Why I Prefer Systems to Goals

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It’s good to have goals in life.  That sounds about right, but what if there is a better way to go about achieving your goals, especially when it comes to personal growth?  In my opinion, personal growth is severely hamstrung by applying goals rather than systems.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Before we look at an example, for a premier take on why systems are superior to goals, please take a look at Scott Adams’ How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.  As of this writing, this is still my favorite “self-help” book, especially for entrepreneurs.  But it has some of the most practical advice you’ll find for anyone, regardless of situation.

How I Define Growth

Growth to me means you have grown in some way from the day before and will grow further the day after.  Rinse and repeat.  It is a system with no end in sight.  If you set a growth goal for yourself, each day until you meet that goal is technically a day of shortcomings as you would have failed to reach that goal until the very day you do.  This can prime the mind for negative thoughts and disappointment.  And when you successfully reach the goal that is the end.

But Why is All of this a Problem?

Suppose you want to get in shape and lose some weight.  Great.  Set yourself a goal of, say, 50 pounds lost.  How could you define your journey?  Well, on day 1, you are 50 pounds short of the goal.  After the first week, let’s say you have managed to lose five pounds (surely you must have a good system to do that, wink wink) and now, after your hard work, you are 45 pounds short of the goal.

Goals Include Negativity

Goals, whether we realize it or not, define us by what we are not or not yet, rather than what we are and are becoming.  Framing a situation in terms of a goal, which includes an inherent negative framing, gives us another mental obstacle to overcome.  Some of us can overcome that, but why not remove the obstacle altogether and instead focus our energies on something more productive?

Systems Frame Us Positively

A proper way to reframe the above situation would be to say you are five pounds lighter due to your efforts (your system).  Since you have a great system, those gains are sure to continue over time, which provides motivation.  That reframes your current state into a state of achievement and growth.  Shortcomings no longer exist.

What if You Reach Your Goal?

Well, no matter how you feel about systems vs. goals, good for you!  The question then becomes, now what?  That may be the biggest issue people face when reaching their goals.  What do you do now?  This project has been consuming your thoughts and actions, giving you purpose, etc.  And poof!  Now it’s gone.  Of course, you could do like a lot of us do and gain all the weight back to give yourself a fresh new goal, but that seems counterproductive to me.

How Does the Systems Approach Change This?

Let’s contrast this with my “systems” preference, which ignores goals altogether.  If you are overweight or unhealthy, perhaps your current system is what is broken.  Actually, the results are in.  You are overweight or unhealthy so it IS broken.  No big deal, that happens to all of us.  Let’s create a new system that leads to greater health and fitness.  Let’s make a couple of dietary changes where we see fit, incorporate in some appropriate exercise or change our existing exercise habits if they are ineffective, and watch for growth.  And let’s continue to study and stay on top of the latest research and developments to improve our system over time.

Once we create a good system and see growth, before you know it you will likely lose whatever weight you needed to.  But at this point you won’t even care about that.  You’ve been celebrating your growth and achievements for a long time before you ever got to 50 pounds lost.  You’ve been feeling healthier, stronger and fitter since day one.  You’ve been motivated, feel good and are mentally sharp since you have removed negative obstacles.  In fact, it’s much harder to even see your scale since you heaved it out the window anyway.

System Benefits

The benefit of a good system is that you are continuously reaching your goal.  You are constantly achieving.  It is a perpetual state of growth and success.  Never does a day go by where you define yourself by what you are not.  Rather, each day you define yourself by what you have become and are becoming.  And when you define yourself by the good things about you, you build confidence and self-love naturally, which leads to even more benefits.  The growth never stops and what you achieve will likely be better than any arbitrary goal you could have come up with otherwise.

Systems are Limitless

To me, pegging a number to a weight loss goal sounds arbitrary and potentially limiting.  What if the right number for you was something less or more than what you set?  And, no matter what number you choose, that number does not take into account fitness or health.  You could lose 50 pounds but be very unhealthy.  Your goal has not set you up for success in this case, but rather has limited you in terms of reaching your highest potential, which is as yet undefined.

A health system on the other hand will see you become healthy and fit, which will cause your actual weight to fall in line with what is most optimal for you.  And you will never look at a scale again to find encouragement.  With a good system, your encouragement is baked into your very being and continues to improve on itself over time.

Not Everyone is Like Me, and That is Fine

You may still prefer goals to systems, and that is fine.  In fact, good for you, I say.  You’re out there doing it.  Goals can still work and help you, but it might take some reframing along the way to keep the positive vibes going.  Hopefully, by the time you reach your goals, you will have developed good systems which you can hang onto to keep improving for life.  For me, I prefer to come up with the system first and then enjoy the beautiful ride.  Goals can be good, but systems can be gooder, I think I heard it once said.

Remember to always consult your physician before starting an exercise or dietary program.  Not all approaches are appropriate for everybody.


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