We all have things that we want to achieve in our lives — getting into the better shape, building a successful business, raising a wonderful family, writing a best-selling book, winning a championship, and so on. And for most of us, the path to those things starts by setting a specific and actionable goal. At least, this is how I approached my life until recently. What I’m starting to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things. It all comes down to the difference between goals and systems.
The Difference Between Goals and Systems – What’s the difference between goals and systems?
- If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.
Let’s talk about three more reasons why you should focus on systems instead of goals.
1. Goals reduce your current happiness. When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.” The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.” OUCH!! I think he has been listening to my inner thoughts.
SOLUTION: Commit to a process, not a goal. We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight or to succeed in business. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals.When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.
2. Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress. You might think your goal will keep you motivated over the long-term, but that’s not always true. OUCH!! My long term goal is definitely not an ongoing motivator for me. I need small goals where I can see measurable results – you know the immediate gratification. The addictive personality comes out again. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it? This can create a type of “yo-yo effect” where people go back and forth from working on a goal to not working on one. This type of cycle makes it difficult to build upon your progress for the long-term.
SOLUTION: Release the need for immediate results. Here is an example: I was training at the gym last week and I was doing my second-to-last set of clean and jerks. When I hit that rep, I felt a small twinge in my leg. It wasn’t painful or an injury, just a sign of fatigue near the end of my workout. For a minute or two, I thought about doing my final set. Then, I reminded myself that I plan to do this for the rest of my life and decided to call it a day. In a situation like the one above, a goal-based mentality will tell you to finish the workout and reach your goal. After all, if you set a goal and you don’t reach it, then you feel like a failure. But with a systems-based mentality, I had no trouble moving on. Systems-based thinking is never about hitting a particular number, it’s about sticking to the process and not missing workouts. It is this kind of thinking that may help me continue to work towards my weight loss goal. Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process. In the end, process always wins.
3. Goals suggest that you can control things that you have no control over.
You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.) But every time we set a goal, we try to do it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.
SOLUTION: Build feedback loops. Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen with everything. Forget about predicting the future and build a system that can signal when you need to make adjustments.
None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress. Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.
I would love to hear your thoughts… Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!