Arbitrary goals: hidden gems

‘I want to hit 2 million Youtube subscribers.’

‘I want to write a bestseller.’

‘I want to be famous’.

Those are just three of the most popular arbitrary goals that I’ve seen on the internet. They’re not SMART goals, the benefits of which I’ve written about extensively in the past. What makes them arbitrary is that they’re weightless. They carry no meaning.

They are wants and desires, nothing more. Anyone can want 2 million subscribers, but what are you going to do that helps you to achieve that goal? Arbitrary goals are pointless.

At least, that’s what I thought until New Year’s Eve 2018, when I set some arbitrary goals for myself. I didn’t do very well with those, and most of them were long forgotten about. Along came my NYE 2020 bucket list, where I set three far more attainable, far simpler, goals.

What’s my progress been like? How have I got on? And what have I learned about the hidden beauty behind setting arbitrary goals?

Success? Failure? Who knows?


In 2019, I joined the GoodReads challenge, where I set myself a number of books to be read by the end of the year. Now, I’m not a natural-born reader, so found this goal pretty tricky to stick to, and missed by target of 25 by a mile.

This year, I set that same goal once more. At the start of the year, I did incredibly well, reading pretty much one a week. My goal here was helped largely in-part from the three-month-long lockdown, as I enjoyed a 30-60 minute walk after finishing my remote lessons for the day, followed by a 60-minute home workout. Both tasks involved a lot of podcast- and audiobook- listening.

I’ve slowed up since then, having lost a lot of that speed-listening time after the end of lockdown. However, my reading sped up once more over the six week summer break, and now I’ll be hitting my goal if I read just two books a month. That seems doable.


I set out to write fictional 500 words a day, every single day, at the start of the year. 8 months later and I currently have a manuscript that totals just over 2,000. What went wrong?

Well, you could say the busyness of the year – and that would be true. But I think I also suffered from not setting deadlines for myself. At work, if I know that assessments need to be turned around in 3 days, then I will get them marked and turned around in 3 days – because I know that it has to be done.

For the rest of the year, I’m going to come up with a schedule to stick to that forces me to meet my deadlines. Let’s see how it goes by the end of 2021. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have a bestseller by then.


Finally, I wanted to get bigger, to pack on some muscle. The start of the year made this difficult, since gyms remained closed until April. However, I endeavoured to work out at home most days of that lockdown. When we were free to go outside more often, I immediately rejoined the gym and had been going my minimum of 3 days a week.

Some weeks, I’d even be going 4, or even 5 times. I’ve compared myself to photos taken at different intervals, and I’m pleased to report that there has been a marked increase in muscle size and strength!

Now it’s time to keep on gaining and to not let up for the final four months of the year.

So…how did arbitrary goals help?

When I came up with these three focused goals, they were very basic. I wanted to look bigger, I wanted to write more and I wanted to read more. That was it. There were no specifics about it, but knowing in my heart of hearts that this is it, this is what I want to do or be was a great starting point. It helped me to get going and flesh these goals out into specific targets that were concentrated and focused.

In the past, I’d thought of arbitrary goals as quite negative. What was the point in them if I had no determined route to follow? Why would I bother saying that I simply wanted to be bigger, rather than just going to the gym? I’ve not fixed the problem of having to rely on motivation, rather than any sense of discipline, to get to where I want to be.

But the truth remains that setting an arbitrary goal lets me set a really nice personal target. I know what I want; all I need to do next – which I did on New Year’s Eve last year – is figure out how to get there.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I actually had a fourth goal this year, but it was totally, completely, arbitrary. I had zero control over this one goal; it was to gain 100 blog followers. I actually hit that target a very long time ago, so update my goal to be 150 followers by the end of the year.

At the time of writing, I’m at 152 followers. Now, my goal is to get to 200 by the end of the year. This is totally, completely arbitrary, but it’s spurring me on to continue writing consistently.

The final hidden gem of arbitrary goal setting? Clearly, it’s that you can be as outlandish as you wish! Aim for those 2 million Youtube subscribers if you want; who knows? You might just get there. Just keep reality in check and don’t be disappointed if it takes a little longer to get there than you thought.

How are you doing with your New Year’s goals? Let me know in the comments below!

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