday”, I’m out of business. Very few clients who would accept that.
      As a free writer, of course you don’t need goals. Most other people do.
      I don’t find goals limiting either. The art lies in setting the right goals in the right way. Then goals are actually liberating and empowering.

      • Jim says:

        Ralf- Your comment is on target. I think the key component of this great converstion is in the space where where the arts and creatvity are symbiotic with science and technology. The Booklyn Bridge was not built by a crew of people who were passionate about risking their lives or puting a brick on top of another brick. It was built by people who’s number one goal was to feed their families and make their lives better. We need “Leos,” but we can’t all be “Leos.” Thank goodness we have the visonarys/philosophers. Thank goodness we have the builders.

        • Reuben says:

          Gentlemen,

          I agree whole-heartedly. I’ve read both articles and tried to understand Leo’s point of view. He has been an inspiration to me in a lot of ways, so I want to agree or at least understand, but can’t on this issue. I’m a Soldier and I couldn’t imagine not setting goals for myself or subordinates to reach. I’ve given this a lot of thought, probably too much, but I won’t be going “goalless.” Short-term goals, near-term goals and long-term goals are proven measuring sticks for success. That is very important in my book. I don’t think anyone wants members of the Armed Forces experimenting by dropping what we know works for something that “how do you know that this wouldn’t have been achievable or more enjoyable if you hadn’t set goal?” approach.

          David, I thoroughly enjoyed your post! I’ll be following you from here forward!

          Thanks,
          Reuben
          Just Keep Soldiering

    • Madhu says:

      Hi Leo..

      If I just drop goals for a week or two, I end up the whole house to look dusty, and I have not given proper attention to anyone(including me). I stay lazy… I just sleep or read some books…

      What do you call this state of mind?

      Isn’t living to the moment itself a goal?

      Hi David,
      Nice post..

      Please share both your views and clarify my doubts…

      • Liane says:

        If your body needs sleep, sleep.
        If reading fascinates you, inspires you…read.

        And who cares if the house is dusty. You will not be remembered for the most dust free house…

        :-)

    • kay says:

      Hi Leo

      I like your out of the box rationale and it helps that you’re nice to look at….

      I agree with both you and Dave. Its important to have at least a guiding path to the destination even though they may be detours along the way that can get you there faster and with better sceneries.
      I’ve often resolved to start my detox on a Saturday but would end up in the mountains at the tea plantation for their delicious coffee, cake and quiche. My most spiritual moments have occured at this time when I’m able to be at one with nature and God.
      As Siddartha himself espoused, balance and the middle way is the only route to success.

      Kay

    • Doug says:

      Yes, anyone can live without goals. In fact most people live without a clear guiding goal.

      In today’s world of distractions and powerful tide of sales pitches, keeping focus is difficult. To go with the flow is the norm. A goal serves as a lighthouse, giving many of us a chance to find our our path.

      Leo, you have simplified your life, clearly articulated your outlook and have refined your sense-of-self. A goal is a tool that you no longer have a use for. A goal may still be a powerful tool for someone else. It is a matter of individual needs and skills.

  7. Steve says:

    Leo’s been losing me lately. He’s really bent around the axle about the concept of “control,” by which he appears to mean “absolute control.” Absolute control can be a useful abstract concept, but it’s not something that occurs in reality. What we have is “influence,” to varying degrees. Yes, Leo, I can have a goal to walk across the room and get hit by a meteorite. Look, control is an illusion! How about I actually make it across the room? Look, the illusion of control is an illusion! There is value in not being a single-minded slave to long-term goals, but you can’t wish or define them away. One last thing: I thought the last two paragraphs of “The Illusion of Control” were atypically condescending. “If you can’t accept this way of living, that’s OK — many people live their lives with the illusion of control, and not realizing what it is that makes them unhappy or frustrated isn’t the worst thing ever.” Someone beside’s Leo’s friend should take his allegedly goal-less goal to task. the room? Look, the illusion of control is an illusion! There is value in not being a slave to goals, but you can’t wish them away. We’re not pinballs.

    • David says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Steve.

      I guess my only way to counter your thoughts is to say that Leo knows he is powerless in the grand scheme of things. However, he decides to control his destiny as best he can. For him, waking up in the morning and doing whatever he loves or wants is as much control as anyone truly has.

      This may be better for Leo to respond to so I hope he does.

      Thanks again Steve

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

      • Steve says:

        David,

        See, it’s responses like yours that make me go back and make sure I wasn’t being a total jerk. ;-) Anyway, see Alan Allard’s response below for amplification of what I was trying to get at (and there’s much more). I think Leo’s articles on goal-lessness need serious deconstruction. He has something worthwhile to say, but he is not saying it. Respectfully, I would say that you both would benefit from “checking your premises,” starting with the root meanings of words like “powerless,” “grand scheme of things,” “control” and “destiny” and working your way up from there. To me, it sounds like my powerlessness in the grand scheme takes us back to the meteorite. I don’t think there’s a grand scheme, just a continuum of influence we have over the world we live in, limited by incomplete knowledge. I realize we’re on a journey with Leo, greeting each new experience with wonder and excitement, but not mastery or long-term experience. I look forward to more humility in his posts and to checking out your website.

    • Leo says:

      Hi Steve … thanks for your thoughts. I have to admit I don’t have all the answers, but it’s something I’m exploring.

      You talk about not having absolute control, but degrees of influence. It sounds like we’re on the same page. I agree that we have varying degrees of influence — but we don’t control how that influence works. We just try to do our best, based on our values, and the influence will happen in ways we can’t control or predict.

      I appreciate your criticism. It’s necessary to question things. I hope you’ll keep an open mind as this discussion continues, as I think it’s a useful one.

