Goals Gone Wild

February 18, 2009

My book, “Goal-Free Living,” provides counter-cultural perspectives on goal-setting.  I suggest that we are a nation of goalaholics, and that this is reducing creativity, productivity, and happiness.   Harvard Business School recently published an interesting paper, “Goals Gone Wild,” that supports my perspective.

The authors say…

In this article, we argue that the beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored. We identify specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.

Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for motivation, managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision. We offer a warning label to accompany the practice of setting goals.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Why Being Self-Centered is Good

January 27, 2009

This may seem like an odd blog entry, but it has been the topic of conversation over many dinners recently.

Although we are taught from a young age that being self-centered is a bad thing, I think that more people would benefit from being this way. Let me explain.

To start off, I am not suggesting that people should be selfish. I think of selfish as being “exclusively concerned with oneself.”

Being self-centered – in my opinion – is entirely different.

Centering is what you base your life on.

My parents are children-centered. For them, my sister and I are the most important part of their life. They live vicariously through us.

I have friends who are spouse-centered. They do everything in their power to please their partner.

Too many of my friends are work-centered. Their job is the most important aspect in their life. They get meaning from their career. It is no surprise that men are twice as likely to die during their first five years of retirement, than they are prior to retirement.

Others are service-centered. They give their lives to charity and others. They sacrifice their own well-being in the name of contribution. Oprah may fall into this category. One of the reasons she claims she put on all of her weight is that she did not spend enough time taking care of herself.

Which leads us to the benefits of self-centering.

Throughout your life, there is only one constant. You. Your children may pass away before you do. Your spouse may, in spite of all of your loving, leave you. Your job (as many people are finding out) is only temporary. Even service to others can be fraught with challenges.  If you center on someone or something else, you may be giving up control of your life.

Only YOU will be around for as long as you live.

Therefore, instead of centering your life on someone or something that may not be around as long as you, maybe you should try being self-centered. This gives you some level of stability in an unpredictable world. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition – “independent of outside force or influence” – supports this notion.

Anyone who has flown on a plane has heard the flight attendant say, “If the plane loses oxygen pressure for any reason, the oxygen masks will drop down out of the small overhead compartment. If you are seated next to someone who might need some assistance, you should put your own mask on first, and then breathe normally as you assist the other person.”

Take care of yourself first. Be centered. Be grounded. Take control of your life and don’t get derailed by circumstances around you.

Being self-centered is NOT the same as being selfish. Those who are self-centered are NOT narcissistic, hedonistic, or self-absorbed. Because self-centered individuals are more grounded, they are able to give even more to others.  They have the potential to be even more generous and to make even greater contributions.

In some respects, this is in line with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (pictured above). Self-actualization (which is where I put self-centering) is the highest level, higher than esteem, love/belonging, safety and physiological needs.  Interestingly, creativity is listed under self-actualization.

What do you think?

P.S. Some may argue a more theological perspective. For example, Stephen Covey (of the 7 Habits fame) authored, “The Divine Center: Why We Need a Life Centered on God and Christ and How We Attain It.” As I try to avoid religion and politics in this blog, I’ll leave this discussion for another time.

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Happy New Year

December 30, 2008

In just a matter of hours, 2009 will be upon us.  If you have not done so, please read my article on setting New Year’s Resolutions.  You may also be interested in some statistics about New Year’s Resolutions.

Happy New Year!

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Interesting New Year’s Resolution Statistics

December 11, 2008

This article was originally published December 2008

Early this week I received an email from a researcher at a major national TV talk show.  They are doing a show on New Year’s Resolutions and saw my article on the topic.

They wanted to know if I had more details on the statistics referenced in the article.

I went back to the research we did with the help of Opinion Corporation of Princeton, NJ, and found the following interesting tid bits.  The survey has a margin of error of 3%.

