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You’ve taken the time to write out specific goals, and you even made sure they were measurable, attainable, relevant, and trackable. Yet, almost without fail, you don’t reach them. That’s a downer. Happily, there’s a much better alternative you can implement.
Devising systems for success will provide infinitely better outcomes than merely setting specific goals. Goal setting has inherent drawbacks.
What’s wrong with goals?
Goals are limiting. There’s too much hanging on one particular outcome. The very nature and narrow focus of goals does little to encourage the implementation of proven systems – systems which lead to gradual, steady improvements over the long haul.
Additionally, goal setting carries within it a serious flaw. It doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress unless you fully attain the goal. A relentless focus on the goal, rather than recognizing and celebrating each small step taken toward success, contributes to a feeling of failure even though in reality you’re making headway.
Obviously, there may be times when goals are useful. Becoming a healthier individual, learning another language, or earning a certain type of degree, for example, are noble ambitions that will help you to establish a general aim. But that’s just a beginning.
Why Systems Surpass Goals
Until the elements of your goal are practically and realistically implemented into a system – so that you’re clear on what it’s going to look like on a daily or weekly basis – you won’t know what to do or how to get there.
Sheer willpower and discipline fail us time and again in reaching goals that sound fabulous. We get tired, neglect things, become sick, or something else happens to derail our plans. Add to that the fact that life circumstances keep changing: opportunities and needs shift, we build new networks of relationships, and our focus gets sharper.
That’s the beauty of having great systems in place. With systems, you can evaluate and make adjustments rather than throwing in the towel and abandoning a goal altogether.
What’s the Difference Between Goals and Systems?
Goals focus only on specific results. They’re an entity that’s totally separate from you as a person – it’s an object you’re reaching for. Usually, you believe that the goal is what will fulfill you or make you happy.
Systems, though, steadily become built into the fabric of your life, into your behavior, your habits, your everyday routines. The strength of your character keeps advancing. It’s natural for self-confidence to grow as you realize what you’re capable of accomplishing.
The “good” you’ll be doing can reach far beyond merely helping yourself as you’re continuing to progress. For more helpful thoughts on this concept, read the Addicted to Success article, Quit Focusing on the Outcome.
What Does a Good System Look Like?
Sam T. Davies, the author of Directives, beautifully describes systems this way: “Specifically, a system comprises a habit, or a string of habits, that effortlessly nudges you toward the desired outcome.”
Maybe you’ve never stopped to think about it, but you already have systems in place in your life. You wake up, eat breakfast, check email, walk the dog. At night, you may wash your face, brush your teeth, and turn off the lights before bed.
Attaching a new habit to an already existing part of your daily system is a surefire way to gain traction. An established habit doesn’t require willpower or psyching yourself up to get it done. You just do it without much thought and it becomes increasingly consistent.
How to Put and Keep Good Systems in Place
Say you want to spend time every day reading a book related to business. Breakfast, an existing habit, could be the trigger – read for 15 minutes each day right after breakfast.
Soon you’ll find yourself settling into and anticipating the reading time naturally without much effort at all. Even 15 minutes a day will get you through a lot of books in a year’s time. Don’t be surprised if you end up spending extra time because you’ve grown to enjoy the process.
Choose simple actions that you can do daily. Your brain will begin to associate a time and place with an action, so consider what location and time of day will allow you the most consistency.
It will get easier as you keep at it. Although everyone is a little different, the latest research from the UK indicates 66 days are needed to make a habit stick – and missing a day once in a while doesn’t short circuit what you’re trying to achieve. Placing those habits within your normal systems will help you stay on track.
Why Incremental Success Is More Important Than Reaching Goals
Systems are long-term commitments to growth. There’s a unique satisfaction in knowing you did, no matter how small, something you set out to do. Sometimes setting and hitting a high goal can actually demotivate rather than encourage.
You may have heard or read how Buzz Aldrin, after walking on the moon, fell into depression and alcoholism. Once he reached that incredible goal, nothing else measured up, and he felt disappointed and discouraged.
Rather than asking if you did or didn’t make it to the goal, incremental successes of any variety provide numerous opportunities to experience the pleasure of moving forward. Small wins are reasons for celebrating!
You can, and should, pat yourself on the back for even small movements toward your aim. When you’re moving in the right direction and see improvement over the long haul, it will encourage you to keep going.
There will be some up and down movement on the chart, because everyone has “those days,” but over time you’re getting where you want to be. Determine to be patient with yourself and take pride in those small improvements. Imagine what you can be like in a few years!
What’s the Payoff?
When your happiness no longer depends on reaching a particular goal, you’ll have more frequent opportunities to recognize success. A fruitful and reasonable system elevates even the small victories, bringing solid proof that you really are growing.
How much better to revel in numerous happy moments instead of agonizing over a failed effort. Use the systems method to acknowledge what you’ve already accomplished, and celebrate your upward progress each day!