  8. I am a wellness coach and it’s a lot about goal setting.

    But, I see people shirking their goals, even small ones they set themselves. So we talk about getting excited about something. Even that can become difficult.

    In one way, having no goals is liberating. It removes accountability toward a set course of action and allows you to go with the flow of life, encountering things perhaps in a more open way than if you live within the structure of a goal framework.

    However, I have been caused to wonder….isn’t wanting something – anything – having a ‘loose’ goal? Even wanting to just be…..?

    • David says:

      Hey Melanie—

      I brought this up to Leo at the conference. I said, “Well, if I wanted to quit smoking, wouldn’t that be a goal?” He looked at it way differently as most of us do. Instead of focusing on stopping the action, he focused on the trigger. If you woke up every morning and just did what was best for your life, you would weed out the aspects that weren’t. Is it a “loose” goal? I guess you can look at it that way. Leo focus’ more on the act of setting and approaching a goal rather different.

      I don’t know if that cleared anything up, but it’s definitely not an easy subject to approach, but definitely an interesting one.

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

    • Leo says:

      Hi Melanie … isn’t wanting something a type of goal? Sure. I don’t claim to have rid myself of desires. What I’m learning to do is let go of the fixation on the destination, and let the destination be almost a side-product of values and passion-based action.

      I don’t know if I’ll ever rid myself of desires. It’s not even something I care about. What I have been doing is observing my desires, and often letting them go when they arise. It’s a fascinating process to observe.

  9. Steve says:

    Sorry, everthing past “…goal to task.” should have been edited out.

  10. According to this theory game goals provide a sense of direction and set up the challenges that the players face… However the last few decades have seen many things described as games that either do not have goals or have goals that are optional for the player Sims 2 Maxis 2004 has no stated goals but is nevertheless extremely popular.

  11. Michael says:

    I believe that this discussion is pointing to the essence – that balance is best. I live my life with some over-arching goals, and I practice non-attachment to them, which allows me to live flexibly in the moment, but still have a sense of perspective or “trajectory” about my life. In the micro, I like to make a list of things to do, for a given day, and genenrally, it is accepted that I will accomplish about 50% of the items on my list – maybe more, maybe less. Without the list, I feel like I miss the opportunity to focus my energy and increase my overall well-being by utilizing my time efficiently – which provides me with some vast luxuries of freedom – I get to spend more time doing nothing, visiting with friends, walking my dog, riding my bike, meditating, when I have tended squarely to the practicalties of life. that is just the reality, and it feels pretty good to me. Thank you for all of the comments.

    • David says:

      Hey Michael–

      My assumption (NEVER ASSUME!) is that Leo would respond with this…

      Instead of writing a list, wake up and focus your actions on doing things you love. You will accomplish more than you think.

      Back to my opinion: I believe list building and goal building are great ways to approach life. I can’t say whats right for you, but if you haven’t tried leo’s approach of focusing on living a purposeful life with no goals, I suggest you try it out. I know that is what my intention is.

      None of us are right or wrong. We are just here to share experience.

      Thanks for your thoughts…they are appreciated!

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

    • Penny says:

      michael, i really resonate with what you said…im all about doing and building and creating things, but on a deeper level, its not that i dont care, just a deeper part of me is pretty unattached to whether something is a success or not. the real peace and moments of connection just happen, often when nothing is happening. but that doesnt mean, “dont do”, by all means “do”
      just do and let it go

  12. Flippy says:

    Leo, in the above mentioned post writes: “…I have no goals for each day.” This sets the theme for the remainder of Leo’s post and the dialog here. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Leo’s focus on being in the moment and searching for activities that align with his passion. There’s one problem however. I have adapted a version of Leo’s let-go-of-the-goals lifestyle, except mine is let-go-of-the-obsessive-focus-on-goals.

    Here’s an example. I try to rise on a Saturday without a bursting to-do list. However, I DO have a list. It’s just that I don’t get too worked up if I don’t accomplish everything on it. I try to do whatever I can to advance my agenda without sacrificing being “in-the-moment”.

    Ancient wisdom counsels against Leo’s lack of goals (plans).

    Socrates (469-399 BC) famously said: “an unexamined life is not worth living”

    Socrates’ student Aristotle (384-322-BC) famously said in sequitorum: “an unplanned life is not worth examining”

    From that perspective, even Leo’s goal-less life is, in itself, a goal of sorts – to achieve a kind of release of clinging to outcomes, which is a little different from abandoning goals.

  13. Suresh says:

    in my mind – the good thing about goals is that it helps us to understand distractions when they arise..and helps us to achieve our desires/needs.

    the other interesting aspect is that we are afraid we will fritter away time if we don’t have goals and not accomplish anything. This is the Fear that we are facing whenever some one says don’t have goals :)

    either way, awareness and gentle love towards oneself is the key!

  14. Alan Allard says:

    I came to this post after reading Leo’s “Living With Chaos.” Maybe I’m missing something here, but it seems to me Leo isn’t living without goals, he’s doing his best to be flexible with the short term goals he set.

    Leo set a goal to go to Guam for a specific period of time, for a specific reason (family.) He set a goal to find a place to stay the first two weeks and he achieved that. He set a goal to visit family and friends.

    Leo said when he wakes up he has no goal, but then immediately said he had obligations for the day that were for the most part enjoyable. Calling something an obligation doesn’t mean it’s not a goal, an intent, something we plan to do.

    Having an open mind as to how I might alter my course along the journey is being flexible; it’s not “living without goals.” If I plan to write a blog post tomorrow that’s a goal even if I enjoy writing. If I say, “I’m going to write a blog post and I have a topic in mind, but maybe when I’m into it something entirely different will capture my attention and I’ll go in a different direction,” I’ve set a goal and also planned (set a goal) to be flexible in the process.

