I am a big believer in having goals and going after the things that you dream about. Desire is a fundamental part of life, and it is the force that keeps us growing and shifting. Thanks to the positive-thinking movement, we all have about a thousand methods for goal-setting, goal-achieving, and ways to think positively about both things as you do them.
There’s nothing wrong with this whatsoever, and if it works for you, keep it up! But for many, it doesn’t go as smoothly. Especially if you know that you want to change but aren’t entirely sure what that change looks like or how to get started.
Enter: the Anti-Goal list.
Anti-Goals ask us to fixate on what we don’t like, where we don’t want to be, and the things that are not working. It is the exact opposite of the positive-thinking model, but it is just as successful—if not more so.
I first learned about this tool when I read an article by the creator of the method. Andrew Wilkinson, the founder of Tiny, wrote about how he created his perfect workday by focusing on everything he hated. Again, it sounds backward, but that’s entirely the point. I like to do things in ways most are not. I like the less obvious approach.
As Wilkinson pointed out in the article, he noticed that the people around him who were the most successful in material terms (wealth, status, etc.) were also the most miserable. They were exhausted, never saw their families, were continually traveling. More generally, they were constantly doing things that they didn’t love. Which brought him to the realization that he could create a day that he did love, by identifying what he didn’t want. Genius! Long meetings, packed calendars, and having to be at the office were a few of the items.
By getting clear about all the things he did not want he by osmosis, already had a very definitive list of the things he did want. It looked like this:
Long meetings = never scheduling meetings when it can be accomplished via phone or email.
Packed calendar = no more than two hours of scheduled time per day.
Working at the office = working at a cafe across from a beautiful park.
See how it works?
We all might not be clear on what our next step is or where we want to be in five years, but we’re all pretty darn sure about the things we do not like about our current situation.
This approach optimizes that clarity, and it takes us out of resistance mode, it unhooks from the “gimme, gimme” shouts of our ego, and puts us into the energy of empowered action. Our complaints become our guideposts. The things we do not want are simply the opposite of what we honestly do want.
Step One: Take a moment to write a list of everything you don’t like about your day, your job, or even your relationship.
Now write the opposite of that complaint.
Complaint: I never have time for myself.
Anti-Goal: At the beginning of each morning, I’m going to schedule a minimum of 30 minutes of time for myself every day to do something that feeds me.
Complaint: I hate my job, it’s nothing but drudgery.
Anti-Goal: Today and every day, I’m going to actively look for something more in line with my interests.
Complaint: My partner and I don’t have much fun anymore.
Anti-Goal: I’m going to schedule a fun date night or activity each week.
Step Two: Get to work. You now have a workable, actionable list. But this is only half of the work. Write down one-step you can take toward bringing these goals to life.
Anti-Goal: I’m going to schedule 30 minutes of time for myself every day.
Action: Arrange for the kids to be picked up from a school by a friend tomorrow.
The more immediate, the better!
Step Three: Imagine who you would be if you didn’t take action. Similar to regular goals, it can still be possible to get stuck. This is where an “Anti-Goal Identity” can come in handy. It is a description of who you imagine you would become if you didn’t achieve these goals. Here’s an example:
“I am 60-years-old and still working at the same job. I’m always tired, and my health is starting to deteriorate. I have a partner, but we rarely see each other, and when we do, our conversations are short or full of resentment. I don’t experience much connection and don’t have any friends. My only pleasure comes from time spent watching television.”
Creating a clear picture of who you do not want to be and imagining it fully can help to keep you on track when you start to feel discouraged. You also might pick up on a few qualities or circumstances that you didn’t even know you didn’t want and add those to your anti-goal list.
Step Four: Shift back to gratitude. Kabbalistically, fully facing our darkness and negativity helps us create the most light. If we are resisting or denying to any degree, the things we don’t like will continue and fester. However, this perspective of focusing on the things we dislike is not meant to be where we stay.
Once you identify your Anti-Goals and explore your Anti-Goal Identity, put them down. Focus your consciousness on everything that is already good and use that appreciation to propel yourself forward. Our lives are a constant balance of appreciating what we already have while growing and striving for the things we desire.
What does your Anti-Goal list look like? What did you learn from your Anti-Goal Identity? Share in the comments how this tool works for you.