In the nearly two decades that I’ve been setting and achieving goals, there have only been a few times when I’ve not set any goals. Usually, I stick to my goals every year. But today I want to explore the answers to the questions of what happens when you don’t set goals and if it’s okay to have no goals.
It’s 100% okay to have no goals in life if you’re going through a hard time or if you’re not ambitious. You don’t always have to have goals. But setting goals is key to improvement and is a major source of motivation, so without goals, it’s tough to grow your income, relationships, mind, and health.
Let’s dive into this deeper and see what really happens when you don’t have any ambitions — both bad and good.
What Happens When You Don’t Set Goals – The Bad
Research shows that setting goals leads to confidence, motivation, and direction in life. Having personal goals is closely linked with success in the main areas of life.
So if you don’t set goals, it’s more likely that you’ll have decreased direction, confidence, and motivation. That doesn’t mean losing these is guaranteed, it’s just that you’ll be less likely to enjoy them.
I’ve seen this in the times when I’ve avoided setting goals. It’s not fun.
Getting up in the morning is pretty difficult when you don’t have a clear purpose for the day. And once you do get going, it’s hard to stick to even simple plans because your motivation is so low.
The worst part though has to be the lack of direction. I’m not as familiar with this because usually, when I don’t have goals for a time, it’s on purpose and because of reasons that we’ll get into later when we talk about how to know if you shouldn’t set goals.
But even in those times when I’ve intentionally set my goals aside, I hate the feeling of not knowing where I’m heading. When you set goals, you feel courage, certainty, and decisiveness. Losing those when you don’t set goals makes everything harder, from work to relationships and beyond.
Without goals, you’ll also have a tough time seeing growth in all areas of life. Your finances, fitness, relationships, and mind may begin to stagnate. Think about it. Without goals how much harder is it to:
- Land that promotion and get a raise?
- Get your business to the next level?
- Develop deeper friendships?
- Improve your mental health?
- Lose weight and gain muscle?
These things might not be impossible when you don’t set goals. But they are much harder without a clear plan and action steps that goals bring.
What Happens When You Don’t Set Goals – The Good
There are also some drawbacks to goal setting that may make it better to have no goals. While working on your dreams you can:
- Stress yourself out by trying to do too much
- Get disappointed when you don’t reach a goal
- Focus too much on the future instead of living in the present
If you didn’t have any ambitions, you could avoid too much stress, disappointment, and future-focused living. But would it be worth it to have to deal with the drawbacks of goalless living?
Just because you set goals doesn’t mean that you have to have these problems. There are ways to set better goals so that you don’t get overwhelmed, discouraged, and anxious about the future. If you want to learn how, check out this article I wrote about improving your goals.
Consider these questions as you decide whether to set goals or not:
- Are you avoiding setting goals because you don’t want to do the work?
- Is goal setting too rigid for your personality and will having personal goals make you feel trapped?
- Are you going through a tough time right now so you’re intentionally letting go of your goals, knowing that you’ll try again soon?
If you’re avoiding goals because you’re afraid of the work required, then it’s likely you’re not progressing. You’ll continue to stay where you’re at until you do set goals. So in this situation, when you don’t set goals, you won’t grow much personally until you do.
And if you’re the kind of person who is a lot more relaxed and doesn’t like being confined to a schedule or plan, goal setting might not be for you. There are still many ways you can progress in life.
You can focus on action and learning to be more decisive, for instance. When you don’t set goals, in this case, you might be doing yourself a favor. But you’ll still have to find ways to progress as a person.
But if you’re intentionally putting off goals because life is hard right now, temporarily having no goals will give you much-needed (and probably deserved!) rest.
How to Know When You Shouldn’t Set Any Goals in Life
The simplest way to know if you should not be setting goals is if life is extra difficult right now. Consider:
- Have you recently lost a loved one?
- What’s your employment situation like right now?
- Have you been doing too much in the last few months?
- Do you feel burnt out at work?
- How often have you woken up feeling drained of energy?
If you’ve identified with any of these scenarios, it could be a good idea to set aside goal setting for a time.
However, I want to emphasize that this also doesn’t mean that avoiding setting goals during these times won’t help.
Consider someone who has just lost their job. Setting a goal to get a new job can be one of the best things to motivate them to get back where they want to be. They also need to prioritize getting employment to keep paying the bills, which having a goal will help with.
In other situations, though, it’s hard to know if giving up goal setting for a time is right for you. A trick I’ve found that helps is to ask yourself if you feel like setting goals will make you feel more overwhelmed or if it will inspire you to action.
If you get stressed out just thinking about setting some ambitions, then it’s time to take a break. But if the idea of going for your dreams fills you with energy, then you can try setting goals. Just make sure your goals are geared toward your current situation, like if you’ve lost your job.
There have been times in my goal-setting journey when I’ve found that having goals was going to make life harder for me. In those moments, I’ve let myself take a break until the beginning of the next quarter.
Let me explain one that happened just recently.
What It Feels Like to Go Goal-Less
A few months ago, I was going through one of the unexpectedly busiest times at work right when my family and I had planned to go on vacation.
The trip involved a lot of the typical stress that comes with taking three kids across the country. But my overwhelm grew because much of the time I was worried about getting behind at work.
To make matters worse, my wife’s grandpa passed away just a week before the trip. We were mourning his loss and thinking about the funeral that would be after our vacation.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I got a text as we were getting to the end of the trip that my grandpa was in the hospital and probably wouldn’t make it more than a week.
The day we went home I woke up to a text that my grandpa hadn’t made it through the night.
I had to spend a whole day postponing my grief while also stressed about trying to get my family through a busy airport to get home. When we finally did get home and I got a moment to myself, the grief was overwhelming.
Getting back from the trip, work was still busier than ever. I was working extra hours every day and I wasn’t refreshed from the trip at all. And we had two funerals back to back.
When it came time to have my usual weekly review that Sunday, I decided that I was going to take a break from my ambitions for the moment. I’d just focus on the essentials until things calmed down.
Life was still tough for a while, but by letting go of my goals and focusing only on what mattered most I was able to get through and even grow from that difficult time.
I would have felt more overwhelmed if I had set a goal to lose weight or write more during this time. But taking a step back to focus on meditation, going on walks, and spending time with family helped significantly.
Setting goals during challenging times is not for everybody. You have to explore your own feelings about your ambitions to know what’s right for you. But having the right goals at the worst times in life might just make things a lot better than you think.
It’s up to you whether or not you want to have goals. You need to understand your personality and life situation to see if goal setting will help you or make things worse.
That might take some reflection, so if you’re unsure, set aside some time this weekend to reflect on these questions:
- How have I done with goal setting in the past? Have I given up because I challenged myself too much? If so, could I try again with smaller goals so I can keep growing?
- Is my personality relaxed enough that goal setting makes me feel too restricted for it to work for me?
- Am I going through a tough time right now? What goals could I set that would reduce overwhelm and help me get through it?
While it is okay to have no goals, when you don’t have goals it’s tough to progress in life. If you’re going through a tough time you might find that putting off your goals is helpful, but there are ways that focusing on just the most important goals during these times may make it easier to get through them.