The Good Life Alternative to Achievement

Forget Goals and Sacrifice!

I rather hate the concept of ‘achieving goals’.

To me it smacks of grit, of grinning and bearing it, of suffering through. That sounds a lot like what Buddhists call craving (tanhā), said to be an origin of suffering (samudāya).

How many times have you set some lofty goal or expectation, imagining that it will bring you fulfilment, only to discover you’ve over-stretched and/or the end result is not all it’s cracked up to be?

Yes, intense focus on accomplishing a remarkable feat can take remarkable effort and determination. But, really, what are the trade-offs?

The gain=sacrifice mentality is a punishing race through life that doesn’t stop to appreciate the intrinsic magic and beauty of life itself. We’re not here that long; it’s a shame to waste it.

As Lennon said, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”.

Flexible Future Focus

So, does that mean we’d be better off abandoning all future aims?

While there might be some persuasive philosophical arguments for that, all things considered, psychologists argue we do need things to look forward to and to give us a sense of direction.

The key is not to pin all hope of happiness and fulfilment on ‘if’ (i.e. if I achieve this, that or the other, life will be better).

Instead, we need to learn how to find joy, meaning and satisfaction in the process by cultivating a flexible future focus.

With that in mind then, here’s our advice (after 25 years of sometimes getting it so wrong and just enough times getting it so right…):

12 Tips to Achieve Goals… the Good Life Way

  1. Ditch the dogma and instead cultivate a ‘flexible future focus’ on where you want to go in life.
  2. Set a focus that matters to you or excites you.
  3. Choose a focus that is something positive you want to reach for, not something negative you want to avoid.
  4. Begin any journey with a single, tiny, first step. Then take another. And another. And another.
  5. When you find gaps, plug them – upskill, seek advice, outsource, trade, collaborate.
  6. Don’t expect it to go without a hitch; be agile in changing tactics when you hit road-bumps and obstacles, and accept that you may well adjust the goals themselves. All goals are provisional, and the process is iterative not linear (remember John Lennon!).
  7. Celebrate successes, even small ones. Even if it’s just a fist-pump to yourself.
  8. When you feel like a failure, remind yourself of all that you can do and everything you have done well.
  9. Take it slow – when you’re sprinting, you’ve no time, space or energy for the magic of serendipity or your own creative and unconscious alchemy to ferment.
  10. Don’t go it alone, no matter what it is.
  11. Be forgiving of yourself – none of us lives long enough to be anything but a beginner.
  12. Forget what they tell you about the necessity of ‘grit’ and ‘suffering’ and ‘achievement’. That’s ego talking. What does your soul need to come alive? Those are the only ‘goals’ we’ll ever feel are worth pursuing.


Seligman, P. (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing. Free Press: New York.

Tolle, E. (2004) The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. New World Library: Novato.

Wright, R. (2018) Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Simon & Schuster Publishing: New York.

Photo by Kalle Kortelainen on Unsplash