Principles Instead of Goals

One of my goals this year is to do away with goals.

I have been wondering about the effectiveness of goal-setting for some time and it is hard for me to accept that setting goals is not worthwhile. Yet… in a world of constant fluctuation, I find goals to be merely placeholders instead of targets.

When you set a goal, one of two things happens. You achieve it or you don’t. If you don’t, typically, you just move the goal. Many people set a goal of “lose weight” at the beginning of the year, for example. Many people do not achieve their goal or, if they do, they quickly slide back. For those that do not reach the goal, they move the goal. “I’ll try again next year,” or, “I’ll just try to lose 10 pounds by March instead of 20.”

The same thing applies to business goals. Sales teams try to hit their target–sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. If they do, the target gets set higher–it moves. If they don’t, the date to reach the target is adjusted–the goal still moves.

The point of a goal is to inspire people to do better but I think there is a better way to do that. Rather than living for goals, live by principles.

Principles work differently. If I live by the principles of eating healthy and staying active, then I probably will never have to worry about reaching a weight goal. If my organization lives by the principle of “deliver amazing service for a fair price” then the sales will take care of themselves.

Wherever I see a goal now, I am going to look at the underlying principle that is supposed to be driving it and examine why the principle is not being lived up to rather than why the goal is not being met.

I think if we identify the correct principles, we will never have to waste our time or energy on chasing goals and targets.

Goals are a finish line at the end of a race. Principles are what make you want to run in the first place.

Principles over Goals.




Update on Goals

I had 3 BIG goals for the last half of 2015:

  1. Rent a Stand-Up PaddleBoard.
  2. Climb a tree.
  3. Read fiction.

Of course, these were not big goals at all… except they were. The point was to show before we worry about life goals or changing the world, maybe we should work on small stuff that can have big impact on changing us.

So… how did I do?

1. Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard… accomplished in late June or early July, shortly after I set the 3 goals, while I was still excited about them. It turns out, I have a passion for paddleboarding and have since made it a hobby! This was a very satisfying goal because it turned into a lifetime habit.

2. Climb a tree… accomplished November 25th. This was a lot scarier than I thought it would be and I procrastinated as long as I could. The last time I climbed a tree, I think I was in my teens and practically invincible. At 43, climbing a tree is a daunting, fear-inducing challenge. What if I fall? What if it’s covered in ants? What if there is a snake on that branch? What if I can’t get back down? I’m glad I did it but I have to admit, I probably won’t climb a tree again without a lot of incentive. Still, I had to pull up some courage to do it, and that was good.

3. Read a book of fiction… This was the toughest one. I finished “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” in late December, cutting it close. Over the last few years, I have read nothing but non-fiction. Reading fiction was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. I started about 10 books, including many classics, before I found one that captivated me enough to read it all the way through. By all accounts, this was not a well-written (or well-edited) story but the approach was clever and I enjoyed it. I can’t tell you if it worked my creative muscles–they feel the same, but I would not say it was a waste of time. It was fun to explore a new world in my mind.

Will I set another 3 goals for the first half of 2016? Definitely! It was a great exercise that gently pushed me from my comfort zones and, if nothing else, I gained a new skill with paddleboarding. I haven’t decided what my next 3 goals will be (I am probably going to carry over “reading a book of fiction” though) and I do not plan to blog about them (been there, done that) but it is a great, practical exercise everyone should try.

Before you set your New Year’s resolutions up (for failure)… consider scaling them down to 3 absurdly small goals that can make a big difference. Maybe instead of “lose 20 pounds”, try “explore three new places while walking around my city” or “iron my work clothes every week for a month” or “write a poem”.

Sometimes thinking small is the best way to achieve BIG results.


Know Your Exit Strategy

I come up with a life-lesson each day that I learned myself, and then I share it with you… because misery loves company.


Having recently moved, I am trying to learn my way around my new area, only relying on GPS when I am certain I need help.

