On October 3rd, 2014, James Altucher interviewed Matt Stone (@180degreehealth) about goals, getting unstuck, and how long side projects really take.
Stone’s latest book is Goals Suck: Why the Obsession with Goal-Setting is a Flawed Approach to Productivity and Life in General. The book description on Amazon has quite the hook, “When you have sex, do you take a timer and a legal pad into the bedroom to log the number of hip thrusts and grunts? Do you compile all of your data at the end of the week and plot it into a graph?” Well, no. Should I be?
Kidding aside, Stone’s suggestion in the book is to follow your passions and let them fuel the pursuit rather than goals, to-do list, or rewards. This isn’t to say your passion will only lead you in one direction. Stone says, “your passions are not life-long and consistent; they do jump around, and it’s important to kind of go with the flow, and if you’re in the flow of what you’re really interested in doing right now, you’re gonna be more productive, and you’re also gonna be a lot more focused, and everything that you do is gonna be higher quality because in a different zone when you’re doing something that you’re really engaged in.”
David Heinemeier Hansson thinks much the same way, in a 2011 interview at Mixergy he talks about passion rather than goals: “I think all those things are infinitely more important than this notion of the goal. I think the notion of the goal, perhaps work, if you’re doing something shitty, if you hate what you’re doing, you hate getting up in the morning to work on it and you generally are not passionate or interested in the work itself and the problems themselves and you’re just in it for the goal, you’re just in it for the flip or the payout or the reward at the end of the road, then sure, having something big and extravagant, a carrot up there might work for you. But I’d say that you’re doing it wrong because the chances are you’re not going to reach your goal”
Stone mentions a Daniel Pink TED talk, which Pink shares, that he too is critical of the carrot and stick system: “I spent the last couple of years looking at the science of human motivation, particularly the dynamics of extrinsic motivators and intrinsic motivators. And I’m telling you, it’s not even close. If you look at the science, there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And what’s alarming here is that our business operating system — think of the set of assumptions and protocols beneath our businesses, how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources — it’s built entirely around these extrinsic motivators, around carrots and sticks.”
What do you do then? Don’t you need the to-do app with geolocation and cloud syncing to keep you on track? No, Stone suggests you “do the shit out of” what you’re passionate about, and gives a lot of suggestions to find out what that is if you don’t already know. It could be looking at the things you enjoy doing or “will keep you up at night if you think about it right before you try to go to sleep.”
Stone got started by starting a blog, and just writing down his thoughts. After two years he realized he could gather up some of the knowledge he had been sharing and sell it to others because it was valuable. Mason Curry wrote the Daily Rituals book after following the same blog to book path.
Unlike some other e-book authors, Stone says it’s not about being productive, it’s about living the life you want. When he speaks to Altucher about living on the beach in Maui, or being a ski-bum, I couldn’t help but think he’s found what Greg McKeown would call essential. McKeown’s book suggests that to find the essential we; examine and explore and discern and subtract so that we can add.
These self pursuits are also a form a selfishness, which Scott Adams (a previous Altucher guest) writes is good: “If you do selfishness right, you automatically become a net benefit to society. Successful people generally don’t burden the world.” For Adams “The most important form of selfishness involves spending time on your fitness, eating right, pursuing your career, and still spending quality time with your family and friends.”
Adams might have chimed in with some choice thoughts on goals too – he’s with Altucher and Stone saying they suck. In the same book he writes that goals lead you to a perpetually bad place. You’ve either not accomplished them yet and have failed so far, or you conquer them and no longer have the thing that gave your life so much meaning.
Stone also dispels the myth of the overnight success. “I don’t recommend just completely quitting your job and putting your back against the wall….you’re probably not gonna be able to cultivate the skills and knowledge and expertise to monetize it successfully in a month or two months or three months or however much money you saved up that you can live on after you’ve quit your job.” Passion then isn’t the sole ingredient to this great life, there is some skill and knowledge required too. Cal Newport writes that these things – at best – go hand in hand, and that sometimes skill may actually precede our passions.
The interview ends with Claudia posing a question about creating a “Paleo, vegan, gluten-free, and no allergy cookbook” which turns out, already exists, Paleo Vegan Sweets & Treats.
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