I’m done with writing goals. Good-bye. Good riddance.

I used to write them faithfully – at least once a year and sometimes in between. A lot of smart people told me that they were good and necessary and vital to my success, and since I have a habit of listening to smart people, I not only wrote them but I told other people to write them too. (After all, I wanted people to think I was smart too!)

But I’m done with goals. I’m kickin’ them to the curb. Because they’re not the most effective tool in my tool kit.

You want to know what works better than goals?


Yup. You heard me right – questions work better than goals.

Here’s a short section from How to Lead with your Paint Clothes on that explains why…

To get stuff done, ask good questions.

We have all been taught the value of effective goal-setting, but rarely have we been taught the effectiveness of curiosity. Research has shown, in fact, that curiosity and openness help us get MORE accomplished than determination and goal-setting do.

Three social scientists once conducted a series of experiments to determine which was more effective, “declarative” self-talk (I will fix it!) or “interrogative” self-talk (Can I fix it?). They began by presenting a group of participants with some anagrams to solve (for example, rearranging the letters in “sauce” to spell “cause”.) Before the participants tackled the problem, though, the researchers asked half of them to take a minute to ask themselves whether they would complete the task. The other half of the group was instructed to tell themselves that they would complete the task.

In the end, the self-questioning group solved significantly more anagrams than the self-affirming group.

The researchers – Ibrahim Senay and Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois, along with Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi – then enlisted a new group to try a variation with a twist of trickery: “We told participants that we were interested in people’s handwriting practices. With this pretense, participants were given a sheet of paper to write down 20 times one of the following word pairs: Will I, I will, I, or Will. Then they were asked to work on a series of 10 anagrams in the same way participants in Experiment One did.”

This experiment resulted in the same outcome as the first. People primed with “Will I” solved nearly twice as many anagrams as people in the other three groups. In follow-up experiments, the same pattern continued to hold. Those who approach a task with questioning self-talk did better than those who began with affirming self-talk.

My nine-year-old daughter Maddy figured this out before I did. (Or perhaps I had it figured out at nine too, but somewhere along the way I let smart people convince me otherwise.)

Not long ago, she started her first journal. “Mom,” she said, “I’m going to call it ‘A lifetime of questions.'” And then she proceeded to write pages full of all the questions she has about life, leaving blank spaces after each question in case she finds the answer and wants to fill it in. Sometimes she shares her questions with me and sometimes she doesn’t.

The other day, she was waiting in line at six in the morning to audition for The Next Star, a TV talent show that’s like Canadian Idol for kids. After the original giddiness had worn off, she plopped herself down on the ground, pulled out her journal, and started writing her questions. She didn’t show them to me, but there’s a pretty good chance at least one of them was “will I be the Next Star?”

The answer to that question was, unfortunately, “No” (she didn’t make it past the first round of auditions), but if you ask me, she’s a pretty big star just for having the guts to do all the research about how and where to audition, practice her songs relentlessly for weeks on end, get up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, wait in line for five hours, and then march off alone into an audition room full of strangers (I wasn’t allowed to watch) and compete against kids who were mostly a few years older than her – all at the risk of failure. (One of the first questions she asked me afterwards was “Mom, can I take singing and dance lessons so I’m more prepared next year?”) That little girl is a hero in my books!

So I’m taking the lessons I’ve learned from Maddy and those researchers, and I’m living a lifetime of questions.

Remember that black canvas I painted when I was in the depths of despair over my long surrender? I decided to fill it with a bunch of hopeful questions.

I’ll let you know what the answers are when I find out!

Note: For this and other unconventional wisdom about how to take a more unique and powerful approach to life and leadership, check out How to Lead with your Paint Clothes on. There’s still room in the learning circle (along with the fascinating people who’ve already joined) and we’d love to have you!

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