Jackie Chan shows his calligraphy: 水能载舟，亦能覆舟
Water floats, but also sinks boats. This old Chinese proverb reminds us that our most beneficial tools can injure us when applied unskillfully. Goal setting, the ultimate weapon in the personal development arsenal, is no exception to this rule.
Smart men set goals. Wise men abandon them.
The Danger of Goals
Love, happiness and self-actualization are the universal human desires that motivate most goal-setting behavior. Compared to business processes, these desires are non-specific, not measurable and not easily squeezed onto a timeline. This poses a problem to those who are accustomed to planning their future, with the guidance of continuous feedback.
The clever man quickly finds a solution, by substituting a proxy goal for his original desire. His proxy goal is evidently in alignment with the true objective, and has the advantage of being easier to quantify. Typical proxy goals are money, power and fame. Thus equipped, the clever man plans to achieve his desired percentage of satisfaction by a specific date.
The wise man sees the folly of this approach. At the outset, proxy goals produce the desired results. If poverty and powerlessness are real obstacles to happiness, then wealth and empowerment are real solutions. But when these substitutes inevitably diverge from the original objectives, the goals themselves become obstacles to success.
Without an honest and direct confrontation of one’s true desire, goal setting is just another destructive habit.
We are told that goal setting is an irreproachable pursuit. People who set goals are focused, intelligent, passionate and successful; people who do not are ignorant, lazy, fearful and ineffective. Such accounts represent the wishful thinking of goal addicts.
We should expect people who achieve their goals to consider themselves successful. They are successful by their own measure—as are many others who fail to set any goals whatsoever. This is a case of subjective bias; if we want the objective truth, we should ask someone without a horse in the success race.
Forget about personal development speakers, coaches and other businessmen. As Lieh-tzu said, One who sets out on a great enterprise does not concern himself with trifles; one who achieves great successes does not achieve small ones. Mankind’s greatest masters left us a different path to personal empowerment: abandon your goals.