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.

  • Eugene (Editor, Varsity Blah)

    Anthony Robbins often talks about how important it is to have goals simply because “If we aren’t growing, we’re dying.” I’m starting to understand just how important that is, which is why I find it so enjoyable to spend time each day taking small steps and ultimately doing it for the process. Great post!

  • Ben

    Hello Scott,

    I have been pondering your posts and in my mind I believe that goals and process are intertwined. Goals can only be achieved by having a process to acheive them. I think the key is to have a mixture of specific goals that can be acheived and goals that don’t have a specific achievement point.

    To illustrate this I had a goal of giving up drinking sodas for a year and after many attempts over the past decade or so I finally achieved a process to make this goal achievable, which it will be at the end of March 2008. Once I have reached this goal I will never return to drinking sodas.

    Some aspects of my childhood were very unhappy and when I became a father I set myself a goal of ensuring that my children wouldn’t have happen to them what happened to me. The nature of this goal means that it doesn’t have a specfic target point. The process of being a “better” parent is what is important.

    Recently at my work library I came across – “Self-directed behaviour” by David L. Watson and Roland G. Tharp. I think you may find this book interesting because they talk about goals and processes .


  • Scott Young

    The difference is focus. Goals and processes are both necessary. But when you focus on the goal and crave it, you lose sight of the importance of the process leading to it.

    What I’m suggesting is that if you shift your focus back, worry proportionally less about the goal and worry more that the process is interesting and engages you, you can feel happier without the pangs of craving.

  • Kenyon

    The best materials I have every encountered for goal achievement – which is different than goal setting comes from Douglas Vermeeren. He is the author of Guerrilla Achiever with Jay Levinson. Doug is considered the modern day version of Napoleon Hill, although many feel his work surpasses Hill’s in every way. Vermeeren has worked with more than 400 of the world’s top achievers. Not many success teachers can say that and many are just simply teaching everyone else’s stuff. You should do a little research to see where a lot of what is being taught today comes form it’s pretty interesting. In Guerrilla Achiever Doug Vermeeren points out how most of it came from the industrial era and specifically manufacturing for an assembly line. Much of what is taught in goal achievement today is a lie and counter productive.

  • shreevidya

    really motivating. thank you.

  • nancy

    Thankyou verymuch,now I am on the way

  • nancy

    I am on the way

  • Harry @ GoalsOnTrack

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read on goal setting topics. Many of the traditional ideas tend to ignore the importance of “process”, which personally I think is the most important thing you should work and focus on when achieving goals.

  • Anagha

    Thanks 🙂
    also goals help us from loosing our self ,,process for eg if I love science,,i keep reading enjoying science but nobody can learn it all there is hell lot to learn so goals give us a overall picture and make sure we get maximum out of the process (results) along with the joy inherent in the process

  • Tara

    This was a good read. Do you have any more examples of tailoring to process? If you crave something, is there a way to focus on the process of getting what you want rather than the reward of getting what you want? What do you suggest for our weight and beauty obsessed culture? How can people be motivated without the constant reminder of their appearance? Someone who is 200lbs will see him/herself as fat and unhealthy. That person will be judged in the same manner. How can the judged focus more on process without craving?

  • Rahti Gorfien

    Wow. This stands so much of what I’ve learned about goal-setting right on its head! But then again it makes total sense. I work with artists and people with ADHD, and if the process doesn’t stay interesting, that’s when a goal de-rails. And the perspective of interest is such a great antidote to the sheepishness we often feel when someone says “That’s gonna be really hard” (read: who do you think you are?) because if interesting matters, then hard is good. The trick is keeping “hard” interesting through the boring parts (especially for ADDers) so that it does become overwhelming. At that point, with out craving, it can become hard to persevere. Would love to hear your take on that.

  • Eric Nyikwagh

    Great just hit he point

  • frank szymanski

    Nice work on the goal/process issue…. one of my points of emphasis has been the need to recognize our right to be happy now with where we are while we work on where we’re going and this is a solid piece in line with that…. I especially love your comment that if it’s easy and made for everyone why would you bother…. because that “pitch” is geared for people who are just thinking about the money…. and as I can tell you would agree that in itself just isn’t very fulfilling…. I’ve read some of your other stuff tonight…. good work keep at it and I’m sure I’ll be referring people your way…. as the “$2,000 MIT man”…. my brother was actually a student there in the 60’s…. small world…. thanks

  • Jack

    If we all have goals cant we have them in a hierachy order make a picture or use one that you want it, but include all the levels in it on a word program and you could possibly see how long it would take including an estimation.

  • lakshmi

    and great

  • Kate A

    I’d have loved an aside discussing the “crave” concept and its motivational force in prompting us to change and make decisions. You touched upon it. Such an important notion to understand and quell.