I’ve been thinking once again about personal goals and opportunities. In this context I stumbled across this interesting analogy on the blog of Steve Pavlina:
I find goal setting extremely valuable, but even after doing it for about 15 years now, I’m still making new distinctions. When I set the right goal, it works wonders. But when I set the wrong goal, it just gets in my way. My understanding of the “right” goals are that they serve to expand my consciousness and cause me to stretch as opposed to tying me to the past or restricting my opportunities.
There are times in life when we need clear goals and other times when living goal-free is better. For example, when I started this web site, I set a lot of clear goals. Some of those, like setting traffic and income targets, really helped me stay focused. But after reaching the point of sustainable positive cashflow, I consciously decided to relax my goals a bit and spend a few months living goal-free to allow some new ideas to incubate. As I come out of this period, however, I’ll once again be returning to more focused goal-setting.
Proper goal-setting is like having a conversation. You need the right balance of talking and listening. If you talk all the time, you derail the conversation. If you listen all the time, you become a passive observer instead of an active participant. When you realize you’ve been talking too much, it’s time to spend more time listening, which is equivalent to goal-free living. But when you’ve been passive long enough, it’s time to take a more active role and start letting the universe know what you want.
The tricky part comes when both are going on at the same time, which in my case is quite common e.g. working to a goal, say a deadline for a complex project and then, perhaps later in the day, creatively exploring different ways forward (which may easily yield no immediate or obvious results as ideas need time to incubate). Admittedly you could regard this as a goal in itself but I think that is really semantics and, in a way, misses the point.
However, the insight above made me realise that it’s helpful to be simply fully aware of the mode you’re in and to judge results and progress accordingly.
It could also help understand why brainstorming sessions can often be unproductive. If participants have been busy on goal work and are then asked to move to more creative free-form work this could easily lead to conflicts. The best brainstorming sessions often involve a change of location, atmosphere etc to encourage this mode change.