Use Goals To Establish a System of Habits

Use Goals To Establish a System of Habits

When you switch from primarily focusing on goals to establishing a system of habits your life will change for the better. Since most of us have been children we’ve been programmed to call our aspirations goals. Once you learn to transition your mindset to focusing on another element of the goal attainment process that extends beyond goals then everything will flow easier and smoother.

“Don’t set goals, set actions and compile them into small systems.”

Martin Hamilton

This is something that is talked about in in the book Atomic Habits, yet the idea can be intimidating to tackle at first. What I’m talking about is looking at every aspect of the pathway toward your goal and map these small activities out to create a system. Your system should grow out of your own attempts to get better at what you are trying to do. It’s not like you can build a system from day one and have it work without a hitch. You can write down the steps but as you follow those steps they may change a little so don’t get hung up on needing to reframe your original layout.

An example could be a man at the gym on the treadmill and his shoe becomes untied. The man stops the treadmill, gets off and ties his shoe. Due to the interruption he convinces himself to leave the gym. Later he realized that his shoe becoming untied attributed to him experiencing frustration, thus leaving early from the gym. How can a simple system be developed to prevent this from happening again?

The answer is for him to immediately change his before workout system to avoid that issue from happening again. Every time he puts his gym shoes on in the future he should double tie his shoes. This little decision and action is part of a “system” that supports his goals.

I think both goals and systems are important and both are needed to reach success. A goal can’t stand alone without a system, and a system can’t be created without a goal.

I’ve read many testimonials that prove how changing of our mindset about goals and systems, and how to use them together, has been one the best choices they’ve ever made. I used to set goals and focus on them as a finite destination. Let’s say for example that years ago it was my goal to have better grades in college. I used to write that goal down and just go for it without an action plan. I still had to plan my studies but it left the process as an abstract and really didn’t help with my focus or organized activity.

Once I understood the importance of goals and systems working together synergistically, I think of my goal and ask myself what kind of person reaches that goal, and what are their daily actions to attain it. Next, I simply write down the system of steps that are needed to get it accomplished.

Here is how I changed my process and my system. Being present mentally and physically in every lecture and actually listening to what the professor says (taking notes if needed). Study the subjects I have learned in the lecture within 24 hours. DO NOT SKIP ANY HOMEWORK OF ANY KIND. Plan review sessions to reinforce the content of the class.

This system I developed was simple and worked for me, and my grades actually improved.

The main idea is to realize the establishment of a goal is needed first in order to build a system for its accomplishment.

Once you know the “What” and the “Why” then the next step is to build the process or steps and identify the tools needed and this will answer the “How”. That will be your initial system.

Atomic Habits is a great starter book to help put this into perspective.

I switched from focusing only on goals to now using them to build systems, and I’ve found it works uncontestably well for me. The reasons I switched are:

1: goals felt either so lofty and out of reach that they were daunting, or so low-ball that they seemed mediocre and even belittling at times. This made me lose motivation.
2: goals fall under that category of things we sometimes are compelled to share and brag about to our friends and family, and its easy to then feel undue pressure about attaining them. For me it added an element of negativity.
3: with goals there’s usually lots of distractions that creates the potential to not meet them, to fail, and on my less than best days that seemed unavoidable.

Here’s why systems work for me:

  1. systems have a built in hope for the future (continued efforts) with a visual pathway.
  2. systems feel less unorganized because there is a method in place, and since any effort is an accomplishment in the process, and putting in more effort forward within the system is a decrease in the attainment timeframe, which is a big win.
  3. systems also seem to feel increasingly rewarding over time without that pesky failure trepidation.

As James clear puts it in Atomic Habits, it’s clearly not the goal that is the critical element, as every Olympian has a goal of getting the gold medal, and every person going into an interview has the goal of getting the job.

So it’s the process or system that has separated the “winners”, not the goal.

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Created by Martin Hamilton