A Newbie’s Guide to Life Without Goals

[4-Minute Read]Initially, it will feel scary to dump your cherished goals, but it is worth it because life is an adventure, not a procedure.

Discover more about your bold mind every Monday

A Newbie’s Guide to Life Without Goals

Initially, it will feel scary to dump your cherished goals, but it is worth it because life is an adventure, not a procedure.

Have you watched one of those survival TV shows where they dump an ill-equipped contestant in the middle of nowhere?

They are alone with no map, few supplies and no idea how to get food, build a shelter or orientate themselves in their new world. The contestant’s initial bravado soon deteriorates into shock, fear and crying over their soiled and skimpy dinner.

That’s what it felt like when I struggled to set inspiring goals a few years ago. There were plenty of things on my love-doing list – travel, running, anything outdoors – but none translated into a goal I could be obsessed with achieving.

I felt ok about that at first, but as time went by, destructive questions crept into my mind:

  • Am I wasting my life?
  • Am I getting lazy?
  • Have I peaked, and this is as good as I get?

Fearing the answer could be yes, I began writing goals to prove my inner doubt wrong. None of those goals stuck – I started working toward them only to stop a short time later because I lacked any genuine conviction to achieve them.

The absence of goals is hugely disorientating for me because, for much of my life, they defined my identity and the more audacious the goal, the higher I scored my self-worth. I’ve run extremely long distances, climbed extremely high mountains, and operated my own businesses (the extreme of all extreme sports) for decades. With goals gone, my identity felt fragile and under threat.

The best moments in life are delightfully unpredictable.

As four juvenile bison stood a few metres away, sniffing the air, I asked myself, “How the heck did I get here?”.

Twenty-four hours before, Sean and I had collected the new arrivals from a bison breeder a couple of hundred kilometres away.

Photo: Onboarding the bison in their new home. A bull played chaperone and shared the paddock rules.

Bison wandering in a farm paddock may be a common sight in parts of North America, but that’s different here in rural Australia, where there are fewer than 1000 head. Our breeding group of four are the direct descendants of bison imported by a local zoo.

I remained silent when Sean first mentioned breeding bison, figuring it was a passing thought bubble. He didn’t talk about it again until a few weeks later when we happened to be near the bison breeder’s farm, which we visited on a “learning tour”.

A few weeks after that, Sean showed me the deposit invoice for three heifers and a bull. We then waited another two years for the bison to be born and mature enough to separate from their mothers.

The best moments in life are delightfully unpredictable. Those words echoed in my mind as I sat quietly in the paddock, communing with the bison. It was a wake-up call. If you had asked me a few years back where my life would go, there’s no chance I would have said I wanted to be a bison farmer. I had no inclination, dream, or intention to head in that direction, but the experience has been profoundly soulful and rewarding.

Goals can inhibit your growth.

Set and achieve goals if you want to grow. Right? No. If you use goals too frequently, they can hamper your growth because they confine your worldview.

Goals are society’s way of taming the unpredictability of life. Mother nature is a messy concoction of countless possibilities, continuously changing with every heartbeat. That wilderness of possibility is scary to the human mind because too many uncontrollable factors threaten our safety. To tame that wilderness, humans have developed mental filters to simplify the world we live in each day. Goals are one of those filters.

Goals create a bubble around your life and narrow your field of focus, and it’s that bubble that hampers your growth.

For instance, to successfully run ultramarathons, I had to restrict my life to eating, sleeping, working, and training. I had little time or scope for anything else. Over time running shifted from being something I occasionally did on weekends to being a core part of my identity, and I couldn’t imagine life without it.

The same occurs with family-related goals. When your goal is to get your kids successfully through school, life happens within the bubble of the school routine, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to remember life before that existed. Your whole identity becomes oriented around being a dedicated parent.

You would think that setting big, audacious goals would burst that identity bubble, but it doesn’t.

Life with goals can drive mastery within your existing world; you become a better runner or parent and emerge a better version of your current self. But rarely do you transform into a substantially different version of yourself and live the full scope of your capabilities. That happens only when you’re prepared to dump your goals and wander into the wilderness.

Life without goals expands your horizons.

I wandered in the goalless wilderness for about two years, and on reflection, it was the adventure I needed to have because it burst the bubble in which I had been living.

Remember those questions about being lazy and wasting my life that confronted me early on? I had to explore why I feared those things and understand more truthfully what generates value in my life.

During that time, I let emotions influence my responses and decisions by paying more attention to feelings that arose during everyday moments.

If I felt joy, I would find ways to live more of those moments, which led me to rediscover my love for public speaking, solving puzzles and meaningful connections with others.

If I felt anger or anxiety, I questioned what I was seeing or believing to trigger those responses. I have a stack of journals in my wardrobe that I scribbled in daily as I stumbled upon gems of learning and growth.

Life and how I viewed it slowly acquired a new filter, and I transitioned from ultra-running, urban business consultant to bison farmer. Yep, I still pinch myself when I type that. Without goals, my world widened into wonderous experiences and life pivoted in radically new directions.

Try letting go of your goals for the next week or two, and let me know what you learn. The simplest way to do that is to push goals to the background of your life.

  • Change your priorities to concentrate on the next moment, hour or day without worrying about where it might take you.
  • Drop your goal-oriented to-do lists and action plans and replace them with stream-of-consciousness journal entries.

At first, it will feel scary, like crying over your soiled and skimpy dinner style of scary. But it is worth it because life is an adventure, not a procedure.

Discover more about your bold mind every Monday

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