If You Want Better Results, Forget About Setting Goals

  • February 19, 2020
Pakmen volleyball players jumping and blocking

By Kelly Smith

This is part 2 of a series on the New York Times Bestselling book, Atomic Habits, by James Clear. Click here to read the previous article on this topic.

Clear argues that setting goals alone is ineffective and for better results, forget about setting goals and focus on your systems instead. Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. Clear explains that if you’re a coach, your goal might be to win the championship. Your system is the way you recruit players, manage your assistant coaches, and conduct practice. He argues if you completely ignore your goal, and focus on your systems, you would still succeed. But if you focus on your goal and ignore your system, you will not succeed. He explains the 4 main problems with focusing on goals instead of systems:

1) Winners and losers have the same goals.

Every team sets the goal to win the championship, yet only one team will win, thus it wasn’t the act of setting the goal to win that caused one team to achieve this goal.

2) Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.

Achieving a goal changes your life for the moment. If you set a goal to clean your room, and you muster the motivation to clean it, you will have achieved your goal. But if you do not change your system your goal will be short lived and your room will be messy again in the next few days. Clear argues we often focus on changing our results, “but results are the not the problem”. We need to change the systems that cause the results. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level”.

3) Goals restrict your happiness.

Clear argues that a goals first mentality forces you to continually put happiness and this creates a “either-or”result – success or failure. But when you prioritize systems-first you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied every time you work hard and your system is running. Moreover, he explains “a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision”.

4) Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

If you focus on goals, you may lose your motivation to continue training after the big race or championship. What is left to push you after you achieve it? Clear states, “the purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. Ultimately, it is for commitment to the process that will determine your progress.”

In the next article, we will discuss the most effective way to change your habits.

Kelly Smith is an award winning teacher and coach. He is the founder of the Pakmen Volleyball Club.