I remember plenty of high school and college courses that emphasized goal setting.

This was usually accompanied with the SMART acronym. 






Goals needed to have these attributes.

This sort of talk escalated in my professional career, particularly in corporate.

I almost feel late to the game reading James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits (over 4 million copies sold). 

He flips the goal setting model on its head.

In fact, dare we say, let’s be goal-less.

What’s the type of person you want to become vs what do you want to achieve?  i.e. you want to become a musician, not: you want to learn to play the piano.  A musician implies identity and lifestyle, while learning an instrument is more like learning the ‘ode to joy’ and losing interest once the kids come home.

Who do I want to become?  There’s no ceiling.  Life can change, trauma can ensue, wild success can occur, and the journey can be never ending.  Also, this grants permission to grow incrementally.  Can you feel the freedom?  It’s your identity.

What do I want to achieve?  It’s limiting.  There’s an end.  It’s easy to fall short due to outside elements and feel lousy.  Or, if we do achieve, then what?  The next carrot.

This works with a pet theory I have about helping financial planning clients with goal setting:

  • Don’t.
  • You will change.
  • Develop good habits.
  • Stay flexible.

I frequently tell retirees the bigger question isn’t whether you can afford to retire – it’s how you’ll spend your time.  In other words, who do you want to become?

Back to James Clear: it’s better to create systems and habits that trend towards who we want to become (our identity), not what we want to achieve (i.e. retirement).



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