Resolutions That Can’t Fail

December 27, 2013

It is that time of year when everyone sets their New Year’s Resolutions.

But only 8% of people are always successful in achieving the desired results. 92% fail!  (if you are interested in some fascinating statistics about resolutions, read this article: Interesting New Year’s Resolution Statistics)

But all is not lost. There is a better way.

Here is an article a wrote a while ago, but is timeless: Making Resolutions That Work

Or, if you prefer, you can read the variant of this article that appeared as a full-page article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago (jpg).

The general premise is that instead of setting resolutions that are specific goals (e.g., lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, exercise 3 times a week), you want to create themes that help guide you and your decision making throughout the year.

These themes get me excited about the New Year.  They also make activities that might have seemed tedious, more enjoyable.

Starting today I am off for a week of reflection and contemplation. Early January I will share my themes for 2014.

What are your themes for the new year?

P.S. If you want to learn more about how to live a more “present moment” life, read Goal-Free Living

Spend Your 24 Hours Wisely

June 7, 2013

Time is a fixed commodity.  We all get to enjoy the same 24 hours a day as everyone else.  But for some, this is not enough to do everything they want.

Therefore, whenever I am on the road and I am deciding how to spend my time, I ask, “Is this something I can only do here and now?”

For example, I was recently in San Francisco.  In comparison to the temperatures in Boston, the weather was warm enough to enjoy the beach. Therefore I took advantage of this luxury and stayed in a hotel near the ocean.

Conversely, I was in New York City a few days later where the beach wasn’t an attractive option, but it offered other unique opportunities.

By focusing on the things I can only do here and now helps me decide what is the best way to use my time.

A lot of people enjoy activities like dancing at nightclubs. But I know I can go clubbing almost anywhere.  Many like to shop when they are on the road, but I can do that anywhere as well (unless it is to buy something unique from that area).

What are the things that you can’t do elsewhere; that you can only do where you are right now?

It might be taking advantage of the weather or your geographic location (unique food options, area-specific landmarks). It might be leveraging the time of year (e.g., special events at Christmas time in New York City). And don’t forget to take advantage of the people around you. (Ok, that last point didn’t sound exactly right, but you know what I mean.) I try to see my friends when on the road, because if I don’t, I won’t see them at all.

Think about each day, even when you were home. What are the things that you can only do right now? What are the things you can only do certain times of year? While this won’t give you more time, it may make the time that you have significantly more valuable.

P.S. This concept applies to innovation too. Many companies try to do everything, and as a result do nothing well. Focus your energies on things you do better than anyone else that create exceptional customer value. Stop doing everything else, and find partners others who can do it better than you.

Are Your Goals Negatively Impacting Your Relationships?

April 5, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

Last week I briefly touched upon my perspective on goal setting. While they have been universally considered a magic bullet for success both personally and professionally, goals are not without their downsides.

Interestingly, the way in which you frame your goals can have a significant impact on your relationships.

This, according to the authors of a paper published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science that focused on whether people are open and straightforward when working with others.

The study noted that people who establish goals to improve themselves (“self-improvement goals”), like getting better grades, increasing sales numbers or nailing a perfect “10”, tend to be more cooperative in nature.

Whereas people who set goals that will enable them to perform better than others (“performance goals”) such as becoming Valedictorian or completing a task more quickly than a fellow co-worker, have more of a tendency to be “deceitful and less likely to share information with coworkers. The reason for this is fairly obvious – when you want to outperform others, it doesn’t make sense to be honest about information.”

The study suggests that those with self-improvement goals on the other hand tend to be quite open. “If the ultimate goal is to improve yourself, one way to do it is to be very cooperative with other people…(however) they’re not really altruists, per se. They see the social exchange as a means toward the ends of self-improvement.”

Other research shows that those with self-improvement goals are also more open to hearing different perspectives, while those with performance goals “would rather just say, ‘I’m just right and you are wrong.’”

According to the authors, both types of goal setting can be effective. However, their findings suggest that helping individuals frame their goals to focus on self-improvement instead of performance may foster a better overall team environment.

From my perspective, performance goals can be extremely useful for creating a powerful team when the objective is to be better than external competition.

Regardless, a good balance of goals creates a high-performance environment that also fosters collaboration. The key, as I have discussed before, is to not hyper-focus on the goal to the point where you miss the bigger picture and bigger opportunities.

P.S. For more on my goal-setting perspective, read Goal-Free Living.

Goals Are Stupid

February 1, 2012

NOTE: This article is on the American Express OPEN Forum with the title “How to Make Goal-Setting Work for You.”  But the title I really wanted was “Goals Are Stupid.”  I’ll let you decide if they are or not.

