If You Want To Lose Weight, Focus On Systems (Not Goals)

Let’s say you, like millions of people, want to lose weight. So, quite naturally, you decide how much you want to lose and how much you want to weigh when you’re “done.” This is how many of my clients start off. 

What I help my clients see, however, is that when it comes to losing weight – and achieving any goal, really – there’s a much better way to do things.That said, I now want to talk about the difference between goals and systems.

If you’re a 100m sprinter, your goal might be to win Olympic gold. Your system is what you do in practice every day. If you’re a painter, your goal might be to sell a painting for $50,000. Your system is how many hours per day you spend painting. If you’re in management at a company, your goal might be to become a vice president. Your system is how you show up to work every day and add value to the company (and to your boss).

Now, here’s a question: If these people ignored their goals and focused only on their systems, would they still get the results they desired?

For example: if you wanted to lose 25 pounds, and focused only on eating healthy meals day after day and week after week, would you lose those 25 pounds? I can say for sure that yes, you would. Because this is exactly what my clients do. 

In fact, one client of mine, Liz, lost 90 pounds in one year without ever focusing on losing 90 pounds in a year. What did we focus on instead? On making healthy choices and developing that into a habit.

Another client of mine, Matt, lost 20 pounds in 6 weeks – and, by the way, he only weighed himself at the end of that 6 weeks because I asked him to. He’d gone beyond caring what he weighed because he got so much satisfaction of showing up every day and making the healthiest choices he could.

If these examples aren’t enough, here are 3 more reasons why you should focus on systems instead of goals:

1. Goals reduce your current happiness. 

When you’re working towards a goal – like losing n number of pounds – you’re essentially saying to yourself that you’re somehow not good enough yet. That you have to lose this random number of pounds in order to feel happy, to feel like you’re allowed to actually like yourself.

This is why you should be committing to a system, not a goal. Because, then, your happiness will come from committing to the system, from showing up every day – things that are 100% in your control.

2. Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

Answer me this: when you’ve achieved your goal, when you’ve lost those 25 pounds, then what?

This is exactly why people yo-yo diet: they achieve their goal weight, and then, unsurprisingly, lose motivation. So they revert back to what they were doing before, put weight back on, then decide they need to lose weight again, and… yeah. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

Let me ask you another question: what would happen if you released the need for immediate results? Wouldn’t you then find it infinitely easier to just focus on eating healthy meals rather than chase some number on the scale?

Wouldn’t you then be able to lose weight without obsessing or even thinking about it? This is exactly how I work with my clientsGoals are about short-term results. Systems are about the long-term process. And the long-term process always wins.

3. Goals suggest that you can control things when you can’t.

Every time we set a goal, we try to predict the future, which is obviously impossible. We say exactly what we’re going to achieve and exactly when we’re going to achieve it as if we’re omniscient and all-knowing.

But what happens if you don’t hit that mark? Game over? When it comes to weight loss, people typically underestimate how long it’ll take to achieve a goal. Midway through, they’ll start making choices that sabotage their long-term growth in order to meet the lofty goal. Add then they starve themselves, burn out, end up hating the process, and quit.

Here’s what to do instead: build a feedback loop.

Instead of weighing yourself every day, weigh yourself once a week. Not so you can obsess about it, but so you can check in with yourself. If you go 4 weeks without losing any weight whatsoever and yet you’re convinced you’re eating healthy meals day after day and week after week, then something is not working.   

And, in my experience, that something is you. Don’t hate, let me explain: In some way or another, you’re deceiving yourself. Because if you really were eating healthy meals day after day for 4 weeks, you would have lost weight.

Building in a feedback loop allows you to focus on your system while also allowing you to avoid bullshitting yourself. In other words, it allows you to focus on eating healthily while still keeping track of the results of eating healthily.

Fall in love with a system  

While goals might be motivating in the short-term, they’re just that: short-term. And while systems might not be quite as motivating in the short-term, they’re what allow you to make actual progress. And nothing is quite as motivating as progress.

It’s time to fall in love with a system.

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