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The Whole Human

Goals don’t replace systems  – and vice versa

People who claim that setting goals are a bad thing are out of their minds. They probably set some goals in the past, failed, and never set a goal again.

I know there’s a lot of confusion about goals and systems these days. I’ve contributed to the confusion as well.

A lot of us share the idea that you either have a system or set goals.

But thinking “this or that” is not helpful because it limits our beliefs. I know this because I used to think that way too. But then, I learned that many things in life could be this and that.

So in this article, I’ll explain why goals and systems complement each other, and why I have both.

But first, let’s start with the definitions.

  • A goal tells you where you’re going tomorrow
  • A system tells you what to do today

Makes sense? There is a clear difference. A system is a collection of tasks and strategies that help you to function. And setting goals can be part of that system.

1. Why you need goals

Every time I read about people who claim you shouldn’t set goals, I get upset. It’s possibly the worst advice one could receive.

When someone is telling you not to set goals, they are essentially saying you should stop moving forward.

Goals are inherent to human nature. We thrive on progress. We need something to strive for. If we don’t have a vision of what our future could look like, why would we do anything at all?

It’s the classic question that philosophers and scientists have examined since the start of modern civilization. Over and over again, we’ve learned that we need goals to grow.

Let’s stop and think about that for a second. Why are we alive? I say we’re here to live a useful life. That’s what makes us happy; as a result, it makes our life good.

However, setting goals is not an easy skill. In the past, I would set goals that I had zero control over.

“I want to make a million bucks,” you might think.

Alright, great. But here’s the thing, you don’t control the rewards you get. What do you control? Your effort. So, it’s better to set goals that are related to your effort.

  • How many books are you going to read?
  • What degrees will you get?
  • How many potential mentors will you reach out to?
  • How many articles/books/videos/songs will you create?
  • How much of your money are you going to invest?

You see, these types of questions are related to goals that you can influence. That’s the way to go.

2. Why you need systems

Systems have different meanings to people. For example, Scott Adams, the author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, did a great job explaining how systems work for him. He doesn’t set goals and only has systems. That’s not how I look at it.

Once we set goals, we know that we have to put in the work to achieve them. That’s when systems come into play.

It comes down to this: What do I need to do EVERY DAY to achieve the goals I desire?

Let’s say you want to become financially independent by age 50. You might think:

  • I need to save at least 30% of my income
  • I need to increase my income yearly
  • I need to be mentally strong so that I can do my job
  • I need to be in good shape, so I don’t get ill and have high energy
  • I need to learn every day, so I get better at my job
  • I need to look at my goals every day to remind myself of where I’m going
  • I need to reflect on the past to learn and be grateful for where I am

Alright, congratulations. You have created a system. When you do the above things, you will make progress, no matter what.

One thing we must be aware of is that we keep an open mind: Goals and systems change all the time. Don’t fixate on one thing for a long time. Change your goals and systems as your priorities change.

3. Why you need higher goals

We’ve established that we need both goals and systems to live a good life. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past few years.

Set higher goals!

No, you don’t need to make 10 million bucks. That’s just your superficial brain speaking for you.

Set the bar higher for yourself.

  • Become the best at your job.
  • Become stronger, fitter, and smarter than ever
  • Have divine relationships

Go beyond where you currently are. I like how Jordan Peterson puts it in his immensely popular book, 12 Rules For Life:

“You should never give up the better that resides within for the security you already have.”

Yes, why would you deserve anything but the best? Because you’re afraid of losing what you have? That’s not a good reason to live a timid and mediocre life.

When we aim low, we deserve to receive low. When we aim high, we might fail, but we still have a better life than people who aim low. Because the failure of someone who aims high is much more profound than the life of someone who aims low.

“Yeah, but I don’t need much.”

Well, that sounds like a pretty high aim to me. It’s funny to me that people pretend like “being content” is easy.

Being grateful and content is the highest aim in life.

You know what’s low? Complaining, being ungrateful, consumerism, anger, doing nothing, etc.

Aim high. Live a life of contribution. Dedicate yourself to knowledge and self-study. Help yourself, your family, and your community. That’s the highest goal one can set.

So, do yourself a favor, sit down for 10 minutes, and think about this:

  • What are your goals for this week?
  • What are your goals for this month?
  • What are your goals for this year?
  • What are your goals for next year?
  • What are your 3-year goals?
  • What are your 5-year goals?

I guarantee that you will feel ecstatic about life after you’ve done this little exercise. Go!

I’ve also published a podcast episode, where I talk about 2 books that I recommend reading about goals and systems. Listen to it here.

This article first appeared on DariusForoux.com.

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