    I can quit using the word “goals” and use words like “obligations” or whatever, but why?

    Again, am I missing something here?

    • Leo says:

      Hi Alan … to be honest, I’m still weaning myself of the short-term goals. I have no long-term goals, which has been very useful, but short-term goals (like what I’m going to do today) have usually appeared in one form or another. I’ve been letting go of some of those too, but am not sure if they will ever completely disappear. Maybe not. I’m enjoying the experimentation process.

      I’ve gotten rid of even the short-term goals to a large degree. My days used to be more structured, but they mostly aren’t anymore.

      Guam was a goal, sure, but that was mostly a compromise as my wife and kids wanted to go to Guam (I didn’t care one way or the other) and so I went along with their goal. I have to compromise, living with others, and I’m OK with that. If they want to go to the movies, I go with them. If they want to go to the beach, I go. None of those were my goals, but one manifestation of my value of compassion is to try to make my family happy.

  15. Lee says:

    Very wonderful article and followup. I came here from Zen Habits and will continue to follow your site.

    I’ve been going back and forth on goals as well and here is where I’m at right now:

    Goals are most useful when they give you long-term direction in your life. For example, I want to master playing the violin is one of my goals. Now, I fully realize that I will never master (is this even possible?) playing the violin but that in setting this goal, I’m essentially setting a priority for my life.

    Or, for instance, my goal is to live with compassion. This isn’t about achieving some kind of arbitrary goal, it’s about giving direction to change in your life.

    It’s a bit confusing and I’m still having trouble putting the idea into words, but very basically I feel that goals are useful in giving direction so that you’re enjoying a path you want to be walking rather than just wandering around. Leo, whether he realizes it or not, has that direction already in his passion. For those of use who don’t, however, goals can be a useful way to give ourselves a path to walk on.

    • Leo says:

      Hi Lee … it’s an interesting thought, that I have direction but I don’t know it. I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s something I’ll give some thought to. My passion seems to go in different directions, and I’ve been paying close attention to that process as it happens. I think I have a pretty good awareness of that, and the awareness has turned out to be more important than actually having a direction.

      A concrete example: my site, Zen Habits, has no goal or direction right now. I don’t know where it’s going, nor do I know what I’ll write about tomorrow. That’s scary, but I’m OK with it. My upcoming posts will probably seem to have the same direction as previous posts, simply because I’m writing based on the values I’ve been developing. The values are what give my passion the appearance of direction.

      • Nicola says:

        Leo

        I just followed this from Zen Habits and love this particular response of yours.

        Awareness and values are my connection to who I really am and understanding that for me was the ultimate goal (although I wasn’t aware of that consciously) now i’m free to live life fully – guided by my awareness and values – and with trust that I will do whatever needs to be done to contribute to the collective, creative evolution that we humans “do”. I am not setting arbitrary, ego-based goals for my life, but just being in the flow of my tributary of the River of Life.

        Thank you for this confirmation and inspiration today.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Leo,

        Thank you for your excellent response. I’m very interested in your value-based direction as opposed to my goal-based direction.

        This is an idea that I will be contemplate and experiment with. Hendrik’s comment below is another idea I’ve considered before and it would be great to see you address it.

        In any case, I’m not quite sure what to do with goals yet but as I keep writing and exploring perhaps something will come up, or not.

  16. Nick Rowney says:

    So here’s the thing. No one thing suits anybody, at best we are made up of lots of things.. resilience, emotional baggage, life experiences, confidence. So many complicated facets that to simply state do this or that misses the point.

    I have spent my life living life to its fullest taking risks making mistakes and learning through doing. I don’t believe for a moment that a risk averse person could live let alone enjoy my life style….some people just NEED goals.

  17. I think there is a different “dimension” to “goal setting” that I haven’t seen explored yet:

    What if goal setting is just a “novice skill level” version (As in the dryfus model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_model_of_skill_acquisition) of the way of life that Leo is promoting?

    What if it is necessary to start with goal setting to reach a point where you don’t need goals and it all comes naturally?

    If you look at it this way even Leo’s older posts that he now disagrees with himself make perfect sense. First you set goals, follow then rigidly and later on you don’t need that because you’ve internalized all that. You can do want you want, be happy and still get stuff done.

    Using this mental model of goal setting/way of live I think it is rather dangerous to say “let’s all live without goals. This is the way to go! Start today.”.

    It’s like saying to a novice cook: “Just use the right amount of Fugu, it’ll be alright.” – No it won’t. It will kill people. The novice needs “use no more than 1 by 2 inces of meat”.

    The expert chef, on the other hand, will know exactly how much Fugu she can use without measuring anything to create a fantastic meal. She won’t harm anyone.

    Novices need exact plans. Goals. Easy to follow advice. Step by step instructions.

    Living “Day by day” and doing just the things you like is fine when you reached a level of comfort where you can do that. Giving this advice to a person who tries to get their life together can be harmful.

    It all depends on context and on experience. I think goals are valuable but they shouldn’t be the only valuable thing. If you get better at setting and reaching goals, you realize that goals are just scaffolding. They help you but in the end you don’t need them. You can still use them and get a bonus “kick” if you reach them. But the experience itself – the journey – is the valuable thing.

    Hendrik

    • Jess says:

      This view of this whole discussion really resonates with me. As a researcher, I work everyday in an environment where it’s largely up to me how I approach my projects. When I first started, I felt like I needed to have an exact list of tasks each day that helped me work towards the completion of whichever project that I was working on. I felt like I needed to know what the end product would be and if I didn’t have that list of tasks, I felt completely lost. Over time, I became more and more comfortable with researching and developing new ideas. Eventually I just stopped making the task lists because they weren’t necessary anymore. Each project that I work on still has an overarching “goal” in the sense that I understand what need motivates the project and that dictates the direction that the project is intended to move in. But the specifics of the research and the end goal I leave free and open, goal-less if you will. As long as I have an understanding of the underlying motivation for the project, I no longer need the goals to keep on track. But it took several years to come to a place where I was able operate like that. It’s a learned behavior that took time to cultivate.

