Stop Making Goals and Start Creating Systems

What exactly is the difference between a goal and a system?

Well, to put it simply, a goal is a result that you want to achieve while a system is a process that leads to those results.

You know that one famous saying, “Life is not about the destination; it’s about the journey?”

Essentially, your goals are the destination and the systems are the journey you should embrace.

As said by James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, “True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the endless cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.”

Think of something you’ve always wanted to get done but can never seem to do it consistently.

Maybe you want to keep your bedroom clean all the time when it’s usually the polar opposite.

Or maybe you want to get up early in the morning to exercise, but you can’t seem to pull yourself out of bed before 9 a.m.

The reason why you can’t seem to get your room together is because you keep forgetting to put your things back where they belong after using them and you don’t make your bed every morning.

Maybe the reason why you can’t get yourself to consistently exercise early in the morning is because you go to bed at 1 a.m. and scroll through your Instagram feed for the next hour every night before deciding to sleep.

I think we’ve all been guilty of that at least once or twice, though.

Regardless, the output (outcome) will always be the same because the input (system) hasn’t changed.

So, if you’re able to fix the input, then the output will fix themselves.

For example, every time you finish using something, you can put it back where it belongs.

You could also take 15 minutes out of your schedule every day to tidy your room a bit as well, and gradually build upon it until you have a routine going on.

As for the other goal, aim for an earlier bedtime and try to not use your phone at least 30 minutes before bed.

Set an alarm and place your workout clothes nearby so that you have it ready to go when you wake up.

Whatever you do to help you achieve these personal goals, you’re one step closer to attaining your system and reaching your goals.

Everyone has a different method they prefer when it comes to being productive towards their goals.

Some people prefer to have a strict routine to follow through every day and check off all the boxes while others recognize that life changes every moment, so they prefer to have a set of habits to choose from.

It all depends on what is most comfortable with you or whatever is more attainable and realistic for you.

There is no perfect system that I can tell you to follow because each person is wired in their own way and it might not work out for you as well as it might work for someone else.

Take a moment to reflect on yourself and consider what method of productivity best works for you and your goals.

Consider this idea: What you don’t do is just as important as what you do. Sounds counterintuitive, right?

Because if you want to work towards your goal, doesn’t that mean you have to be actively doing something to attain it? Well no, not necessarily.

If one of your goals is to practice more mindfulness, to meditate more often, or to go take a walk to refresh your mind, then sometimes you have to take that initiative to put whatever you’re doing down and do nothing.

If you’re one of those people whose minds are always going a thousand miles per hour because you’re constantly busy with work, academic- or nonacademic-related, then taking a break to de-stress and meditate is just as important as working towards your academic and professional career.

Another thing to consider is why you’re building these habits for your system.

Personally, I know I’ve tried to force myself to build healthy habits to the point that I was trying to do it for the sake of having healthy habits and I forgot why I was really doing it.

In my head, I wanted to be more productive and that usually meant squeezing in more tasks to complete as much as I humanly could while putting my mental and physical health on the bench by skipping meals and losing sleep.

However, what being productive should’ve meant is to work smarter, not harder, so that I still had time to unplug every now and then to take care of myself.

While work will continue to be an important aspect of my life, it will not be the only important aspect of my life.

Okay, now it’s time to know the actual steps it takes to build your system:

  1. Identify what is essential – It’s important to have clarity of purpose and separate the nonessentials from the essentials. For you to attain your goals most effectively and efficiently, you need to find your purpose; otherwise, you would be like me from the example above where I was working for the sake of working, not working smarter to be productive while practicing self-care and mindfulness.

  2. Choose to invest in yourself – To invest in yourself, you need to recognize your ability to choose. Here is a quote from the book Essentialism: “When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless. Drip by drip, we allow our power to be taken away until we end up becoming a function of other people’s choices, or even a function of our own past choices. In turn, we surrender our power to choose.” By not recognizing your power to choose, you are giving others explicit permission to choose for you. So, choose for yourself and choose you. You are, after all, your best asset to work with when it comes to attaining your goals, and you need to take the proper action yourself.

  3. Spend time on what is essential – It’s one thing to have a goal in your head, but it’s a completely different thing when you are actively carving time out, actively making time for what’s important to you. To manifest your goals, you actually have to make the effort to get there. This may be obvious to you but a lot of times, it’s easier said than done. Find something to motivate you to attain your goals, whether it’s reminding yourself of your purpose or finding someone willing to support you and hold you accountable.

See how the steps provided above are broad?

That’s because each person has their own idea on how to attain their goals, but the steps outlined above are general enough for everyone to follow to be successful.

I will leave this last quote from the book Atomic Habits for you to reflect on as you’re building your system: “When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running, and a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one your first envisioned.”

This article was inspired by a YouTube video made by Rowena Tsai. These are the links to her videos on how to create systems: