Systems vs Goals
Systems vs Goals
Most people think it's important to set goals.
Start a business, lose weight, get a promotion, spend more time with family... At the turn of the year, it's common to hear people setting these kinds of generic goals.
And if your company does annual performance reviews, it's time to document whether you were successful—and of course set new goals as you start the cycle over again.
But I don't think goal-setting is how people become successful. Success is a result of habit. Without good habits, goals are just wishes, gradually forgotten about as we get farther away from January 1.
To be successful, build good habits. To build good habits, create systems, which can be comprised of steps, heuristics, tools, and interconnected components.
If a goal is the "what" then a system is the "how".
As James Clear puts it, "goals are good for setting direction, but systems are best for making progress."
Systems can be simple:
- To spend more time with family, create a dinner plan where you pick the recipe Sundays and make it together Wednesday nights.
- To meet sales quota, design a go-forward email template to be sent after client calls.
- To improve customer service response times, use software to flag which tickets to solve first.
As a writer, my system is to read and journal every day. If I set a goal to reach 5,000 subscribers it might feel like I'm in a perpetual state of failure until I hit that goal, and then what? I feel happy for a day and set a new goal to hit 10,000 subscribers? In contrast, I feel like a winner every week I write a new story. I learn something new. I get better at my craft. I'll probably experience the positive side effect of reaching 10,000 people one day, but my happiness does not depend on it.
Yes, setting goals is necessary to know where we're headed. But I think it's even more important to design systems and establish good habits that inevitably get us closer to achieving those goals.
Besides, it is not always the destination that makes us happy, it's also the journey.
"Achieving goals by themselves will never make us happy in the long term; it's who you become, as you overcome the obstacles necessary to achieve your goals, that can give you the deepest and most long-lasting sense of fulfillment."
—Tony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within
As you think about your goals for the year, what systems can you design to build good habits?
"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to level your systems." — James Clear, Atomic Habits