How to Set Goals Without Craving Anything

Note to new readers, this article is a continuation of last week’s “How to Not Want Things and Still Be Happy” and “How to Be an Effortless Achiever.” In those articles I showed how craving things causes pain and the alternative is to focus on the entire process, not just the goal.

Goal-setting seems alien in a process focus. Every book I’ve read about goal-setting makes a point of eliciting your desires and focusing on that goal to the point of obsession. Since a process focus is, by definition, giving up your craving for results and viewing the process, doesn’t this mean you should give up setting goals?

Absolutely not. Goal-setting is still important in a process focus, although the reasons for using it change. Instead of setting goals so that you can have something better in the future, you set goals to give the process structure.

Structure is Critical for Process

The best metaphor I can use to describe the difference between a craving and process focus is to think of a game. The person who craves an end result desires to win at all costs, even if they hate playing. The person who focuses on process sees winning as an aspect that contributes to having fun.

Virtually all games have clear goals and structures. The few examples people could cite of games without goals or structure I wouldn’t call games. The Sims and other games without structure tend to just be environments where people create there own rules and goals. Life could be seen as an environment where you need to make your own structure.

Having objectives and constraints in a game provides an opportunity for challenge, creativity or learning. Having goals in life provides a structure for an interesting process.

How to Set Goals for Process

Setting goals for process is a little trickier than setting goals from craving. The reason is because they work backwards. Craving assumes a goal and designs whatever process necessary to achieve it. Process assumes an interesting path and designs a goal to give it structure.

At first setting goals shouldn’t be difficult. I don’t expect anyone has the power to immediately turn off their cravings after reading just a few posts. So you’ll probably end up picking goals that you desire as you try to transition to focusing on the process.

If you continue with the philosophy of process, however, you reach a point where this simply won’t work. Believing that craving creates pain will make picking a goal based on desires difficult. Alternatively, I believe there are two criteria you can use to set goals:

  • Goals that have an interesting process. (i.e. your passionate about working on them)
  • Processes that will lead to more interesting processes. (e.g. you may find setting up a business boring, but running it could be interesting)

With the second method there is a limit to how far you can predict into the future, but it can be used as a basis for narrowing down which goals to pursue. Those that create the potential for more interesting processes.

Adding Constraints to Goals

In a craving mindset, you pick the easiest possible route to your goal. From a process viewpoint, that is boring. Instead you want to pick one that meets your level of challenge.

When I tell people my interests are in entrepreneurship, I often get a warning about how difficult it is. “My cousin/friend/brother-in-law owns a business, and it is a lot of work.” From a craving standpoint, this seems like a reasonable comment. If entrepreneurship is really that risky and difficult, why not just pursue a shorter path to satisfy your cravings?

But from a process standpoint that statement doesn’t make any sense to me. The only thing I crave is the challenge. If entrepreneurship were easy, why would I want to do it? The difficulty makes it an interesting pursuit.

The best constraints are external ones, since they are easier to enforce. Start by selecting goals that naturally create a challenging terrain. Don’t start climbing mountains before you’ve learned to walk, but once you have, don’t waste your time running over hills.

Finding Goals that Match You

Select goals that match your personality and challenge level. When I see infomercials for strategies to get rich quick, I laugh. Aside from the lack of integrity, the idea of “getting rich quick” seems like such a shallow goal to me. If it is both easy and made for everyone, why on earth would you bother doing it?

Instead pick goals that are both challenging and tailored to who you are. Don’t borrow society’s to-do list.