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Ever since I started reading books about ‘success’ more than 25 years ago, one expert on the subject after another has impressed upon me the importance of having ‘GOALS’. Setting myself ‘goals’ and writing them down, they’ve relentlessly assured me, was the first step to getting everything I wanted in life.

Indeed, some of the experts even went so far as to inform me in no uncertain terms that it was having ‘goals’ that made the difference between success and failure.

The problem is, despite doing my best to follow the advice of every ‘success guru’ I could find, I’ve ended up achieving very few of the hundreds of goals I’ve set for myself over the years. In fact, I’ve found that my periodic attempts to run my life according to a set of written goals have consistently produced less than positive experiences and, in retrospect, may have actually got in the way of me doing more with my life than I have.

But, all those ‘success gurus’ couldn’t be wrong, surely? It must be me.

That was the niggling belief somewhere in the back of my mind – that I just hadn’t got it right yet – that kept bringing me back for just one more attempt.

And so, on New Year’s Eve, 31 December, 2004, at about five o’clock in the afternoon, I sat down at my computer in my home office with the intention of setting myself some ‘goals’ for 2005.

My fingers hovered over the keyboard, ready to type onscreen a rough outline of the goals I had in mind. I would then work on the construction of each one of them in turn until I was satisfied that it was clearly and accurately worded and complete in every detail. However long it might take.

When I’d done that, I would handwrite my list of definite goals onto a blank sheet of paper that I’d placed on the desk by my side for that purpose. I would sign the paper and date it. Finally, I would tape the sheet of paper up on the wall so I could refer to it every day from then on until the goals were accomplished.

That was the plan.

But, unfortunately, nothing happened. I just sat there, staring at an empty Word document on my computer screen.

Several minutes ticked by. Then, almost without thinking, I opened Internet Explorer and went to Google. I typed in the phrase “goal setting” and started idly browsing through the websites that came up, looking for some kind of inspiration. I read a few articles. I clicked on some hyperlinks and found my way to some more websites.

After a while, I went off and did other things, but soon came back again, to sit there alone at my computer. One man and his mouse.

I clicked on some more hyperlinks, I read more articles. I drank cups of coffee. Soon, I was far out in cyberspace on some kind of vague scouting mission and I realised I was looking at all sorts of stuff that no longer had anything to do with goal setting.

Several more times, I went off to do other things but soon came back again.

Darkness fell. Midnight inevitably arrived and I hugged my wife and son and wished them a Happy New Year (my teenage daughter was away celebrating with her friends), and we watched the fireworks over Sydney Harbour on the TV. Then I returned to my computer and carried on regardless.

I don’t know what I thought I was doing. Not what I set out to do, that’s for sure. By now, I’d been wandering aimlessly around the internet for hours, perfectly happy, it seemed, to click on any hyperlink that caught my attention and to explore whatever it presented to me.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I was at a website called Goal-Free Living.

Somebody called Stephen M. Shapiro had written a book on the subject, with that title. A book that hadn’t been published yet. But I read that I could get “a free copy of the book’s introduction and the 9 lessons for Goal-Free Living” if I answered ten questions in a quiz called Are You A Goalaholic?

Tell me more. It was past one o’clock in the morning, but I had a go at the quiz. I scored 49. I got the link to the book’s introduction and the 9 lessons for Goal-Free Living in my email inbox a few minutes later, downloaded the PDF file and read it.

Then I went to bed. The sheet of paper that, by this time, should have had my goals for 2005 written on it and been stuck up on the wall lay there still on my desk, just as blank as when I’d started.

On New Years Day, I screwed it up and threw it in the wastebasket.

Would you like to know what I read in that PDF file? It’s only eight pages.

You can find out more about Stephen Shapiro’s book Goal-Free Living and complete the Are You A Goalaholic? quiz yourself, if you want to, right here:

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