Alternatives to Goals

Goals Are Rarely Enough

People fixate on goals, and it’s easy to understand why. Many don’t realize there are alternatives to goals. And I’m not talking KPIs or OKRs either. To me, these are still goals, just better dressed. I’m talking something different. Imagine a tapestry of constructs that can be interwoven to better achieve progress.

So today let me offer up what I use to help teams and leaders get where they want to go.


Themes are pseudo time bound, but they remain mostly–and purposefully–unmeasurable. Instead, they’re something on repeat in our minds as we navigate the choice-laden world in which we all live. “A season of reading” might mean we pick up a book more often than you scroll through social media. “The summer of novelty” means we intend to try as many new things as we can. CGP Grey has an amazing video that describes their value. Check it out.

Think of them like an improved version of New Years Resolutions since they’re stickier, easier, and there’s no need to wait until January to get started.


Habits are all about repetition and accountability. They are the things we do (or don’t do) daily, are a vote for the person we wish to be, and I indirectly talk a lot about them when I talk about what discipline really is. Habits are about action, not about thinking. Some we do without thought like grabbing our morning coffee. Others we struggle to adopt like hitting the gym at 6am every week day.

If you’re interested in a master class on habits, pick up the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Here’s how I like to describe them.

They’re the salad we had on a Tuesday as we work toward losing ten pounds.

Habits lack directionality though so without a goal or a theme, they can feel aimless.


Goals are battle tested and familiar. We set a date, set an objective, and we know if we did or didn’t achieve it when that date arrives. Just be careful. There’s nothing worse than hitting a goal and realizing the aim was too low. Worse yet is setting a goal, putting that goal in a drawer, and three months later pulling it out and rationalizing if we did or didn’t achieve it.

Imagine it like this. The theme is the why, the goals are the what, and the habits are the how. So if goals aren’t working for you, try adopting a theme and a few new habits instead. This alternative to goal setting might be just what you need to build some inertia.

With many of my clients, I ask them to fill out a worksheet meant to inspire fresh ideas. Walk through it yourself. And if you’d like support as you reinvent yourself, reach out. We’ll get to where you’d like to go together.

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