Why Systems Matter More Than Goals

This is the time of year when we’re all thinking about goals and what we want to accomplish in the new year. But how often do we make lists of goals only to lose sight of them somewhere along the way, instead finding ourselves stuck in the same rut? 

This year I’ve decided to take a different approach to goal setting. I have still carefully chosen the goals I’d like to work toward, but instead of keeping a list and staring at it everyday, hoping by some miracle I’ll get there, I’m going to focus on the process, a system, to achieve each goal. As I quoted in my last article,

“…goals are good for planning your progress, but systems are good for actually making progress,” James Clear.

Why? Because it’s the system that is going to get you to your goal, not the goal itself. 

When trying to reach a goal, people often turn to motivation. It’s a common misconception that motivation is what will help us reach our goals. In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, researchers studied how people exercised over a two-week period.

There were three groups: a control group, a motivation group, and an intention group.

The control group was simply asked to track their exercise and read the opening three paragraphs of a novel.

The motivation group was asked to track their exercise, read a pamphlet on the benefits of exercise and were also given a lecture on the benefits of exercise.

The intention group was asked to track their exercise, read the same pamphlet as the motivation group and received the same lecture on the benefits of exercise; however, the intention group was also asked to formulate a plan for how they were going to follow through with their exercise program including the day, time of day, and place they would exercise. 

The surprising results: 91% of participants in the intention group exercised at least once per week compared to 38% of the control group and 35% of the motivation group. 

By developing a plan, and putting a system in place, the intention group was more successful. 

5 Ways to Develop a System to Reach Your Goals

  • Clearly State Your Goals - Know what you want and why you want. I know this sounds simple, but if you know the what and the why, it will make getting it that much easier. 
  • Determine Your Habit Triggers - In his article, The 5 Triggers That Make New Habits Stick, James Clear explains the 5 triggers that will help us stick to the system we develop (system = habit): Time, Location, Preceding Event, Emotional State, and People. For example, a preceding event trigger may be that I will write 500 words each morning as I drink my first cup of coffee. Experiment with the 5 different triggers and see what works best for you.     
  • The Seinfeld Approach - The Seinfeld approach is really simple. Using a calendar, make a big X in the box for each day you followed through on your system. Each X you make brings you that much closer to your goal, and visually seeing the progress can have a big impact on your overall success. 
  • Anticipate Obstacles - If you have a plan to write 500 words a day during your morning coffee, then turn off social media, your phone, email, etc. Remove the obstacles before they have a chance to derail your progress. 
  • Automate Tasks - Any time you have an opportunity to automate tasks, you are saving time and energy. There are tons of tasks each day that require our attention, and each one takes something from us, but many of these mundane tasks can be automated. You’ll be surprised at how much time you gain each day and the overall peace of mind you’ll feel when you automate the little things. 

With the new year in full swing, goals are on the forefront of our minds. It is my hope that come this time next year, we can all say that we achieved each and every one of them.

I hope this article gives you something to think on and work toward, and that you’ll let me know how you’re doing along the way! 

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