Have you noticed more and more literature supporting the goal-free concept? I have. And nearly every day, someone writes to tell me about an article they read that touts the benefits of “not focusing on your goals.”
One such article entitled,”Why It’s So Hard to Be Happy” by Michael Wiederman, appeared in the Feb/Mar 2007 issue of “Scientific American Mind.”
In the article, Wiederman discusses 5 tips for being happier. Numbers 1 and 5 may seem familiar:
#1 – Do Not Focus on Goals. …you must be vigilant against that internal voice that whispers, “But I would be a bit happier if only…” (He goes on to explain why achieving a goal does not necessarily bring happiness. I am reminded of my goal-free statistics: 58% of people admit to willingly sacrificing their happiness today in the belief that when they achieve their goals they will be happier. Unfortunately, 41% of Americans say that achieving their goals has not made them happier and has only left them disillusioned.)
#5 – Practice Living in the Moment. Start small by focusing on your sensory experience while engaging in a routine task. Over time, spend less energy thinking about the past or the future. (Being present is key to being goal-free)
The other 3? #2 – Make Time to Volunteer, #3 – Practice Moderation, #4 – Strive for Contentment
There is also a section in the article labeled: “Goals + Achievement = Happiness?” The question mark at the end is critical. As you might suspect, the equation is not true. Wiederman provides more evidence that money can not buy happiness. He quotes one study done by Michael R. Hagerty of the Graduate School of Management at U Cal Davis. Hagerty discovered that “the greater the income disparity within a community, the less its residents were satisfied with their lives.” Wiederman concludes, “When we are aware that others are better off than we are, our own satisfaction suffers.” (This conclusion is supported by other studies from my blog)
The article also cites psychologists Williams D. McIntosh of Georgia Southern University and Leonard L. Martin of the University of Georgia who theorize that “people who repeatedly focus on attaining goals are less likely to be happy.” Wiederman concludes, “Psychologists have found that we humans are good at deceiving ourselves about the future. We tend to believe that our prospects for increased happiness are better than our current circumstances.” Of course, this is not true.
The most interesting study was by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at U Cal Riverside, who looked at the correlation between happiness and success. She observed that, “Happy people were not necessarily happier after their success than they were before, but they tended to be happier than others who were less successful.” Her conclusion? “Success is related to happiness – but as a consequence, not a cause, of mood…happy people have other personality traits that facilitate success.”
It’s a good article, so I recommend you buy this issue of Scientific American Mind. Better yet, subscribe to the magazine.
P.S. Michael Wiederman just agreed to do a podcast for goalfree.com. Stay tuned.
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My friend Susanne and I were recently playing a trivia game. She’s pretty good with the trivia. However, at one point, she got a couple wrong answers in row. “Urgh,” she blurted out, “every time I have a gut answer and change it, it was actually correct.”
This made me curious. Malcolm Gladwell, in the book Blink, said that we make our best decisions in a blink of an eye. Was this true in Susanne’s case? Or was her mind playing tricks on her? To test this out, we did a little – admittedly unscientific – experiment.
We turned to a set of trivia questions where you had to guess the year that different events took place. For example, the year President Ford survived two assassination attempts (1975), or the year Pete Rose set a National League consecutive game hitting streak record of 44 (1978).
For our experiment, we took 10 questions. I would read her the name of an event (like the signing of the SALT II treaty) and Susanne would instantaneously give me her “gut” answer. I marked down her answer as she proceeded to use analysis and a bit of time to come up with a final “logical” answer. In this case, the correct answer is 1979.
Out of 10 questions:
- One of her “gut” answers was closer than her “logical” answer – but only by one year.
- Four responses were unchanged after applying further reasoning. This means that 40% of the time, her “gut” answer and “logical” answer were the same.
- Five times, when she changed her “gut” response, her “logical” answer proved to be closer to the real date, often significantly closer.
What does this mean? Well, given that our study was not statistically valid, not much. However, it does point out an interesting phenomenon. Humans get attached to things such as our gut responses. When we change a gut answer that was correct and give a final answer that is wrong, we kick ourselves. However, we are much less likely to remember the situations where our gut answer was wrong and our final answer was correct.
I have seen this concept in action in other places too, such as gambling.