Of course, the result of this strategy is that I have missed a few exits on my way to or from home. In other words, I had a goal (a destination) and by not paying attention, I blew past an opportunity to arrive there faster.

Missing an exit is not a crisis, though. It just means you will take longer to get where you were going.




A Goal Versus A Wish

Every day I learn a lesson in life. Sometimes I learn the same lessons again and again, until they (hopefully) stick. And I share those lessons with you. Here is today’s.


“My goal is to eventually write a book,” I told Nicole.

“Eventually,” she repeated and mused. “So, you have given yourself no deadline and you have no plan. That’s not a goal. That’s a wish, dear.”

A sugar-rimmed but sharp reminder of the same advice I have given countless others.

If a goal does not exist in Time and you have no way of calculating a path from Here to There, then you have no goal. You have a wish (and wishes rarely come true–which is why we tell stories about wishes coming true).

Also, I am reminded no one is above taking their own advice, even those who are known to lead by example.

Also also, practice what you preach.
Also also also, behind every great man…



How to Set Powerful Goals

Goals are falling out of style but they still have a place in helping teams align.


I am in a weird place with goal-setting. I used to be a huge proponent for goals, but now I am experimenting with eliminating goals from my routine in exchange for principles and values to help guide decisions. Goals can sometimes lead to a never-ending rat race of chasing goals. Nonetheless, I still think setting goals is a useful tool, especially around work, and here is how to do it well.

There are two ways to climb a mountain. The first is to strap on a pair of boots, head toward the top, and hope for the best. The other is to have a map—a planned route and clear direction showing the best, fastest, most likely way to reach the summit.

Goals can be like maps—they help us see the way ahead and plan a path to success. And what happens when you reach the top of a mountain? You feel like a champion and see other mountain tops to climb!

There are five ways to make goals powerful and useful:

1. Goals must exist in reality. This means a goal must exist in both specific Time and specific Space. If you can not measure what you have done by the time you committed to doing it, then how will you know if you achieved it? A goal of meeting Brian at 8:00 for drinks, for example, meets the criteria of specific time–8:00. But where? By contrast, meeting Brian at Zod’s Cafe for coffee meets the specific space criteria–Zod’s Cafe. But when? The more you narrow it down, the better. “Brian, I will meet you outside the doors of Zod’s Cafe Wednesday morning, the 28th, at 8:15am.” Now you have a legitimate goal! On Wednesday morning of the 28th, at 8:15am, you are either waiting for Brian at the doors outside Zod’s or you are not. You hit the goal or you didn’t.

2. Avoid ambiguity. Words like “every” and “always” kill goals. As in, “I will ask every customer to try our widgets” or “I will always try to improve”. As soon as ambiguity enters your goal, it transforms the goal into a wish. Of course you are not going to ask every customer every time about widgets. A customer probably walked in while you were reading this and you forgot to ask. In other words, do not set a goal up for failure. Answer the question, “What will be different than it is now, by what amount between zero and infinity, and by when, exactly?” 


3. Remember, goals are not assigned orders. There should be no additional penalty for not reaching goals (the penalty is not reaching the goal). Many leaders drop the ball here by attempting to provide negative incentives for missing a goal. This is like telling a marathon runner who falls short of the finish line, not only did he lose the race but also you are going to shoot him in the foot. Chances are, he will not be eager to run the next marathon for you.

4. Goals should be a stretch but possible to achieve if everything goes the as planned. There was a time when leaders were being pushed to set unrealistic goals (“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” or “BHAGs”). The idea was that teams do not know what they are capable of unless or until they reach for something that seems unreasonable. There is some truth to this, of course. Until you are pushed, you do not know where your limits are. However, you do not start a daily jogging routine by entering the Boston Marathon. First, you have to learn to run to the stop sign at the end of your block and back. Make goals a stretch, but achievable, and then build on successes and work toward larger goals.



