After years of studying motivation, goal-setting, and building momentum, I’ve discovered that if you want to achieve your goals 10x faster, you need to stop following routines.
I know what you’re thinking. Let me explain.
Routines don’t work for most people. If you have young kids, pets, travel a lot, work remotely, if you have a disability…it’s extremely difficult to follow the same routine every day. If you keep trying, you’re just going to get frustrated and quit.
Before my wife and I adopted our little puppy Penny, we had a pretty steady schedule. I was waking up early most days to write, and my routine was pretty much the same every day.
Then we got a puppy, and everything changed.
Suddenly, our puppy was waking up an hour or two before we did, barking and whining until we’d play with her, screwing up our entire sleep schedule. When she was awake, she could be completely crazy and there was no way I could sit down and work during that time.
The rest of our schedule was flipped upside down — we needed to take Penny on walks, to the dog park, dog training class, we needed to bathe her and get her spayed and coordinate with animal daycares and feeding schedules and nap times and there was no way I could follow a routine.
So I stopped trying to follow a routine.
And that’s when I started achieving my goals way faster than ever before.
Goals Are For Losers. Systems Are For Winners.
This is an excerpt from an article by best-selling author Scott Adams.
“Goals work great for simple situations. But the world is rarely simple these days.
You don’t know what your career will look like in a year. You don’t know what the economy will be doing, or which new technologies will hit the scene.
Your personal life is just as unpredictable. The future is a big ball of complexity if you look out far enough. And that means your odds of picking the one best goal for you are slim, and the odds of achieving it are even slimmer, because everything is a moving target.
So instead of goals, try systems that improve your odds of success (however you define success) over time.
Choose projects that improve your personal value no matter how the project itself does. Find systems for diet and fitness that replace willpower with simple knowledge.”
Don’t focus on setting goals; instead, create better systems that allow you to make small progress every day, no matter what your schedule might be.
There’s this story I tell that goes like this: I used to live on top of an enormous hill, and my goal was to ride my bike up the hill without stopping.
It was hard. Very hard. It was so hard, I tried almost a dozen times without succeeding.
I tried all sorts of strategies: I’d pedal fast at first to try and build momentum. Or I’d drink gatorade at I pedaled for the sugar rush. Then I tried biking from left-to-right in a zigzag, trying to ease the incline.
Nothing was working.
Finally, I decided I’d try it again, but with 2 simple rules:
- I wasn’t allowed to look up (towards the top of the hill).
- I could only look down at my pedals.
I began my ride.
It was the slowest attempt I’d ever done. I wasn’t looking up — I was actually worried I’d run into someone! I was only focusing on my pedals, slowly pushing one pedal at a time.
I rode for what seemed like an eternity.
And for the first time…I reached the top of the hill without stopping. (I remember throwing my bike down and literally yelling with excitement).
I’ve found that most of the time, goals don’t work. Goals are fine, but they have some problems: as James Clear wrote in his fantastic book Atomic Habits, there are 3 main problems with goals. First, losers had the same goal as winners — it’s not the goal that makes you succeed. Next, goals are inherently temporary. Finally, it usually sucks working towards a goal.
It’s time to stop following a routine. Stop trying altogether.
Just create better systems: they’re like goals on steroids. Create rules for each day where you can do a little more work. It doesn’t matter if it’s slow; slow’s the point. You’re building momentum, one step at a time, without any guilt or frustration.
Ordinary People Focus on the Outcome. Extraordinary People Focus On the Process.
In his autobiography, Bryan Cranston (Walter White of the renowned Breaking Bad) described the lesson he learned that helped him go from an average actor to an extraordinary one. Here’s what he wrote:
“Early in my career, I was always hustling. Doing commercials, guest-starring, auditioning like crazy. I was making a decent living…but I felt I was stuck in junior varsity. I wondered if I had plateaued. Then, Breck Costin [his mentor] suggested I focus on process rather than outcome.
I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete.
I was going to give something.
I wasn’t there to get a job. I was there to do a job. I was there to give a performance. If I attached to the outcome, I was setting myself up to expect, and thus to fail. My job was to be compelling. Take come chances. Enjoy the process.”
Cranston went on to say after he made this mindset shift, he felt much more relaxed and free. There was no longer any pressure, because the outcome was irrelevant. “Once I made the switch, I had power in any room I walked into,” he wrote. “Which meant I could relax. I was free.”
Soon after this shift, Cranston was offered a role in the wildly popular Malcolm in the Middle, for which he was nominated for 3 Emmy awards. He is now one of the most respected and well-known actors in the world.
When you focus on the outcome, you stunt your growth. You lose focus on the here-and-now. True champions focus on the process. They know champions aren’t made in the ring — they’re made in the practice arena, every day for months before.
The Boston Globe once studied a typical day for Olympic snowboarders. The athletes are “up at dawn, stretch, watch a video of the previous day, hit the slopes till lunch, go to class, do more conditioning, eat dinner, and then go to study hall for an hour and a half. At most, they get about an hour of ‘free time’ a day, but it’s usually used for homework.”
These athletes went on to become the best in the world at their craft. They became champions long before they start their first Olympic competition; they are champions because they practiced every day.
This motivation is what keeps them going through the tedious repetition, day in and day out. In Anders Ericcson’s famous book Peak: Secrets of the New Science of Expertise, Ericcson says,
At its core, practice is a lonely pursuit.
Commitment to the craft can be lonely, boring, and tedious. It often is.
But this is the difference between good and bad writers, snowboarders, CEO’s, singers, and jugglers — the good ones practice consistently. They focus on the process of getting better, every single day.
The bad ones don’t.
Ordinary people focus on the outcome. Extraordinary people focus on what they can control — the process.
“Every day, check these 4 boxes: Have I improved 1% on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health?” -James Altucher
Most people cannot “follow a routine” to achieve an important goal. It’s the foundation for most people’s lack of success.
Procrastination, distractions, and even simple laziness always seem to get in the way of what we want. Still, many people try to push through this door without realizing the door says “PULL”.
Instead of fighting the losing battle against the requirements from your every day life, learn to move around these tasks to start making progress when you can, on your own time.
I’ve managed to achieve incredible triumphs: I wrote a book, built an enormous following of readers, and built an entire online business with several income streams.
I did all this by focusing on a simple, 4-word phrase: “small progress, every day.” I don’t really set goals anymore; I don’t operate in that structure. I just focus on making a little more progress, every day. And eventually, that progress gets you what you want, far faster than you’d expect.
Want to achieve your goals faster? Stop trying to follow a routine that isn’t working.
Anthony Moore is an author, speaker, and top writer on Medium.com. You can find him at anthonymoore.co.