In my whole entire life I have never achieved any goal set for me -- or by me.  
The only way I have ever been successful at anything was by ignoring any 
goals and denouncing every positive mental attitudes thrust upon me.  

How to Succeed

Without Setting Goals

Written By Lin Stone
Copyright 2005 

Goal setting reminds me of the Chinese boatmen of the early 20th century. There were ten men to a boat and the cargo was worth 1,000 yuan when delivered, no matter how long it took or how early it arrived. Unfortunately, their best rowing time was fourteen days. They took out an abacus and discovered each of them was only earning 71.428571 yuan per trip. 

That was barely enough to keep their families fed. By pushing a few more beads around they discovered that if they could improve their performance enough to reach their destination in only ten days they would earn 100 yuan each. 

Consequently, they set themselves the goal of reaching their destination in only ten days. A positive mental attitude was agreed upon and they took off on their trip amidst glad shouts of vibrant acclamation from family and friends. Push, push, push. Row, row, row. But the current was against them or something and the trip still took 14 days. They glumly realized that in spite of their positive mental attitude each of them was still only earning 71.428571 yuan per trip.

Subsequently, they offered a capitalistic reward to their best rowers if they would set a better example by rowing harder -- and the time dropped to thirteen days. Next, since they still had not reached their goal, they punished their worst rowers by taking away a big chunk of yuan from their share of the proceeds if their efforts did not improve, and the boat then gained a whole hour of better time. During the squabbles of indignation and recriminations which followed, their best rowers quit to accept better paying positions, and the worst rowers on the boat became even worse. In spite of all their goal setting and positive mental attitudes, the time required to make the trip rose to seventeen days.

After much deliberation 
The boatmen found a workable solution. 

They hired an eleventh man for each boat.
with each of the first ten agreeing to pay him one tenth of their earnings.

This man was not hired to do ANY rowing. 

His sole responsibility was to wield a whip across the backs of the ten members of the crew so they would row harder and faster. He knew that if he failed to urge them sufficiently enough that they got paid substantially more than 71.428571 yuan per trip AFTER paying him his share too that he would be fired. Consequently, he reluctantly agreed to lay on the lash in a manner so thick and furious that the ten rowing boatmen felt compelled to row faster than ever. 

Through his persistent urging the boatmen came up to speed. rather quickly and everyone row, row, rowed their boat up the stream happily ever after.

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That kind of an arrangement never appealed to me.

The only way I have ever achieved anything was by ignoring any goals and denouncing any positive mental attitudes thrust upon me. 

In my whole entire life I have never achieved any goal set for me or by me. 

Nor did I take orders from anyone. In my impressionable youth my father was like the eleventh boatman; he wielded the whip with an emotion very similar to enthusiasm. "If you don't do (this) I will beat you until your blood runs cold." I never did anything he ordered me to do. In fact, any time I was ordered to do something I always quit making any effort I had already been putting forth. 

"If you keep doing (that) I will whip you to shreds until they can't find hide nor hair of you between two railroad tracks." As soon as my blood quit flowing and I could move again I went back to my own ways. Not once did even the most severe beatings deter me from pursuing my chosen course.

It was as much a trial for him as it was for me. 

When I was fourteen, almost fifteen there came a heavy, lashing male rain to the ranch he operated. Torrents of water ran everywhere. When the storm began to abate Daddy asked me to go with him to check the ditches. 

Driving was out of the question. We walked, slipping, sliding in the mud. We saved several ditches before the crisis arose. We had pulled a tarp from the ditch and stretched it out. I was on one end, he was on the other, when Daddy ordered me to bring my end to him. 

I dropped the tarp and stood up. That enraged him past all endurance. He threatened me. "Pick up that end of the tarp and bring it to me or I'm going to cut your head off."

Daddy's shovel was unique, flat, straight. I've never seen another shovel like it, and I've never seen him without one like it. Daddy kept it very sharp. With it he could cut off a snake's head as far as he could throw the shovel. With nothing but rain between us I watched as he drew the shovel back to show he meant every word he said, and I stepped forward as he swung to be sure he could not miss.

It was only by a violent wrench of his body that Daddy kept the shovel blade from slicing my head off. I stepped closer again, hands down, waiting for his shovel to rise once more. Daddy turned away from me, and bawled in violent, sobbing frustration. To this day he has never given me another order.

Edgar Alan Poe would have called the spirit that possesses me The Imp of the Perverse. Orders, goals, even emphatic suggestions that I do something -- turned me cold. All during grade school I was at the top of my class in every subject except health. I loved every class, even health. Then I went to high school and a professional counselor helped me set goals guaranteed to raise my performance even higher. Two weeks later, I quit school and I have never went on any school grounds since that time without experiencing feelings of total revulsion, and frustration.

After I was grown and married I enrolled in a correspondence course to become a writer. The first thing that the prize-winning instructor insisted on doing was to set goals for me of writing so much every day. That lasted three days and I wrote no more for over five years. 

When I began selling vacuum cleaners I was told to do five demonstrations per day. The first day I did five. The second day I did three. The third day I did one. And bright and early on the fourth day I gave up the job and escaped back to the glory of digging ditches for a living.

After I first went into business for myself and racked up all the business in that small town, a SCORE representative came out to help me establish goals which would ensure the stability I had built for my new company. Within a month I had quit making sales calls, quit doing my books, quit sending out sales literature, and as a last gesture of defiance I even quit balancing my checkbook.

