I’ve recently read the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear, and if you’ve never heard of it… It’s a must read.
From a very young age, we are taught that setting goals is important. If we want to be successful, we must set goals. If we want to accomplish anything in life, we need goals. SMART goals, ambitious goals, big goals: it’s all about goals. If you don’t have goals you won’t accomplish anything.
Well not so fast, what if I told you that setting goals is like getting up off the couch on Monday and trying to run a marathon on Tuesday? Not the best idea.
Goals are useful in that they help us set a general direction for where we want to go and what we want to accomplish. But, they aren’t a solution to all of our problems. That’s where systems come into play. Systems are the means by which we accomplish our goals. Put another way, the stuff we do everyday, or our habits.
When people don’t accomplish their goals they think of they lack motivation or are lazy but what they really lack is clarity. When and where to take action to get to the end goal. Many people have end goals, but they don’t have a plan to get there. When we have a system, we don’t have to sit around waiting for the moment to be right or inspiration to strike to take action.
A simple way to apply this strategy to your habits is to fill out this sentence: “I will [Behavior] at [Time] in [Location]
Here are some examples.
Goal: Read 50 books per year.
System: Spend one hour reading each night before bed.
Goal: Lose weight.
System: Run for 30 minutes a day, buy smaller plates, and drink 64 oz of water each day.
Goal: Learn the piano.
System: Spend an hour each evening watching YouTube videos and playing along.
It’s nothing revolutionary. A system consists of how we spend our time and energy on a daily basis. Eventually, as time ticks along, if we have effectively set up our systems, we’ll breeze past our goals.
Systems are superior to goals for a number of reasons, as outlined in the book, Atomic Habits, by James Clear.
1. Winners and losers have the same goals.
In the Olympics, everyone has the same goal to win a gold medal. But the systems those athletes put in place were the difference between winning and losing.
2. Goals restrict happiness.
When you make a goal, you subconsciously think you can only be happy once you reach that goal. With systems, you are focusing on what you can control, thereby eliminating the “one day I’ll be happy” syndrome. And we all have been there.
3. Goals provide a momentary change.
Once you achieve a goal, the motivation stops. Progress comes to a screeching halt. If, on the other hand, you set up a system, you’ll keep going because it’s a never-ending journey.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say your goal is to do a CrossFit competition.
You sign up, pay the entry fee, and join a CrossFit gym all in the first week. You workout six days a week, two hours a day for three months. The day of the competition rolls around, you show up and dominate the competition, winning the event. Your goal is met.
A week later you realized you have not been to the gym once since the competition, shrug your shoulders and say next week will be better. You have met your goal and no longer feel motivated to go to CrossFit.
Now, what if instead of making that one goal, you had said I will spend one hour a day committed to making myself healthier. Along the way, you found CrossFit and competed in not one but three competitions, made lifelong friends all from following your system of making yourself healthier.
Goals are limiting.
Again, it’s all about focusing on what you can control. Sometimes reaching our goals is out of our control. But we needn’t worry about that because as long as we construct great systems and stick to them, we did the best we could.
Goals are good for direction setting. Systems are good for progress.
Spend more time building systems than fantasizing about achieving your goals. It’ll make a world of difference.
To give you some ideas, here are some of my daily systems.
Stay present when in conversation
Exercise or move for at least 30 minutes
Read a book for 30 minutes.
Check in with my nutrition clients
As James Clear would say,
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”
Make 2019 great!