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Why Goal Setting Is Outdated And What You Should Do Instead

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Today, I want to discuss an interesting question that has been quite a hot topic lately, introduced by James Clear of Atomic Habits: should we be focusing on setting up systems rather than goal setting?

If you think about it, your results have way more to do with the systems you set up for yourself rather than the goals you set.

I hear you thinking: What is the difference and why should I care? The most important thing is that I get the job done, right?

Well, my friend… Believe me, once you understand the difference between both and start understanding the importance of creating systems in your life, you will get why.

Setting up a system means that you determine and commit to a certain sequence of activities and repeat it either daily or on a regular basis.

Focusing on the system means that you really hone in and find a sense of joy and satisfaction in doing the activities themselves instead of finding motivation by coming closer and closer to goals you have set for yourself.

Today I will share why I think you should be focusing on the system of things instead of just goal setting and some tips to help you getting started with designing systems in your own life.

Other Reads:


1. Your source of motivation

The source where you get your motivation is completely different. Let me illustrate this with an example: you’re trying to lose weight by eating a lil’ healthier.

You can either approach this by setting a weight goal for yourself (e.g. losing 5kg in 3 months) OR you can focus on the system, by forgetting the scale and finding joy in how healthy eating makes you feel, how delicious these colorful veggies and fruits taste, how energized and light you feel after your meals, and finding amazing recipes that you can experiment with.

You are avoiding all the frustration and disappointment that comes with seeing the number on your scale not dropping fast enough, or gaining it back again after a cheat day because you simply don’t weigh yourself, you’re basically just focusing on the system while ignoring the goal.

Because if you think about it, focusing on the system really comes from a perspective that you’re changing to a healthier lifestyle because you want to take better care of yourself (it’s an act of self-love, right?).

Just focusing on this goal number on your scale kind of ignores the real purpose and gives you the idea that your whole self-worth depends on this number on the scale. This number basically has the power to either make you feel extremely accomplished and proud or sad, frustrated, and disappointed. And thoughts appear such as ‘Only when I reach this number on my scale, I can be happy’.

2. Focusing on the journey instead of just the destination

By focusing on the system, the results will come inevitably.

So if you’re consistently eating wholesome and healthy foods, and loads of veggies and fruits (and moving your body sufficiently), you will lose weight inevitably.

The difference is that you’re focusing on enjoying the process of having this healthier lifestyle, instead of trying to get motivation by always thinking about this hypothetical moment in the future when you might have reached your dream weight goal. And if that moment happens, you will probably feel accomplished for a few moments and will then move on to another goal.

And that’s kind of sad because this goal-setting thinking really makes you live in the future instead of appreciating and fully honing in on these amazing moments in the present.

3. Not quitting after you have reached your goal

Something that also tends to happen when you’re only focused on goal setting, is that once you have reached your goal, you just quit the activity altogether because you feel there is no point in continuing to do and push it anymore.

Say that you have reached your dream weight, so you feel amazing for a few days, and then… in order to feel this sense of purpose again, you set a totally different goal for yourself (for example reading more). And then, you slowly start gaining the weight back again and suddenly, you’re back at square one.

A goal you reach in the end is just something temporary, it can easily be reversed when you stop practicing it. Your health, certain skills, languages, relationships, they are all things where you have to put continuous effort in order to maintain it. So you have to continue eating healthy and moving your body in order to maintain your dream weight.

However, if you would have focused on the system instead, healthy eating would have become part of your lifestyle and it would be without question that you would continue this healthy habit. Just the thought of going back to eating junk food and overeating all day and consequently having so little energy would make you feel bad in the stomach.

4. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon

”It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.” – James Clear

So no, it is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Instead of working super hard for a few days, it’s way more sustainable to consistently progress with baby steps and keep up with the habit for years and years.

So find a system and pace that suit you, so you can implement some sustainable changes into your lifestyle.

5. You tend to compare yourself more with others when goal setting

Another thing that tends to happen when you’re goal setting instead of creating systems, is that you start comparing yourself too much with others. Because if you aren’t careful, it is tempting to feel like you’re not good enough if you can’t reach your goal. And maybe when you see that a friend has already reached the same goal or has set a more difficult goal, it is likely that you will start comparing yourself and asking yourself if this goal is enough…

Goal setting

There will always be people that are better at something than you, but that’s not the point. It’s not a competition.

That’s why when you’re focused on the system, and for example, you really concentrate on how amazing these healthy meals make you feel, and how energized you feel afterward, you won’t care about other people, right? Because the only thing that counts for you is that you are taking care of your body. And if others are doing that too, then great. But there will be no point for you in comparing yourself with others.

How to set up systems?

That all being said, you might be wondering how you can set up systems and let go of goal setting.

I mean, I don’t say goal setting isn’t important, because it is. I just say that once you are clear about what goals you will be focusing on, you should try to convert them into a system and focus on that instead. Because if you want a habit to stick, then setting a goal isn’t sufficient. To actually make it happen you have to design a system for it that fits well into your life.

Do you have this goal that you want to write a book? Then create a system of writing every single day. Do you want to become a more organized person? Then create a system of tidying every day. It is really that simple.

A few tips for designing a system:

  • Focus on how doing this activity makes you feel. How does it feel to be able to express your creativity, and create this amazing content that will bring real value to your readers? How does it feel to be in this organized and clutter-free space? How therapeutic is it to give every object its own home? How amazing does it feel that you know exactly where everything is, so you don’t end up losing stuff all the time anymore?
  • Fall in love with the process. Make your system as pleasant and enjoyable as possible. Make it cozy, listen to your favorite music, buy this gorgeous yoga outfit, and write your favorite recipes in this beautiful recipe binder.
  • Reward yourself for consistently keeping up with your system
  • Immerse yourself with it, study and research it, really become the expert, and make it part of your lifestyle.

Other Reads:

Let’s Chat!

Let me know in the comments if you prefer to find motivation by setting goals or finding joy in systems? 🙂

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  1. You didn’t go the direction I thought you might. As I continued reading it became evident what you meant. And yes I could not agree with you more! The journey is incredibly important! Thank-you for posting! 🙏

  2. Sana says:

    I’ve actually subconsciously been doing this in the last month with my fitness journey and have consistently worked out (where usually I would get frustrated and quit). I do agree that creating a system that supports a goal is a much better way to achieve anything.

  3. John says:

    This is similar to Scott Adams’ (Dilbert creator) focus on the process instead of goals which he describes in “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.” It’s a great concept.

  4. Ally says:

    This was totally eye-opening! I can’t wait to apply this concept to my daily life!

  5. Ann Syson says:

    Yes!! I can definitely say that the systems and the journey are the keys to getting to the “goal number” or whatever the goal is. Also, rather than thinking about how long it’s going to take, keep in mind that time will pass either way. Might as well take a journey!

  6. Erin King says:

    I actually wrote something similar when I was reflecting on New Year’s resolutions this year It’s a habit to write goals (or resolutions), but success comes more often from systems and building changes into our routine. I started using a habits app this week and found it was MUCH easier to succeed at the same plans I’ve been fighting for months!

  7. Kelly says:

    I love this concept! Going to read some of your other posts – just the motivation I need today!

  8. Jimmy Clare says:

    I am comparing myself to too many people and I need to stop that

  9. Katherine says:

    Great read! I always find that setting the goal is easy but getting there isn’t. Like you set up a system, I look at achieving and maintaining the success of goals is really a life style and mindset shift. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Delaney says:

    This is so important! So many people set goals and wonder why they never happen. I’m always down for the practical side of things, great read!

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