So you set a goal that meets all of the SMART criteria and you are now on your way to achieving your goal, right? Wrong. Setting a goal has gotten tons of credit for being the most important step to improvement but it isn’t.
For decades authors have explained that the reason we aren’t successful is because we didn’t set goals. Or we set goals but they weren’t specific enough, measurable enough etc. Or we set goals but didn’t do enough to envision what it would be like to reach the goal.
They then develop unique perspectives on the goal-setting process or on developing the right mindset. You might think, “Wow, now I know why I didn’t become a professional athlete or a famous actor. It is because I never created a vision board!”
But that is nonsense. The reason that we haven’t reached a specific target has less to do with how we describe that target and more to do with the behaviors and actions on our end. In other words, we haven’t done the things necessary to reach that target.
It really is that simple. In order to improve, we have to do the work that goes along with whatever goal we have set. There isn’t a magic shortcut. Thinking really hard by itself won’t align the universe to give you whatever you want. But by taking the necessary steps towards that goal you start to see enough alignment in your life to make progress towards your goal.
The reason is because we tend to overlook the various systems and habits that are in place in our lives. We don’t see that everything around us is systematic. But if we understand the principles of systems we start to see that they aren’t easy to change. They tend to be embedded. The system has elements that will work hard to keep the system at equilibrium. Through facets of systems such as compensating feedback the system will actually work against any drastic change that we attempt to make.
This is why we struggle to hit a goal. This is why positive change can seem so daunting. This is why most people never seem to change and why many of us struggle with common areas such as personal finance or improving our health.
But the good news is that because these underlying systems and habits are so powerful, we simply have to shift our approach. We can’t rely on the way we set a goal or the time we daydream about reaching a goal. From a system standpoint those things don’t move the needle. They really don’t mean as much as some people want you to believe.
Looking at systems and habits we can start to identify elements that can help us improve. We see that once systems and habits are in place, they tend to keep going automatically without a lot of focus and effort. We see that getting away from systems and habits is difficult. Therefore, we can start to find ways to shift the underlying systems and habits around a goal. Over time if we slowly change them, then the automatic nature of systems and habits works to our benefit instead of against us. The work that we put into building the right systems and habits then takes over and keeps us going without needing to find additional motivation or inspiration.
Most people have benefited from this mindset already and just never realized it. Many of us have at least 12 years of education. We didn’t do this out of sheer determination and envisioning us graduating from high school. We did it by making it habit to wake up every day and go to school, to study enough to pass, and to keep going every year. Yes it was likely because our parents forced us to, but it still utilized a similar systematic mindset, that said if we keep going and doing the work eventually we would reach our goal.
The best thing about the systems and habits approach to improvement is that it addresses the areas that often get ignored and gets us focused on doing something. Because this approach puts much more emphasis on the actions and behaviors we do repeatedly, we shift towards a doing mindset instead of a thinking, evaluating, or even a daydreaming mindset. Because setting the goal is the easy part, achieving the goal is where the work comes into play.