How to Get the Benefits of Goal Setting without Actually Setting Goals

Focus on you future

The practice of setting goals has probably been around forever, but reached prominence a few decades ago. In the 70s every business, every government department and every solo professional was admonished to set annual goals and long-term goals. It was preached as the only way to achieve success.

In the past decade, goal setting has again arisen to popular prominence, this time in the guise of practicing the law of attraction. And it works.

In 1979 at Christmas, I resigned my tenured teaching position at the University of Guelph. I had always lived in southern Ontario. Now I was about to be unemployed and I was going through a divorce. So I decided to set some personal goals. I wrote down ten goals and put them in a binder.

I decided to be fanciful and outrageous in my goal setting. One of my goals was that I would fly across the continent in my own airplane. Another goal was that I would “live with my family in a contemplative setting overlooking the ocean.” The ocean? I had only seen an ocean a couple of times.

I dutifully read my goals daily and felt what it would be like to achieve them. Then I lost interest and put the binder away.

Fifteen years later I stumbled across the old binder and, to my amazement, six of the ten goals had been achieved. I had owned a couple of airplanes and flown to Cape Cod and Tofino. At that time I was living with my wife in our home on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Wow! This stuff works!

But then I asked the question, “So what?” I realized that I had long since stopped setting goals, not because the process didn’t work, but because when I reach a goal, it is never an answer. It just led to the question of what next.

However, the alternative of not setting goals could mean drifting through life. Not setting goals could make a person a victim of life, rather than the creator of life.

“Can you get the benefits of goal setting
without setting goals?”

So the real question for me became the following. When you don’t yet know your life purpose, is there some way of getting the important benefits of goal setting without actually setting goals?

What I decided on was a life direction, rather than any specific goals. It had to be a direction that fit with where I was and that I could pursue with passion. I also recognized that my direction would probably continue to shift over time. I have pretty much stuck to choosing life direction over goals for the past 20 years, and it has worked well for me and for others who have adopted the approach.

Having a clear direction is a way of staying in charge of creating your life and not being a victim of life. And you’re not locked into fixed goals, which might turn out to detract from your life direction.

I’ve found that setting a life direction is much easier than figuring out what goals to pursue or identifying your life purpose. It doesn’t matter if your direction is a little off, because you keep adjusting it.

Life is full of choices and having a life direction makes it easier to make those decisions. With anything that comes along and requires a decision, there are three questions to ask.
1. Does it feel right?
2. Does it support or contribute to my life direction?
3. If it requires action, can I pursue it with passion?

Using your life direction as a lens through which to view your choices is a great tool for assuring a purposeful life.

Letter to my friend and mentor Rick Butts


Dear Rick,

You’ve outdone yourself…again! I’m referring, of course, to your latest ebook,  7 little Choices that Can Wreck your Business (and your Life): A Warning

You address your book to “Idea Entrepreneurs,” that is, to all of us self-employed souls who create or attempt to create businesses based on our own ideas–all of us writers, speakers, consultants, coaches filmmakers, musicians, artists, mentors and self-employed teachers.

As with your coaching and mentoring, your present yourself as light-hearted and funny, while hitting us with profoundly serious messages about ourselves and offering practical wisdom to help us make corrections and persevere.

Thank you, Rick, for painting a picture of each choice point so clearly that for a couple of them, it was like looking in the mirror and giving myself a fright. For others, I liked what I saw in the mirror because it affirmed that I had got that lesson.

You’ve also started something in me that may turn out to be a paradigm shift in my thinking about marketing. I’ll tell you about that the next time we talk.

I’m amused at how you priced “7 Little Choices” at $1 each.  Not bad when any one of them could be making the difference between success and failure.

You are offering something important, something that every idea entrepreneur could benefit from. Everyone else? Well, you win some, you lose some.

Best wishes in getting it out there.

Your friend,


Note: Get your instant download at 7 Little Choices .

Find Identity Fulfillment through Courage and Humility


You have, not just one identity, but many. In any one day you may take on the identities of a spouse, a chef, a parent, an instructor, a plumber, a bookkeeper, and a driver. On Saturday morning you might assume the identity of a soccer coach.  In fact, you change identities every time you do something different or new.

Identities can also change at an emotional level. We have all met the jovial golf buddy who turns into an ogre when he gets home, or the benign clerk who has regular temper tantrums on the golf course.

Many a person I have known has been a runner. It was an integral part of their lifestyle. Each of them, however, knew that running carries risk. Some, because of foot, ankle, knee or heart problems, became painfully aware of the non-survival of their identities as runners. Most of them survive the loss of that identity and move on to new identities.

Think about your life and all the different identities you have assumed. Some of those identities have not survived, like being an employee on your first job. Other identities are alive and well, like being a good learner.

In order to do anything in life you need to risk the non-survival of the identities you assume. Everyone who has a child, asks someone out on a date or quits drinking takes that risk. If you couldn’t take that risk, you would be stuck and dull and unfulfilled. You would be both bored and boring.

To be able to take the risk you need two key ingredients. You need both courage and humility.

Courage is the willingness to move forward and assert an identity, to do something that might fail, to continue to play in spite of fear. Fear is essential. It is courageous to take on, in the presence of fear, an identity that carries a risk. Doing the same thing fearlessly is foolhardy. Every fire rescue worker and every mother know the difference.

Without courage you yield to fear, avoid risk and remain mired in indecision…unfulfilling at best. The “control freak” is burdened with fear, but lacks the courage to move forward.

HumilityHumility is the ability to step back from and let go of an identity, and stop doing something that isn’t working. It takes humility to accept that you are not making it, for example, as a marriage partner, as a real estate agent or as a responsible drinker.

Without humility you become stuck in an identity and life becomes difficult. You tend to become rigid and inflexible about life. Without humility you tend to avoid making changes. Seeking help with a change would be an admission of failure. Without the humility to walk away from an identity, life itself eventually becomes a crisis.

With the humility to step back from an identity that isn’t working for you, it’s easier to muster the courage to try being something else.  With both the courage to step forward and the humility to step back when things don’t work out, you know you will be all right no matter what you try. You can go on to play as big a game in life as you want.