To Achieve Your Goals, Forget About Them
If you are like me and almost anyone, you probably have goals that you really want to accomplish. But what if I told you that the best way to achieve them is to actually forget about them?
How I Learned
I remember like 10 years ago, I was learning to play the drums with, in my opinion, ones of the best drummers in Argentina. Each class, he gave me an exercise to practice that was quite simple. He then proceeded to demonstrate it so I could get the feel for it but I don’t know how and why, two minutes into it and he was doing some crazy fast stuff that was blowing my mind away.
When I got home and tried the exercise, I would first sit on the drums and fantasize about the possibility of me playing like my teacher. I closed my eyes and pictured myself in front of a whole stadium doing a drum solo and the audience would just go crazy, cheering my name.
When I got tired of dreaming, I opened my eyes, grabbed my sticks and began doing the exercise. To my surprise, even though I was doing it correctly, I was not even close to what my teacher showed me. He was playing like 15 notes per second while I was struggling to do it correctly for 5 times in a row.
And If I lasted 5 more minutes practicing, I would be lying to you.
Several years later, I was around 20 and after watching some YouTube videos about guys doing 10 straight muscle ups and doing crazy tricks on the bar, I decided I wanted to do my first muscle-up. But this time, I took a different approach.
Instead of just trying to do a muscle up the first time, and most probably, fail miserably, I spent the first few days doing some research on progressions and the different ways I could build my strength.
Rather than spending hours imagining myself being all lean and shredded, I forgot about it I’d developed a gym plan that, in the future, would enable me, not just to do 1 muscle up, but several.
As expected, after 2 months of constantly going to the gym, I ended up doing my first muscle up. And in 5 months, I was doing 6 in a row without a problem.
I asked myself, what was the difference between these approaches? And I realized that when I was practicing the drums, I constantly had my goal in mind. When I wanted to do my first muscle up, on the other hand, I developed a system and forgot about my goal.
Goals and Systems
A Goal is defined as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result”.
A System is “the activity you do on a regular basis that help you achieve your goals.”
- Your goal may be to have a successful blog. The system is to upload a post every Thursday.
- Your goal is to lose 30 pounds. The system is to go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
- Your goal may be to have more energy. The system may be to change your diet and eliminate sugars
- Your goal is to become the best jazz pianist in the world. The system is to practice 5 hours every single day.
Scott Adams sums it perfectly when he says, “if you do something consistently, it’s a system. If you are waiting to achieve something in the future, it’s a goal”.
Know that we understand the difference between goals and systems, let’s dive into the practical differences between goals and systems:
- Happiness levels: Goals are, by definition, something that you haven’t achieve yet. Even though this sounds obvious, it has serious consequences in your experience. By comparing your current conditions with your goals, you will always find the present moment lacking in one way or another.
If my goal is to become the #1 tennis player, it is because I’m not there right now. If my goal is to weigh 170 pounds, it is because I’m too fat or too thin at the moment. It kind of seems that goals are painful since there’s a constant negative feedback in the process telling me I’m not there yet.
On the other hand, systems are action-oriented and are not based on some future and imagined outcome. Just the act of sticking to a system is joyful because you know you are headed in the right direction. Also, is more present-focused and you don’t have to wait to accomplish it – you just do it every day. You are happy because you ate the salad and not the hamburger. You are happy because you went to the gym and didn’t slack off watching TV.
There’s a positive feedback loop that encourages you and the more you do it, the better you feel. And the better you fill, chances are you are going to do it tomorrow too.
- Sustainability: Since goals are usually outcomes that will not occur in the near future, it is difficult to stay motivated in the long run. If I want to have a successful business but at the moment I’m not generating enough income, how can I stay encouraged to do the work that needs to be done in order to drive the company to profitability? Because the goal is so far out in the future, it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Contrarily, if I develop a system that pushes me to call 10 possible clients a day, it makes it easier to take action.
With systems, you don’t get overwhelmed by the goal because you chunked it down to manageable tasks you have to do regularly.
- Control: Even if you believe that goals are completely under our control, the truth is that there are an infinite number of variables you don’t have any saying in. You cannot control how your boss will act, how clients will react when they see your blogpost or what a person will do when you try to talk to him or her. However, what you can control are the actions you take towards your goal.
Instead of hoping for your readers to like your post, you just commit to writing the best piece of content you can. Instead of focusing on how much weight you were able to add to your bench-press, you commit to going to the gym every day.
With systems, you are 100% in charge of doing the thing, while with goals you are at the mercy of external circumstances.
Goals are not inherently bad, they are actually as necessary as systems. How do we reconcile both of them?
The Paradox of Goals and Systems
When you are young and are trying to learn how to ride a bicycle, you need training wheels – without them, your first 50 attempts will end up with your face on the ground and your knees scraped. After a couple of days of riding with the training wheels, you are getting good. It may be a good idea to remove them in order for you to learn how to ride a bike like a grown-up. While the training wheels were necessary at the first step of the process, they become an obstacle when you advance – the same happens with goals.
While goals are necessary to create a vision for the future, they don’t help that much when you need to start taking action but they can be quite useful to see if your system is working. They can work as feedback loops that redirect your actions and improve your efficiency.
If your goal was to lose weight and after 3 months you don’t notice any change, there is a chance that the system is not working. In that case, you will need to readjust it and check for any improvements.
The answer, as usual, is not either or, but both. Here’s a framework that can help you reconcile them and achieve anything you want:
- Step 1) Create a goal in your mind, with a specific date and quantity.
- Step 2) Research and discover which is the best way to accomplish it
- Step 3) Develop a system: Define the activity you will be doing every day or week that helps you achieve your goal.
- Step 4) Forget about the goal and stick to the system, no matter what
- Step 5) Check your progress with your goal every now and then, and modify the system as necessary
The good news is that you can apply this formula to any area of your life that you want to improve. Call it business, relationships, meditation, or a skill like writing or singing.
The purpose of a goal is to determine the system, and once that purpose is fulfilled, its job is done. It can be a good way to track your progress and see if you are heading in the right direction, but thinking about them often, comparing yourself to them and feeling sorry doesn’t help that much.
I really hope this new framework of understanding goals and systems helps you. But the most important part here is to remember, as cliché as it may sound, that it’s everything about the journey, not the destination.
Most of us forgo our happiness and delay it till we achieve our goals, just to realize a few months later that it has nothing to do with accomplishing anything.
When our happiness is not restricted to the achievement of our goals, it’s the moment when we are truly free to pursue them.
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