Goal-Setting For The Aspiring Minimalist or “How To Not Get Overwhelmed By Yet Another Neverending To Do List…”

admin // November 22 // 0 Comments

You may be asking yourself how goal-setting works into the whole scheme of a minimalist lifestyle. If minimalism is all about creating a happier, slower paced, less stressful mode of being that reflects your inherent values, how do you balance that with any kind of “productivity” or “achievement”? As with most aspects in the shift to simple living, you have to start by examining some fundamental paradigms that you may currently take for granted. While minimalism can be applied to goal-setting in simple ways like streamlining your to do list, we also need to look at how to reframe the whole concept of goal-setting and achievement, upon which many current models for success are based.

5.1 The First Level: Goal-Setting Made Simple

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Henry David Thoreau

Before getting into some of the deeper layers of the whole goal-setting question, it can be useful to start with the basics. How do we simplify the way we approach our life goals? Health coach Arnould de Souza breaks it down to 3 simple steps: setting your goal or desired results, naming exactly why you want to achieve said goal and then putting down the actions required to reach your desired results. Easy, right? This may seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of us tend to skip immediately to intricate multi-phase planning for all our life dreams. So start with“simplify, simplify, simplify!” He also talks about the importance of “fear setting” (i.e. what you fear most in regards to going after your goal…) as well as the standard imperatives of accountability and post goal-achievement rewards (rewards that obviously don’t sabotage your goal that is…).[1]

Basically, this whole approach is about applying minimalism to the way you set and work towards your goals, focusing on keeping things simple and achievable. It may not shake the foundations of your world, but it can definitely be a great first step in the direction of a holistic minimal lifestyle. Many of us have a tendency of focusing on our long term visions without giving ourselves tools to motivate the daily steps towards them. We set ourselves up for a cycle of frustration and self-doubt by not putting any structure in place to help us actually reach what we’re aiming for.

5.2 Shifting Your Focus: From Outcomes to Habits

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” Jim Ryun

Anouschka Rees has a somewhat similar take on combining Minimalism as a lifestyle choice with the notion of achieving one’s goals, but with a bit of a twist. While she also mentions the importance of simplifying, suggesting taking on “no more than three goals at a time,” understanding the motivations behind each goal (the “why” you want to accomplish this specific thing), and outlining both the positive sides of reaching your goals and the downside of not reaching them as motivation, she also encourages a focus on habits as opposed to outcomes. [2]

More and more people are becoming aware that the real key to accomplishing the things we set out to do in our lives, no matter how big, is how we integrate them into our daily routines and patterns. Any kind of major change you want to make in your life needs to be made into a habit if it’s going to last. The great thinkers of our societies have been saying this since at least the time of Aristotle, who stated “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” What Rees begins to touch on in her article is a pretty profound piece of the puzzle.

Think about it. If you’re transitioning to a minimalist lifestyle it’s because on some level you’re seeking simplicity. You’re looking for less clutter in every aspect of your life. This inevitably means drastically shortening or eradicating the never-ending litany of to-do’s running through your head and cluttering up your desktop, be it virtual or physical. What would happen if instead of focusing on the desired end results all the time you put more emphasis on the process? What if there were ways you could integrate certain things into your daily life so that you don’t have to think about doing them any more? They simply become a natural part of your routine, and build up over time to something (i.e. your erstwhile “goal”) you used to keep pushing off to tomorrow’s to do list? Sounds great, right!? So how do you make it happen?

5.3 First Off, Don’t Just Remove, Replace!

Most people try kicking habits by focusing on the habit and trying to break it. This can sometimes feel like staring at a spoon and repeating “there is no spoon,” in the hopes that you will somehow tap into The Matrix. You never know! But not likely. Rather than setting ourselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure by trying to go cold-turkey, why not follow the basic best-practice for habit busting? Which, as you may have gathered from the section title, is to not just try and remove the bad habit, but to replace it with a better one.

This principle is most often discussed in the field of health and fitness, specifically around weight-loss and quitting various addictions. Here’s a simple example of what we’re talking about from a minimalist perspective. Let’s say you’re in the habit of buying yourself a piece of nice clothes as a personal reward whenever you have a big success or make a little extra cash in life. You could apply the “replace” principle by choosing an experience that is equally rewarding to you (e.g., going to your favorite restaurant, having a spa day with a good friend, etc.) and doing that thing every time you would, in the past, have bought yourself another item to add to your already overfilled wardrobe. Instead of beating yourself up for accumulating stuff you’re changing the habits that lead to said accumulation. This can be applied to any habit you want to change. You just have to take the time to figure out what is going to be appealing enough to you to effectively replace it.

5.4 Lessons From a Life Coach

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” Confucius

In addition to simplifying your approach to goal-setting (as in Arnold de Souza’s model above) and focusing on replacing habits instead of trying to kick them cold-turkey, there’s another angle that can be helpful to some people struggling to get started on downsizing. Life-coach Kristen Elyse describes a four-step process she uses to help clients set and meet goals that hones in on how to embed your goals in the context of your life today. The number one step is to “identify the goal and how it interacts with your entire life.” Sounds overwhelming perhaps, but the idea is simply to figure out your goal (in this case, to implement a personalized holistic minimalist lifestyle) and then figure out why it’s so important to you and what aspects of your life as is may hinder your progress over time.

