Goal-Free Living on the Radio

December 27, 2007

Goal-Free Living on the radioJanuary 1st is the traditional day of setting your goals for the year. Why not start 2008 right by listening to me talk about Goal-Free Living on Jim Blasingame’s The Small Business Advocate radio show.

Tune in at 8:08AM New Year’s Day. But if you decide to sleep in, you can still listen to the interview on replay.

Happy New Year.

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Setting New Year’s Resolutions That Can’t Fail

December 26, 2007

Once again it is that time of year when we look forward into the new year. We set our resolutions. Lose 10 pounds. Stop smoking. Get out of debt.

Unfortunately, most resolutions are about fixing what is wrong with you rather than bringing pleasure into your life.

In addition, most resolutions are target- and time-based goals (e.g., lose 10 pounds by the end of the year). These just set you up for failure. It’s no surprise that according to a survey of mine, only 8% of people are successful in fulfilling their resolutions.

And those who do achieve their resolutions are often no happier. When you focus on a target-based resolutions, you are focused on the future rather than the present. As a result, you miss the “hidden” opportunities around you, and miss out on the joy of every day life.

What’s a more creative alternative?

Rather than setting specific, measurable goals, set a New Year’s Theme. A theme is one word (or set of words) that serves as your “game” for the year.

In the past, my themes have included “flexibility.” That year, I got rid of almost everything I owned to the point where I was able to move apartments in the back of a taxi with only two trips.

Some past themes of mine include “platform,” “impact,” and “creating a movement.” Readers of this blog have sent me their themes which have ranged from “laughter” and “joy” to “new beginnings” and “(embracing) imperfection.”

I am still formulating my themes for this year and will announce them next week.

Setting a New Year’s Theme is fun. It’s easy. And it enhances your every day creativity.

If you want to learn more about setting resolutions that work, try some of the following resources:

Happy Holidays!

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Danish Innovation and Performance Improvement Interviews

December 21, 2007

Innovation and Creativity Interview in DenmarkBack in October I gave two speeches in Copenhagen. One speech was for Junior Chamber International and the other was for a conference organized by Alexander Kjerulf. While there I was also interviewed by Thomas Davidson from oneopenspace.dk. We discussed innovation and “Goal-Free Living.”

Here are the videos from the interview. Each are between 3 and 8 minutes in duration.


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How to Make Drudgery into a Delightful Diversion

October 16, 2007

I’ve noticed something interesting lately. A lot of adults are playing games.

No, I don’t mean Parcheesi or tennis.

I mean games specifically designed to enhance one’s experience of another activity. And I am convinced that this is one of the simplest and most powerful tools for improving your productivity while increasing your enjoyment of the process.

First, let me provide some simple (and potentially obvious) thoughts on games.

There are two types of games: competitive games and play games.

Competitive games are the ones adults typically play. These games have rules. You keep score. There are winners and losers.

There is an endless list of competitive games including Monopoly, tennis, football, poker. Board games, cards games, and sports fall into this category.

Competitive games have rules that are defined by someone else (the sport’s governing body, the game manufacturer, or accepted conventions). The duration of the game is dictated by a clock, the score/points, or the amount of money you have available. Winning is good. Losing is bad.

Contrast competitive games with play games.

Play games are the ones typically played by children.

Play games typically have no rules. Or the rules are made up in the moment by the players. There are no winners and losers. The “success” of a game is solely determined by the players’ enjoyment. The game has no defined ending. It ends when the players decide it ends. The process is all that really matters.

The key to making any challenging task more fun and productive is to treat it like a play game.

Think of an activity you don’t want to do such as cleaning the house, making cold calls, or approaching a stranger.

Next, think of a game that could be fun that incorporates that activity.

A friend of mine, Donna, works from home. One week, her husband, Fred, was away on a business trip. Although Donna wanted to make sure that the house was clean and in order by the time Fred returned, she dreaded doing the housework. To make the time pass, she decided to play a game. The game was clean as a way of showing her love and affection for her husband. It was no longer about the cleaning. The time passed quickly and she enjoyed the process. With every crumb vacuumed and dish cleaned, she thought of her husband.

Yesterday I spent the day with a great friend of mine, Susanne. We drove 2 hours to the casino for a day of fun and entertainment. The main reason for the trip was to see a fantastic sax player, Candy Dulfer, perform. Candy was scheduled to take the stage at 7PM for a general admission show. There were no reserved seats or even the guarantee of a seat. The doors opened at 5:30. And that posed a dilemma.

Our favorite American football team, the New England Patriots, was playing an important game that would not end until 7PM. What should we do? Should we watch most of the football game and risk not getting into the concert? Or should we miss half of the football game so that we can be assured of a nice seat? Susanne had a third option. She decided to play a game.

