Top Ten Reasons Why Ants Are Better Goal Setters Than You

by Brad Isaac on October 22, 2006

You’re about to learn why ants have a philosophy that makes them unstoppable! :)

Top Ten Reasons Why Ants Are Better Goal Setters Than You

1. Ants follow proven instruction. When scout ants find food, they spray a pheromone and hightail it back to the nest. The pheromone makes a trail that leads back to the food. Worker Ants at the nest don’t argue that there’s a better way back to the food, they just follow the trail.

A human, though, will see a proven path to success and try to change it. They’ll think they see shortcuts and take those instead of the proven path.

I read a report recently the success rate with franchises was higher if the owner didn’t have a high IQ. Why? Because the franchisees who were smart usually veer off the proven path. They change the working formula and in doing so mess up their own success.

If you watch a scout ant, once he finds food he runs back to the nest, sometimes he gets excited and zigzags a little, he might even make a circle. When the other ants follow the trail do they say “hey we’re going in a circle? Let’s take this shortcut?” No! They follow the proven path back to the food. The result? Everyone gets the food.

2. Ants are determined. If you tell an ant there is food over a hill but there are 5 trees down blocking the path, does the ant think twice? No, an ant will climb a house 1000 times its size if it has to make its journey.

This makes a guy feel bad for putting down a research manual because it has too many pages doesn’t it? Just think of the number of people who quit because the path is “too difficult,” too hard to follow. I face that a lot with the people I mentor on computer networking.

“Brad, that book is 1800 pages long, you mean I have to know all of that?” They ask.

What would an ant say? Would an ant ever say, “You know, now that you mention it, you’re right. I never thought about it that way. It is too hard. We might as well put that big book away and work at McDonalds.”

3. Ants see defeat as only temporary. Every fall, as most southern dwellers do, I go to battle with ants coming into our house from the cold. And although I love ant attitude, Kim’s arch enemy is the ant. So I must exterminate. We have a service that sprays; I also throw out ant stop powder and use borax bait to kill off the colony.

After a week or two they are all gone. They have been defeated. But not so fast! What happens the next year? They come back in the same numbers!

Isn’t it strange that they would come back? They lost. Why would an ant set 1 foot, let alone 6 tiny ant feet in my house? Because they see defeat as only temporary. They know eventually they’ll win. Truth is, I know it too. One day, I’ll be gone, but generations of ants will still be back – until one day – possibly 2000 years from now, this house will be demolished and the ants will live here freely.

4. Ants Collaborate better than Wall Street Executives. As I touched on before, when ants search for food, they set up markers along the way, letting other ants know where the food is. If the food happens to be an insect or grub, this trail is a call to action, they work together to conquer the bug or insect and then drag it back to the nest.

Humans have the ability to collaborate as well. But most don’t do it very well. We are all out searching for our version of food, be it happiness, be it money, or health. Yet how many people do we actively collaborate with daily? How many other people do you actively work on your goals with? One? Ten?

An ant doesn’t want to hear you are not collaborating with anyone. He’d think you are crazy. He’d say you are doing it the hard way.

Napoleon Hill called collaboration the Mastermind formula. It’s true. Two brains are better than one, 3 brains are better than 2. None of us know it all. Yet, if we sit down together and give perspectives, we can help each other get what we want.

An ant won’t waste any time following the path that says “lots of food here!!!” Of course, he has to trust his comrades. But that’s what collaboration is all about. Learning different perspectives and forming relationships that profit all parties. It can’t be a 1-0 relationship. It has to be a 1 to 1 or 2-2 or 3 to 3 relationship where everyone’s needs are met.

5. Ants defend what they have and expand it. Has anyone out there had the pleasure of stepping on a fire anthill barefooted? If you’ve made this mistake, you’ve seen firsthand how an ant will defend its colony. But not only do they defend it. They are constantly expanding it. Both above and below ground, they build, build, build.

If the wind or a boot knocks over their house, they build it right back and continue expanding it.

Yet, when it comes to humans, defending our homes in the form of insurance, paint and weatherproofing can feel like a major inconvenience. And what about expanding your home? Making it better? What an inconvenience! Who wants to build a deck or add on a sunroom? That’s too much work! Especially when a new season of 24 is getting ready to start.

An ant, however, would care nothing for 24. “Nonsense!” He’d say. I’d rather have that sunroom!

