goal setting

Life, DevOps and Goals: A Guide on why Goal setting fails and Systems don’t

by | 06.06.2021 | Entrepreneurship

“Set goals and you’re set for success.”

These might be the exact words that you would hear across the internet from the millionaire gurus while you procrastinate thinking of your goals. You might even have a diary that has your goals listed and defined. But what’s lacking? Why aren’t you able to complete your life objectives?

You manifest, and you push yourself until the end of the day when you’re mentally exhausted. But why this difference between the reality and these sweet motivational talks.

Welcome to life. Like DevOps, everything in life is continuous, and you depend upon systems to achieve your predefined KPIs. It doesn’t work oppositely.

This post would walk through the raw and unprocessed reality that would help you build a system that produces some results and not pages of goals. Let’s start!

The Distinction between goals and system

A goal is a specified target that you either accomplish or fail to accomplish at some point in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis to improve your chances of long-term happiness.

Read more about how to create a system facilitating more ‘luck’:

It’s a system if you do something every day. It’s a goal if you’re hoping to achieve it someday in the future.

Why is a system so critical?

If you’re familiar with DevOps you know we rely on systems-systems that scale, systems that are continuous. Life is no different, and it’s quite a remarkable system unless we over manage ourselves as a toxic micromanager.

If you think and go back to the days when you were a kid, you were never forced to learn the alphabets by the end of the 23rd of next month.

You read, enjoyed and at some point, whenever your teacher asked you about the alphabets, you rose confidently and dictated all of it while unknowingly impressing your friends and raising the bar of self-confidence. I am not saying you didn’t make things wrong, but if you’d set definite deadlines, you would focus on the unimportant thing of completing on time rather than completing. Now, tell me, how doomed is that?

Goal Setting is not Evil

Goal setting is critical only because it gives you direction, and without direction, you’re lost, lost in the endless ingress of distractions and attractions. Just think of it as opening youtube to watch a mathematics video while succumbing to the mighty youtube recommendations.

“Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”

— James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

But less is good, and much is terrible in the case of goals. Too many deadlines would have definite drawbacks.

Hard to follow

Goals are hard to follow and you have experienced that. You can try the internet and find something as SMART (most commonly defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) goals. They look quite attractive as they trigger self-doubt and make you think of being more action-oriented.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

— James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

However, I can tell you that, while SMART Goals are widely used, they are ineffective. Goals are a mere accountability partner, and expecting to focus solely on them for growth is a bad idea.

The negative mindset and the stress

You celebrate and feel great when you reach your goals, but only until you understand you’ve lost the thing that gave you meaning and direction. You have two choices: feel empty and useless, or set new goals and re-enter the circle of continuous pre-success failure.

At best, goal-oriented people live in a state of continuous pre-success failure, and at worst, everlasting failure if things never work out. Continuous pre-success failure is not the type of continuous process we want. We want positive continuous systems with positive outcomes.

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

— James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

When systems people implement their systems, they succeed in the sense that they accomplish what they set out to do. At every turn, the goal-oriented individuals are fighting feelings of despair or are in low spirit. Every time the systems people use their system, they feel fantastic. That makes a significant difference in terms of keeping your own energy flowing in the appropriate direction.

Now you see you need to focus on systems. But you need a simple, consistent system that doesn’t provide you with a layer of resistance.

How to build great systems?

Let’s remove a quick misconception. Systems aren’t a destination. Don’t think of a system as a routine you need to follow and make a rigid routine planned down to every minute of the day. Think it of as a habit or a continuous process like your habit of checking your mail first thing in the morning. Quite a bad habit, if you may ask but it fits in as a great example of a system.

When you start building a system, keep breaks and make the system frictionless to follow. Then you need to have continuous improvement at the core to make your minutes more valuable so that you focus on the essential things with a more robust habit.

So, to summarize, the system you build initially should have three commandments.

  1. Thou should replace motivation with routine by following the path of least resistance.
  2. Thou should constantly reward themselves for the progress they’re making.
  3. Thou should make realistic and flexible systems to accommodate for uncertainty.

Final Thoughts

The most essential thing in any aspirational post is the reader following the post and not just reading and going back to the previous ways. I hope this post provided you with insights that make you build a system that sets you for success.

If you’d like to learn more about other insightful posts like how to get good at networking, I’m attaching a few links here.

Finally, if you haven’t already, join up for our free subscription to receive new stories like this every week in your email.

Happy Growing!


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