Reaching a goal is the penalty you receive for setting one

Mickey Mellen
2 min readNov 9, 2023

I’ve always had a difficult time setting and sticking to goals. I’m great with routine (this blog is a solid example), but I’m not great at setting goals.

While I think I still need to improve in that regard, perhaps routines can be a better fit than goals in many cases anyhow. In a podcast with Adam Grant, former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho shared his opinion on goal setting:

Dude, I hate goals. I hate goals. Adam, I feel like people live life in a box. People live life in a box that the world has put them in, and my objective in this life is to break outside of the box.

Related to the title of this post, he goes on to say:

Essentially to say if you reach your goal, congrats. But what if you could have done more? Like you reaching that goal is a penalty that you achieve for setting it. And I’m just like, “Yo, let’s blow the top off of all this.”

Related to the podcast, here is Acho’s TED Talk from earlier this year:

I’ve felt this for a while, but Acho said it very well. I look at the things I do and most of them are intentional moves to improve areas of my life, but with no particular end in mind:

  • Blogging daily to unpack my thoughts.
  • Reading to learn from others.
  • Using tools like Anki to sharpen other areas of thought.

None of those have an end goal in mind. I may stop blogging eventually, but it’s not because I reached some arbitrary goal. I plan to keep reading for the rest of my life. Anki intentionally doesn’t have a long-term finish.

That said, I certainly set goals for areas of my life, but even I need to be careful with them. For example, we set a goal for our agency to hit a financial milestone this year, and we hit it in October. Do we just stop for the year? Of course not. “Let’s blow the top off of all this.”

Goals can be great, but habits and practices can often beat them.

Originally published at https://www.mickmel.com on November 9, 2023.

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Mickey Mellen

I’m a cofounder of @GreenMellen, and I’m into WordPress, blogging and seo. Love my two girls, gadgets, Google Earth, and I try to run when I can.