I like blackjack because it is a game of probability – and only probability. I find it interesting that so many people are superstitious and have illogical beliefs. One time I was at the blackjack table with my friend, Gary. In total, there were five of us at the table. One of the other players was quite a beginner. In fact, he stunk! We nicknamed him “Stinkie.” He would take cards (a hit) when he clearly should not. And he would stand when almost any other player would hit. As expected, he lost a lot of hands, and a lot of money. That is expected and not very interesting.
The interesting part is that Gary became quite agitated. He was convinced that Stinkie was negatively affecting HIS hands. For example, on one hand, Stinkie took a card when he should certainly have stayed. The card he got was the one Gary wanted, and as a result Gary lost. During another hand, the beginner stayed when he should have taken a card. The card that would have helped the beginner in fact helped the dealer, and everyone at the table lost.
Tempers were flaring. The other players would like to have switched tables, but the casino was crowded and there were no other seats available. Instead, everyone wanted to lynch the beginner – or at least convince him to leave. I was amused by these violent reactions. From my perspective the beginner had NO impact on my winnings – probabilistically speaking. Everyone noticed the times when the beginner’s actions caused them to lose. But they NEVER noticed the times when his actions helped them win. NEVER.
That evening, Gary was still convinced he lost money because of Stinkie. I tried to convince him that this bad player – purely from a probabilistic perspective – had no impact on him or the other players. He was not convinced. So I decided to put together a little experiment. I created a game that accurately simulated hundreds of hands of blackjack. For every hand, we kept track of whether the bad player’s actions impacted the other player. After 200 hands, approximately 50% of the time, the bad player had no impact on the other player. 25% of the time the bad player hurt the other player. And 25% of the time, the bad player actually helped the other player – they won when they otherwise would have lost.
It is interesting how human nature compels us to fixate on what we lose rather than what we gain.
I remember hearing about a study done with college students who were given a multiple choice exam. The test administrators developed it in such a way that they could track when a student changed an answer.
After the students received their results, the examiner asked if, when the student changed a particular answer, whether they believed that their first answer was correct more often or not. Nearly all of the students believed that their first answers, or “gut” answers, were in fact correct, and that when they changed their response they more often got it wrong. This was similar to Susanne’s initial belief.
However, the study showed that the students’ final answers were more often correct than their gut answers – by a wide margin.
Why is this so?
One of the reasons is attachment. When we have something and lose it, we notice it more than if we gain something we never had. Studies show that investors who own a particular stock are likely to hold on to it. However, if they did not already own the stock, it is unlikely they would purchase it.
What does this mean for you?
Take a look at what you have in your life. Are you holding on to it just because you already have it? Do you operate from a fear of losing what you already have? Do you play small because you prefer “the devil you know than the devil you don’t?” If so, be aware that this attitude prevents you from taking risks and living the life you want. It stifles creativity, passion, and true success.
Take an inventory of your life: your belongings, your job, your friends, and your relationships.
If you were to design your life from scratch, would you seek out these things and people? Or, would you make different choices?
Go through your house and eliminate as much as you can. If you read Goal-Free Living, you know that I once fit everything I owned into a few boxes and moved apartments in the back of a taxi with just 2 trips. Have a garage sale. Sell everything on eBay (my friend Lynn Dralle is an eBay expert). Or give everything to Goodwill and receive a tax write-off. This will generate some cash. More importantly, you will find this house cleaning frees you up immensely. Fewer possessions means fewer things to worry about losing or breaking, and ultimately, fewer attachments.
Take a look at your job. Do you love your job? Or are you there mainly because it is easier to stay put than explore new options? One friend once told me, “I would do something different if only I could figure out what I wanted to do.” That was his problem. He was intellectualizing his interests, rather than experiencing them. My suggestion? Join various organizations. Go to networking meetings with the idea of learning about what others do. Meet knew people. Doing these things, he found his new career, and you can do the same. Treat the process of exploration as a game.
Finally, take a brutally honest look at your relationships. Are people still in your life because they truly nurture you? Or have they just been there all along? If a relationship or friendship is not working, do something about it. Either improve the relationship, or (as Susanne would say) give the person to Goodwill. Sorry, no tax write-offs for donating a dud relationship.
Consider this for a moment: What if losing your current existence – everything that you own and have – turned out to be the greatest thing that could happen to you? Ponder it. Play with it. With this blank sheet of paper in mind, now add back in the pieces that you really want – not just because they have always been there, but because you really want them. What would your new life look like?