5. Goals should be inspiring. This is, admittedly, the toughest part for me. I am not great at creating clever, fun ideas, or games to inspire people (luckily, though, I am good at finding people who love using those creative muscles, and I ask them for help). A goal that inspires the CEO (“Let’s increase revenue 40% by June 15th of next year”) may not inspire the clerk in the mail room even if he or she is necessary to the goal (maybe they are responsible for collection notices being sent each month). The owner of one company I know found a clever way around this. He turned company goal-setting on its head. Rather than him coming up with the next company goals for everyone to chase, he asked every department to create 1-3 goals for the next quarter (and a tracking system to measure their progress) and then he reviewed all the department goals to create the overall company goals to tie them together!



Those are the most effective strategies I use, or have witnessed, to create goals but I am not convinced “goals” as we know them are going to survive in the transforming workforce. I have begun trading goals for values and principles that over-arch all decision-making but, at least for now, I still think goals have a valuable place in our lives. Goals are especially useful for helping bring a new team together or helping an individual start down a desired path.

If you use goals, at least now you know how to use them well.



Your 3 BIG Goals for the Rest of the Year!

Today’s Lesson: Goals do not have to be lofty to be effective.


I gave myself three HUGE goals to accomplish for the last half of this year. I think these three goals will transform my life and help me continue growing as a fully functional self-actualized human being. They are some of the hardest goals I have set and, honestly, I have been avoiding two of them for more than a year. Here they are:

1. Climb a tree.

2. Read fiction.

3. Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard.


I know, right? They don’t sound like much but that is okay. We have a lofty-goal addiction in society now. We are supposed to set outrageous, audacious, practically unattainable goals and go after them with tireless passion and endless energy. Except, of course, that does not work, not for most of us. Most of us are tired, stressed, and dealing with the outcomes of years of bad choices. “Changing the world” is not on our bucket list. What many people miss is if you focus on yourself, you will affect the world. YOU are part of “the world”. Let’s scale it back and start focusing on goals that sound small but have huge impacts. For example, why did I choose my three huge (but small-sounding) goals? Here is the breakdown, as I see it:

1. Climb a tree (even if only 10-feet off the ground).

I hate exercise. Lifting something up and putting it back down 20 times feels dumb and boring to me. However, I love activity and I have been learning a lot about “load balancing”. This is essentially the idea that we are designed to experience different loads on our bodies (think of an active child sitting on the floor, then running across a field, then picking up rocks to explore what is underneath them, then climbing a tree, etc…).

Climbing a tree, for me, is a reminder that, even in my forties, I can still be a kid and I can (and should) use my body’s muscles for what they were intended. Climbing a tree is a healthy activity, a fun way to trick myself into exercising, and, frankly, a reminder of what it feels like to climb at tree! Maybe next year, I will try to gather some friends for a game of freeze tag.

2. Read fiction (at least one book, any book I want).

I took this idea from James Altucher. He points out that reading fiction is crucial for leaders and writers. Fiction, especially futuristic science fiction, helps our brains practice envisioning what is possible. It keeps our creative juices going.

Many leaders (myself included) mostly read non-fiction self-help(ish) books written by successful entrepreneurs or other thought leaders. If you are a writer (like maybe someone who posts a blog each day) the problem is you are not reading and learning from great writing. Entrepreneurs are excellent at running businesses or managing teams but most of them are only proficient at writing. It is not their craft, after all. Reading great works of fiction helps you understand what great writing and speaking looks like.

Reading fiction is a crucial skill, whether it is the great literary artists of the past or the great contemporary comic book writers of today! Maybe I will do a little of both, instead of only dedicating my reading time to non-fiction.

3. Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) and, you know, actually stand up on it. 

Aside from offering a great core workout (which I could definitely benefit from), Stand-Up Paddleboards (or SUP’s) are all about Balance. I am a firm supporter of the famous phrase, “Mens sana in corpore sano” (“Sound mind in a sound body“) or, as the great literary poets of Funkadelic put it, “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. In other words, if you want balance in your life, start by finding balance in your body. This is what so many yoga enthusiasts have figured out and why they are so annoyingly calm when everyone else is stressed out.

