Goal-setting is for the birds

Instead, focus on building systems that support what you hope to achieve.

So many people kick off the new year looking for a fresh start. Something about the turning of the year suddenly inspires people to want to live their best lives, to transition, and to become better versions of themselves. A newfound interest in hitting the gym to discover the abs you just know are in there. A focused push to get out from under your disorganized life. Working to tame your financial landscape. Learning a new skill, picking up a hobby, or transitioning to a new career. These are just some of the many common resolutions bandied about this time of year. However, while many are quick to post their dreams and hopes on the social channel du jour, most will never experience the satisfaction of achieving them.

I can hear you saying, “dang bro, who peed in your NYE champaign luge.” But let me explain. It’s true. Many don’t ever succeed in achieving their new year resolutions. And let’s be honest, you and I have no doubt swung and missed a few times over the years (just ask my CPA). But the real reason we have trouble hitting the marks we set for our year ahead is that we are setting goals rather than developing systems.

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

Goals versus systems

So what exactly is the difference between a goal and a system you say? A simple way to understand the distinction was offered by Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind the Dilbert comics. He put it like this, “Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

For example, let’s say you’re an entrepreneur. You might set a goal for your burgeoning startup of reaching a million dollars in sales this year, achieving a valuation of X, hiring twenty people, and so on. These goals are focused on an outcome yet do not offer any direction in terms of how you might go about achieving them.

Alternatively, a system for an entrepreneur might consist of product development, human resource management, manufacturing requirements, quality control, and advertising efforts. While each of these processes on their own won’t amount to much, the amalgamation of them working in concert with one another will create the system necessary to support and achieve the goals you’ve set.

So think about this in terms of the oh so common weight-loss resolution. Sure it’s one thing to set a goal, for example, “I want to lose 100lbs. this year.” A noble goal sure, but geez, how are you going to do that? Instead, if you design processes to support your goals that consist of proper diet, intermittent fasting, an exercise regimen, and the like, you will have an infinitely better shot of hitting that 100-pound mark. To use a somewhat-insensitive idiom—at least when discussing the matter of weight loss—how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. The moral being lots of tiny steps—in this case, processes, and their subsequent systems—will allow you to eat that whole low-carb pachyderm in no time, AKA achieve your goal.

To quote James Clear in his transformational book, Atomic Habits, “If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.” Before you freak out, he goes on to say, “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress,” and at the end of the day, all we are looking for is progress, right? Daily growth and forward movement that will help us achieve the goals we set and redefine ourselves.

Having a hard time consuming your pachyderm?

Don’t panic. You’re in good company. Many of us struggle with our goals and the processes and systems that support them all the time. This concept is merely a framework to help you zoom out a bit and look more broadly at the objectives you hope to achieve. There are lots of ideas out there, though. So if this one doesn’t suit you, keep looking. You’ll find something that will help you knock it out of the park.

How do you manage your goals, hopes, and dreams? Do you have a method that has proven fruitful for you? I’d love it if you’d share your two bits and get involved in this conversation. Join our community here in the comments or feel free to find me on the socials to take this conversation wherever the audience most suited to hear it can get involved - I am @ryanroghaar here on Medium, Twitter, and Instagram and click here to find me on LinkedIn.


Meet Ryan

I am an entrepreneur, creative director, podcaster, remote work advocate, consultant, author, and speaker committed to building authentic end-to-end relationships for my clients—from top management to top consumer. My unique philosophy puts specific importance on human relationships and their inherent value in both business and in life. I believe that as a society, we are reaching a kind of technological saturation point, which is leaving consumers anxious and yearning for tactile human experiences, and it is that core ethic that fuels my purpose—to bring people together.

From my office in Salt Lake City, Utah, or occasionally from my office-away-from-home in Barcelona, Spain, I will offer enlightening insights on a vast range of topics. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share my insights and experiences to help others explore fresh perspectives on business, lifestyle, and new ways of working.