Yes, you want to appreciate the life you currently have (aka “want what you have”). But don’t use this as an excuse for staying where you are. Goal-Free Living is about moving in new directions and experiencing new opportunities – without attachment to particular outcomes. Break free from the shackles of your past – your attachment to what has been – and create a “new you.”
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I have a confession.
I have psychic powers.
Don’t believe me? Let me prove it with a little experiment.
Get out a blank sheet of paper. On it, list a series of random “X”s and “O”s so that it looks something like this: XOXOXOOXOXXOXXXOXOOXXOXOO
Be sure to remember that this is your “random” list.
Ok, now get out another sheet of paper. This time, flip a coin 25 times. Each time it is heads, write an “X.” Each time it is tails, write an “O.” This will give you another string of 25 “X”s and “O”s.
Be sure to remember that this is your “coin flip” list.
Take the two pieces of paper and mix them up so that I can not tell which list is which. Study the two pieces of paper. Concentrate. Tell me telepathically which list is the random one, and which was from the coin flip. Ready?
Ok, I will turn on my psychic powers. Give me a few seconds – your thoughts may have a long way to travel. It’s getting clear. Yes, I see it. I know which list is which.
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Goal-Free Living has been featured on the PBS TV show “Between the Lines” for quite some time now. It has been slowly making its way around the country. Recently the show aired in Philadelphia. Barry Kibrick, the show’s host, noted in a recent newsletter, “And a special note to all you Philly viewers who wrote about Stephen Shapiro’s Goal-Free Living, you’re not alone. That episode inspired many.”
Want to see the show? Click here to watch the entire 30 minutes in streaming video.
Last week I gave a presentation on “goal-free” Strategic Planning to a group of professional speakers, all of whom are sole practitioners. Over the course of 90 minutes, I discussed many concepts, including the one I write about here: Compass-Driven Strategic Planning.
Fundamental Business Activities
All businesses, no matter what size or industry, have four fundamental sets of activities (also known as “processes” or “capabilities”):
- Develop Products and Services: Research & development, intellectual property creation, product design and development, etc
- Generate Demand: Marketing, sales, customer acquisition, customer service, etc
- Fulfill Demand: Manufacturing, distribution, inventory management, service delivery, etc
- Plan and Manage the Business: Strategy, finance, technology, etc
As a starting point for your business, generate a list of all activities that fall within these four fundamental processes. Click here to view a sample one page list for a professional speaker.
In order to create a sustainable business, proficiency in all four areas is necessary. Sole practitioners tend to focus their attention on only one or two of these processes, exposing their company to great risk. Here are some of the most common pitfalls:
- Excessive focus on the delivery of product or services (fulfilling demand) leaving limited time to create and maintain a pipeline of work (generate demand).
- Mismanagement and neglect of finances due to a lack of immediate priority.
- Reliance on one product or service with insufficient time for the development of new products. One sure way to end up out of business is to rely on one product indefinitely.
Why are sole practitioners so susceptible to these pitfalls? As with most companies, but more notably with small organizations, resources are at a premium; time being one of the most precious commodities. The challenge is that there is never enough time to directly manage every piece of the business. One solution is to focus on differentiators and outsource the rest. However, the real solution, especially for a small business, is a bit more complex.
In the Goal-Free Living secret, “Use a Compass, Not a Map,” I discuss the concept of finding your compass: This is the intersecting point between passion (what you love to do), skills (what you are good at), and value (what creates value – for you and others). These three attributes should drive your planning strategies.
We will start with the two dimensions that are more personal in nature, passion and skills, then overlay the value dimension later.
Create a 2 x 2 matrix. One axis is passion—from high to low. High passion implies this is an activity you love to do; low passion is something you would rather not do. The other axis is skills—from high to low. High skills are the activities where you have the necessary skills; low skills are those where you do not.
Now, that you have this 2 x 2, plot your previously listed fundamental activities onto the matrix.
Then, let’s look at the resultant quadrants.
Low passion/low skill: Outsource: If you don’t like doing something and you don’t do it well, then the best solution is to “outsource” this work. Find someone else who enjoys this task and has the skill set to execute it at a higher degree. This can be done through bartering, hiring employees, using contractors (I use elance.com), summonsing friends and family, revenue sharing, or any other creative collaborative strategy. In short, get someone else to do these low passion, low skill activities.
