Hackernoon logoSystems Over Goals: Reframing The Way We Look at Progress by@sahil-agarwal

Systems Over Goals: Reframing The Way We Look at Progress

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@sahil-agarwalSahil Agarwal

Hey everyone, welcome to the first edition of The Mirror. This week we’re looking at a different way to approach goal setting. Ideas are adapted from Atomic Habits and How to Fail at Almost Everything And Still Win Big. Views are my own.

Forget about Goals

Usually when we want to improve some aspect of our lives, whether it be getting in shape, getting that fancy internship, or even spending more time with our family, society tells us to set a goal for it. Maybe even one of your friends thats currently in the process of “finding themself” will pipe up saying “ set a SMART goal for it” ( while conveniently ignoring the fact he never actually followed through with one of his own).
I used to try and follow this setup for achieving things in my own life. I tried - and failed miserably. Either the goal wasn’t met, or I wasn’t able to follow through for the allotted time, or, quite simply, the motivation ran out.
The only success I’ve ever found in goal setting was focusing on the underlying actions of the goal - the systems that provide you with that outcome that you want.

What is a system?

A system is the underlying process of how you achieve a goal. For example:
A goal could be losing 30 pounds over the next two months. Your system is following a consistent exercise and diet routine week in and week out.
Another goal you could have is to secure a job before graduating. Your system is reaching out to school alumni to give you quality, personal referrals to companies.
Maybe you want to learn a new song on the guitar. Your system is how you approach difficult measures and strumming patterns.

Problems with Goals

Ok I get what a system is, but how is it any better than goal setting? Lets take a look:
Goals are set up to fail longterm.
Imagine for example a cluttered sink in your living room. One of your goals is to keep it clean so that you’re not drinking LA tap water out of mason jars (dont @ me). You set up a time, clean it out, and its sparkling. Then a week later it’s back to messy. What happened? You met the goal however your system of cleaning the sink was unsustainable.
Goals cap happiness.
Goals are binary. You either met it, or you’re currently failing. Let’s say you set a goal to run a marathon because you’re tired of being out of shape. You trained super hard, drank your egg yolks, but on the final day before the race you sprained your ankle and were unable to complete the race. Bummer! Does that one single instance negate months of training? Does your increased fitness suddenly disappear? And let’s say in an alternate universe you were able to complete the race. Now what? You go back to couch surfing? A momentary elation before….you set a new goal?
Meeting goals does not bring lasting peace.
Let’s say one of your goals is to become a millionaire. You reach it, and discover that Becky across the street has more money than you. Damn, there’s always more money to be had. There is something called the hedonic treadmill, which states that a person’s stable level of happiness is always the same no matter how externally successful they are (assuming food, water, etc are covered). While setting lofty goals is admirable, sometimes it’s important to examine why you set them. Goals can often cover up our insecurities.

Lets wrap it up

“Fix the inputs, and the outputs will fix themselves” - James Clear
Systems are an intentional way to look at the process behind your goals. A good system is 100% under your control. You can control the process, but you cant control the outcome. Outcomes in life are uncertain, let’s focus on the things we can control.
By placing power in systems, you are outcome independent. It does not matter if the goal manifests or not, all that matters is that day in day out you are following your system. And if your goals aren’t met in a reasonable amount of time, maybe its time to reexamine the systems you have in place.
If you want to be successful once, focus on the outcome, if you want to be successful many times, focus on the process.
How did this post apply to your own life? Would love to hear your feedback let me know at sahil.substack@gmail.com. Think one of your friends would benefit? Send this to them, lmk, and i’ll send you a picture of a dog (:

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