A goal without a system becomes a target with a distant deadline that is easily abandoned.
New Years is a wonderful time of year because it’s a fresh start. Everything is new again and the possibilities are endless. It’s one of the reasons we have a tradition of creating a New Year’s resolution. We want to take this opportunity to start fresh and try something new or improve on something old.
The major flaw in New Year’s resolutions is that they only focus on the goal. Don’t get me wrong, goals are great. Setting a goal is like making an agreement with yourself to do something. But by themselves, a goal is just an idea.
Nothing is truly impossible if there are manageable steps to get to the end result.
Whether our goals are realistic or not, the reason we fail at reaching them is not based on the feasibility of reaching them. It’s based on whether we have set ourselves up to be able to reach them. Nothing is truly impossible if there are manageable steps to get to the end result.
We wouldn’t be able to brush our teeth without a toothbrush and toothpaste, so the first step is to get the toothbrush and toothpaste. This was an easy example because most of us brush our teeth regularly and know what it takes. But sometimes it’s hard to see what steps need to be taken to reach our goals and that’s where we get stumped.
This is where systems come in and make goals possible. A system is a stepwise plan to achieve our goals. A system gives us three things:
- Knowledge of the steps that need to be taken to achieve our goal.
- A timeline to follow.
- Measurable progress to celebrate (optional but highly recommended).
Steps + Timeline = Progress
Imagine building a piece of ready-to-assemble furniture. You have all the pieces, but you are left without the instructions. It becomes a game of guessing and quickly becomes frustrating. Goals can become the same maddening guess work. Without a system to inform us of all the steps that need to be done, we wander blindly towards (or away from) our goals.
The beauty of a system is that you don’t have to know all the steps at the start. Most of the time, the first step is to research a plan of action. The knowledge gathering step is probably the most important step because it takes a fantastical goal and makes it a reality. Any goal is possible once you know the steps.
A system breaks the goal into manageable bite-sized pieces. Because most goals will take more than a day to achieve, they require a little work to be done each day. This is where timelines come in. A timeline will act like a guide to keep you focused on your goal while not overwhelming you with too much work.
It’s much easier to stick to a goal with steps and a timeline because everything is already written out. It’s just about execution. This is one of the reasons for the success of fitness programs like Crossfit. They are predesigned systems that only require their participants to follow along. They have taken the goal of becoming fit and broken it down into daily workouts and meal plans. The end goal is usually only months away, so it’s incredibly easy for someone to follow along and get the results promised by the program. You can set yourself up for this same success.
I can’t recommend celebrating milestones enough. Taking time to give yourself kudos each step of the way makes each step more enjoyable. The reward doesn’t have to been extreme either. Even a “job well done” will help you associate success with your system.
Celebrating along the way helps keep you motivated. My personal favorite is to set my rewards in advance. This way I have something to look forward to. For example, if I stick to my reading plan of one educational book a month (20 pages a day), I get a guilty pleasure book at the end of the month.
Win-win situations like this where there is a reward for the completion of a goal have a higher likelihood of being completed. Sometimes completing the goal is not reward enough. Why else do so many choose to not exercise or eat healthy? The goal of getting fit is not enough enticement.
Any goal can be transformed into a system with a little effort.
Let’s look at an example with a system and a stand-alone goal: two sisters have the same goal to lose 10 pounds before their summer vacation in 3 months.
Bethany knows she need to exercise and eat right to shed those 10 pounds. Each month, she will need to lose about 3 pounds to reach her goal. She starts running most days of the week and eating healthy for most of her meals. After two weeks she notices she has only lost a pound. The lack of results is discouraging, so she cheats more often. At the end of 3 months, Bethany was hardly exercising and eating right. She only lost 2 of the 10 pounds.
Erika decided on the same concept as Bethany. Erika wanted to exercise and eat right, but she wanted to create a system to help keep her on track. First, she researched the best exercises for burning fat and created a workout calendar. Each day she could checked off her workout and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Second, Erika cleaned out her pantry of unhealthy foods. She got a recipe book with lean meals meant for weight loss. After deciding on her meals for the week, she went grocery shopping and only bought what was on her list. When she made it through the week without any cheats, she allowed herself a chocolate treat as a reward.
Lastly, Erika set aside money to buy a new bathing suit as a reward for reaching her goal. She knew that a new suit would keep her motivated along the way. Plus, the new suit was a great way to show off her success in style.
Because she created a system, Erika was able to reach her goal and loose the 10 pounds in time. She did three things very differently than her sister. Erika researched the best exercise and meals for her desired results; she used this knowledge to set up a training and meal plan; and she celebrated her triumphs along the way and with a prize for reaching her goal. And as a bonus, Erika’s system helped her build healthful habits making her more likely to keep the extra weight off in the future. Erika achieved the coveted trifecta win: reaching her goal, getting the prize, and developing positive habits.
Any goal can be transformed into a system with a little effort. A system takes a goal from just being a dream and makes it a reality. Make your goal become a reality by systematically splitting it into manageable stepping stones. Then walk your way towards a satisfying win.