Throw Out Your Goals???

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A few weeks ago I was amazed when James Clear, in his powerful book, Atomic Habits, wrote:

"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."

What? For years, I have embraced the power of goals and enjoy teaching others about the importance of goals to achieve the outcomes they most want from work and life. WE ALL HAVE TO HAVE GOALS DON’T WE?

As I delved deeper into the chapter, however, I began to gleam wisdom from his words. He cites four problems when we focus only on our goals and forget to design a system to achieve those goals. They include:

  • Winners and losers have the same goals. If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goals are not what differentiates the winners from the losers.

  • Achieving a goal is only a momentary change. You might change a behavior long enough to achieve a goal, but when you don't change the underlying behavior permanently you will revert back to your old ways.

  •   Goals can restrict your happiness if you let them create an "either-or" conflict.

  •  Goals are at odds with long-term progress. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it?

So should you throw out your goals and just focus on your systems? I don't believe Clear is advocating that either. I do think that there are some ways you can improve your ability to achieve your goals around this new information. They include:
1-Celebrate the value of the journey...not just the destination.
Look at how your behavior changes to reach a goal are shaping you into a better person. For example, exercising daily to lose weight (a goal), also gives you more energy and improves your ability to sleep well. Checking your email less (a goal) helps you focus more on the project you are working on.
2-As you design a goal, Ask if the journey will improve you as a person.
As you chasing the wrong goal if the process to achieve a goal will consistently limit your ability to live out your highest values on a daily basis.
3-Sweat the small stuff.
John Maxwell is quoted as saying, "The secret of your success is found in your daily routine." Instead of trying to make large, complex changes to your day or week, start with the small changes that you can sustain over time. Then, as your motivation grows because of the small successes, you can make larger ones. Use the concept of daily questions to help keep you accountable in making these small changes.
4-Think more in terms of results and less in terms of goals.
Each time you accomplish a goal you have to set a new one. If you think in terms of results, however, you are more focused on adjusting your systems to see more of the desired result.

The Point ?
If you're still not convinced of the value of thinking more about the systems behind your goals, here's another quote from the book:

"The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game."

Which is more important to you?



 ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jones Loflin is a global keynote speaker and coach who helps individuals and organizations with the struggle of too much to do. You can learn more about his work at  

Gary Dansie