Willpower is a Finite Resource.

Goals vs. Systems

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your systems, would you still get results?

This is a question entrepreneur James Clear posed in an article about goals vs. systems. It’s also something I’ve done a lot of thinking about myself lately.

  • Instead of focusing on the goal of $1 million in revenue, what if we focused on having 10 conversations with clients, potential clients, and folks in the community each day?
  • Instead of working toward 20,000 unique visits on the Proof blog each month, what if we focused on publishing a quality article every Tuesday and Thursday?
  • Instead of having a broad goal of enhancing client experience, what if we focused on doing one thing that made a client smile each day?

James goes on to say that goals aren’t useless, but rather, are important for planning progress. Systems, however, are needed for actually making progress.

Running a marathon may seem like an impossible task. Running for 30 minutes this morning? Not so bad. This idea of goals vs. systems isn’t an entirely innovative one, but in a world that finds you and I driven by our big, hairy, audacious goals, it can be a real challenge to ignore the big picture in favor of small, manageable actions.

Build a model that celebrates small wins.

Scott Adams, author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (where this idea of systems vs. goals is derived from), cartoonist, and creator of Dilbert once said:

“Willpower is a finite resource. Don’t pick a model that has failure built into it and requires that you constantly drain a finite resource.”

Every day you’re not 20 pounds lighter, every day you’re hundreds of thousands of dollars away from $1 million, and every day you find yourself miles and miles away from a marathon, your willpower gets depleted.

So to maintain that willpower, build a model that celebrates small wins.

When you’ve had your 10th sales conversation, go grab a beer with friends and enjoy a happy hour. When you’ve written 500 words of your 100,000 word goal, stop for the day and binge on episodes of House of Cards. Within your team and with your business, organization, and/or brand, celebrate executing your system. Be okay with enough.

When I’m running a race, I’m fastest when the finish line is clearly in sight. No matter how much pain I’m in and no matter how tough the race has been up until that moment, I can find a way to pick up the pace and finish strong.

Without systems, your goal (the finish line) is far, far away, nowhere to be seen. With them, you’re 500 yards away from finishing, picking up stride and speed as you finish strong.

“If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your systems, would you still get results?”

I continue to find that the answer to that question is a resounding, “yes!”

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