We are a society obsessed with goals. Nearly everyone sets them. In fact, we just finished the most popular goal-setting day of the year: New Year’s Eve. This is when we establish our annual objectives, called resolutions.

Even though goal-setting is in vogue, is it good for us? Maybe, but not necessarily.

After studying goals for nearly 10 years, I have seen that for many, this ritual can lead to both failure and disappointment. Why? Goal-gurus often use words like “achievement,” “success” and “potential.” They position these concepts in a way that sounds appealing. “Get a better job.” “Make more money.” “Find the perfect partner.” Although our culture has placed a high value on success, money, status and fame, none of these are what we really want. I believe the ultimate goal for human beings is “happiness.”

So, what is it that makes people happy?

A few years ago, I commissioned a statistically valid study that uncovered some startling figures:

  • 58 percent of people admit to willingly sacrificing their happiness today in the belief that when they achieve their goals they will be happier. This means that over half of all goal-setters believe that happiness only exists in the future when they achieve their goals.
  • Sadly, according to the same study, 92 percent of people fail to achieve their annual goal—their New Year’s resolution. And it appears that this failure rate applies to all goal-setting.

But what about the 8 percent who achieved their goals? Clearly they must be happy with the results. But surprisingly, 41 percent of those who achieved their goals found that the accomplishment did little to improve their happiness. In fact, they were left disillusioned, dissatisfied and worse afterwards. Why? Many realized they inadvertently set the “wrong” goal. What’s the response? Set yet another goal, and allow the vicious cycle to continue.

If you do the math, this means that only about 5 percent of goal-setters both achieve their goals and are happy as a result. And many of those “successful” 5 percent become acclimated to the fruits of their labor and the happiness wears off. The more money you make, the more money you want. The bigger your house, the more space you desire. The more successes you obtain, the more success you want.

This acclimation perspective is supported by Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, in an interview in the January/February 2012 Harvard Business Review. He says:

“A recent study showed that very few experiences affect us for more than three months. When good things happen, we celebrate for a while and then sober up. When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.”

He contends that happiness is not linked to achievement. In fact, he provides striking examples of people who had experienced “horrible” circumstances yet were ultimately happier in the long run. Apparently, we are good at finding the “silver lining.” On a lighter note, he quotes Pete Best, the drummer in the Beatles who was replaced by Ringo Starr before the band became big. He is now a session drummer and said, “I am happier than I would have been with the Beatles.”

Achievement does not necessarily drive happiness—nor does having “more” or “less.” To be clear, I am not advocating that people sit idly while eating bonbons and watching Jerry Springer. A life like this is neither juicy nor exciting and will most likely lead to hedonistic tendencies and a feeling of being lost. You still need to have something pulling you forward; something that gets you energized.

So here is what I am suggesting…

Read my four counterintuitive tips for goal-setting and the #1 fallacy of goal-setting on the American Express OPEN Forum

If you enjoyed this article, please press the “like” button on the American Express OPEN Forum website and spread the love.  Also, please leave comments there.

Kit Kat Video on Working Hard

April 12, 2011

I love this video. I was just in Mexico on vacation and I saw all of the vacationers working hard while the locals were enjoying the sea and sun. It made me think about this commercial for Kit Kat. Ah, so true…

Why We Crave Goals

December 23, 2010

As many of you may know, my second book was called “Goal-Free Living.”  Although it was originally going to be a book on how to be more creative, it morphed into a manifesto for a counter-cultural way of living.

In fact, the “goal-free” philosophy will be featured in a major newspaper early next year.  Stay tuned for that.

Someone once asked me why people crave goals.  It is a hard question to answer.  But an interesting point of view was sent to me by Antony Woods from Australia, and I wanted to share it with you…

He quotes a renowned 20th Century Burmese Meditation Master:

“The fourth protection for your psychological benefit is to reflect on the phenomenon of ever-approaching death. Buddhist teachings stress that life is uncertain, but death is certain; life is precarious but death is sure. Life has death as its goal. There is birth, disease, suffering, old age, and eventually, death. These are all aspects of the process of existence.”

From: Practical Vipassana Meditation Exercises by Mahasi Sayadaw

Antony then suggested that “people often set goals for their lives assuming that they won’t die in the foreseeable future. They assume that the New Year will come, tomorrow will come etc. The only thing one knows that is coming is death, but one doesn’t know when. Rather than thinking “death, death, death,” reflection helps one to appreciate the duration of each breath and have a playful, tentative and pragmatic attitude about the future.  I reckon this is what Goal-Free Living is all about.”