When I set a goal to quit smoking in 90 days by ordering myself to decrease my consumption by two cigarettes each and every day my daily pack rate doubled within a week.

When I set a goal to quit drinking by letting myself go to a bar only once a month I was soon bringing a bottle of rum home every night and drinking myself to oblivion.

I'm sure you realize that no man can be married for long to a woman who cannot persuade him to take actions he had not thought of previously. To say I am happily married now is to grossly understate the state of my marriage. So, how does she persuade me? My dear wife makes cunning suggestions.

The way her suggestions are made to my mind follow four distinct patterns..

"We'll make more money if
"We'll spend less money if
"We'll need less time if
"We might have more fun if  
or simply, "I've been thinking "

As you can see, there is not an order, a goal, or a positive mental attitude in the lot, yet they produce results in her favor just about 100% of the time. You couldn't ask for a better marriage than we have.

Nor can any man earn a living without doing something that someone else wants done. Since I did not qualify to reign supreme as a seismological engineer, in real life I changed employers as often as employers gave orders. It was only by finding employers who simply told me what was required and left me alone that I survived at all for the first thirty years of my life. The next fourteen years weren't that much better but at least I was able to earn a steady living because I had found this one farmer who NEVER gave orders. 

If he even suspected that having to do some task made me angry he would hasten to say, "If you don't want to do this we'll find you something else to do."

He had five other employees and NEVER gave an order to any of us. The closest he ever came to giving an order was to say "We need to plow that field over there." And one of us would usually volunteer to go do it. If we didn't, he either did it himself or hired someone else for that job.

Of a Saturday morning we would go up to his house and tell someone there how much money we had coming. Even when I claimed I had put in more than 120 hours that week my word was never doubted and many times there was even an extra bonus thrown in along with a pat on the back or a piece of pie.

Any time this farmer raised our hourly wages at least four of us would complain he was already paying us more than we were worth. "Well, if you don't want to live with a guilty conscience you'll have to get better then," he would respond with an unsympathetic grin.

Strangely enough, every man he had working for him was very much like me; I don't believe that any one of us could have kept a job anywhere else.  I don't believe any farmer ever had a harder working crew. After fourteen years working for him I was still the newest employee there.  There were others who wanted to work for him, but they just could not cut it.

Now that I am 61 years old, making me set goals or shoving orders at me is STILL the one sure way to make sure I quit doing even as much as I was already doing. I still won't take orders, no, not even from myself. 

Since you know that I do not drink, do not smoke, and have a very successful business in spite of all the foregoing resistance to everything our world experts insist is necessary for success you might wonder HOW these things have been accomplished.

Well, I quit smoking without one minute of trauma when I realized that I was the kind of person who never should have started in the first place. I simply corrected that mistake.

My writing began to sell when I became the kind of person who keeps improving everything he writes until it is the best he can write. 

I quit drinking when I decided to become a Latter-day Saint because devout Saints do not drink. After my decision was made I went down to the little bar I had loved and ordered a cold beer. I could not force even one swallow of the stuff down my throat. I pushed the bottle back and said, "I guess I have already quit." I have never since experienced an urge to drink.

I became successful in business when the Lord promised I would prosper in life if I became the kind of person who paid his tithing. I became even more successful when I became the kind of person who devoted more time to serving the Lord.

At this time I hold the position of CLERK in a Branch of my Church. When I was called to this position I could not imagine any calling I was less suited for. At that time I still could not even balance my own check book. As a clerk I would be responsible for balancing four interdependent accounts with numerous sub-divisions which could not be off so much as one cent in either direction. 

At home my work is organized in piles, and perhaps the word LUMPS would be a better adjective. As a clerk, everything would have to be organized not only so I could find it, but so that any one of five other individuals could find it as well -- without having to ask me for directions. 

Understandably I turned the position down. I was urged to pray about accepting the calling in order to see what the Lord wanted. As I prayed it came to me that while I did not at that time possess any of the skills required for the job that I was already the kind of person whose prayers were answered. No longer anxious, I took over the position and within three months I had all the requisite skills down pat. 

It did not matter how many setbacks I suffered, or how many times I did NOT get my clerical responsibilities done on schedule because I never quit praying for inspiration and guidance, nor did I ever quit being that kind of person who can do a clerk's work if they keep trying. 

The Answer

So the answer is really quite simple. Instead of taking orders, setting goals, or relying on the ringing mantra of positive mental attitudes, I simply decided to become the kind of person who succeeds at the activities I wanted to engage in.

Will these principles work better for you than giving yourself orders, setting goals or whispering positive mental attitudes to the mirror in front of you?  If you ever get irritated when someone orders you to do something 
then I suspect they will. 

"We'll make more money if
"We'll spend less money if
"We'll need less time if
"We might have more fun if  
or simply, "I've been thinking "

I invite you to try them out and see for yourself if they don't profit you even more than they do me. 

Of course, if you are the kind of person who NEEDS to be told what to do, you can always go to China and apply for a job of rowing a boat upstream.  They also need people to cut grass with scissors

the end 

Lin Stone is an author, writer, photographer, and builds simple web sites for others.  There are over 950 articles of his on the web.  You can track many of them down from 

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