Setting goals was always part of me. Therefore, failure too. Many different strategies I took led to failure and devastation. Even though I achieved some of my goals, I felt joy only for a moment until I focused on my next goal. And up till reaching any goal, I suffered from not being able to get it every day. Most of the time, I was dismal and happy for only a few days.
I grew up in an environment where I had to concentrate on test results in all respects. The education system was based on assessments, grading, and ranking. Even though my family was trying to provide a good education, the system was not the best. Everything around the system focused on results.
I had yearly and quarterly goals divided into months. I even got help from one coach while creating my old system. We both were proud of coming up with that system. I tried to stick to it for around half a year. After not accomplishing my monthly and quarterly goals, I felt overwhelmed. So, the change was inevitable, and I took the completely opposite approach and dropped all my goals.
After reading Growth Without Goals from Patrick O’Shaughnessy, I thought a lot about my broken system. It’s hard to change something embedded in your bones, soul, and thoughts. It takes months, if not years. When your life is based on goals, changing it requires a restart from the bottom. The first step to the bottom is a realization. I quickly noticed that my current system isn’t as productive as I thought and even became one reason for my burnout (another story). I needed a new system, which will help fulfill my general curiosity about diverse topics. Therefore, I jumped on what I found: Kick out the goals, do what you enjoy.
It sounded like what I was looking for. Do what you love. Enjoy every moment of your life—carpe diem. Growth without goals is a shining scheme. It’s so clear that it looks like a diamond. However, it comes with a price. First, this change was entirely psychological. The transformation of the mind is always the hardest. It requires mindfulness. Noticing your thoughts, naming them, and watching them from a distance is different than just being aware of them. I meditated and tried to accept and change how my mind works. It seemed working at first. But the change was colossal, and I failed again. Before trying to innovate, I needed to disclose what I had, one more time.
I quickly found out that without goals, it is almost impossible to grow. Just wandering around and trying to enjoy every moment of your life leads to mediocrity. I fooled myself by doing nothing or “being in exploration mode.” Don’t get me wrong, both of the behaviors are good and essential for growth. But being stuck in them is the opposite of development; it leads to ignorance.
I realized that I only needed to change my approach to my goals. Instead of setting SMART goals yearly or quarterly and just trying to achieve them while suffering daily failure, I’m now starting to set goals with constant growth in mind.
The questions I asked myself, like “Where do I see myself in five years?” became more obsolete. I needed to answer different and better questions like “What are things that I think are important to do every day?” And answers to those questions change as well. Instead of “Learning Bass Guitar in a year,” now my new goal becomes “Learn one specific thing in bass guitar every two weeks and practice it until you’re comfortable with it,” instead of “Lose six kilos in a year,” now “Exercise 3-4 times per week and eat healthy more than half of the week.” The goals like these lead to different results. I’m not saying that I will exercise 160 times this year or learn 20 songs to play bass guitar. Instead, I’m focusing on the process and only trying to do it better than the previous week.
This is a dramatic shift. At the moment, I think I can rename the word goal into something else. I still have “goals,” but they are not goals for me. They are the essential things that I enjoy doing day-to-day. They have certainty, specificity, and also freedom.
While rebuilding my system, I also needed a different approach to developing this new procedure. Directly starting with “learn one thing on bass guitar every two weeks” is likewise not realistic and accustomed to failure. I have begun using the Kaizen way—start small and build up. It’s the same way I started flossing.1 I choose the one thing to learn on guitar as so little that I can master it in two-three weeks. After a couple of weeks, it becomes part of me and my routine. So, I can focus on the next.
Now I have small habits. It looks like there is no systematic approach. Before starting to learn one thing, I study a top-down approach and split the topic into pieces. I form small chunks of things. Learning a chunk of knowledge is one session job. When I master the skill, I go to another. And with the help of my general curiosity, I can learn anything one by one. I try to focus on what I do in these sessions without a time limit. I remove all distractions and turn off all notifications. Lastly, I practice deliberately. If I learn one small thing, I won’t repeat it over and over again all the time. I only repeat it until I am fluent, and I make the next chunk a bit harder. This is what I’ve learned from the course “Learning How to Learn.” While learning the chunk of information, understand the basic idea, practice deliberately, and focus. It works like magic.
This is my new system, and it’s a work in progress. I feel like I started having the joy of life after a long time. I spend my time on what I want to do. I’ve been meditating, writing, improving my bass guitar playing, exercising, doing yoga, fasting, and eating fresh vegetables from our garden to be healthier. I learn, practice, and discover one more thing. I don’t jump from one big goal to another. I’m the turtle in the race, not the rabbit. Slowly, step by step, I grow. I will win in the long run. And if I don’t, it’s okay, too. I’m learning to live in the moment and enjoy, not to live for tomorrow. I’m only sticking to my system, not to the goals.