Unintended Consequences of Not Setting Goals: A Century a Month

Harpers Ferry, with Barry (c) Felkerino

Lately, I have been mulling over the question of what we can accomplish even when we do not set specific goals. This is a concept I was first introduced to when I read an interview with Leo Babauta, the author of the Zen Habits blog.

Babauta writes that goals foster inflexibility and turn activities into work, but that if you act on what you are passionate about, you will find yourself achieving even in the absence of goals. Also, because a life without goals is more flexible and open, you may find yourself accomplishing things that you did not even know you could.

Babauta’s ideas throw me off-balance. Life without goals?! How can you achieve anything if you don’t know where you want to go?

I love setting goals. Each year, I establish a few cycling goals. I even write them down. I set mini-goals about going to the gym each week. I throw in a running goal here and there. I’m into setting goals.

Considering a life without goals is difficult for me to grasp and yet, I saw Babauta’s theory at work last month. It started when I read a thread on the Bike Forums about being part of the 2012 Century-a-Month Club. I asked myself how close I had come to achieving that.

I dug out my workout diary for the past year and saw that I had logged one century a month from January through November in 2012. Not bad, I thought.

Wondering how far back my century streak stretched, I pulled out the 2011 activity record. A quick tallying showed that I had completed at least one century per month for the past 23 months.

Fall riding on the Romulus

I never imagined that I would have a string of that many consecutive months that included a century ride. While Felkerino and I ride our fair share of centuries throughout the year, the completion of a century a month for this long was never a goal for either of us.

Perhaps because of that, I never felt any pressure about getting in a century ride. I love bicycling and being outside. Felkerino and I encourage each other’s bicycling habit and it’s something we enjoy doing together. We often like our weekend rides to be a full-day affair. This all combined to make a monthly century a regular occurrence.

Having made this century-a-month realization in November, I couldn’t help but plan a December century in order to round out this accomplishment to 24. Yes, I made it a goal.

Ironically, my newfound awareness of my century streak put additional pressure on me to complete it. The day of the December century, two of our riding friends took a five-mile shortcut, but I did not dare accompany them because I “needed” to get the full distance. I probably would not have shortcut that day, anyway, but making the century a goal took away the option of considering any other experience.

As soon as I returned home, I made sure to note my century so that I could see all 24 months neatly highlighted with at least one century per month.

Final miles of the December century

I smile when I think of my 24-month century streak. While largely unintentional and not a goal until the Bike Forums Century-a-Month Club thread piqued my curiosity, it is still something I am happy to have accomplished.

My two years of consecutive monthly centuries also provided an opportunity to experience what it is like to achieve something largely without the intentionality of goal-setting, and to explore how goal-setting can alter a person’s mindset and approach.

Frankly, I’m scared to live without goals, and I never see myself living without them. However, I was heartened to see Babauta’s ideas play out in my century-a-month exercise. People do pursue their passions, even in the absence of a specific goal.


  1. The Universe is amazing. Thanks for this post, tomorrow I go into round 2 of chemo. It’s my 3rd time at this particular rodeo and while the fatigue has not set in yet I know it will, interrupting my own cycling “goals.” You gave me a perspective that has more meaning to me than you can imagine. Thank you!


    • Thank you so much for reading! I’m glad the post resonated with you and good luck with your treatment. May you soon feel strong enough to return to what you love.


  2. I can see both sides or the coin. I think that setting goals is good, but if you are not getting satisfaction out of the goal you set, yet still keep at it because of “the goal”, then it’s ok to stop.

    Maker of many a goals list, breaker of many a goal,


    • Yes, I think I’m similar to you. I love the goals list, but if something that was supposed to be a fun goal turns to drudgery, it’s time to ditch it.


  3. Been debating the concept of goals also….
    I found myself slaving to the miles log this year… x miles a month. No more log in 2013.
    Besides the log doesn’t tell me if I’m having fun or in good shape. Fun and fitness are my loosely defined goals now.


  4. Many years ago, in a body that I no longer have, I set a goal of running 3,000 miles in a year. I made it on December 30. What a grind! I decided afterwards that running more than 60 miles in a week was counteproductive for my body and mind.
    This year I broke 7,000 miles of riding. It wasn’t a goal. It just happened. It was infinitely more enjoyable.


  5. What’cha doing on Sunday? https://sites.google.com/site/hainspoint100/home 😉

    My goals change every year. I track mileage and certainly enjoy chalking up big days during the year. A lot of my goals tend to be less defined in quantitative ways and more defined by doing something interesting, fun, amazing and/or stupid WITH certain people in my life.

    As I say that I know that there’s a bit of unfinished business that I’m going to try and vanquish on Sunday…. something very quantitative, stupid and with fun people. My quest for a fixie double century this year pretty much invalidates my whole thought process on people-oriented, non-quantitative goals. D’OH!

    Rock on, nice lady. I hope I get my act together in 2013 and ride with you and Felkerino more than just from Friday Coffee Club.


  6. Congrats on your streak! Pretty impressive that you get in that many miles, and on a consistent basis.
    I am not much of a goal-setter. I ran my first (and only, so far) 100 mile run after having an extraordinary run at a 70 miler. My ultra friends talked me into it. That’s how I have “accomplished” most things, by being dragged along in the name of fun and adventure. Occasionally I enjoy following a specific training plan, or starting a running “streak” but eventually it does get to be too much obligation and too little fun.


    • That is so cool! If I think about it, that’s also how I got involved with randonneuring. I wasn’t planning on it, but I was open to it and when a friend invited me along for some rides I was all in!


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