There are other benefits to me practicing on a SUP, too. It is an activity Nicole and I can do together–a bonding moment. Plus, we live in Tampa. How cool will it be to stand up on the ocean and maybe paddle to a nearby island? I mean, seriously, that is going to be a memory and experience to talk about many years from now!


Those are my three “HUGE” goals for the rest of the year. Achievable? Absolutely. Challenging? A little. Worthwhile? I bet I will learn more from meeting my three goals than most people will learn from outrageous (and useless) goals like, “make a million dollars“, “travel the world“, or “be the best ever… (athlete, writer, fighter, singer, brand, etc.)“.

Once I master reading a book, climbing a tree, and paddling on the water, then maybe we can talk about achieving world peace.



A Direction Is Not a Destination

Today’s Lesson: “Progress” might be an okay place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.


Some people lack clear direction in their lives. “I want to feel better”, “I need to lose weight”, “I’d like to travel”–these are examples of unclear direction (but at least they are a direction).

Most people, I think, have a sense of direction but lack a destination. “North” is a direction. “The North Pole” is a destination (not one I would want to visit, but still…). “College” is a direction. “Running a practice as a child Psychologist by the time I am 50” is a destination.

Understanding the difference is important. Having a direction (“make money”) might lead you to making progress down a road, but having a destination (“make $15,000 by June 1st”) will lead you where you want to go.

This is true, of course, everywhere in life. If you are leading a team, running a company, hosting a church event, or just trying to decide where to go for dinner, giving directions is not the same as giving a destination.



Don’t Marry Outcomes

By not being tied to a specific result, you might achieve surprisingly better results.


Yesterday, I shared my story of winning a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone that was supposed to arrive as an S5 smartphone (an older model). I was pleasantly surprised by the upgrade, which was a little thank you for my patience when they lost the one that was supposed to be sent.

In thinking more about it today, I realize I could have been upset that a Note 4 arrived. After all, I won an S5. Before the Note 4 arrived, Samsung sent an electric wine bottle opener–also a cool gift–and although it was not an S5, I was accepting of it as well. I had actually given up hope for the S5, so when the Note 4 arrived, it was a big surprise.

Think about how this applies to other areas, though, like work goals. Sometimes we can be so focused on hitting a particular target that we miss the benefits of an unintended success. I often explain to my team if they focus on the Quality of their sales, then the Quantity will come automatically. The team members who understand this idea tend to excel. The ones who struggle, focusing on how many sales they have instead of how good each sale is from the customer’s experience, tend to feel disappointed and frustrated with their results. At the very least, they are missing out on making more money than they would otherwise.


Today’s lesson: Sometimes if you shoot for the stars, you might hit the moon. Or if you are expecting the moon, you might win a sailboat–unexpected surprises happen.


Commitment Anxiety?

I struggle with making time to exercise. Here is what I do to keep at it…


Some people love exercise. It puts them in a zone, makes them happy, or helps them alleviate stress. For me, exercise does not that. I don’t like it. For me, it is time-consuming, mindless, and boring. I would rather do dishes because at least I would feel like something was accomplished. I prefer immediate results over long-term results (and here, you could replace “exercise” with just about any goal). Nonetheless, I recognize both long-term and short-term results are important. I know I should exercise for the myriad benefits to health and wellness and because my body is a machine that needs proper care to function well, like any machine.

I find there are three secrets to making my long-term goals work for me.


