For as long as I can remember, I have been a goal oriented person. I think I have always enjoyed the process of outlining objectives and throughout my academic and professional endeavors have learned many of the “right” ways to set goals. I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound) and validating that that I have an actual aim rather than a loose dream, wish or hope. But recently, I’ve been challenged to reconsider the way that I think about goal setting as I learn more about habits, making long term progress, and growth.
As James Clear says in his book, Atomic Habits, goals are not, in and of themselves, what sets someone apart – “winners and losers have the same goal…. goals are about the result you want to achieve. Systems[however] are about the processes that lead to those results.” Although an objective can provide a target and set direction, a system is what actually helps us to make progress and many of us spend too much time focused on the former and not enough devoted to designing the system to get us there. It’s all the incremental steps along the way, regular practice, and routine which enable the outcome and its long term sustainability. Clear argues that “you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”