How to Get What You Want Without Setting Goals

by Deborah A. Bailey

Planning to make New Year’s resolutions? It’s fine to want to make a fresh start, but what about all those goals we set last year? Do we even remember what they were? Sure, they all sounded great last January, but somewhere along the way they stopped motivating us.

Sometimes the problem is that we end up setting so many goals that we become overwhelmed. We have such great plans for making this year different than the last that we end up with more tasks than we can handle.

Unfortunately, our ambition to reach higher and higher can keep us stuck in striving mode, always focusing on what we haven’t done instead of enjoying what we’ve accomplished. If your life is beginning to look like an endless quest to climb the next mountain, you can end up burned out and frustrated. When our happiness is based on what we have yet to achieve, it’s hard to find satisfaction in our everyday lives.

So, how about setting some “ungoals” for the New Year? Put the goals away, step off of the goal-setting treadmill and give yourself a break. Flip your way of looking at goals and make a list of what you don’t want for the coming year.

What Don’t You Want?

Not sure where to begin? Instead of setting a goal of finding your dream job (or staying employed in your current one), make a list of the things you don’t want to experience this year — or ever again.

Coming up with ungoals is easier because we often dwell on what we don’t want in our lives, rather than on what we do want. Especially if negative people or downbeat news stories influence us, we can begin to believe that we’ll always be trapped in bad situations. Ungoals can help you to get to the root of what’s bothering you. They can be things like staying stuck in a dead-end job, staying in credit card debt, or not exercising regularly.

If you find it difficult to reach the goals that have been on your list year after year, focus on getting rid of the things that are keeping you stuck in the same experiences.

Write Them Down

Maybe you’re really not into journaling, but when you write down your ungoals they’ll move out of your head and into reality. It’s easy to keep ignoring the irritants in our lives; we can put them on the back burner as we distract ourselves with other things.

You can include something about each ungoal that really makes you uncomfortable. For instance, if under credit card debt you list something such as “impulse buying,” you’ve identified something you can stop doing right away.

Instead of writing down a goal and having no idea how to reach it, this method allows you to create automatic steps to eliminate the things that are keeping you stuck.

Once you get your ungoals down on the page there’ll be no more hiding from them. You’ll have to be honest about why things are not the way you want them to be. You can stop hoping that someday things will be different, and accept that you have the power to eliminate the things that are holding you back.

Keep It Simple

If we try hard enough we can probably fill pages with the things we don’t want in our lives: bad relationships, dead-end jobs, the extra ten pounds that won’t go away. Having a long list of things we don’t want can be just as oppressive as holding on to a list of goals we’re always stretching to reach. Keep it simple by starting with the items that are the major roadblocks in your life. Once those are cleared, you may find that the smaller irritations disappear as well.

Also, don’t expect that your ungoals will completely disappear from your list in the next 12 months. Even if you have to take baby steps to clear them out of your life, you’re still making progress. Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes time to eliminate them.

Don’t Dwell

Once you’ve written down your ungoals, put them away for a while. Don’t sit there and dwell over how they came about or why they continue to frustrate you.

If you’ve had the same goals on your list year after year, is it because the goals were unreachable, or have you been reluctant to change what you’re doing? Use your ungoals as a starting point to bring things into your life that you really want. Once you take action and change the behaviors that led to the negative results, you’ll be scratching them off of your list in no time.

Make a Fresh Start

If you begin to make changes but slip back into old behaviors, don’t beat yourself up. It takes a while to get used to new habits. Remember, it’s not about making goals at the start of the year then forgetting about them, or giving up when things don’t go as planned. We’re always reinventing ourselves, not only at the beginning of the year, but throughout our lives. You can make a fresh start no matter what. Set your ungoals and get clear about what’s keeping you from the life you desire.

Deborah A. Bailey is author of two non-fiction books including, “Think Like an Entrepreneur: Transforming Your Career and Taking Charge of Your Life .” She's also the creator and host of Women Entrepreneurs Radio, a weekly internet talk show. Her fiction work includes a short story collection and a novel, available on 
For more information, visit

This article originally appeared in Working World Magazine.


Usha Sliva said...

That's a new angle I've never considered exploring... I personally love setting positive goals - writing them down is reinforcement in itself. Thanks for giving me something new to think about.

Deb Bailey said...

Hi Usha, Sometimes goal-setting can be intimidating - especially if it's hard to decide what you really want. It can be easier to start by deciding what you don't want. Thanks for your comments!

Back to Top