    • Leo says:

      Hi Hendrick … actually a lot of people have proposed this idea to me, that you have to start with goals. The thing is, I think most people already have, as it’s ingrained in us since childhood.

      I’m not sure what the danger is in suggesting people give the no-goal approach a try. It’s an experiment — try it for a few days, and if you don’t like it, go back to having goals. No real risk. I’m not saying my method will work for everyone. I’m saying it’s an alternative that works for me, and that it’s worth taking a closer look at the hard-and-fast ideas we have about goals. If we all accept the ingrained ideas about goals, we will never try anything else.

      Do you need to start with goals and then progress beyond them? I don’t see why that should be true. If you start with values, awareness and passion, you will get things done — just perhaps not the same things you thought would get done. People who love what they’re doing will never sit around doing nothing. We’re too excited to be useless. :)

  18. Ken Morgan says:

    I think the idea of not setting goals is itself an illusion, just as much as control may be an illusion. Leo is actually setting a goal for himself of “not setting goals”. It’s just as much a goal as any other goal. If he didn’t have that goal, he wouldn’t be concerned about setting goals for himself.

    Short term goals are also just as much goals even if they are made minute by minute. I don’t think anyone can get away from them. Even to plan an article like this one is a goal.

    A more important concept in my view than not setting goals is the yoga concept of nishkam karma which means “an action performed without any expectation of fruits or results”. Goals themselves aren’t a problem if they are lightly held and you aren’t attached to any particular result.

  19. Some of what I see in the article and what others are getting close to is this: it is not setting a goal and failing to reach it that is the problem, it is being attached to the outcome and letting our emotions be dictated by that attachment. Of course we have no absolute control, but we can, and do, influence the outcome and results of whatever we are involved in.

    When I recently started running, my goal was to go the length of the runway (10,000 feet). I quickly found that looking at the end of the runway, which never seemed to get any closer, did not work for me. I changed my focus to watching just ahead of each step, awareness of where I am and what I am doing at each moment. The end of the runway arrived, eventually. But even if I did not make the distance, my goal shifted from the long view to the immediate view. Watch what I am doing each step, and the end results will be there when I get there.

    And I am more satisfied with each step along the way.

  20. Glen says:

    Goals, shmoles. lol. It’s not about setting goals or not setting goals, the latter being especially difficult to defend, it’s about how you react to goals, and life. The river has a goal of getting to the salty ocean. All rivers of the world flow toward salt water. If someone scoops up a cup for a drink the river is happy to help. It will still get there but it will take a little longer. If you see the universe as one then goals become irrelevant. It is the direction that you are going but what you do at this moment is what is important. Those without goals still have goals they just want to pick and choose which one they follow. Do those without goals not pick the children up at school this afternoon? Of course they do they just pick and choose which goals they will follow, and by the way, usually they have to depend on the rest of us goal oriented people to pick up their ass in the name of being goal-less. lol. Being stuck to a goal… well I don’t really have to explain why that’s bad. Set goals, don’t set goals it’s up to you. What really matters is what is in your heart. God gives your mother a gift, a goal, at the moment of your birth and she passes it on to you. It is to live a long healthy and happy life. We don’t all make it but it is what we do on the way that matters. Even the little children that only live a few minutes teach us the great lesson of impermanence. So smile. Don’t worry so much about goals and don’t forget to pick up the kids at school. lol.

    • David says:

      Hey Glen—

      Thanks for your opinion.

      I think Leo defending his approach isn’t difficult because he has tested it. If you had tested the same approach and had differing results then definitely share those.

      Later in your comment, you hit the nail on the head in regards to “…it is what we do on the way that matters.” I think that is what Leo is trying to stress to us all.

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  21. [...] discussion on this topic: 5 Reasons Leo Babauta is Wrong About Goals — Tweet bike tour, control, going with the flow, illusion, moment, plane ticket, time, [...]

  22. Conor says:

    Hmmmm… such well argued defences for goals.

    Seems to me no one is mentioning the obvious: living without goals looks scary. Fear stops you doing it, even when its cleverly disguised as well reasoned argument, e.g. “its not going to work”. This despite people saying they’re benefitting from it.

    So if its not going to work, theres nothing to lose. Try it for a week, a day or just the next hour and see why people like it and if its for you (don’t speculate on this).

    Be open to the unexpected, the different.
    Its the stuff youre not expecting that brings unforeseen benefit to your life. Like being told you have cancer. Trust me on this one :-)

    • David says:

      Great point Conor!

      I think we are scared of most things that will make us happy.

      When I put in my leave from my 9-5 to move to Aussie, I was happy but definitely scared. It ended up being the best decision of my life. The same goes with many of the other great things in my life. I approached what was scary and came out on the other side extremely happy.

      I definitely am going to try to implement Leo’s approach more, but it will take some time.

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  23. GJL says:

    I like goals.

    Without goals I wouldn’t have worked as hard in my final year of school to get the marks I needed to get into the degree that I love. My friends who had no clue what they wanted to do didn’t work as hard and their marks suffered. Because of this they didn’t get into degrees they had the slightest bit of interest in.

    I’m not saying that having goals and achieving them will make everyone happy, but with goals I achieved my idea of success and it has made me happy.

    • David says:

      Hey GJL –

      I agree with you a lot. That’s why it is so tough for me to implement Leo’s approach. Goals have been good to me so why leave them?

      I think testing is important too though so I am going to test Leo’s approach as well.

