• Setting Systems vs. Goals

    I stumbled across a video on YouTube called Goal Setting Is a Hamster Wheel, Learn to Set Systems Instead.

    I’m a fan of setting goals for myself, so I was intrigued. The guy in the video made a point I’ve never thought about before: there’s an emptiness to achieving a goal. Reaching a goal is a moment in time. It feels good for a minute, but then I think “now what?”

    But systems?

    A system is ongoing. A system can literally go on forever. A system is less about focusing on a specific point in time and more about making forward progress. Systems are about showing up and giving your best effort for the day, no matter what that looks like.

    This concept fascinates me.

    Systems are a fantastic way to approach working out. Most people start working out with weight loss in mind, though of course there could be other goals like building strength, running or biking a race, etc.  Each of these require a system.

    Training for a long distance race is a perfect example of using systems and goals in tandem. In this case, the goal is to run the race. The system is the training plan you use to prepare for the race. The system is more important than the goal because it teaches you how to accomplish the goal.

    With systems you can accomplish anything. You just have to identify which systems function for you and which don’t. The great mystery that long distance runners and work out junkies have solved is the development of a functional system that works with their life. Others get stuck and quit because their system breaks down or they didn’t have a system to begin with.

    For example, someone starts working out, starts losing the weight they’ve always intended to shed but then they stop for some reason.  Maybe they were going to a gym and suddenly life and family took over and now they don’t have time to go anywhere but home. With their system broken their goal now seems impossible so they get frustrated and give up.

    I totally get it. It happens.

    Except now I see the solution differently

    Problem: They had a functional system (going to the gym) that became non-functional due to circumstance (family obligations).

    Fix: To re-establish an exercise regimen they need to fix their system so that it works with their life, not in spite of it.

    The thing is, systems are not about willpower. Willpower is a concept that might be good for not eating that fourth cookie, but is also really good at making you feel like shit about yourself when your system is broken. Willpower doesn’t find you a babysitter for your young child, or help you care for an aging parent while also trying to take care of yourself. Systems are about finding a way forward that fits your life. Willpower might get you started, but systems will sustain you.

    Maybe that means home workouts early in the morning before everyone gets up. Maybe that means running alongside your kid while they ride a bike. You might have time for both of those, but no time to drive to a gym, work out and then drive home again.

    Forcing yourself to fit into a system that doesn’t work for you is setting yourself up for failure. If this is you, stop beating yourself up for not following through on a goal. Your goal wasn’t the problem. Your system was. You can still accomplish your goal. You’ll just have to change your system.

    How do you know where your system broke? Stop and think about that system. Get a pen and paper and break it down into list form if you have to.

    You have a small child and he needs to be looked after while you go to the gym.

    1. Find a babysitter. This is a pain in the ass, maybe due to financial reasons or resource availability.
    2. Once he or she is dropped off you go to the gym.
    3. You finish your workout and feel better for having done so.
    4. You drive home.
    5. You pick up your child.
    6. You proceed with your day.

    The ‘pain in the ass’ part of finding a baby sitter is where your system broke. That is what you have to build a new system around. Be open to solutions. It might look different than the traditional I have to work out in a gym scenario. And that’s okay. The point is to move, and you can do that anywhere. Build a system around that.

    Systems don’t just apply to working out. They apply to any long term goal. Not every day will look the same, but forward progress will be made.

    No goal is impossible. It’s just a system that needs tweaking.



    What systems to you use? I love comments!

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