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Do you have a dream? A dream of what you would do if only money, time, and that pesky reality wasn’t an issue? We all do, though some of us are better at bury it than others. Because, what’s the point? The point is, that you can achieve your wildest dreams, or at least get pretty close! By setting up goals and systems to get you moving in the right direction.
James Clear famously wrote in his book Atomic Habits that we should skip goals all together, that goals can be counter productive and set us up to fail whilst systems and habits can take us further than we ever thought possible.
He has a point. Systems and Habits are great! But he also misses the point, where goals can be the big motivator. The reason. The Why.
This is how we can use both goals and systems to achieve our wildest dreams:
Systems vs Goals
Let’s take a closer look at systems and goals, at their respective strengths and weaknesses.
Goals Give Direction
Goals are great at giving direction. What is your dream? Is it to weigh less? To retire in a cottage in Tuscany? To stay home with your kids?
You need a goal to strive for. A reason you are doing all the work. Something you want to achieve.
So what’s the problem with goals?
The problem with goals is when you achieve them. Or when you don’t.
You may have heard of SMART goals. That a good goal should be
Example: To achieve my goal of losing 5 pounds I will by a juicer and substitute my lunch for a kale smoothie every day this week.
On the surface this looks like a great goal. You will get out and get a juicer. Now you’re halfway there. You haven’t lost a pound yet, but you have achieved the first step in your SMART goal.
Then you go ahead and drink your kale smoothie for lunch every day for a week.
One of two things are likely to happen.
You Achieve Your Goal
At the end of the week you have lost 5 pounds. You pat yourself on the back for being a great goal achiever, leave the juicer to gather dust and slowly but surely gain the 5 pounds (or more) back.
Did you actually get where you wanted to go?
You Don’t Achieve Your Goal
You drank your smoothie, but you only lost 4 pounds. Now what?? Did you fail? You did what you set out to do but you didn’t achieve your goal.
Use Goals for Direction
Goals are great for direction. In the weight loss example above, a directional goal would have been:
- I want to weigh less.
- I want to be at a healthy weight.
- I want to be able to play with my kids.
These goals are not SMART. They are not Specific; they don’t require you to hit a specific number and they are definitely not time based.
These goals give you a direction. Something to strive for. A starting point when figuring out how to change your life to take it one step closer to your wildest dreams.
Systems and Habits
Systems and habits are great! As you may have gathered from the name of this blog, I’m a great fan. But even systems and habits have its limitations.
With 95% of our thoughts being unconscious we don’t think about most of the habits and systems that make us who we are. We are a product of what has happened to us, what patterns and habits have been rewarded in our life thus far. That has served us.
Not all of those habits serve us now. You may have got into the habit of checking your partners phone because your last boyfriend cheated on you. Will that serve you in a new relationship if the goal is to have a long and healthy relationship?
If we don’t have a goal, a direction, we are not likely to make the effort to examine our habits and systems. To find out if they still serve us.
Changing takes energy. It takes work to make something conscious, and then change. To replace one habit or system with another. Long term.
Aggregation of Marginal Gains
The only thing that can truly change your life, is to take many small steps in the same direction. They will build upon each other, snowball, and make a bigger impact on your life than you could ever imagine.
This works for anything in life. Compound interest will make your money grow faster and faster. Making several changes to how you move and eat will have a great impact on your health and weight.
Always striving for being 1% better will over time add up, compound, and before you know it, your wildest dream is a reality!
Goals and Systems: Make them Work Together
It’s not a question of Systems vs Goals. What we need is both. We need aspirational goals to give us direction and we need systems and habits to make getting there feasible. Simple. Even if not always easy.
A good friend of mine proved this as she was doing her PhD. She had a clear goal. A doctorate. She really, truly wanted it. But she still struggled to do the work. With sitting down and focus. To research what she needed to research. To write what she needed to write.
After spending quite a bit of time, not making the progress she wished (and that was expected of her) she realised she needed a system. A Way to Get It Done. A process to follow.
She did her research into different techniques and realised that the Pomodoro Technique worked for her. This technique (named after a tomato kitchen timer) states that you set a timer for 25 minutes and work intensely during these 25 minutes without distraction or disruptions. You then take a few minutes break and start again.
My friend completed her thesis in record time using this technique!
But would she have achieved what she did, if she hadn’t really wanted a doctorate?
And would she achieve her doctorate without a system to Get It Done?
The Power of the Quick Win
With all that said. For many personality types, including my own, goal achievement can be highly motivating. A quick win can make you feel that you are doing progress, that something is going your way even when things are tuff.
When we change, there is a lot of effort needed initially. We need to do a number of small changes before we start seeing actual progress. Before compound interest starts being in hundreds or thousands of pounds instead of in pennies.
When we are in that initial phase, all the effort we put into small changes can feel hopeless and it’s easy to become de-motivated.
Achieving a goal can help boost our motivation, showing us that progress is possible. The key however, the thing we need to look out for, is to remember that achieving the goal is not the end of the journey. It’s one step to get us started, to build on.
Using a Goal to Keep Going
Last year I got a big promotion. I was tasked with building a new department from scratch. It was exciting and terrifying. I was really happy and really scared!
Building a department is a long-term goal. I need to hire the right people. Work with our marketing team so people know we exist. Make sure leads are converted to sales. I need to train internal staff, develop new processes, promote the department internally and a thousand other things!
Most of my time is spent on all of these long-term goals and plans. But to keep going, to feel I was making progress even when I struggle with sales targets and hiring, I set myself a goal.
A goal over which I have a lot of control. Where I’m not reliant on clients, upper management, or other people I can’t control.
I decided to put together a complete training plan for the department. I still need to work with experts within the company to put it together, but it was my project that I could control.
It would help train internal staff, increase the department visibility internally, increase quality and help in sales efforts to be able to show systematically trained staff.
So this first year that’s my focus. The long-term goal is still to build a great department but this, this step, is both achievable and will contribute with an at least 1% improvement in many of my areas of focus.
As long as I remember that it is a supporting goal, not the only or the main goal.
Setting Your Own Systems and Goals
What is your dream? What would life look like in 10 years if you could choose?
Not just that thing you tell people you want but really, truly want?
What future excites you?
Set a goal. Paint a picture. Set the direction you want your life to take. Write your obituary if that’s your thing!
Then make changes to your systems and habits.
Make small changes.
Make big changes.
Evaluate how your habits are serving you. Are they taking you closer to your goal?
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