Sprinkle Goals

I think of a sprinkle goal as being a token goal that’s added to a goal list to try to create better balance. It adds the impression of balance, but it doesn’t really connect with deeper meaning or purpose.

Picture the sprinkles on top of a cupcake. They look nice, but they don’t really add much substance to the cupcake. And if you only have sprinkle goals, then you have no cupcake at all. You just have some colored sugar.

Here are some examples of sprinkle goals:

  • Read 10 books
  • Exercise more
  • Spend time with my wife / husband / kids
  • Connect with my friends each week
  • Spend less time online
  • Make a new social media post each day
  • Spend X hours per week on decluttering
  • Organize my finances

To really determine if a goal is a sprinkle goal, you have to view it in context. You’re the only one who can make that determination about your own goals.

One person’s sprinkle goals may actually be meaningful for another person. For one person a goal like reading 10 new books may feel very purposeful, while for someone else it’s just something tossed onto the pile to pay lip service to learning, creating the illusion of more balance.

Sprinkle goals don’t generate much commitment, and they’re often phrased noncommittally. A common sign of a sprinkle goal is when a goal contains words like more or less. It doesn’t connect with real behavioral changes or specific outcomes.

Sprinkle goals are lazy goals. When someone sets a sprinkle goal, they haven’t thought through much to the implementation side. They usually stop at the formation of the goal and leave it at that, so it just perpetually hangs there in space. It isn’t turned into something specific. There isn’t a sense of wanting to follow through into action when the goal is set.

A sprinkle goal normally lacks a connection to deeper meaning and purpose. It may take a stab in that direction, but it somehow misses.

Which 10 books are you book are you going to read? Why do you want to read them? What will be missing from your life if you skip this? What’s the point?

Why do you want to spend more time with your wife? Doing what specifically? Does watching TV together count? What are you trying to change or improve about your relationship?

One way to spot a sprinkle goal is to ask: If this were my only goal, how much would it matter?

What if your only goal was to read 10 books? What if your only goal was to spend more time with your kids? Those could matter enough if they’re connected with a deeper meaning and purpose, but most of the time when people ask this question, the hollowness of their sprinkle goals becomes apparent.

Is it so terrible to have sprinkle goals? No, you could have a few. They may still add some value to your life. But you’ll probably get more value if you redefine them into more meaningful and specific ones.

A sprinkle goal is really an excuse not to think deeply about setting true and meaningful goals in some area of life. Setting a goal like “read 10 books” hides the fact that you haven’t really figured out what role self-education will play in your life or what new skills and knowledge you want to gain and why.

Setting a goal like “spend more time with my husband” means you haven’t really thought through where your relationship is going and how you’d actually like to see it grow and improve.

A sprinkle goal is a replacement for the hard work of real goal setting. They’re often added on top after you’ve gotten tired of thinking deeply about your other goals, and you don’t want to invest the same depth of thought into other areas of life. So you just toss in some placeholders to create the illusion of balance.

Because they don’t matter much, you probably won’t achieve your sprinkle goals either, and it may be best that you don’t since they’d otherwise distract you from working on more meaningful goals. But even adding sprinkle goals to your goals list is generally a mistake because it creates clutter and makes you feel less accomplished. You’ll be tempted to treat them like other goals, but they’re really too malformed to be truly actionable in a meaningful way. Whether you do them or don’t do them is of little consequence.

Cautiously watch for sprinkle goals infecting your goals list, and prune them when you notice them. It’s okay to feel the void of not having a goal to cover some aspect of life such as your relationship or your self-development. Don’t race to fill that void with sprinkles. Hold out till you do the work of baking the whole cupcake.

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Read Sprinkle Goals by Steve Pavlina