Secondly she suggests looking at how you’re holding yourself back. Many people tend to set goals multiple times before achieving them. If this is the case, take note of what went wrong last time and what you could change this time around. For example, are you a bit of a perfectionist? Or do you have some emotional baggage that needs to be looked at in order to be able to get rid of certain possessions? It’s time to fess up and be honest with yourself about ways you may be sabotaging yourself! As with Anoushka Rees, Elyse also suggests creating a list of fears you have in going after your goal at this point.

Step three is all about positive projections. In her words, “visualize in as much detail as possible what success looks like for you. Be extremely descriptive…start building up your confidence by stating to yourself on a regular basis that you can do this.” Some people may feel a bit ridiculous giving themselves pep talks, but positive thinking is in fact one of the most important factors in accomplishing just about anything. So try it out. Find language and strategies that work for you, be it post it notes or silent positive affirmations. But never doubt the impact your thinking will have on the outcome of your goals.

The final step is of course creating an action plan that breaks down your overarching goal into small accomplishable tasks. Elyse recommends preparing for moments of discouragement in advance by creating visuals for yourself to look at regularly and be reminded of why you’re putting in all this effort, and rewarding yourself regularly for your efforts, not just “outcomes.” Of course, as we’ve seen, you need to find rewards that don’t go against your ultimate goal of minimalist living. [3]

5.5 One Thing to Watch Out For…

“Do what you love, and do it well – that’s much more meaningful than any metric.” Kevin Systrom

In a world where we are often defined by what we do, and how well we do it, meeting our goals can become synonymous with self-worth and how we expect others to judge our value. When taken to the extreme, goals can become an obsession similar to the unconscious accumulation of material goods. How so? Well, for many of us setting and meeting goals and deadlines gives us the same temporary sense of validation that many people also get from consuming. When not practiced consciously, it can become a short-term band aid covering up deeper issues surrounding your quest for love and happiness.

If you start off by looking beneath all your goals you’ll find that what you essentially want is to be happy and to have positive loving relationships. Minimalist blogger Joshua Fields Millburn speaks to this issue from personal experience. “I thought if I crossed enough goals off my to-do list, I’d eventually be content…But I was stressed out of my mind with all those goals. My hauntingly perpetual to-do list was just that—perpetual, never-ending. And it was ever-growing. Plus, I was continuously disappointed when I didn’t achieve a goal, or when I missed a deadline. I was even disappointed when I attained a goal, but didn’t overachieve. It was a self- consuming high: it was never enough[…].” [4]

Make sure your daily goals and activities come from a place of consciously choosing to be happy, of knowing you’re worthy, loveable and a good person whether or not you accomplish anything specific today! Yes goals are a key source of motivation, just make sure they’re also in alignment with your core values. You need to be shaping and driving your goals, not the other way around!

5.6 At The Heart Of Achievement: Balance and Commitment

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” Andrew Carnegie

There are endless specific situations and personalities out there and no one magical recipe that fits all. What you have here are some different ways to integrate minimalism into the goal-setting side of your life. It’s up to you to find the right balance. Assessing and adjusting your relationship and approach to goal-setting has the potential to take you to a new level of commitment to yourself and to your highest potential.

5.7 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!

When you take away all the extra pointers, what it really comes down to is this:

  1. Apply minimalism to your goal-setting strategy with the three-step approach. Make your goals simple & achievable by a) setting your goal or desired results b) figuring out exactly why you want to achieve said goal and b) figuring out the actions required to reach your desired results.
  2. Try only taking on 3 goals at a time. Limiting the numbers of goals you’re working with at one time will make the process way more manageable.
  3. Focus on habits, not outcomes. What are the patterns you can shift to make your lifestyle change sustainable?
  4. Remember, don’t remove, replace. Changing habits is much more effective when you replace them with something else that’s equally of interest, instead of just trying to cut a habit out of your life!

And, if you want to take it to another level…

  1. Contextualize. How does your goal relate to the rest of your life? Are there some things about your current life that you can already predict are going to get in the way of achieving your goal?
  2. Create a “fear list.” What fears might be tripping you up in going after your goal?
  3. Positive projections. Create a detailed description of what “success” would look like to you in relation to your goal(s). Build up your confidence by reminding yourself you are fully capable of meeting said goal(s).
  4. Prepare for the low times. Make yourself inspirational visuals or other material you can turn to in times when your motivation is waning.
  5. Reward yourself regularly both for your efforts and for outcomes achieved along the way to your goal.
  6. Finally, make sure to align your goals with core values. Don’t get caught up in the pursuit of goal-setting for goal-settings sake. Adjust your goals as your life and vision evolves.
  1. “Minimalist Guide to Effective Goal Setting,” Arnold de Souza, https://arnolddesouza.com, July 23rd 2018
  2. “The Minimalist Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals,” Anouschka Rees, 2015
  3. “Minimalist Goal-setting: Tips from a Life Coach on Achieving your Minimalist Goals,” Kristen Elyse and Jennifer B., 2016, simplyfiercly.com
  4. “100 Days With No Goals,” Joshua Fields Millburn, theminimalist.com,

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