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Is It Possible That The Ungoal Can Be The Goal?

In our Type A, hyper-driven world, there are no shortage of things to do – monthly, quarterly, or annual  goals, all tied to measures and targets.  Lists and plans are made, items checked off, and many times, there just isn’t enough time to get it all done.

I thrive in this mode, and take great pleasure in checking things off my list.  I am happiest when I have a detailed project plan, with markers for milestones and deliverables.

I’ve tried using this same approach to tasks in my personal life as well, and fitness in particular.  I have started, stopped and restarted countless efforts at regular workouts more times than I care to admit.  I’ve tried setting distance goals, started learn-to-run programs, signed up for regular classes, but nothing seems to stick.

Crazy thing is – I love the feeling of being outside, walking or running to clear my head.  I enjoy the feeling of a great yoga flow.  The overachiever in me, however, seems to hold back from “just doing it” unless I can achieve a target.  Why bother if I don’t have 45 minutes, or can’t run 10K?

Talking it through with a friend, I realized that I needed to find a completely different way of looking at it . . . no more targets, timelines, or goals.  I decided that for me, it needed to be framed in a way that was completely different than my previous, target-driven approach; something that focused on how it feels to be in the moment, for the only reason that it feels good.  No more goals.  This time, maybe it’s an ungoal that could work.

I know physical renewal is critical to my health, my happiness, and my work.  Tony Schwartz and The Energy Project talk about stepping away from the intense activities at hand for a few minutes, even just to breathe.  ( is one of my latest, must read sites)  Our bodies aren’t built for a relentless pace – if we allow ourselves to recharge, even for a few minutes, we can realize a much greater capacity for completing tasks at hand.

So far, my fitness ungoal is working.  Whenever I have a spare moment and a pair of running shoes at hand, I go out for a walk to clear my head.  If I happen to feel like it, I’ll run for a bit.  If I want to lift a few weights afterwards, terrific.  I’ve decided to make small notes after the fact to see if my ungoal is working (yikes – does having metrics make it a goal?), but the freedom from definitions for what success looks like means I’m getting outside or on the treadmill much more often than I have before.

Then I wondered – is there a place for the ungoal approach at work?  With quarterly targets, relentless pace, scorecards and metrics, how can there possibly be time and space left for tasks with no purpose or target?  I can let go of setting targets for a few minutes here and there, but not when I’m at work, when there’s so much to do.

Funny thing is, Google does it.  Google gives employees 20% of their time every week to do thinking, brainstorming, and idea generation activities that can lead to new innovations which are critical to its monumental success.  One day a week (8 whole hours!), employees take time to be creative, develop new programs or solutions that contribute to bottom-line success of the company.

Many of us work at regular, not-so-Google-like companies where  a day a week to think creatively is an unlikely option, but what if we started with a fraction of that time?  What if we set aside one or two  hours a week for an ungoal – to think creatively, open our minds to problem solving or collaborating with others for new solutions?  Imagine the possibilities!  After reading Bonni’s recent “Topsy Turvy” post and thinking about opportunities for new ideas and innovation in HR, perhaps freeing some time for thinking about creative solutions in our HR work might be a good way to start.

I’ll admit, I haven’t spent too much time ungoaling at work just yet.  I’m still trying to use it on the fitness front.  But I am determined to find ways to carve out a couple of hours each week to free up my mind, to renew and use the time creatively, and see what happens.  Maybe I’ll be out for a run while I do it!


  1. What a great insight and thanks for sharing the Google example. Years ago when I left a senior corporate HR role I decided to ‘ungoal’ my life. I shifted from goals that felt controlling to ‘intentions’. Intentions gave me a sense of direction, accountability and achievement – but they also allowed for freedom and flow and the opportunity to pay attention to what was essential for me to have in my career and life. I set intentions, with outcomes included, but without the ‘success or fail’ mindset that is often attached to goals.

    Now I acknowledge the value of goals and intentions and know that they are each required at points along the career and life path.

    I acknowledge your wisdom in recognizing that it was time to ‘do’ life differently. As you ‘ungoal’ your work and life, I invite you to see where your intentions take you.

    • I like the idea of intentions, Laura. I have a friend who doesn’t set New Year’s resolutions, but writes down a couple of intentions each year, which she feels makes it more likely that she will get them done (“I intend . . .”).

      I am still working on how to apply ungoaling to the broader framework of my work and life, but perhaps starting with intentions will give some clarity. You’ve definitely given me something to think about . . .

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