Systems vs Goals


29 Mar
29Mar

Why do New Year resolutions fizzle after the first few weeks of the year?

Why do weight loss plans go no-where despite an elaborate diet and exercise plan?

Why do we set-up audacious personal and professional goals but find ourselves near the first step and not cross the finishing line?

The common theme across the above is being fixated to a goal the outcome of which is binary – either you make it or not. There is a lot of literature on the importance of setting audacious goals and following through but I personally have not come across much around why goal setting fails and what to do in case one is unable to complete them. I came across a good framework in a highly recommended and amazing book by the creator of Dilbert comic strip Scott Adams by the name “How to fail at almost anything and still win big’.

Below are some details of the framework:

Goal: A specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. 

System: Something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. 

If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you are waiting to achieve it someday in future it’s a goal.

Since systems do not have a deadline, it is difficult to tell on any given day if they are helping you in the right direction. However, when you pursue something on a regular basis, you are making progress slowly and steadily rather than regularly looking at an ambitious goal which may seem too far and leave you frustrated. Someone who sets-up a system of exercising for 45 minutes every day is more likely to achieve what he/she wants against someone who sets a goal of losing XX kg in 3 months.

Focusing on big goals can reduce your current happiness as the destination is some distance away. The binary nature of goals also mean that once you get there, you also lose your motivation to continue.

So look back at a couple of areas in your life where despite a lot of motivation and determination, you have not been able to move the needle and try to set-up a system where you spend regular time working on what is needed without focusing on the end-goal. Hopefully, you will see some progress!

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