Vincent Chan

Why I stopped setting goals

Welcome to reThinkable – my weekly newsletter where I share actionable insights to build a wealthy and healthy life.

Here’s what we’re covering:

⛔ I stopped setting goals

🎯 What are Anti-Goals?

🛠️ How to create your Anti-Goals


Estimated read time: 3 minutes and 36 seconds

⛔ I stopped setting goals

In 2020, I quit my 2nd full-time job just 3 years out of college. 

7 months before that, I decided I wanted to try to build my own business.

I had been working in finance, where the work culture was toxic — I worked 80-hour weeks, there were no boundaries, and I was exhausted all the time.

But I didn’t set a goal to quit within 7 months. Why? I knew that statistically, I would’ve given up and stayed at the job.

Instead, I created Anti-Goals and everything changed.

In today’s email, I wanted to share what Anti-Goals are, how they increase your chances of succeeding, and how you can set your own.

🎯 What are Anti-Goals?

The concept of Anti-Goals can be traced back to Ancient Greece, where philosophers often envisioned the worst-case scenarios. 


But they didn’t do this because they were pessimistic people — they did it because it helped them mentally prepare for potential pitfalls and come up with strategies to avoid them.


Similarly, creating Anti-Goals helps us visualize scenarios we want to avoid, which is scientifically proven to be more effective than the traditional goal-setting approach.


Let’s say I want to save $3,000 in 2 months so I could quit my job (because I hate it). Here’s the traditional way to set this goal:


1. I decide on an outcome: I want to save $3,000 in 2 months

2. I identify milestones to help me get there: I’ll stop going out to eat

3. I implement strategies: I start cooking meals at home


Initially, I might be great at this goal… but probably only for a few days. The problem is that most people naturally lose motivation to stick with their goals over time.


It becomes too easy to find a seemingly reasonable excuse to give in — perhaps after a long stressful day at work, you feel you deserve to treat yourself just this one time. Unfortunately, this “one time” will become two, three, or even ten times.


On the other hand, Anti-Goals center on identifying what you don’t want, rather than what you do. In other words, these are the opposite of your goals:

  • I don’t want to be buried in debt
  • I don’t want to work 80 hour works
  • I don’t want to ask my friends to borrow money

Setting Anti-Goals are more effective for 3 reasons:

1. Our brains are not designed for progress but for avoidance. Meaning, our brains naturally respond more urgently to avoid negative outcomes than to chase positive ones. A mouse will run very fast if there is a cheese in front of it, but it will run even faster if there is a cat behind it too.


2. Anti-Goals clarify what you want by defining what you don’t want. Since this simplifies our options, it’s easier to choose and take the right actions.

3. The concept is based on the idea of “Inversion Thinking” — a mental model that says hard problems are easier to solved backwards than forwards

🛠️ How to create your Anti-Goals

Here’s a 3-step process on how I set my Anti-Goals:

1. Deep cleaning

2. Find a solution

3. Take action


Step 1: Deep cleaning

Similar to how you occasionally deep clean your house, you pick one focus area to start.


So pick an area in your life that you want to improve: job, personal finance, business, relationship?


Review how you spend your time and energy and be honest about what sucked you don’t enjoy about it and would be happy to let go.


Let’s say I want to set Anti-Goals for my job, I looked at my calendar and wrote down everything I didn’t enjoy about it:


For example:

1. Working until 7pm

2. Feeling low energy during the middle of the work day

3. Having unproductive commuting hours


Step 2: Find a solution

After you find tasks tasks you don’t enjoy, decide on a solution to it to see how you can stop doing it.

For example:

Anti-Goal: I don’t like working until 7pm

Solution: Avoid meetings where my role and contribution are insignificant

Anti-Goal: I don’t like feeling low energy during the middle of the work day

Solution: Replace coffee with green tea for sustained longer-lasting energy

Anti-Goal: I don’t like having unproductive community hours

Solution: Carry a book with me to make the commute time productive

Step 3: Take action

Next, you need to take action on the solutions you came up with. If the solution doesn’t work, then review it and consider another solution.


For example:

Perhaps it’s difficult to carry a physical book with me on the commute everyday. I’m giving myself 1 month to try it and if it becomes too much of a hassle, I’ll review and see if I should switch to podcasts or e-books.

Setting Anti-Goals helps you to focus your energy on avoiding things you don’t enjoy, which helps you get to your end goals faster.

PS: What are some of your Anti-Goals for 2024? I’d love to learn more about you and your aspirations. Simply hit “reply email” to let me know. As always, I read your emails and reply to them :).