  • 45% of Americans usually set New Year’s Resolutions; 17% infrequently set resolutions; 38% absolutely never set resolutions.
  • Only 8% of people are always successful in achieving their resolutions. 19% achieve their resolutions every other year.  49% have infrequent success.  24% (one in four people) NEVER succeed and have failed on every resolution every year. That means that 3 out of 4 people almost never succeed.
  • Of those who do set resolutions (these add to more than 100% because some people set multiple resolutions):
    • 34% set resolutions related to money
    • 38% set resolutions related to weight
    • 47% set resolutions related to self-improvement or education
    • 31% set resolutions related to relationships
  • It appears that the younger you are, the more likely you are to achieve your resolutions
    • 39% of those in their twenties achieve their resolutions every year or every other year
    • Less than 15% of those over 50 achieve their resolutions every year or every other year
  • The less happy you are, the more likely you are to set New Year’s Resolutions.  This is especially true for those who set money-related resolutions: 41% are not happy, 34% are moderately happy, and 25% are happy.
  • And here’s the punchline – There is no correlation between happiness and resolution setting/success.  People who achieve their resolutions every year are NO happier than those who do not set resolutions or who are unsuccessful in achieving them.

What Does This Really Mean?

Of course numbers only represent averages and do not reflect on YOUR personal situation. However, there are a few questions you may want to ponder as we inch closer towards New Year’s Eve:

  • What kind of New Year’s Resolutions do you typically set (money, health, self-improvement, or relationship-oriented)?
  • Why do you set these particular resolutions?
  • What do you hope to gain by achieving these resolutions?
  • What will you do to be more successful (than the typical person)?
  • Do you believe you will be happier in a year if you are successful in achieving your resolutions? If so, be aware that this is rarely the case – your attitude is more important than the results.
  • And finally, what could you do to improve your level of happiness TODAY, rather than believing your happiness lies in the future?

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner.  This year, instead of looking forward to what you want, spend your time reflecting on what you have.  This is especially important during these troubling economic times.  Listen to a brief MP3 I recorded on the topic of “Wanting What You Have.”

And if you do set a resolution, set a “theme-based” resolution rather than a “goal-based” resolution.  This will increase your level of happiness AND participation in the coming year.

I am formulating my theme for the New Year now.

What will be your theme for the New Year?

P.S. If you want to give a great gift that will change the life of a loved one, be sure to check out Goal-Free Living.  If you want signed copies, use the contact button above.  We can make the book out with a personal inscription.

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Remembering Paul Newman

September 29, 2008

Although I did not know Paul Newman personally, I always admired him.  He was an Academy Award winning actor (I remember being enthralled by “The Sting” as a kid), a championship race car driver, a successful food business man (I love Newman’s Own dressings and salsas) and a philanthropist.

He achieved so much and impacted so many lives.

Did he have plans to do all of this?  I’m sure at some level he must have.  But in a recent AP article, two friends - Robert Forrester and David Horvitz – implied that he was (using my words) a bit more ”goal-free.”

“Even though he was a Hollywood icon…it was a rare moment in which Newman reflected on how he would be remembered after his death,” Horvitz recalled.  “Most of the time he didn’t think about legacy.  He was pretty much in the moment.”

Being in the moment is a cornerstone living goal-free.  Avoiding excessive planning is another cornerstone.

Forrester joked how “such planning wasn’t part of Newman’s nature. A sign famously hangs in Newman’s Westport, Connecticut, offices that reads, ‘If I had a plan I would be screwed.’”

According to the article, Newman “welcomed the opinions of others as he pursued the business and his philanthropic efforts.” Forrester explained how the actor “believed in the benefit of ‘creative chaos,’ where, as in a movie set, different people offer ideas about how a scene should be handled.”

I love this concept.  Everyone has a voice and is valued for their contribution.

And contribution is the one legacy Newman wanted.

He once said that he wanted to be remembered for “the ‘Hole in the Wall’ camps he helped to start across the world for children with life-threatening illnesses and to make sure that 100 percent of the profits from his popular food company, Newman’s Own, would continue to benefit such camps and thousands of other charities.”

To date he has donated over $250 million to charities and has impacted countless lives.

Whether or not Paul Newman lived goal-free is irrelevant.  What is clear is that he lived by high principles.  If we could all live like Paul Newman, the world would be a better place.

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Commemorating September 11th

September 11, 2008

My friend, Shari Harley, wrote a beautiful article commemorating September 11th.  For her it is very personal since she worked in the Twin Towers at that time, but was not in the office that day.

