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Setting Goals Isn't Working? Try this instead.

In theory, goal setting is fantastic.

Write down your goals, maybe even every day, and keep them with you...

And nothing has changed in a year.

Let's be honest...

Most of the time, having goals is insufficient to get things done.

Even when BIG goals are broken down into little steps and then steadily worked towards, it still does not work for many people.

If you are one of those people who can consistently meet the goals you set for yourself, congratulations - you can stop reading right now.

But if you've set goals – and then more goals – and you STILL don't have what you want...

...or maybe you don't like setting goals at all...

...then I'd like to suggest that you try something new.

Stop obsessing on goals and instead concentrate on systems.

SYSTEMS, indeed.

You expected me to say habits, didn't you? Habits are useful, but they aren't always adaptable enough to bring you where you want to go.

Here's an illustration of the distinction between a habit and a system. Assume your goal is to bench press 250 pounds. Make it a habit to exercise weights at 6 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

However, if you don't have a method in place for gradually increasing your reps and weights, you'll never attain your objective.

Habits are recurring activities that you perform without thinking, such as going to the gym at a specific hour on specific days. A system is a set of actions you follow to achieve a goal, such as gradually increasing reps and weight. You will never improve if you only lift weights without a system for increasing reps and weights.

Goals without mechanisms can be harmful and restrictive. Princeton's theology department conducted an experiment in which students were instructed to go to another building on campus and give a class on The Good Samaritan. As you may recall, the Samaritan narrative is about a man who was beaten and abandoned on the side of the road. Others passed him by, but the Good Samaritan stopped and assisted him.

Students were instructed to go teach the Good Samaritan story to another class. They were also warned they were late and needed to hurry. An actor was thrown in their way, laying on the ground, injured, moaning in pain, and even shouting twice.

Every single theology student dashed past the injured individual to teach the Good Samaritan lesson. To get to class, one person even stepped over the person in pain.

The pupils were ignorant to any alternative possibilities because the goal was to come to class and deliver the presentation on time. They were so focused on that goal that they overlooked the wider picture and human viewpoint needed to assist the injured person. However, if these pupils had a system by which to live, that system would have likely prioritized living the story of the Good Samaritan over simply teaching it.

If you want to make a million dollars a year, you may have to bend regulations, breach laws, or even hurt people to get there.

However, if you have a structure in place that states you make money by delivering genuine value to people, you will be on the correct track.

I consider the distinction between habits and systems as follows:

“I write every day from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.,” is a habit.

“I work on writing a book every day from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for two months, at which time I've completed a book,” is one system. During the next three weeks, I sell and promote the book, and during the fourth week, I conduct research and outline my next book. The system is then repeated.

This may be oversimplification, but the idea is that the method is more adaptable than a habit, allowing you to adjust as you go.

Determine your goals and then devise systems to bring you there. Build flexibility into your system so that you can get back on track if anything unexpected happens.

Finally, concentrate on your system (the process or trip) rather than the goal (your destination). When you focus on where you are now (the system), you will find that you are much happy in the moment than if you are constantly hoping for the goal itself. By employing your methods, you will be able to enjoy small triumphs every day, rather than deferring happiness until you get at your destination.

Furthermore, because you have processes in place, you will not suffer the paradoxical and all-too-common experience of feeling empty or unhappy because you no longer have that major aim to look forward to when you arrive at your destination.