6. Ants never let personalities get in the way. Now granted, Bob the ant may be a raging jerk at home, or perhaps he plays the ant equivalent to video games once the kids are in bed. But when Bob gets to work in the morning he’s all business.

You never see Bob the ant wasting precious time gossiping about Mary the ant or the queen who passed you over for the formica sanguinea promotion. No, ants may well have their own personalities, but they leave that at home.

One ant doesn’t purposefully stab another in the back just to get ahead. Another ant doesn’t steal food from the rest to hoard it all to himself.

Ants adopt at a primal level the old saying “There’s a time for work and a time for play.” They never get the two confused. When they are at work, they work, non-stop till its time for rest, then they rest.

7. Ants never spend their whole paycheck. Ants are acutely aware that a storm is coming, winter is on the horizon or the possibility of a lawn mower in the area. That is not to be negative, in every life a little rain must fall. To think you’ll never have a setback is dumb. We all have setbacks.

Ants, know they’ll have setbacks too. So what do they do? They prepare for them. They don’t simply find enough food for one week and then eat it all until the next week. No, they eat some and save some. Yet, something like 30% of the American population lives paycheck to paycheck!

Instead of saving a bit out of each check, people spend it all. You can almost hear them say “If something bad happens, I’ll deal with it then.” Again, not to be negative, but setbacks will happen. Accidents happen, winters come, floods take out houses, businesses downsize. You don’t have to dwell upon these facts, but you need to prepare yourself for them in case they do happen. If they don’t occur, then hey! You’ve got extra in your savings account.

Ants would never think to blow it all in a week’s time. They scrimp and save for the tougher times.

8. Ants expect more from themselves than should be possible. Have you ever seen an ant carrying a leaf or a stick 20 times its size? Sometimes you can catch two or three of them carrying a caterpillar and it looks like the caterpillar is floating on air.

Why would an ant ever believe that it’s possible to carry so much? Well one reason is ants brains are not so big, but the other is they are born without negative limits.

Humans, as a whole, give in to mental limits all the time. We don’t lift 10 times our weight because we either believe we can’t or never made it a focus.

I read in Men’s health last week that some bodybuilders are bench-pressing over 1000 pounds. That’s an incredible feat isn’t it? But one reason these guys can do that is they didn’t limit themselves to 100, 200 or even 500 pounds.

We have examples all around us of people who have severe handicaps, or who come from poor or abusive backgrounds, yet are able to “overcome” and achieve their life dreams.

How is that possible?

One reason is they don’t believe the limits in their physical makeup or background and upbringing. They expect more from themselves than should be possible. They know they are better than to set the ceiling so low.

9. Ants remain focused until they succeed. Have you ever seen an ant who is building its anthill suddenly stop what he’s doing and then buy a lottery ticket? No, of course not! Why? Because ants stay focused on what they are doing until they succeed.

When ants are working, they don’t take sudden detours. They don’t quit halfway through to play World of Warcraft. They pick up one rock, carry it where it needs to go and place it there. He picks up the next rock and does the same, and so on until he finishes his work.

In writing this article, I had to do something similar – so far, it’s taken 2 hours of focused attention. I sat down, wrote up the outline, point by point – until I was finished. Then it was time to write the first draft. I didn’t break off during this time and go to the driving range. I focused until I completed it. Finally, I went through the draft, correcting mistakes and misspellings, adding points where needed. But I had to keep focused the entire time. It’s not all fun, or entertaining. But if I want to finish and have something good to show for my time, the I have to stay focused on progress.

If you can focus like an ant on your progress, brick by brick, stone by stone, you can’t help but be successful.

10. Ants never give up. The typical human is easily
discouraged. For some people all it takes is one “No” and that’s the
end. If he is working on a goal and you say “no” that is usually the
end. He’ll take that as the final word and stop trying. Isn’t that
sad? If you said no to an ant, he’d simply find another way. You can
step on them, spray poison, burn them with magnifying glasses but still
they never give up.

Never give up..

Technorati Tags: goals and goal setting, ants, motivation, persistence, lifehacks

Set powerful goals online with our new online goal management tool


October 23, 2006 at 6:03 am

Great post and insight, Brad! This is exactly what King Solomon was thinking of about 3,000 years ago.

Proverbs 6:6 “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!”

It’s still fresh and relevant today!

