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Goals don’t work and New Year’s resolutions suck! Here’s what to do instead.

People often ask my kids, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

But no one ever asks them, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”

Most goals and New Year’s resolutions are about doing. 

But you will change your clients lives if, instead, you help them set intentions around being. Imagine, instead of goals, setting intentions around your values, or friendship, or community.

I spent years setting goals because everyone told me that you had to. 

I was even taught about a study from Yale University on goals setting. Apparently, in 1953, researchers surveyed Yale’s graduating seniors to determine how many of them had specific, written goals for their future. The researchers checked in with the surviving class members, 20 years later. They found that the 3% who had written goals were more successful and wealthier than the other 97% combined.

Here’s the thing. According to Yale University, the study never happened!

As a coach to top performers, I detest “SMART goals.” The letters are an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. I’m particularly uninterested in “achievable” and “realistic” goals. I get most excited by Impossible Goals!

For years, I set goals and wrote them on pieces of paper. Months or years later, I would find the paper languishing in a drawer. I’d look at it and realize that I’d achieved some of them, I hadn’t achieved others—but they were no longer of interest; and there were a few that I was still focused on. Despite all the goal setting workbooks, I found that it wasn’t the obsessive focus on the goals that turned them into reality. 

Don’t set goals, solve problems!

My relationship with goals changed, when I read the book, Stop Setting Goals, If You’d Rather Solve Problems by Bobb Biehl. He drew a distinction between people who solve problems and people who set goals.

Are you like me? I get energized when I see a problem.

For many years, I was known as a problem solver. I was the person people would call on to handle challenges. In fact, I am so future-focused that I usually upset any boss I worked for by trying to solve problems that hadn’t even occurred yet. Sound familiar?

This mindset has worked well for me in business, too. I am great at finding ways around obstacles. I ask questions, I search for root causes, I look for 2nd and 3rd order effects, and I think creatively about how to solve dilemmas and disputes.

Instead of setting goals this year, what if you made a list of problems to solve and you just worked on them?

The problem with solving problems

There are a couple of problems with solving problems. First of all, be cautious about defaulting to problem solving in your relationship. I do it without thinking sometimes and Monique hates it! 

The main problem with being a talented problem-solver is that you are energized by challenges and threats. So you sometimes avoid things, like taxes, relationships or income—until they reach problem-level status—because then you can swoop in and save the day. Sound familiar?!

So let me tell you about a 3rd way to approach life… 

Opportunity Seekers 

In Bobb Biehl’s book, he describes a third way to navigate life—by being an opportunity seeker. This is the small percentage of people who don’t really care about setting goals or solving problems. Instead their deepest wisdom, their gut intuition, or following their spirit enables them to see opportunities where others do not.

And suddenly I got it. I am an Opportunity Seeker. 

  • It’s why, for years, I have set goals—and then never paid attention to them. 
  • It’s why I make to do lists—and then never look at them. 
  • It’s why I have succeeded at this game of creating clients. I’m not attached to outcome. 
  • It’s why I place such a high value on leverage. I’m constantly seeking the tiniest steps that can make the biggest impact
  • It’s why my one-line business plan has always been, “Meet fun and interesting people.” 
  • It’s why I constantly seek what I call 1+1=11 relationships with extraordinary partners, where we create most powerfully by staying in our Zones of Genius.

I am constantly exploring new opportunities. And I fail far more often than I succeed.

If you really want to succeed at this game:

Don’t play by the rules, to win. Play with the rules, to have fun.

I constantly explore dozens of opportunities. I fail again and again and again. It’s why I succeed. 

What if you don’t set goals in the year ahead but instead you solve problems? What if you don’t solve problems in the year ahead but instead you seek opportunities?

Love. Rich 


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