Why Goal-Free?

December 1, 2005

Earlier this week I had a nice reunion with a friend of mine from high school, Mary. Mary was an excellent student and went to a top notch university. Everyone had high hopes for her. Medical school seemed like the likely candidate. Then, right after graduation, she moved out to Wyoming and became a ski instructor. No medical school. No “real” job. She made enough money on the slopes to get by. Later, she decided she wanted to do a bit more — to make more of a difference in others. Therefore, she got her masters degree in education (of course while frequently skiing). She now teaches high school students during the day. Most days after work, she goes cross country skiing. During the weekends, downhill is her game. She plays the saxophone in a small, local band for fun. And she really enjoys her life. She describes it as taking retirement at 22. The goal-free approach resonated with her.

She asked me about the other people I met during my travels and the reasons they lived goal-free. Of course, the answers were many and varied. Some started that way early in life. Others changed due to job loss or a health problem. Sometimes it was a surprising opportunity that took their life in a different direction. Through this conversation, I learned the reason why Mary lives the way she does. Something I never knew. Mary’s sister died at the young age of 16. Mary decided she did not want to waste one day of her life. For years she believed that she might die young too. Every day is precious. Mary is now in her 40s and is still enjoying life…now.

Goal-Free Living is not the same as “living each day as though it were your last.” And it is not about becoming a ski instructor just because you enjoy skiing. It is about finding something that calls you forward; a burning in your belly that pulls you into the future, rather than having to push your way through the barriers, hindrances, and obstacles of life. It’s about being present to every moment, playing big and bold while finding pleasure in the simplest things.

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Everyone Should Have Goals…Right?

October 31, 2005

I recently attended a workshop, where a large focus was on goal-setting. Given my contrarian perspective, I was asked to briefly speak to the group about Goal-Free Living. The next day, a woman came over to me and said, “My son is one of the happiest people I know. And he is wildly successful. But he doesn’t have any goals. And I think he should have goals. What do you think? Should I buy him your book?” My response was, “No. You should buy the book for yourself so that you can better understand your son. Here is someone who is happy and successful, and you want to change that! Maybe after reading the book, you will want to give him your copy so that he feels validated.”

It is interesting how people believe that their view of the world is the correct one — and that others should follow their lead. There are many ways to live your life. I am not proselytizing Goal-Free Living! It is not the right way to live your life. It is only an alternative view of the world. A view that works for many happy and successful people.

I discussed the concept of certitude in a previous post.

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Happy as a Dog

October 11, 2005

One of my favorite authors is Carl Hiaasen. He writes fun books where the bad guys are always land developers in Miami. In his book Sick Puppy, one of the characters is a dog. A Labrador retriever. A very goal-free dog.

The dog was having a grand time. That’s the thing about being a Labrador retriever – you were born for fun. Seldom was your loopy, free-wheeling mind cluttered by contemplation, and never at all by somber worry; every day was a romp. What else could there possibly be to life? Eating was a thrill. Pissing was a treat. Shitting was a joy. And licking your own balls? Bliss. And everywhere you went were gullible humans who patted and hugged and fussed over you.

Labradors operated by the philosophy that life was too brief for anything but fun and mischief and spontaneous carnality….Labradors tended to live exclusively, gleefully, and obliviously in the moment.

When I read this passage, it made me wonder if sometimes the human brain is our enemy. Maybe it is our ability to think and rationalize that becomes a barrier to true and gleeful bliss. So perhaps, just for today, I’ll choose to be happy like a dog.

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Go 95%; Achieve Optimal Performance

October 3, 2005

I just read a blog entry on CanOWorms that discusses the concept of 95% perfection. The general idea is that in sports, we achieve optimal performance when we put 95% effort into what we do. My own experiences — personal and professional — support this premise.

A few years ago, I worked with a Formula One team (auto racing). Their pit crews have long been admired for their ability to fuel a car, change the tires (back before rule changes that disallowed tire changes during refueling), and do the required maintenance in a matter of seconds. There are 19 people in a pit crew. To find the optimal configuration of the team, they move each of the crew members around until they get the best combination. And then they practice more. All of this is under while being measured with a stop watch. Eventually the team can go no faster; they hit a performance plateau no matter how hard they try. Once, as an experiment, the pit crew members were told that they were NOT going to be timed; that they should just go as fast as possible without going full out (95%?). The result? The pit crew shaved several tenths of a second off their best time – although pit crew members “felt” that they went slower.

When we remove the time pressures of traditional goals and the mental pressure to go full out (100%), our efforts flow more effortlessly and we perform at optimum levels. Whether it be in sports or in life, when we play, have fun, and allow life to unfold naturally – rather than forcing it – we operate at a higher level of performance AND do it with greater ease.

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