Interesting thing to consider as we get ready for New Year’s Eve and the goal-setting ritual known as “resolutions.”

When a Goal is Not a Goal

August 1, 2010

This post marks the 500th entry on this blog.

Today I want to discuss how to have goals that are not goals.  How do you do this?

For most people the present is designed to give them a future they want.  For me, the future gives me the present I want.

Here’s what I mean in English…

Most people relate to their goals as something to achieve.  They will do things in the present in order to get to their desired future.

As a result, most people feel as though they are making sacrifices now (i.e., it is hard work) in order to fulfill on their goal and achieve happiness in the future. In fact, according to a survey I conducted, 58 percent of Americans are consciously and willingly “sacrificing today for the future.”  Unfortunately, 41 percent say that “achieving their goals has not made them happier and has only left them disillusioned.”  And that is for the people who achieved their goals.  Those who do not achieve their goals are typically even more unhappy.  And, as we know, most people don’t always get what they want (there’s a reason why the Rolling Stones wrote a song by a similar name).  In fact, according to my surveys, 92% of people say that they fail to fulfill on their New Year’s Resolutions, the most common goal-setting ritual.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have goals.  The issue is with how we relate to those goals.

For me, the future “goal” gives me the present.  That is, it provides a powerful “context” for the work I do now.  Here is an excerpt from the Goal-Free Living book that explains it with a simple example.

Book on Success, Happiness, and ProductivityContext is not a place to get to; it is something that changes your attitude and perception today. It is a mindset. To experience the power of context, imagine that as you read this, your phone rings. You answer the phone and the person on the other end notifies you that you won the raffle you entered last month. You and your family are going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii sometime next year. You jump for joy and become energized—now. Although this vacation is many months in the future, it changes your attitude today. This vacation hasn’t happened. It isn’t even real yet.

Imagine your future as a big and bold vacation. A vacation that is so exciting that you can hardly contain yourself now. A vacation that has you in action and playing hard every day. This is a vacation that you will never take. This is a vacation whose day will never come. Its sole purpose is to generate passion in your life today. A context. Something that calls you forward.

For me, my goals are not about actually achieving the result (although that would be nice).  Rather they are about playing full out each and every day.  I wake up every morning excited about what is going to take place that day.  Every day is a new learning experience with new insights and obstacles.  My “work” is never work and it is certainly not a sacrifice.  It is a joy. It is exciting.  When the future gives you a powerful present, the result is less important than the process. There is no sacrifice.  Each day is a new adventure.

What is Your New Year’s Theme?

December 26, 2009

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner.  Many of you know that I have a tradition of setting a “theme” for each year rather than a resolution.

My theme for 2009 was “cool things.”  And it definitely was a year of cool things.

I signed a 2 book deal with Penguin’s Portfolio imprint.  I became InnoCentive’s Chief Innovation Evangelist.  I had many wonderful trips to cool places, including several to London and Copenhagen.  And I got to speak at some very cool events like the Global Creative Leadership Summit and the FT Innovate conference.  Most important of all, my family remains happy and healthy.

I’m not sure what my 2010 theme will be yet, but I know great things are in store.

If you have not done so, please read my article on setting New Year’s Resolutions.The article explains the 6 steps for setting a theme, including “Choose a broad theme rather than specific measurable goal.”  Excerpts of this article have appeared in over 300 newspapers around the world, including Costco’s Magazine.

You may also be interested in some statistics about New Year’s Resolutions.  Here is a highlight of some of the statistics:

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. Regardless, 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.

Happy New Year!

Goal-Free Living

February 25, 2009

I recently sent a copy of my Goal-Free Living book to someone I worked with 20 years ago. I hadn’t seen or heard from him since the late 80′s. The wonders of social networks reconnected us after all of this time. After reading the book, he wrote the following…

The time is right for your message. A lot of people have to reflect on where they are, and where they are going. It helps to know the difference between a goal and an aspiration. In an earlier message to you I said that I consider myself goal-oriented. Thinking about your points, however, I guess I am more like a river person. I have aspirations, and they lead me to some really unexpected but very satisfying destinations. Like you say: it is important to seek out adventure.

Since becoming unemployed in December, I have had a number of chance meetings and interesting ideas. One led to a volunteer project resulting in a very successful fund-raising event. Another is an invention that I am working to patent. Two other ideas are being developed into business plans, with prospective backers for one of them already. That might lead to something else entirely. I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in six months. That’s kind of scary, but I am optimistic that it will be good, so I am also very excited.

Today’s crisis is causing people a lot of pain and concern.  Financial security is eroding.  Job security is vanishing.  As a result, “happiness” seems to be at an all time low.

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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