Low passion/high skills: Minimize. If you don’t want your job to become work, you probably want to outsource these capabilities as well. However, if you are starting out and finances are an issue, you may want to continue doing these activities for now. To keep yourself motivated, try to find a way of getting yourself excited about these activities. One way may be to turn them into a game. In general, you want to “minimize” the amount of time you spend on these tasks.
Low skills/high passion: Learn. If you love doing these activities, then you may wish to acquire the necessary skills. This can be done through a variety of means including training, mentoring, or researching. If you anticipate a steep learning curve, you may wish to find a partner during the learning process who possesses these talents. This will help to ensure that your business keeps moving forward while you gain the necessary skills.
High skills/high passion: Target: This is the sweet spot of your business. “Target” these areas. If you love the work, are good at it, AND it adds value to your market, put most of your energies here. If this is your core business, then you have chosen wisely. If not, maybe it is time to re-evaluate the business you are in.
These last two quadrants should reflect your business priorities, with an emphasis on the high skills/high passion work. By combining passion with skills, you are likely to be more effective, efficient, and satisfied in your work.
Once we are clear where our skills and passion lie, to ensure success, we must now overlay one additional dimension: value.
The final test is to validate your priorities against the “value” equation. Just because you love to do something, does not mean it is vital to your business. Conversely, some less than desirable activities may be critical to your business success.
Although there are many dimensions of value (e.g., value you create for customers, revenue you generate for your business, etc), for our purposes here, we will focus on “strategic” importance. Strategic activities are those that define the organization’s special nature, differentiate them from the competition and are fundamental to the direction of the business. We will define activities that are not strategic as being “tactical.” Tactical activities support the business, but are not THE business.
Unfortunately, determining whether an activity is strategic or tactical is not necessarily black or white as there is a range of “strategicness”. For example, if you are Apple Computers, financial work would most likely be tactical. It adds value, but it is not strategic. Although Apple’s ability to manufacture high quality iPods is of great importance, their ability to design innovative products is most important. Therefore, design is clearly strategic and manufacturing falls somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum.
If we add in “value” to our matrix and plot our tactical activities, we end up with some new strategies that look something like this:
high passion/high skill: Extend. If you are passionate and skilled in a particular area and it is not currently strategic, consider how you might “extend” that capability. Ask yourself, “How can I make this a strategic part of my business? How can I create extraordinary value for customers by leveraging this expertise?” Perhaps one way is to offer this service to others who are in a similar business. For example, professional speaking is my core business. However something that I am both skilled and passionate about is securing business with large corporations. Therefore, I could potentially offer this as a service to other professional speakers as a source of additional revenue.
high passion/low skill: Apprentice. If you are passionate, but not skilled in a tactical area, these activities will become a distraction to the business if you invest too much energy in learning. One alternative is to use the apprentice model, whereby you hire someone to perform this activity, while you learn from them. In the future, you may choose to do this activity yourself.
If we add in “value” to our matrix and plot our strategic activities, we end up with some new strategies that look something like this:
For strategic activities with low passion: Rethink or Partner. If you find that the predominance of your strategic activities involves work that is not of interest to you, you may need to “rethink” the business you are in – especially if you lack the necessary skills. Although it is difficult to be successful in business where you are neither skilled nor passionate, this does not mean you are fated for failure. Maybe you hate sales, yet the sales function is critical to the success of your business. In this case you may wish to “partner” with someone who enjoys this work and excels in this area. In this sense, we are moving beyond the traditional outsourcing model where activities are transactional in nature, such as: hiring someone to build your website, do your taxes, or create marketing materials. Here, the partnerships are more extensive and deeper in that your collaborator becomes part of your business. Their role is strategic. Bottom line: build a strong relationship with a compatible business partner, and your business – and your partner’s business – will thrive.
[NOTE: I discuss targeting and levels of value in depth in Chapter 7 of my book, 24/7 Innovation.]
By focusing your energies on those areas that matter most, you create a greater opportunity for success. When you leverage your personal skills and interests, you not only become more productive, motivated, and creative, your work becomes less stressful. This, in turn, will give you more energy and perhaps boost your desire to “work” longer hours. When you are focused on what you love, work is miraculously transformed into fun. By surrounding yourself with capable people who are committed to your success, you end up with a repertoire of skills and talents to compliment your own. In doing this, you create a more flexible business with the ability to respond quicker to changing market conditions and evolving personal needs. This means that you need fewer plans and can operate from a more “experiential” perspective. You become more successful with less effort. Isn’t this what everyone wants? This is Goal-Free Living.