Goals and Systems

To have a goal is to begin with the end in mind. If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which path you take. Knowing where you’re going is more important than taking the right path.

A goal is a destination. A system is a plan as to how you get there. It doesn’t matter how good your system is when you don’t have the right goals. In other words, having the right goals is more important than having the right systems, though you still need both.

The problem with goals occurs when we dwell on the goals rather than doing the necessary actions to complete those goals. It’s all about thinking big and acting small. Most people tend to focus on the goals. The problem with that is you can’t do goals. They are like nouns. You can only do things (actions/verbs) that will lead you toward those goals. Once you have the right goals (more on setting goals later), it’s a matter of creating the right systems in order to reach those goals, followed by showing up and doing the work.

You need both a goal and a system. A system without a goal is ineffective and aimless. A goal without a system is inefficient. You need both, specifically in this order: goal and system. Without having the right goals, it doesn’t matter how good your system is because you’re going in the wrong direction.

Remember, you want to begin with the end in mind. That means having some kind of goal. A goal isn’t always to get the exact thing you want. Oftentimes, it’s just something to aim at.

As Bruce Lee said:

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.

Goals relate to systems in the same way that leadership relates to management. The best systems, or management, cannot compensate for a lack of proper goals or leadership. In other words, when you don’t have the right goal or inner leadership, setting up systems becomes useless — like a beautiful ship without a compass and rudder.

When you are working on the right goals (defined by yourself), then having a system will accelerate the process of getting results that move you closer to that goal. Without a system, you’ll still get there, but it will take more time. Once you figure out what your goal is, and you create a system to reach that goal, then all that remains is showing up and doing the work at the right time.

The goal you set should be both inspirational (why) and concrete (what), in that order.

The inspirational part is your Why — why do you want to achieve this goal?

The concrete part has to do with the What — how will you know when you’ve succeeded?

There is clarity of purpose involved with what you’re doing and why. If it’s inspirational and not concrete, then it’s just a vague goal. When the goal is concrete but not inspirational, there is no belief or motivation to pursue it.

The Why precedes the What and the How. When you have the right Why and the right What, you’ll figure out the How. In other words, when you know your destination, you’ll figure out how to get there, one way or another.

For instance, when John F. Kennedy set a goal for reaching the moon by the end of the decade, that goal was both inspirational and concrete. There was no room left for interpretation, and it was easy to understand — easily measurable. There was no confusion. That’s how you set goals that are both inspirational and concrete.

My goal for this weblog is to write at least 2,000 posts. That’s a goal. That is both inspirational and concrete to me. My system for reaching that goal is to put out one post every week. I started writing in January 2015, and so far I’ve put out 32 posts. And the sub-system for me to make that happen is to write every day. Unless I spend some time writing every day, I can’t produce a post every week that I think is worth putting out.

Let’s take a common example for most people: losing weight in the short term. I would suggest that you first figure out the ideal weight/body/shape you want for the rest of your life, then do whatever is necessary to create the right system to reach it and maintain it for the rest of your life. The right system might involve eating right and exercising few times a week, in that order.

This is not to suggest that you’ll always eat right, and that’s okay. When you have a system in place that you follow even most of the time, you won’t have to worry about getting out of shape. Of course, there’s a lot more to eating right and doing exercise, which I’ll write more about in future posts.

To recap, here is the process for setting up a goal and creating a system in order to reach it:

  • Figure out a goal you want to accomplish that is both inspirational and concrete.
  • Create a system for reaching the goal without setting a deadline (by scheduling time for it in your calendar, for instance).
  • Show up and do the work.
  • Evaluate progress on a weekly basis and make changes to your system as needed.

Once you define the right goals for yourself, it’s a matter of creating the right system for reaching it and showing up to do the work without thinking about it. You can always evaluate and make changes to your system to reach that goal.

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