Is It Time To Forget Your Goals?

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I love it when I hear or read something that challenges my current perspective. A few weeks ago I was truly shaken when James Clear, in his powerful book, Atomic Habits, wrote:

"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."

What? Since 1986 I have embraced the power of goals in helping me succeed and now find great fulfillment in teaching others about the importance of this tool in achieving the outcomes they most want from work and life. YOU HAVE TO HAVE GOALS!!!

As I delved deeper into the chapter, however, I began to embrace the wisdom of his words. He cites four problems with focusing more on goals than designing systems to achieve those goals. They include:

  • Winners and losers have the same goals. If successful and and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.

  • Achieving a goal is only a momentary change. You might change a behavior long enough to achieve a goal, but if you don't change the underlying systems you will revert back to your old ways (Can you say "lottery winners?").

  • Goals restrict your happiness. They create an "either-or" conflict.

  • Goals are at odds with long-term progress. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it?

So... should you throw out your goals and just focus on your systems? I don't believe Clear is advocating that. I do think, however, there are some ways you can improve your ability to achieve your goals in light of this information. They include:

Celebrate the value of the journey...not just the destination.
Look at how changes you are making to reach a goal are shaping you into a better person. For example, exercising daily to lose weight (a goal), also gives you more energy and improves your ability to sleep well. Checking your email less (a goal) helps you focus more deeply.

Ask how working on the goal is improving you as a person.
If the process to achieve a goal will consistently limit your ability to live out your highest values on a daily basis, are you chasing the wrong goals?

Sweat the small stuff.
John Maxwell is quoted as saying, "The secret of your success is found in your daily routine." Instead of trying to make large, complex changes to your day or week, start with the smaller changes you can sustain over time. As your motivation grows because of your success with these changes, you can make larger ones. Use daily questions to help keep you accountable in making these small changes.

Think more in terms of results and less in terms of goals.
Each time you accomplish a goal you have to set a new one. If you think in terms of results, however, you are more focused on adjusting your systems to see more of the desired result.

If you're still not convinced of the value of reducing your focus on specific goals, here's another quote from the book:

"The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game."

Which is more important to you?

Jones LoflinComment