Review of Goal-free Living

January 28th, 2010

When we are young, we are taught that to be successful, we have to set goals.  But all too often those goals consume us and we wind up sacrificing the now for an uncertain future.

Goal-free Living sets out to change that.

Steve Shapiro was a former “goal-aholic” who adopted a goal-free living approach.  He took a trip around the country interviewing people. He wasn’t so sure what he was going to get out of it because he didn’t set a definate goal.  The result was this personal development book.

From the interviews, he gathered, Shapiro discovered 8 secrets.

They are spelled out in the inside flap:

  • Use a compass, not a map—have a sense of direction, and then let yourself wander and try new things on the way to fulfilling your aspirations
  • Trust that you are never lost—every seemingly wrong turn is an opportunity to learn and experience new things
  • Remember that opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly—while blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful possibilities
  • Want what you have—measure your life by your own yardstick and appreciate who you are, what you do, and what you have . . . now
  • Seek out adventure—treat your life like the one-time-only journey it is and revel in new and different experiences
  • Become a people magnet—constantly seek, build, and nurture relationships with new people so that you always have the support and camaraderie of others
  • Embrace your limits—transform your inadequacies and boundaries into unique qualities you can use to your advantage
  • Remain detached—focus on the present, act with a commitment to the future, and avoid worrying about how things will turn out

The Good

I absolutely loved these “secrets”.  And frankly, I was pretty predisposed to liking these books because I am not a goal-oriented person in the traditional sense.  In other words, when people ask me what I will be doing in 5 years, my answers are vague at best or a variation of “how the hell should I know.”

For someone who is not a traditional goal-oriented person, it is hard to find a personal development book that actually praises this attribute.  Don’t get me wrong, by being goal-free, it doesn’t mean have no goals.  It simply means that you should not be attached to a particular result and you should be free to change direction if you feel like it.  AS the first secret states, “Use a compass, not a map”.

The chapter on embracing your limits is particularly helpful.  Some people say that you can do anything if you put your mind to it…puh-lease.  I am not going to play in the NBA. So, should I spend hours and hours practicing my basketball skills or working on the things I happen to be good at?

I also enjoyed the chapter on seeking out adventure.  And his approach on being a people magnet was very useful and closely resembles the “Ripple philosophy” of Steve Harper whom I’ve interviewed on this blog.

What I liked most about this book was that it clearly showed that traditional goal-setting can be an obstacle rather than a boon to actually achieving goals.  That might be contrarian, but Shapiro does a good job of showing how that can be.

The Bad

The strength of “Goal-free living” is in its insights.

But when reading the last secret–remaining detached, it did give me the “and now what?” reaction.  “It says be detached, and now what?”

A lot of BS books are purposely written this way to get you to go to a seminar or some other high-priced item.  Goal-free Living, thankfully, does not do that.

I completely agree that detachment is the key to a contented life.  That is because I am a Buddhist who practices Vipassana mediation.  But it does raise the question: if detachment is a secret to success, then how can I be detached? .     The fact is agreeing with a principle and actually being able to do it is another thing.

We are born with our personalities and we can’t change them through sheer willpower.  In my case, Vipassana meditation practice (and I emphasize the word practice) allows me to develop new mental habits in order to become detached from outcomes.

If someone reads this book and wants to learn to be detached, there is really no guide for doing that.  And I can’t think of any practice outside of mediation that can do it.  And by meditation, I don’t mean sitting there contemplating detachment but actually putting your attention on the sensations in the body and training your mind NOT to react pleasantly or negatively.   It’s hard work.

The Verdict

Other than that small point, I put this in the absolutely recommend category.  This book had a lot of good insights. So, this book will give you a great starting point–especially if you are someone who “sets goals” but is having trouble actually accomplishing those goals.

This book will definitely change the way you think about goals and show you that you don’t need to sacrifice the now to have what you want later.  In fact, you can have it all.

Grab Goal-free Living on Amazon


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