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I hate when I see articles that tell you to ‘stop something and do this instead’.  But right here, I have something for you to think about as regards goals and systems.

While talking about goal setting to Darius Foroux, Martijn, a former pro ice skater and Olympic athletes trainer said,

“Many athletes set a goal to win a medal at the Olympics. But out of the thousands of athletes, in every sport, only a few qualify for the Olympics.

Now, let’s say you’re fortunate enough to qualify. When you start the Olympics, there are X amount of athletes who compete for the gold medal. Out of all those people, only 3 will get a medal. And only 1 person will get the gold medal.

Not everyone can be that 1 person.”

In the same vein, you set out to achieve a personal objective –maybe hit a couple of millions in profit , buy a new car, learn a new language, hit 20k in jogging or running. It’s the end of the month, quarter or the year when you set for the achievement and you haven’t hit the mark. It’s quite natural for you to beat yourself too hard at the realization of this seeming fail. I do many times.

I recently realized one approach that you can try is using systems instead of setting goals.

Goals or Systems

How do systems work? Instead of focusing on the goals, focus on the process. Did I hear you ask if we shouldn’t set goals? I have heard quite a number of thought leaders say you shouldn’t set goals.  From Leo Babauta to Vishen Lakhiani to James Clear to Ray Williams. It seemed totally off to me initially but let me explain here. I will also explain why setting goals could be risky. Whether you set goals or you set up processes, they help give a sense of direction. The difference is goals are events. Systems are recurring processes. What happens after achieving that goal? Is the event over?

So, if my goal was to make 10million naira in profit in one year, what happens when I do?  Idifferentlyffernetly if I had systems in place rather than goals. “If I make 10million naira in profit by focusing solely on providing value, the chain never breaks. The focus doesn’t seize. I continue to focus on providing this value by improving on my service or value offering which could eventually lead to an increase in revenue”.

You corporate sales people would not agree with this. Totally fine! It’s okay. You have targets to make. But what if you focused on a system that builds up to your goal as a benefit and not an end. So instead of looking for the three clients that would give me $10million to make the $30million target, I focus on how I can get more people to appreciate the product by scheduling demos with high-profile executives who have the type of money that I want. Get it?

As a writer, my goal is to write a book. But my weekly writing schedule and experience is the process I need to focus on NOT THE GOAL.  As an athlete, my goal may be to run in the Olympics, the system is the daily or weekly training I put in.

Makes sense?

So if you totally discarded your goals and focused on the system, do you think I’d achieve what I want to? I think so!

The cons

I believe goals take away from the current happiness, at the same time they take away from long-term progress. Many years ago, I decided that amongst other things I wanted to be, I wanted to be a writer with several books, including children’s books. Last year, I set out to publish my own book. I spent months reviewing my compilation for this book, editing, deleting, adding, laying out etc. The book got published, goal set! But what happened after? Remember –- My initial idea was to be a writer. Having one book is not my own definition of being a writer. A writer writes. A writer spends time writing. That’s the process.

Another reason setting goals can be harmful is they suggest that you can control things that you really can’t control. In January, I finished reading an amazing book The Obstacle Is The Way. It’s a book on Stoicism. It made me realize that no matter how super-human we think we are, no matter how go-getting we are,  there are few things we can’t control. We can’t control

  • the future
  • other people
  • the economy
  • nature

Do I beat myself if at the end of 2016, I’m not married? Do I bury my head in mud if at the end of the year my income drastically drops because clients have refused to pay up? What do I do?


This is where feedback comes in. Is what I am doing working? Is all the effort I’m putting in paying off? Is there something I can do better? What systems do I have in place to run this experience? Is running every day hurting my general performance or should I make it twice a week? When I run twice a week, do I notice performance improvements? This feedback has to happen often. I brush over this in another article too, Habits not discipline! Measure, not just do.

This feedback has to happen often.


“Goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.

Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.”


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