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How will you reach your goal?

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

How will you reach your goal?

Scott Miker

Most people get motivated and set goals based on the rewards they hope to obtain at the end.  They see the benefits of accomplishing something and then set goals around those benefits. 

They get an advanced degree to make more money from a higher position at their company.  They go on a diet to be able to feel better about their body when it is bathing suite season.  They save money so they can go on an expensive vacation.

But the rewards aren’t as motivating as you think they are.  Sure there are those that become so engulfed in the reward that their motivation keeps them working long after everyone else stops.  These people then succeed and point to a desire so strong that nothing would stand in their way.

The problem is that this assumes the only way to get to your goal is through sheer effort.  Effort is something that is easily pointed to as the necessary element but in reality effort is just the action that you take.

A better strategy for most of us is to shift to focus on the how instead of the reward.  It is easy to see what we want and what lies at the finish line.  Daydreaming about that reward doesn’t actually motivate most of us to action.  Instead it lies after the work is done.  So we daydream about what it will be like to not have to do the work but still have the reward.

Since our focus is on after the hard work, we remain in the same state of inaction.  We know we have to do something, but instead of doing it we just imagine what it will be like when it is done.

The systems and habits approach to improvement minimizes the reliance on effort.  Instead of daydreaming about the end reward, we spend our thoughts focused on how we can take action.   Everything is around action and how we start to take action, little by little towards our goals. 

There is a distinction some people make between this type of focus.  They explain that this is setting process goals instead of setting the traditional outcome goals. 

Instead of stating you want to achieve X, you say you want to do Y every day.  By doing Y it will get you closer to achieving X.  But if you stop after the outcome goal (achieving X) then you leave yourself with too many question marks about how you are actually going to do it.

Having a framework for the how portion is important.  It takes something that can easily be considered unrealistic and puts it within reach.  We start to understand what it takes to get where we want to go.

Then as we set out on our journey we will likely realize that we drastically under estimate what we actually have to do in order to succeed.  It is often much more than we imagine in the beginning. 

By focusing on the how we will slowly start to make progress towards our goals and it will give us the understanding of how to achieve something.  We use effort on occasion but that effort is better used to just help you keep going, rather than assuming effort with turn into this unrelenting force.  If that force doesn’t exist today, setting an outcome goal doesn’t elicit this force like you might think. 

So when you look at your life and want something different, understand that the behaviors, routines, habits, etc. that you rely on today will have to change.  When you must change these ingrained aspects of your life effort will not be enough.  Instead make sure you set goals around how you will get through these changes in order to realize success.