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Moving Beyond Goals

You can’t manage what you don’t measure—this was the corporate mantra by which I lived for a long time. And it’s total bullshit.

We used to measure everything at my old job: There were 29 metrics for which we were responsible every single day (even on weekends). There was morning reporting, 3 p.m. updates, 6 p.m. updates, and end-of-day reporting.

I was consumed by numbers. After a while, I even started dreaming in spreadsheet format.

Then I realized something: it didn’t really matter. The goals were never as powerful as someone’s internal motivations.

People work hard for two reasons: they are externally inspired, or they are internally motivated. Sometimes it’s a combination of both.

Some people can be momentarily inspired by goal attainment, but that kind of inspiration is impermanent, and it doesn’t last beyond the goal itself.

Conversely, intrinsic motivation—such as the desire to grow or contribute—carries on long after the goal is met. It often carries on in perpetuity. External inspiration can be the trigger, but internal motivation is what fuels someone’s desire. When you discover your true motivation, you don’t need an arbitrary goal.

Goals are for the unmotivated. This is one of the reasons I got rid of mine—so I could focus on what’s important, so I could focus on living a life centered around health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution. I don’t need goals to focus on these aspects of my life, because I’m already motivated by these values. Having goals for these things would be irrelevant; I simply need to live my life in accordance with these principles.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.