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  24. YarnBomber says:

    Awesome article! Great discussion. Thanks to Leo for linking me over here. “If everyone thinks alike then someone isn’t thinking”

    I have to take the Middle Path here. I have to have some structure, but not too much. Today I’m sitting with a cup of coffee and the back of an old envelope trying to figure out what I need/want to do today. It looks like YOGA, KITCHEN, RENT, NAP, WORK@6:30, not necessarily in that order. I may or may not finish cleaning the kitchen, but this is just enough (for me) to keep critical things on the radar, and get me up and moving. I usually get more done than was on my list, but sometimes life forces a detour. I just realized that that may be the reason I write it in pencil.

    It also helps to be able to see that you crossed SOMETHING off the list. It especially helps when I’ve had a hard day.

    Your mileage may vary. Do what works and feels good. I know a lady who has her old Franklin planners neatly filed going back about twenty years. All the goals are meticulously checked off. Definitely not my style, but it works for her. Go with your nature.

    • David says:

      Great thoughts!

      Go with YOUR flow…not with THE flow.

      Though I am going to test Leo’s approach, I think everyone is different and that is okay. How we live happy lives differs on many levels inc. goals.

      Thanks!

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  25. Whispering Winds says:

    Thanks Dave for writing this great article. I really like the perspective that you gave here. One counter on point no. 2 though. If you have a well defined goal, you will most likely stop when you reach it. If your coach says 75% and you go with that, you’ve just reinforced the status quo. Since when is 75% good enough? By not having goals, you will less likely become complacent.

    Goals are typically about what you are going try to make happen. Being “goalless” is (to me) instead about who you want to become. That might be a more compassionate person, a more fit person, or a more independent person. That desire is then what motivates you and brings you to action.

    • David says:

      To Whispering Winds—

      Thanks for sharing!

      I believe that, in my example, 75% is a secondary goal that leads to the primary goal (making the team) which makes me happy. The status quo is a tough argument here because my goal is to make the team. Yes, that is a societal standard, but for me to achieve this goal, I have to comply to a part of society. Complying to a part of society is not bad as long as you maintain control over your decision to be a part of that likeness or not. Its when you are only accomplish the goals of others that status quo becomes a negative aspect.

      Just my thoughts :)

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  26. Christopher says:

    I think what Leo is trying to espouse is the concept of Effortless Action (wu wei) from the Tao te Ching.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei

    I have tried to live that tenet for 20 years now. It’s tough when you work for someone else and they expect you to get results. But the idea that works for me is that I know what has to get done at work, but I don’t follow a checklist and schedule – I act when it just seems like the time is right.

    • Leo says:

      Hi Christopher … you’re exactly right. The principles I talk about are mostly from Taoism (and partly Zen). And yes, dealing with others who expect results is the challenge. :)

  27. Ash says:

    Brilliant! It is great to see two conflicting beliefs go to head to head in a friendly manner. Oh and great articles by the both of you. But as with many others I am going to have to agree with David instead of Leo (ahh, it feels so bad to disagree with you Leo. Love your work though!) I believe that there is a neccessity in our lives for some sort of goal. I think that we should all have an ultimate goal just like the Buddhist monks to, their’s being nirvana or enlightenment. My main goal in life is simply “to be happy, and to help others be happy.” I follow this goal (or purpose) with the help of other little goals along the way. And this works brilliantly for me.

    The best example of a goalless life that I can think of off the top of my head is Christoper McCandless (into the wild.) Although this amazing person did have a few goals along the way, the majority of his life seems to have been spent – winging it. And I believe he was very happy because of it.

    Basically though, it boils down to, as most things to – personal choice. Everyone of us is different, something that works for somebody will not work for another. It is up to us to make the choice, and I thank Leo for showing us another path!

    • Leo says:

      Hi Ash … I love your goal of being happy, and helping others to be happy. What if you considered this a guiding value, instead of a goal? How would that change things? What if you didn’t focus on that as a destination, but as a principle that helps guide your actions in the moment? That’s what I’m learning to do.

      • Ash says:

        Thanks for the reply, this really clarifies your other posts for me. I think that living by a core principle that guides your actions is beautiful. That being said, I can understand others reactions. It is not as they say the ‘norm,’ and leads to a different life. One of passion and true belief in the values that you hold.

        I respect and wish you and others who are choosing to attempt this new way of life the best, and may just have too dip my own toes in the water of this as well.

        Live in the moment, guided by your values. This is the best food for thought that I have had in a while.

        • David says:

          Ash & Leo –

          I believe values can and are still implemented in my approach pre-during-post goals. I know you are not questioning that, but I feel that a goal still exists just in our basic positive, forward thinking existence. Am I saying you have SET goals Leo? Definitely not purposefully. However, my belief of what a goal is just differs. That’s cool. Just different idea of what a goal truly is.

          I guess what I am trying to say is that just because we don’t say the sky is blue doesn’t mean it isn’t blue. It may still be blue despite our idea of what blue is. With that said, there could also be the argument that blue is just a figment of our societal teachings and in all actuality blue is only what connotation we have set for it.

          David Damron
          Life Excursion

  28. Matt Thomson says:

    Very interesting article. I really enjoy Leo’s Zen Habits articles too.

    My feeling is that goals have their place where there are specific things that actually are in fact about the destination. I don’t think there has to be an all-or-nothing approach to the goals debate nor to the destination/journey debate. I suspect it’s about finding the right balance. Perhaps when people become overly preoccupied with all kinds of destinations it becomes valuable to let go of all those goals and just live, and I think this is mostly the way to go. I have in fact lived without goals for most of my life and I’m fine and in some ways I’ve achieved quite a lot. However in many ways I’m very unsatisfied with where I am in my life. For example I am in debt with no assets and I feel stuck in a business that I don’t enjoy and am in many ways I feel very restricted. Lately I’ve been thinking that I’ve neglected goals too much and I am starting to get excited about the possibilities and how my life could be freed up just by achieving certain specific things related to my debts and business. It seems that these things aren’t just going to fix themselves and that a bit of focus on those points of destination will be the key – to freeing me from some of the chains that hold me down.