  • Keep changing my approach. This keeps me from becoming bored and dropping it. For example, I might change the time of day I exercise (but I find I will almost never do it in the evening because I am usually mentally exhausted), or I will change the exercise itself. The last few weeks it has been push-ups and crunches. This week my morning exercise will be Sun Salutations.
  • Make it simple.I was waking up each morning and doing 30 push-ups and 20 crunches, basically 10 minutes of exercise. That’s it. If I commit to more, I find that I will procrastinate until it is too late. If I am feeling energetic and motivated and happen to wake up earlier than usual, I might go a little longer, but that does not happen very often. The way I see it, one push-up is better than none and 10 minutes is better than 0 minutes. I don’t beat myself up if I do not make it through the set either. Sometimes my energy or motivation is low. The important thing is I showed up and attempted.
  • I will not give up. Some days are better than others. Sometimes I am all over it; I have great command of my diet, plentiful energy, and all cylinders are firing. Other days, I am not into it. I might be feeling under the weather or just feeling depressed about my body. I am not going to commit 2 hours a day to working out because I have other goals to accomplish as well (and I do not like exercising that much), so I embrace that. My body is what I choose. If I have “extra padding”, it is because I choose to eat too much and exercise too little. That is okay (until it isn’t). I can choose to exercise more, too, when I am ready to sacrifice other time and energy to devote to it. I refuse to feel guilty or beat myself up for choices I consciously and willingly make. I accept the consequences (until I don’t, and then I choose to do better).


Today’s lesson, then, is this: don’t let yourself become bored with your routine. Keep your commitments simple (and over-deliver when you can). Make powerful choices and be aware when you choose, you also choose to accept the consequences of the action, and the non-action associated with your choice.



Today’s Lesson: Goals Are Dumb. [141007]

I was mad, depressed, and frustrated. 3 of my 4 teams missed their goals and I did not know what else I could do to help us all move forward.

One of the best lessons I have learned this year is that goal-setting is a terribly inefficient way to actually reach goals. Most of my life, I have been taught to set a specific goal (I want to make a million dollars, for example) and then work toward it, step by step. Once achieved, set a bigger goal, and repeat.

Today I was reminded that goals rarely breed success. Instead, they are a set-up for disappointment and frustration when you do not reach them (especially if you have set them too high). Goals also impose artificial limits on success. What happens when you reach your goal? You set another, higher one. Then another one, then another one… a start/stop herky-jerky process that does not flow into potential but rather keeps putting up stop signs along the way.

Worse, goals undermine your self-esteem. What happens when you set a diet goal? You probably do not achieve it (or do not maintain it) and then you start a spiral of self-loathing for not reaching it. So you set another goal and try again and beat yourself up again. There is an entire industry built around this depressing cycle and the first couple weeks after New Year’s Eve is a boon for it, because they know we will be back next year…

What should we do instead?

What works better for me is to live by systems. Form habits that forge success and forget about the destination. When I remembered that with my teams, I threw away the goals we were chasing. I concentrated instead on the habits we were trying to build. The teams immediately accelerated and we finished the month at number one! A funny thing happened, though. We were so excited about being the number one team in the company that we started looking at our goals again. We are still at the top but it is a challenge to get back to the “systems” vs “goals” mindset.

I will give you another concrete example of the difference. The first time I decided to live a vegan lifestyle (not eating or wearing any animal products), I set a goal to be completely vegan within 3 months. That’s exactly how far I made it before I gave up, too, and of course, I was not completely vegan when I quit. I was not even a good vegetarian by the time I gave up. I did terrible.

I set a vegan goal to work toward at least 3 more times and failed every time. I eliminated all animal products from my diet, agonized over it, gave up and went back to eating meat and cheese. I felt like a failure and was certain I was never going to make it.

It wasn’t until a friend gave me the advice I needed, that I was able to succeed. He said, “Stop trying to go vegan. When you sit down to dinner tonight, just choose not to eat any meat or cheese for that meal only. That’s it. Just make it through dinner tonight. Then, at breakfast, remember you can make that choice again, but don’t worry about it until then. It’s just a choice, and you make it one meal at a time…”

I did not realize it, but my vegan friend was helping remove the pressure of goal-setting and instead was offering the foundation for a system of habits that would lead me to be vegan and more. When I removed the stop sign of the goal, I was able to speed past it, and by the end of that year (more than 10 years ago!) I was completely vegan and had dropped 50 pounds!

Today’s lesson is: stop the madness of goal chasing and instead build systems and habits that will take you where you want to go, and well beyond.