She asks some very thought provoking questions:

  • How is the world different because I lived on September 11th when others died?
  • What have I done in the last 12 months to make the world smaller and to build community each time I get on a plane, walk in a store, meet someone new and have a conversation?
  • Where have I played small…said yes when I meant no…said no when I wanted to say yes…or didn’t say anything at all?

I encourage you, as she does, to think about the contribution you are making to the world.  Her article has reaffirmed my theme for the rest of this year: “significance.”

Permalink and comments

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Resolutions That Work

August 18, 2008

Making Resolutions That Work

Goal-Free Living and New Year's Resolutions

Like dinosaurs and gas-guzzling SUVs, is the traditional New Year’s Resolution rapidly becoming a thing of the past?

According to a survey by Stephen Shapiro, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

In a survey of 1012 Americans, only 45% of Americans now say they write up New Years Resolutions down from 88% of Americans who did so in the past. The random telephone survey was conducted by Shapiro, author of “Goal-Free Living,” with the assistance of Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton N.J. The survey has a margin of error of 3%.

[Read more]

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Freedom in Bangkok

July 11, 2008

I am here in Bangkok and loving it. The people are so nice. The food is great. And the massages (legit ones!) are cheap.

I check email once, maybe twice a day. And I only respond to the urgent ones (like requests from TV stations and magazines here in Bangkok who want to interview me). I’m getting more work done in less time, because I can stay focused on the task at hand, rather than reading and responding to emails every 5 seconds.

I bought a cheap mobile phone and have both Malaysian and Thai phone numbers so that I can make local calls. But I don’t even carry the phone with me when I am out. It is for emergencies primarily.

This is freedom.

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The 30 Day Challenge

July 8, 2008

How are you doing with the 30 day challenge?  For me, the first few days were tough.  What made it even more difficult was that my hotel does not have internet access in the rooms.  So whenever I want to access email, I need to go to the hotel lobby. 

I’m on day 4, and as predicted, I am no longer stressed about checking my email.  I set up an autoresponder that gives people my agent’s contact information if they need a response that is time sensitive. 

I’m off to Bangkok in a few hours…

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CrackBerry Addiction

July 5, 2008

It has been nearly 24 hours without my BlackBerry.  It’s funny.  When dieting, all you can think about is food.  When your BlackBerry is stolen, all you can think about is your Blackberry. 

How much time do we waste as individuals – and organizations – thinking about, and playing with our toys?

I just read David Zinczenko’s “From the Editor” column in this month’s “Men’s Health” magazine.  While in South Africa, he did not have data service, so his BlackBerry did not work.  Here’s what he wrote:

“For the first 24 hours, I was a mess.  I was begging the concierge to open the business center at 3 a.m., so I could keep tabs on what was happening 17 in-flight hours away in New York. I was driving the hotel staff, and myself, a little bit nuts.

“Then something happened on day 4 of my stay. I was shaking out my beach towel – the sun was starting to edge down, my hunger was beginning to rise up, a lobster bake was going on somewhere – and as the grains of sand flew out onto the beach, I realized I had forgotten something.  I had forgotten to check my e-mail.  Indeed, I had forgotten about e-mail entirely for nearly the whole day.  And here’s the funny thing: It was on this vacation that my life changed, in many wonderful ways.  Not the least of which is this: I learned that taking a break from the stress of daily life gives you the resources to better handle it when you return.”

Here’s my 30 day challenge to you:

  1. Lock your BlackBerry away.  Or, if it also serves as your phone, turn off the “data services” so that you can no longer receive email.
  2. Turn off “automatic send/receive” in Outlook.  This way you won’t be notified every time you have email.
  3. Check your email only 3 times a day.  Choose a schedule that works for you.  I do first thing in the morning, lunch time, and end of work day.  If people have been trained to expect instantaneous responses, use an auto-responder to let them know that you are checking email infrequently and that they should call you if it is urgent.
  4. Use the phone to communicate rather than email.  Make personal contact.

This should improve your productivity, increase your ability to stay focused, enhance your relationships, and reduce your stress. 

Well, maybe it will reduce your stress on day 4, when you stop thinking about email.

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