    The other thing that I think is relevant is the idea of momentum. Momentum is often better than goals in that instead of restricting your destination to one specific arbitrary target you allow the sky to be your limit and the world to be your oyster. Apart from being an IT professional I’m also an actor and I think that acting is an area where momentum and enjoying what you are doing is more important more than goals. When you are growing and improving and doing great work you get noticed and one job leads to another and you can end up doing roles or jobs far better than what your plans or goals would have been. However certain goals are also helpful in order to generate that momentum, e.g. get a show-reel together, get a headshot, get an agent etc.

    In summary, I think each of (a) living in the moment, (b) generating momentum and (c) certain specific goals, all have their place. Perhaps the key is not to be ruled and burdened by any of these.

    • David says:

      Hi Matt—

      I feel strongly about your closing words. I believe Leo does too.

      If we ignore the discussion on goals for a moment and just think about taking the burden away of what something should or shouldn’t be, we will find that by simply being, we can find what works for us. It’s bringing in the perspectives, desires, forces outside that force us to do something that we are not accustomed to doing.

      Thanks for your thoughts. Well crafted!

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  29. Samuel says:

    Hi,
    this was interesting to read.
    I would like to give you a thought to observe and to consider.

    In my Eyes every little thing we do is because we have a goal in mind.
    Mostly it is unconcious.
    For example I feel thirsty: Now my goal is to don’t feel thirsty. I set a goal and make plan. My plan is, to go to the kitchen and get me some water. I drink one sip, then check if I am still thirsty. Then I drink the whole glass, then check if I reached my goal.

    If you take a closer look, you discover, that we have goals all the time. And we make plans.
    Another great example:
    My bulb breaked down. The light is off.
    Do I like it the way it is. If yes. I don’t set a new goal. If I don’t like to sit in the dark, I set a goal to sit in sit in the light in future. Now I need to come up with a plan, otherwise I don’t know what to do. I think about diffrent ways where I can get a new bulb. I could go to a shop, I could ask my neighbour, I might have spare one somewhere etc. All that finding possible ways to reach my goal and weighting the pros and cons happens in less than a seconds. Then I decide for one way, that suites me most. Maybe it is the easiest, maybe the cheapest…it depens on my values and attidute. If I would make this process more conscious with pen and paper…I might come up with better or at least more ideas. Now I go to the shop, my a new bulb, repair the lamp, switch it on and measure if a reached my goal to sit on the light. And if not, I go get another bulb…I do stuff until I reached my goal.
    Look: I will do it anyway once I decide to do it. Most things we decide without even noticing. We set goals all the Time. Even Leo does without noticing it.
    Who should decide what will happen in my life? My uncoucious or me?
    Nothing is wrong with letting my unconsious decide… but it is me who is allowing it by not deciding consiously myself.
    In my Eyes setting goals is what we do all time. Our whole mind-body-system works only with goals. Our brain is a goal-reaching maschine. At the same what I would do is:
    - to say that any goal is good or bad
    - to say that any goal is more important than another
    so reaching or failing doesn’t really matter.
    But ignoring our goal-setting and goal-reaching nature is ignoring reality.

  30. Liane says:

    Fascinating idea…Leo, I love your approach and more and more I have leaned in this direction. I am all about the journey and taking each day as it comes. It does not mean I am not following my passions or not accomplishing things at all. There is a freedom in not being so confined by a set path and having to constantly look to the destination as opposed to being in the moment. Its more like an awareness of the certain things and obligations that need to get done and allowing the flow of all other things to just be. Love it.

  31. beetle says:

    Leo Babuta is wrong simply because he contradicts himself. Did he live without goals when he decided to quit smoking, pay back his debts, lose weight etc?

    http://zenhabits.net/the-habit-change-cheatsheet-29-ways-to-successfully-ingrain-a-behavior/

    • Liane says:

      Choosing to live without goals does not mean you don’t choose to do something or take action. You can simply choose to take action. Choose to quit smoking. It does not have to include the pomp and circumstance of setting a goal.

      I work with school districts and I can tell you a lot of time is spent discussing goals, choosing goals, setting goals, prescribing actions toward goals…and nothing changes. If they would simply CHOOSE to wake up each day and go do what is right for kids a lot of time and energy could be spent where it really has impact. Sometimes all the goal stuff is a delay tactic. Smoke and mirrors to give the impression they are really doing something. This can be true for individuals as well. I set goals so many times regarding exercise. I gave up easily and felt discouraged. One day I just chose to get up and do it. And do it again. And again. I stopped thinking about it as a goal I would someday achieve and just did it. And I have had much better success.

      • beetle says:

        I agree that setting a goal with “pomp and circumstance” can drive you away from actually doing anything. Sometimes it’s better to stop _thinking_ about something as a goal and do what just feels right. But not thinking about something as a goal does not mean that you do not have a goal.

        But what I basically arguing is this behavior: “I wake up and ask myself, “What excites me today?” And each day that’s different.” (http://zenhabits.net/chaos/)

        You simply cannot live like this (or only in short term). You cannot build a house without setting it as a goal. You will never wake up thinking “Gosh, it would be so cool to dig a hole in this place!” and on the next day “How nice it would be to put bricks into this hole!”

        Similarly, you cannot change a bad habit without setting it as a goal. You cannot stop smoking by just following what feels “exciting”. You will _passionately_ want to smoke a cigar sometimes, and stop yourself.

        To avoid misunderstanding: in my vocabulary having a goal does not necessarily mean planning. It means a mid-term or long-term decision that has an endpoint (e.g. when I finished the house) and which affects my everyday decisions and behavior.

    • Leo says:

      Hi Beetle … that post was written back when I was a strong believer in goals. I’ve changed over the last couple of years. I believe we should be allowed to evolve, and not necessarily stick with the same beliefs forever. :)

      • beetle says:

        But you are still a believer of changing habits, aren’t you? In my opinion it also requires setting goals (see my previous comment)

        • Leo says:

          Hi Beetle … I don’t worry about changing habits as much anymore, but I still think it’s a useful tool for many people. You can change habits without worrying about the destination, if you focus on the trigger-habit action each time it happens, in the moment. You don’t need to be fixated on the eventual creation of the habit, but more on doing what’s in line with your values each time the trigger happens.

  32. Irene Guijt says:

    In a way, it is semantics. Leo’s goals are values, as are David’s. And both have different moments at which they then identify activities related to those higher order values for the day, the month. Even Leo’s goalless weekend had a goal – ‘see what happens’. His daily goal is ‘enjoy the journey’. So what’s a ‘goal’ – the value, the activity, both?

    • Leo says:

      Hi Irene … the difference is focusing on the destination (goal) as opposed to the moment, with no real destination in mind. With the values approach, any destination is fine. With the goals approach, the goal is the only desired destination.

      • David says:

        This is one of the toughest habits to break in todays culture. Not focus on our goal.

        I will have to work on developing such a habit, but even then, I am focusing on such a “goal”.

        David Damron
        Life Excursion

      • Irene Guijt says:

        Goals are about what you aim to ‘manifest’ in life – at least that is how I think of them. So a goal is ‘being compassionate’, ‘making my family happy’, etc. These ‘values’ are goals – your goal is to keep them a priority in whatever activity you undertake. These are goals about being more than about having and about the process more than the product. But they are ALSO about having – inner peace, equanimity – and about the product – ditto. So for me the issue is about the level at which you ‘set goals’. Externally-oriented ones or inner state ones.

  33. Trent says:

    I like what E.B. White had to say on the matter;

    I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.

  34. Hi David,
    Great post and dialog with Leo. I read his blog often and just found yours. The basketball example is what caught my eye. What I struggle with is how to go with the flow, live in the moment and be carefree but at the same time achieve. Maybe its because I have played sports my whole life, competing in them as well, and that’s were I get my frame of reference. If I compete I have goals of having fun, doing well and wanting to win. I have never been good enough to play sports as a pro but I still don’t understand how a person can be passive and carefree yet become a champion in their sport which is usually the ultimate goal. I have not found a way to think of this differently. Can you be an NFL football quarterback who has no goals and win a Superbowl?

    • David says:

      Hey Bryan—

      I reflected on basketball because sports has been a big part of my life too. It took a few years for me to break away from the goal mentality of sports. It wasn’t until I started running that I started to enjoy the journey far more than the destination. here is where I differ from Leo. I still have the destination in my mind and acknowledge it, but I am capable of enjoying the moment as well. It has been a tough balance, but I have found it in running.

      Now, only if I can apply to everything else…..

      David Damron
      Life Excursion

  35. Rob says:

    Thank you both for providing a rare example of civilized disagreement.

    • Faz says:

      Thank you Rob for putting that in clear, simple words. I think that’s the real value of David’s post & the following discussion: how a civilized debate that focuses on clarity of thought takes place.

      • David says:

        To Rob & Faz—

        This was a major reason Leo has been a role model for me. He has always said, “Look, I am not right or wrong. I have jus tried this and it has worked for me.”

        Leo was welcome to the rebuttal simply because I said, “Look, I am not saying you are wrong. I just don’t understand and disagree. Please share your thoughts.”

        If we can all step aside from being/feeling offended and work to understand differences we will be a better society. That doesn’t mean we all agree. Just that we accept differences and are willing to learn about such.

        Thanks for acknowledging our civilized manner!

        David Damron
        Life Excursion

  36. Mahesh Bakshani says:

    Let’s keep it in a simple way….If one fine night I see a happy dream that I never dreamt of? That is something out of context being called Goal but it was an accidental dream. Live up to it for that moment only and forget it. such thing cannot be planned, where as If I have a dream to become something,to get or to do something;that can be planned your determination and dedication for making your dream come true is like achieving a GOAL and living for that is called motivation . Life without motivation can leave you lead a blank life and one who’s life is blank can say “I don’t plan for anything ahead and do not believe in setting goal or using one of the most important thing given by the almighty called BRAIN (Don’t mean to offend anyone)
    Everybody loves to live carefree life without planning or any goal but it’s rather impractical or imprecise.
    So Remember… “Bad reasoning as well as good reasoning is possible; and this fact is the foundation of the practical side of logic.” As said by Charles Sanders Peirce Quotes

  37. [...] remember that I was trying to truly connect with him and my readers. Thus, I wrote the article 5 Reasons Leo Babauta is Wrong About Goals. I asked Leo to respond to each of my objections and we had a mature conversation about our [...]

  38. [...] Damron wrote about why Leo is wrong about goals. His five reasons are [...]

  39. Ramiro says:

    I think that detachment from desires is not human. Anxiety is normal. I think that goal-setting is necessary but one has to be flexible enough to accept and negotiate obstacles.

  40. Hildegarde says:

    Hi
    I’ve been awake tonite struggling with myself about my life that feels like it’s not going anywhere! I am a mother of two and feel as though I hav no control over anything that happens in my life. Then I stumble onto this blog!I am really confused now! I feel powrless in what is happening in my life and where I am going – is it because I hav no goals set? I live everyday without setting any goals and must agree with David that in order to feel in control I hav to start setting goals for myself and my fam.

  41. Laurel says:

    It’s true that what works for one person doesn’t work for another. Another way to think about it is that everyone has such different ideas of how they see themselves and what they want to be. I, for instance, know that I have a problem with worrying about things and living in my head, which is a side effect of me setting unrealistic or petty expectations for myself. So the idea of living with no goals and living in the moment is something that is appealing and makes sense to me, since it seems like a good way to work on something I want to change about myself. Someone else may not have that problem though. They may always be wanting to stay in the moment and let their passions and whims direct them, and maybe a more goal oriented mindset would sound appealing to help them be focused and feel as if they are achieving more. For me I know I just have to keep monitoring my thoughts and learning about myself, trying different things and checking in.
    Thanks for the ideas you guys, and like Rob said, thanks for a refreshing example of “civilized disagreement”. Love the blogs, keep ‘em coming!

  42. [...] to an online empire. Another great aspect that came from it was having Babauta work with me on this article following WDS that never would have happened had we not [...]

  43. Test For You says:

    [...] David Damron recently debated Leo Babauta about the importance of goals. David is a big believer in setting goals, whereas Leo has found that his life works great without them. I think they’re both right: David’s way works for David, and Leo’s way works for Leo. [...]

  44. Katie says:

    Thanks for this discussion. It was very interesting, and came at a great time for me! I am in graduate school right now, taking a class related to the internship I am taking. The class involves building your brand, discovering yourself etc. The other week our homework was to set goals for our internship. I responded that I don’t believe in goals and linked back to Leo’s article. My professor basically told me I was wrong to not set goals and that I would be able to achieve more, and be worth more if I set goals. When I tried explaining Leo’s concept about getting discouraged when you fail to meet a goal she said all I had to do was make myself publicly accountable. Needless to say, I was rather unhappy that class.

    Since then though, I have been really debating this idea of goals. I want to be free to experience life as it comes, but I still want to accomplish as much as possible. I don’t know where I stand, I think I have a middle approach of vague goals (write a book one day, make a difference in the world) to help guide me. I will be reading this debate and Leo’s original article several more times while I try to figure out the best way for me!

    Thanks to both of you!

  45. Nelly says:

    As regards Leo’s life philosophy (as reflected in his writings), incl. the “no-goals” thing, it seems to be following an increasingly spiritual path. That makes me read him more ardently, not less.

    “I am not *hear* to discredit Babauta.”
    A nice disclaimer, but by posting texts with such typos in them, it’s only the author that gets discredited…

  46. [...] to this point, David Damron (from LifeExcursion) published a post “5 Reasons Leo Babauta is Wrong About Goals (inc. Leo’s Response!)” He argued to the importance of goal in our [...]

  47. MikeH says:

    I’m late to this discussion. I found this interesting and insightful article while trying to clarify my own life. I have to say that after running a 6 year experiment with goals, I’m starting to lean towards not having goals in my life. I have restarted and quit goals several times over the last year, but I’m moving more and more towards just giving up on them.

    I’m almost 45, and I’ve lived 39 of those years without goals. I never really considered them. I just let my passion and my intuition drive my direction. Then in about 2006-2007 I was introduced to the Secret and also that little book “It Works” by various people and I started setting goals for myself. This is what I found in my experience:

    1. The law of attraction does work, but maybe not as intended. Yes I believe you do attract people that also set goals into your life when you set goals. People that can help you. But I also noticed that as I set more lofty goals, more people started coming into my life the seemed like they intentionally tried to create chaos. Maybe by trying to exert too much control, the opposite is attracted? Kind of like Taoism says about the universe trying to maintain balance?

    2. The resistance aspect. There seems to be resistance generated whenever I set goals. I’m still not sure what this is about. Whether its me fighting a part of myself, or just stress created by too many goals or what. But I do know that true, pure relaxation and a peaceful state of mind seems to only be possible for me when I’m goal free.

    3. The actual results didn’t seem to be that much better, and maybe even worse. I have to be honest with myself. I attended college, got a degree, stayed in shape physically, had a very successful career and travelled and lived several places overseas before I even set goals. Of course, I also had a failed marriage. All before I set any goals. After I set goals, I have achieved some milestones, but still I had a failed relationship and some other friendships that have failed or don’t seem to be alive anymore and at least 2 big failures in my successful career. I also tried a couple things which were failures. Did I try to do more with goals set? Maybe. But without goals, I just followed my heart and accomplished and did a lot with I would argue better success.

    I might still change my mind. Everything was much more clear when I was younger, now I’m not as clear about my path in life. But I have to say that goal-setting has been a big let down for me. Even though I think my goals were very positive and uplifting, the results with goals were not as good as I had hoped and the path with goals seems a more difficult and more constrained way to live life.

    Mike

  48. BTW is this your blog http://theminimalistpath.com/ ?

    it’been hacked by cracker :(

  49. Ash Lilly says:

    What I have learned is that a goal or a dream in itself is nothing more than a journey. I think there’s a difference between setting goals, and creating tasks for yourself that you can cross off a list. I use goals as more of guiding point, and adjust my daily life to work toward my dream, step by step. The goals I set are so general that they are really more like motivational guidelines.
    I think the key is to make sure you don’t dream your life away, but live your dreams. I think the issue really comes when you set statistical measurable goals. If you set general goals that help you understand how to live your daily life (like eating healthy, spending time with loved ones, etc…) You can’t fail, it’s simply your guideline for the typical day.
    That’s what works for me lately.

  50. […] Damron wrote about why Leo is wrong about goals. His five reasons are […]

  51. […] Damron wrote about why Leo is wrong about goals. His five reasons are […]

  52. […] goals and that the best goal is no goal in 2011. It spawned some discussions, for instance here. Some suggested that Leo has already changed his life up to a point where goals weren’t […]

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