People often talk about creating goals as a means of progress. A challenge.  Challenging ourselves to move forward, setting deadlines to avoid taking too much time, and feeling satisfaction of reaching milestones. With each new milestone, another one comes about, a new goal is created.

I long believed in goals.  I enjoyed seeing myself accomplishing goals. It was fulfilling, enlightening, and challenging.  But what I’ve found is that by focusing on the result and not the process, it makes things less sustainable, less fun, and less likely to succeed.  I was focusing on the shiny object at the end, not in the day to day actions and time I spent getting there.  As a result, I’d often fail.

Instead, build processes and systems.  Again, don’t create goals, create systems.

A few examples:

  • Goal may be: Squat 500 lbs
    System: Go to the gym everyday and squat a tiny bit more each day than you did before.
  • Goal may be: Make $10,000/month
    System: Work on improving skills, making connections, and providing more value to society each day.
  • Goal may be: Lose 25 lbs
    System: Improve diet each day and reduce caloric intake, go for a run each day, eat vegetables every meal
  • Goal may be: Read 40 books this year
    System: Focus on reading 30 minutes each day consistently.

The big point here is that a goal is a milestone, but it doesn’t have a strategy of how to reach the goal.  Because big goals are hard to reach, coming up with a strategy can save you time, energy, money, and willpower, and make you far more likely to reach the goal.

A goal without a path to the goal is a goal that is typically not reached.  Systems are daily routines and habits you build which move you in the direction of your goal, which enables you to build habits that last long after you’ve reached your goal.  Remember, for each goal you reach, another goal then awaits.  It is never ending.

In Scott Adams’ book “How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big”, the brilliant Adams talks about systems and processes.  A system or process that steers you in the direction of where you want to go is never ending.  As you continually refine your processes and systems, you build habits, enjoy the journey each day, and inevitably reach the would-be goals.

As the Stoics found out 2,000 years ago, for each thing you think you want, once you get it, you may realize it wasn’t what you wanted/expected, or if it was what you expected, you inevitably get used to it and long for someone more, or something different – a new goal.

Goals focus on the end result.  They say nothing about how to get there.  Systems are the processes that can lead to a result. Fall in love with the process, not the result.

Life is a journey, enjoy the ride.

If you enjoy this way of thinking, you’ll probably enjoy James Clear’s article Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.