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The Power of Anti-Goals

Published on: December 30, 2020


With the New Year upon us, it’s the right time to think about goal-setting. But if you’re like many, you might feel hesitant to follow the same old SMART goal-setting process.

You know –make them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. The process of setting SMART goals can seem a bit overwhelming in itself. What if there were an easier, more effective way to achieve what you want to do without having to think up goals, figure out how to measure them, track them, and watch them fizzle out as the year moves on?

Well, there is. It’s not called setting goals, either. It’s called setting “anti-goals.”

Anti-goals, a concept developed by Andrew Wilkinson, are about what you don’t want to happen. Or the person you don want to be a year from now. Instead of envisioning positive outcomes for yourself when you may someday achieve those hard-to-attain goals, think about what you don’t want to be.

For example, if you don’t want to still be a couch potato a year from now, not making any progress on your fitness, financial, hobby, or other personal goals, try anti-goals. As with regular goals, envisioning yourself in the future is an essential part of the process. But instead of imagining yourself achieving a goal, envision yourself NOT achieving your goal and see how you feel. Then figure out what you need to do to NOT end up in that place again and start taking action. 

Anti-goals can be more motivating than regular goals. Why? Because of anti-goals tap into the power of fear. You set an anti-goal based on what you don’t want to happen. If you don’t want to stay stuck in a rut, set an anti-goal. Setting an anti-goal can automatically launch your inner coach and motivator who might say to you, “Well, if you want to look back a year from now and still be in a rut, sure, keep watching Netflix and forget about that business you wanted to start or that hobby you wanted to pursue. But if you want to be able to see yourself in a new and exciting “place” next year, get moving now!

Anti-goals bring with them a stronger emotional charge by letting you tap into your passion to not let yourself down. While pursuing a regular goal may feel like a burden, something you should do, avoiding an anti-goal is something you don’t need to think about – you just do it to basically save your life or your self-esteem. 

Anti-goals also can help you get clarity on what your priorities are and inspire you to take action. Think about what you want to avoid, or what you don’t want to keep feeling and experiencing. Then think about things you can do to avoid that situation. Instead of calling these goals, you might call them “action steps.” While goals can seem rigid and inflexible once you set them, action steps are just that ­– the next steps you can take to achieve your vision. Steps are taken one at a time, and you can always decide where you’re going to step next. This approach allows for flexibility, creativity, and spontaneity in your life.  So why not give it a try and see how motivating an anti-goal can be!

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