Barnabas October 23, 2006 at 9:18 am

An amazing post, Brad! I was just trying to explain to my girlfriend last night why I could not successfully troubleshoot one of her pc issues wherein I had to admit to her that I negated to follow a ” clearly proven path/solution” because I was convinced that a number of “shortcuts” would do the job. I assured her this morning that I would (actually) purchase the “proven solution” today and successfully fix her pc today! Thank you for a most productive and timely post.

October 24, 2006 at 8:47 am

Brad, this is an excellent analogy. I just finished rereading parts of the book “Emergence” by Steven Johnson. Talks a lot about the intellegence that seems to emerge from things such as any colonies and flocks of birds. Swarm intelligence is a very interesting phenomenon.

Thanks for making us think about success in a new light.


Brad Isaac October 24, 2006 at 4:37 pm

@Ricky, I know I’ve heard that quote before, who could forget “sluggard” but forgot about the ant reference, thanks for reminding me :)

@Barnabas, glad you liked it. I love it when a post strikes when the iron is hot. Hope it got you out of the doghouse.

@Bill, I’ll have to check out that book. Groups that focus on an single outcome can make incredible progress very quickly – the idea of flash mobs comes to mind – however, what’s the point of that? Why not form Masters Mobs? Where undergrads focus on a single point of light and assemble together with the sole purpose of them all getting Masters degrees?

November 16, 2006 at 10:40 am


This is a wonderful and inspiring post!!
But I think human life is so much more complicated!!
Would an ant loose his job? No! The only thing it has to do is follow the others everyday and do his piece!!
Would an ant get depressed? Never!! Whatever for?
If severely sick, would he worry about social security? I don’t think so!!


Cash Terrell November 29, 2006 at 10:31 pm

I’m a seventy year old man. And didn’t think there was much left that I needed to learn. But reading Brad’s article and all of the comments gave me pause. I think I’m going out sometime over the holidays and buy that motorcycle I’ve been thinking about for years. Dora, life is just not like you’ve got it pictured. I’ve never found myself worrying about social security or a bandwagon to jump on. Anytime I’ve ever worked in group environments things really got done.We all encouraged each other, motivated each other, helped each other period. Less stress. More comradeship, Very little worry about anything because we had each other. Social Security. Bah. Put your nickels away. Never spend one. Check it out. THAT”S SECURITY>

Jeff May 13, 2008 at 4:18 pm

OK, but ants don’t go to the moon. So why do you want to behave like an ant? Why do humans insist on trying to behave like programmed robots with a limited set of rules?
Enjoy freedom!

Brad Isaac May 13, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Jeff, How do you know no ants went to the moon? It’s more than a little likely some slipped into the hull of the craft, or into the food supplies.

September 16, 2008 at 3:27 pm

This is a funny and ironic post. I can’t keep myself dedicated to my work all of the time, I wish I was an ant.

November 5, 2009 at 3:17 am

Great post! Never looked at ants like that. Now I will try to think like an ant more often. Definitely changed my way of thinking and was the kind of way of thinking I’m looking for!

Thank you for sharing. I’m also sharing thoughts on my blog. It’s brand new so please let me know what do you think about it!

.-= LionelĀ“s last blog ..Always learning =-.

November 5, 2009 at 8:36 pm

I think with all due respect with the comments, the essence of the blog post is teamwork, never giving up, goal setting etc. and was never meant to compare the way we live with the ants.

It reminds us of the simple things we might have been overlooking because of all the external stimulus that keeps our mind busy.

Anyway, great post!


April 15, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I loved this article! great analogy, I hate ants but know them very well. I just stumbled across your blog and it has a lot of good practical information.



{ 24 trackbacks }

  • Joe’s Blog » Blog Archive : Ten reasons why ants are better at setting goals than humans » Ten reasons why ants are better at setting goals than humans
  • Study Matrix Blog - Keys to Smart Goal Setting | Mind Map
  • How To Get What You Want In Life | Present Outlook
  • Tomas Nyberg
  • Tomas Nyberg
  • Persistence Unlmtd
  • Nikki Clifton
  • Jayell Evans
  • Nikki Clifton
  • Maryna Badenhorst
  • Maryna Badenhorst
  • Larry Ferlazzo
  • Jo Freitag
  • Guru
  • Tony Hodge
  • wess murray
  • Myles Miller
  • Sadeq Al-Baharna
  • Mahran
  • Tim Lubinus
  • People Ink
  • Gayle Watson
  • Ray Yenkana
  • Red (Not a clue)

Previous post:

Next post: