Instead of putting up an inspiration board for this New Year, I took it down. Because it got too depressing. As it turns out, I’m not alone.

Setting goals seems like a good idea and we’re all told we should be doing this. For those of us who obsess with achievement, motivation or personal development, I’m sure I won’t be shocking you with the concept of inspiration boards and goal setting.

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Among the many motivation hacks, inspiration boards are one of the most popular and highly visual. The board is littered with images of the lavish things you want – luxury homes, cars and vacations – and the goals you must achieve to be happy.

While this advice is well intentioned, the problem with goal setting and being goal orientated is that you truly fail to learn and, ironically, achieve the goal. And what’s worse is that most of your life is spent feeling like you’re less than, as if you’re living in the dreary shadow of your big goal where witnessing sunshine will not happen until the goal is reached.

Scott Adams (the Dilbert comic writer who has a net worth of $75 million) put it best. He says setting goals and focusing on them makes you feel like you’re living in “a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out.” Our shared disdain for goal setting is rooted in the following psychological and statistical issues set out in my highly mathematical equation:

Humans can’t predict the future. Even the psychic promising to reveal your fate at $99.99 an hour can’t. Trust me.


92 per cent of goals fail


We wrongly believe that happiness will be achieved only once the goal is reached


The duration of the happiness experienced upon achievement of said goal is two seconds


A life spent mostly in a state of unhappiness and anxiety, burnout and, therefore, a low probability of success.

“You’re so wrong,” you say, “so long as you have SMART goals, you’ll succeed and stay motivated”. (For goals to work, many Silicon Valley-types claim they must be: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound.)

I disagree. SMART goals spell out a useful way of tracking progress towards a goal, while completely ignoring the overwhelming feelings of anxiousness that cripple you along the unenviable path you believe (pray!) will lead to success. It also fails to teach resiliency, while glossing over the architecture (habits and systems) that is essential to reaching your goal.

The same applies to DUMB goals (dream-driven, uplifting, method-friendly, behaviour-driven) – the nouveau “millennial spin” on SMART goals recently popularized by a non-millennial public speaker and author of The Motivation Manifesto, Brendon Burchard. DUMB goals, he claims, should replace SMART goals because the latter fail to inspire, motivate and encourage meaningful innovation.

Burchard justifies his position by pointing to massive accomplishments, such as getting us to the moon, the concept of equal rights and our ability to spur revolutions with a click of a button…or Tweet. These “moonshot” achievements would never have occurred had it not been for some people deciding to set DUMB goals and then harnessing the inspiration from these DUMB goals to forge ahead.

Sounds nice, but reading about and speaking to those who’ve made it through to the end, DUMB goals do very little to help you “win”. And, just like SMART goals, they do even less to shelter you from “pre-goal attainment misery”.

Although I do enjoy the occasional molecular-gastronomy meal, I prefer my business and life advice to be less new-agey and more of the tried and true, steak and potato variety.

Goals, no matter how SMART or DUMB, smugly ignore the fact that success is borne out of systems and habits. The problem is that these precursors to success display no immediate progress. Instead, systems and habits are accretive in nature and display value only after years of learning, gathering wisdom and sharpening skills. In other words, on a daily basis, you don’t feel like you’re any closer to the goal, but looking back at the process (which takes years), you will.

So, what’s the solution?

Put plainly, the solution is to forget winning, forget losing and to even forget the goal. Instead, focus on learning and perfecting your rituals, systems and habits.

What are systems and habits and why are they better than goals?

A system is the architecture of how you’re going to achieve “the big goal”. Your habits are individual components, such as the frame, wiring and footings that make up the architecture. For example, if you’re launching your own business and have a goal (which you should ignore once you know what it is) of earning $1 million in revenue, your systems range from your sales, marketing and client retention processes, as well as your own systems for ensuring that you avoid burnout. Your habits are what you do daily, such as picking up the phone and calling 10 prospects or waking up at 5 a.m. to exercise.

The reason why systems are better than goals is because it helps us avoid living in the shadow of our goals. We want to experience happiness now, while still staying motivated to attain our goals. Systems do this by satiating our need for immediate gains because systems deliver daily wins (working out for 30 minutes every day), rather than the big goal that’ll take a year to achieve (losing 30 pounds). Knowing that you followed through with the habit is rewarding and won’t be overshadowed by the seemingly impossible goal.

While each of our systems are different, they should all be evaluated and viewed as a learning tool. For example, maybe waking up at 5 a.m. and working out hasn’t moved the needle on the scale. Do you need to eat better? Sleep more? Exercise more? You need to know if the system is working for the big win to be achieved.

The Twist

You’ll never achieve happiness or success if you fail to know about the MOST critical factor that can deliver this to you. It has nothing to do with goal setting, systems or habits. It has to do with relationships. As Daniel Gilbert’s widely acclaimed book, Stumbling on Happiness and his ongoing research shows:

“Grandma was right about some things … friendships and a good marriage are keys to happiness. Probably the single best predictor of a person’s happiness is the quality and extent of their social relationships. People with solid friendships and people with healthy romantic relationships are usually quite happy, regardless of almost anything else that happens in their lives. Social relationships are a better predictor of happiness than your physical health.”

If setting goals sounds like too much work, then grab a couple of drinks on the patio with good friends and socialize your way to happiness and success.


  1. There is just one problem with the title to this really salient piece; it is an oxymoron. When one’s goal is to have no goal, then that in and of itself ‘is’ a goal. So then, the goal should be: make a New Year’s resolution to ‘not’ make it a goal to have no goal. Then the resolution will always be met with success. In other words: give it your best and let the chips fall where they may. What will be will be; accept that philosophy, and adapt to that reality. One’s mental health will be better in the long run if this resolution is adopted and practiced, but not necessarily as a goal to be achieved. The key to happiness is becoming a very good rationalizer. Good can always come from bad if one decides to pursue that line of thought. Works every time.
    By the way, it’s the long, arduous effort expended whilst climbing the steep mountain slopes and ridges in pursuit of the goal, reaching the top, that delivers the greatest long-lasting positive feedback, because once one crests the peak, there is only one way to go…down. Enjoy your journey; it’s the only one you’ve got. Most of one’s time is spent on the slopes, not on the crest. Let the slide down the other side be fast and furious, then start on another climb; that’s where all the fun is.
    Now, if only the Maple Leafs could keep the puck away from ‘their’ goal and give the goalie a break once-in-awhile. Getting out-shot by a margin of two-to-one almost every game ain’t gonna cut it over the long haul guys. My goal is to not expect too much from the defense brigade. It’s a can’t lose proposition.


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