The game was to see if she could get us on the guest list. This would allow us to watch the entire football game and still be assured a great seat. Although Susanne’s game had a specific outcome, for her, it was the game that mattered, not the outcome. I have never seen her so motivated and energized. She spoke with everyone. First she befriended the pit boss at the blackjack table who suggested she try to meet someone associated with the concert. Next thing I know, Susanne disappears for quite some time. Upon her return she says little, but is smiling. A little bit later she disappears again. This time she has the news: she got us on the guest list and we had a private booth right next to the stage.

For me, this was an incredible treat. Yes, the concert was fantastic. But the greater treat was seeing Susanne so jazzed up. The game transformed her into a people meeting machine. And this, from someone who considers herself to be an introvert.

Games can turn drudgery into a delightful diversion. The key is to find a game that works uniquely for you. Feel free to change the game if it stops being fun. There are no rules. And you may be surprised to find that there can be a huge payoff to play.

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Article: Why Goals Lower Creativity

August 27, 2007

Twenty years ago, The Boston Globe published an article on how traditional forms of motivation diminish creativity.  For the most part, this is consistent with the goal-free philosophy.  Organizational goals are extrinsic forms of motivation that often degrade performance rather than enhance it.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Psychologists have been finding that rewards can lower performance levels, especially when the performance involves creativity.

A related series of studies shows that intrinsic interest in a task — the sense that something is worth doing for its own sake — typically declines when someone is rewarded for doing it.

If a reward — money, awards, praise, or winning a contest — comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right.


Researchers offer several explanations for their surprising findings about rewards and performance.

First, rewards encourage people to focus narrowly on a task, to do it as quickly as possible and to take few risks. “If they feel that ‘this is something I have to get through to get the prize,’ they’re going to be less creative,” Amabile said.

Second, people come to see themselves as being controlled by the reward. They feel less autonomous, and this may interfere with performance. “To the extent one’s experience of being self-determined is limited,” said Richard Ryan, associate psychology professor at the University of Rochester, “one’s creativity will be reduced as well.”

Finally, extrinsic rewards can erode intrinsic interest. People who see themselves as working for money, approval or competitive success find their tasks less pleasurable, and therefore do not do them as well.

You can read the entire article at Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator by Alfie Kohn.

P.S. Antony, thanks for sending me this information.

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How to Swim Faster

July 3, 2007

At a recent workshop on creativity, I discussed “the performance paradox” – the concept that trying harder produces poorer results.

Afterwards, one executive in the audience came up to me and told me his own story.  He said…

“When I was a kid, I went to summer camp.  One of our daily activities was swimming.  We were told to swim our laps as fast as possible.  As we did, the camp counselors timed our speed.  We did this over and over, each and every day.

“As expected, our lap times improved the more we practiced.  However, about half-way through the summer, our improvements stopped.  No matter how hard we tried, we could not go any faster.

“It was at that point that the counselors told us they would no longer evaluate us on our speed.  Instead they were going to rate us based on the quality of our stroke.  We discovered afterwards that we were still being timed.  Surprisingly, by focusing on style rather than speed, we all went significantly faster.  When we stopped trying to go faster, we went faster.”

Reduced performance is often the result of focusing on a “goal” rather than being “present.”

In what areas of life can you improve YOUR performance by focusing on what is in front of you rather than worrying about the result?

Where, in the past, have you improved your performance by being present?

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Does the Pursuit of Major Goals Reduce Performance?

June 19, 2007

In today’s USA Today, an article discussed “players who are slumping in pursuit of milestones.”  The examples they give are:

  • Barry Bonds, who is eight home runs shy of Hank Aaron’s record of 755, has recently hit only 2 home runs in 124 plate appearances.  Earlier in the season he hit 11 home runs during 76 at bats.
  • Pitcher Tom Glavine needs only 5 more victories to reach 300.  He has failed to win his last five starts.
  • Craig Biggio needs 11 more hits to reach the 3,000 mark.  He is now in a slump hitting just .237.
  • Sammy Sosa has 599 home runs, just one shy of 600.  Although he has hit 11 homers this year, he has just one since May 22 with 75 at bats.
  • Jim Thome needs 20 homers to reach the 500 plateau.  He hit 42 home runs last season yet has only 8 this year.
  • Manny Ramirez also needs 20 homers to reach 500.  Last year he had nearly twice as many home runs by this point in the season.

I described in earlier blog entries how “over motivation” reduces performance.  Is that what we are observing here? These players are all performing worse as they get closer to their goals.  But are they performing worse BECAUSE they are getting closer to their goals?  Or is this just a coincidence?  Does anyone know of any studies that show the performance of athletes as they get closer to major – and highly publicized – milestones?  Do you have personal experiences that support or refute this perspective?

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How to Remain Detached

June 17, 2007

Doug Busch, former Chief Information Officer at Intel once told me, “The best things I have ever done in my career came shortly after I decided that the best thing that could happen to me is that they fire me.” Doug is referring to the concept of detachment. Detachment is not indifference. It is about acting with a commitment to the future while focusing on the present. For example, if you are in a job interview, remaining detached would mean that you listen carefully and answer honestly, without concern about the outcome.

