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I used to give goals a lot of credit. “They keep you on track!” I would tell myself, my girlfriend, and my close friends.

So why were goals always making me feel like crap?

It is the same feeling you get when you have a critical friend that is hard to please. You can tell they want what is best for you, but they just can’t seem to let that show. They bring you down when you feel they should lift you up, but you find yourself always wanting to please them.

Now I would never recommend keeping that kind of friend around all the time, but when an aspiration like a goal starts to make you feel that way, something is up.

I took some time to think through what the deal was, and realized that I needed far more than just goals to get things done.

My awful friend, Goals

Think about this for a minute;

How many times have you set a goal, and then not achieved it? How did that make you feel?

Now try the reverse;

Think about a time you set a goal and then ACHIEVED it. How did that make you feel? What about the day after or the day after that?

Goals give far less gratification than we think. Personally only feel great the day I start a goal, and the day I finish a goal, with a gaping hole of empty in between. Plus, once you complete a goal, it is time to set a new one. If you fail to reach your goal, you feel like dog sh*t and have to push out the goal to a new due date.

Goals offer so little positive reinforcement that it is a wonder that so many of us set and achieve goals on a regular basis. Before recently I had not thought about the downside of setting goals.

I had not realized that my friend, Goals, never made me feel good and only dragged me down. Only when I complete exactly what my friend expected of me, do I get any recognition or encouragement. It is a rough path to follow. I need a different kind of friend.

My supportive friend, Systems

How does one complete a goal? You work towards it day after day hoping to make progress in the right direction. To lose body fat you eat healthy foods and exercise your body. You create a caloric deficit, and you burn away the body fat.

Seems pretty straight forward.

Only eating healthy and exercising are two the hardest habits to form! So your goal of losing 5% body fat this month is already set up for failure. Fear not, for there, is a friend among you that knows the way! This friend is called Systems.

A system is an easily repeatable set of actions that accomplish something. A system around exercising could be something as easy as driving to the gym and walking inside. That is it. To succeed at completing the system for the day, you just get in your car and drive to the gym, then walk inside and you have succeeded. Sure, once you are in the gym you are far more likely to go workout, but that is not exactly the point.

The point is that regardless of whether you workout, you feel rewarded for completing your system for exercise. Doing this every day creates a strong positive feedback loop that can quickly turn a system into a habit.

Systems should be simple, and easy to complete. Our friend Systems is not a hard friend to please, and thus is a great friend to have around. They always want to remind you how good you are doing.

These two friends can work together

Balance is an important theme in life. Too much of a good thing can warp your perspective. Carbs make up most of the foods people love, but as we know, overconsumption of carbs or calories, in general, can cause a person to become obese. The key to most things is moderation or balance.

Goals may be a jerk of a friend, but it’s a useful jerk. Goals keep us focused on the longer term. The bigger picture.

If your only friend is an asshole, though, it makes life difficult. You need a different friend that keeps you motivated day in and day out to balance things out. On the other side of the coin, if your only friend were always telling you how great you were doing, you would never be able to get an accurate depiction of your overall progress. What is the point of doing well if you aren’t working towards something?

See what I am getting at?

Goals lose their value without Systems, and systems are far less efficient without goals to back them up.

It all comes back to habits

Systems help you achieve your goals. Goals incentivize you to build simple systems. Systems should be simple, so they are easy to do each day. Performing a system every day for a month will attract one of the best friends of all.

Habits!

Habits are your best friend. They are tough to win over, but once you do they will make your life so much easier.

Unlike a new system, a habit requires no or very little willpower to do. Your body and mind are unconsciously pulled toward making the habit.

The problem with habits is that bad ones are much easier to form than good ones. Planning and preparation are required to build strong, productive habits.

The planning is the creation of goals. Goals are our forward thinking ideals for what we expect to accomplish. They set the path we need to follow. The preparation is the creation of simple systems that move us towards our goal. Each day we successfully do a system, we get one day closer to our goal, but more importantly, it is one day closer to forming a strong habit.

They are the three best friends that anyone could have, and they never, ever, ever, ever, EVER leave each other.

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I write this stuff to share what I’ve learned and start a conversation.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on goals, systems, and habits.

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