Make a Goal, then Forget About It
About a year ago I found myself struggling. I had big dreams, goals, and a clear idea of what I wanted to do. Yet, despite dedicating basically every waking hour to making it happen, I didn’t seem to be making much progress. Eventually, I realized that my goal was the problem. Not specifically the goal I had chosen or what I was working towards, but the fact that I was so focused on the final outcome.
That’s not to say that that goals aren’t useful or important. Our goals and dreams inspire and point us in the right direction, but without breaking them down and focusing on the small, repeatable actions that we can take each day, they rarely turn into reality. Instead they often lead to procrastination, failure, and disappointment – things you can easily avoid with the right system.
So what is a system? A system is a framework for making decisions or taking action each day. They often involve “minimum commitments” that emphasize habit reinforcement rather than an all-or-nothing approach to making progress.
For example, you might have a goal of reading a book a week. However, trying to read a book a week from day one will almost certainly result in burnout and failure – habits take time to form. A systems approach to the same problem would be to commit to a minimum of a single paragraph or sentence each day – something so easy that it’s virtually impossible not to do. Then slowly increasing the minimum when you feel you can do so easily. It may take longer to reach your goal of a book a week, but once you do, the habit will be such a natural part of your day-to-day activity that you’ll be able to maintain it forever.
Even a basic routine will yield results fairly quickly as your accumulated accomplishments energize you to do more and more each day. You’ll see a pile of books you’ve read and want to read even more. You’ll notice a slimmer figure in the mirror and start eating even better. Your work output will improve and you’ll start noticing more and more opportunities around you. Whatever it is you’re doing, your progress will accelerate while requiring less effort and willpower – just a regular part of your daily routine. Even better, the accumulated efforts of your day-to-day routines will almost inevitably lead to the giant leaps and gains you were trying to achieve all along (the myth of the “overnight success”).
In my case, focusing too much on trying to achieve these giant leaps from the start led to procrastination, slow progress, and disappointment again and again. I wasn’t willing to do the small stuff because it seemed so insignificant in comparison to the larger vision of what I was trying to do. “What’s the point?”, I thought, “doing ‘X’ will hardly move the needle today”.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not just for my business, but for everything I wanted in life – my relationships, my health, my reading, my productivity, and all the skills that I wanted to learn.
In short, your goal is the target. Your system is the vehicle that gets you there. Success is an accumulative process – not something that happens all at once. Your attention shouldn’t be focused on how much you accomplish on any given day, but on building habits you can reliably repeat over and over again. Even if you’re just going through the motions at first, keep with it long enough and you’ll eventually go further than you ever thought possible.
That’s why I created the Commonplace Journals – to be better each day than I was the day before. To be one step closer to my goals than I was the day before – no matter what else happens.
– Graham Mumm