In the book I describe one approach for remaining detached: Attach yourself to something of higher value. If you are in sales, attached yourself to serving customers rather than focusing on the sale. If you want to stop a bad habit, replace it with a healthier habit.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who claimed to use the detachment concept to “stay sane.” She said that husband and kids drive her crazy and that the house is always in a frenzied state of affairs. Rather than getting stressed, she detaches from the mania by “attaching” herself to making her house a better place to live. Her approach? She spends hours every day on the internet researching lighting, fixtures, and other ways of improving her house for her family.

I question if this is a healthy attachment. It seems like an escape mechanism or a distraction. It enables her to avoid dealing with her situation. And given the amount of time she spends online, it might even be an obsession.

How can you tell if your attachments are healthy? Healthy attachments should:

  • be present moment focused and not about achieving a future objective
  • have you engage and interact with others (rather than sitting on your computer)
  • (potentially) be in the service of, or contributing to others
  • increase the level of honesty in your interaction with others

In the book I quoted David Wood the (then) Vice Present of Sales for the Americas for the Bose Corporation. He said, “I’m personally satisfied at the end of the day if I made a difference for someone personally; if someone’s efforts were furthered along with my help. I have this intense desire to feel like I have made an investment in someone else and the company. I am not driven by money or status. I’m not even comfortable partaking in privileged company benefits. Rather, I am driven by contribution, what I do, and the value I add.” This philosophy must be working. David is now Senior Vice President and General Manager of GN/Jabra’s US operations. He continues to live a passionate, creative, and successful life.

How are your “future” attachments preventing you from being present, being honest, and playing full out?  How can you attach to something of higher value such that you achieve greater success with less stress?

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How to Change Your Emotions by Changing Your Language

May 29, 2007

Most readers (hopefully) know that there is a huge difference between being goal-less and being goal-free. Goal-less implies a complete lack of direction, motivation, and action. Goal-free means having a sense of direction, not a specific destination, and then meandering with purpose.

Goal-free versus goal-less is an example of different words with different meanings. Sometimes however, different words with similar meanings can generate different emotional responses.

Last week I was having lunch with a group of people. I was discussing the difference between goal-less and goal-free. During the conversation, one women chimed, “I am child-free, not child-less. Not having children is a choice. People who call themselves child-less often feel as though something is missing from their lives.” Wow, what a great distinction. Although both imply having no children, the emotional difference is significant. The women (and men) who thought of themselves as child-less completely got it.

Subtle differences in words can create large differences in emotion.

I was recently having lunch with a friend. She was talking about her ex-husband. She noted that when she referred to him as her “ex,” it stirred up negative emotions. It reminded her that she was once in a relationship with this man, and that things did not work out. When she referred to him by his name, there was much less emotional baggage. Now he is just a guy, and not someone she was once married to.

Subtle differences in words can create large differences in emotion.

Is your job “work,” “your career,” or “your calling?”

Are you chasing “goals” (old English for overcoming obstacles to get to your destination) or are you pursuing your “aspirations” (derived from Latin meaning “to breath life into”)?

Subtle differences in words can create large differences in emotion.

Choose your words carefully.

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How to Lose a Sale…by Charging Too Little

May 17, 2007

I learned an interesting lesson many years back: Charging too LITTLE for your goods or services can price you out of a sale. Let me explain.

I was with the management consulting firm Accenture for 15 years. Back in 2001, I left the company to become a “professional speaker.” Although I had been giving speeches since 1992, I had no idea how to start a speaking business.

At that time, I was living in England. One week after starting my business, I met with the owner of a speaker’s bureau in London to discuss representation. We spoke for a while, he watched my videos, and he expressed serious interest. During our conversation, we never discussed my speaking fees – and I had never even thought about what I would charge.

A few days later he called me about a potential gig. The call came in to my cell phone as I waited for a train. It was difficult to hear him due to the noise on the platform.  However, I did hear him ask the dreaded question – “What is your speaking fee?” I honestly had no idea and had never thought about it. I did some quick calculations and then pulled a number out of the air. “Thirty Five Hundred” was my response. He thanked me and hung up.

A day later he called back. I quickly realized that he too must have had a hard time hearing me during our previous conversation, because he asked me, “Was that Thirty Five THOUSAND dollars or Thirty Five THOUSAND pounds ($70,000)?” I stumbled for a moment, debating how to answer. I then sheepishly responded, “Thirty Five HUNDRED DOLLARS.” Again, he thanked me and hung up.

As you may have guessed, I did not get the speaking gig. Although I will never know for sure why I was not chosen, I did discover that the person they hired was paid $35,000! I learned a powerful lesson that day. Your price often determines the PERCEPTION of your credibility. Under-pricing can often imply low value.

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