Your Best Moment

Why You Shouldn’t Set Goals


“Losers have goals. Winners have systems.”
Scott Adams

 Goals are helpful. Goals help us imagine where we want to be a month from now, a year from now, five years from now. They help us know what to visualize when we practice imagery. But goals will never be reached without effective systems in place.

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon and author of, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” discusses the importance of systems over goals when he talks about lifestyle. He is a proponent of having a successful lifestyle even before you actually have “success” in your area of expertise.

One big component of lifestyle success that he cites has to do with physical fitness. Adams espouses the value of maintaining good physical shape for a number of reasons, one of which is that taking care of yourself must be a primary pursuit before prosperity and success will find you.

His system for staying physically fit is that early every morning he gets dressed in gym clothes and drives to the workout facility he belongs to. No. Matter. What. Adams tells himself that once he arrives there, if he still doesn’t want to actually work out, he can turn around and drive himself back home. But the number of times that he has actually done that can be counted on one hand.

Once he begins his system for the day, the likelihood of him bailing on the workout goes down exponentially. It’s a reliable system that allows him leeway for the off days, but gets him to his goal of staying in shape better than if he simply decided each morning whether or not to get up and go.

So, no matter what your goals, find a system that works for you. If your goal is to make a living from speaking or performing, what is your system for connecting with the right people to get booked? If your goal is to be a successful salesperson, what is your system for generating leads and following up, no matter how you feel or what the day is like?

Decide your system. Write it down. And then follow it no matter what. If it is a new system for you, follow it for at least 6 weeks and then evaluate how it is working. It takes 6 weeks to form a habit. Give yourself that time to create your system and get used to it, and then see where you are.

The most successful people develop systems in each area of their lives that take the thinking and deciding out of the everyday choices. If your goal is to be fit, follow your system of working out everyday, no matter what. If your goal is to have better relationships with friends or family, follow your system of connecting in a real way with someone everyday, regardless of how you feel.

Find what works for you and then stick to it!

What sets the very successful apart from the rest is the ability to stick to their system, adjusting it as they go. They outlast everyone else. To be in the top percentage of those in your field, develop your systems for success and then stick to your path.

It will be worth it. When the rest of the field is giving up, you will have a strong foundation of patience, resolve, and a systematic approach that yields results.

What systems do you have in place to help you achieve your dreams?  Where in your life are you lacking a reliable system for success?

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14 Responses

  1. Ann Musico says:

    I love this advice Elyssa! I am a creature of habit and having systems and routines in place helps me stay on track in all areas. I especially love what you shared about Scott Adams’ fitness routine. I write my meals and schedule my workouts for the week on Sunday and I pretty much get up and just do what I have scheduled for the day! There’s something powerful, for me anyway, about having it in writing.

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Ann – So great that you have figured out that writing it down works for you. I love having things pre-decided like that. Then you don’t have to make the hard decision to be disciplined over and over, it’s already decided! When I coach runners and athletes who are training for a long term event goal, I always break it down in bite-sized pieces in daily workouts. One Day At a Time is my motto! And a lot of “one days” in a row is a great system for success!

  2. Someone said that first we make our habits and then our habits make us. That seems to echo the thoughts you present. I like the goal of establishing a successful lifestyle. Great post, Elyssa

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Thanks Debbie! I love that saying. It’s really true. Your comment made me think of something: I have no problem thinking of the good systems in my life as “habits” I have formed. But it’s funny to think of unproductive or negative things being habits… If you think about it, even “small” things like getting distracted on the internet or email when we are supposed to be working actually are habits we have worked to create! Those little things truly shape who we become. So creating new good habits and then letting those habits “make us” is incredibly worth the hard work it takes to begin in the right direction and be consistent. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    FANTASTIC advice – I love it! With music it’s very similar to working out. I advise my students to just get to their instrument and try a little. If they don’t feel like practicing more than a few minutes, fine. But more often than not, the act of doing it a little encourages doing it more. The hardest part is just getting there and making that a habit.

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Elizabeth – I can definitely see how systems in music would be very similar if not identical to fitness. It’s such good coaching for your students to just sit down at their instrument and get a few minutes in. I have experienced that – the discipline of just going through the initial motions of practicing makes it more and more enjoyable and doable to accomplish a great practice time each time! The habit is so important. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Sarah says:

    Oh my goodness, I love this idea! I’m trying to build some reliable systems myself. Sometimes I say, “I have to open my computer and work on that assignment for ten minutes. If I really still want to tear my hair out after that, I can quit. But first, ten minutes of work.” In fact, that’s how almost every productive day begins! Ramping up this approach to actually, say, getting dressed and getting in the car (or the equivalent) is a good idea. It really makes you assess whether your problem is the activity itself or just the inertia you have to overcome to get started.

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Sarah – “It really makes you assess whether your problem is the activity itself or just the inertia you have to overcome to get started.” – Great point! I know that one of your posts recently addressed the idea of the never-ending to-do list that rolls over day to day and the procrastination we perpetuate when they are items we really don’t want to do…this seems related to that. A saying in my house when I was young was “Always eat your toads in the morning.” The worst tasks of the day seem more and more terrible the longer we wait to get started – but having a system down to deal with them makes it more bearable! I like your ten minute rule. I’m going to use that!

  5. Elyssa,

    This ring so true. In my experience, the system is like a track to run on. It is a daily foundation that supports us and eventually creates the end product that we aim for. In the meantime, it keeps the ‘procrastinator’ in us at bay, and gives us an underlying feeling of accomplishment with each passing day on the way to our goal. The ‘all or nothing’ mentality gives way to the steady, consistent track record of a daily routine that points us in the right direction. Big difference! Thanks.
    Lisa @ LightSource

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Thanks so much for your comment! I agree that it keeps the procrastinator at bay – one of my hardest struggles is leaving things to the last minute. It gives a new definition of progress when we look at it in the light of carrying out one small consistent step at a time!

  6. Jeff Goins says:

    Man. I LOVE that quote. So true, Elyssa. I think dreamers have goals and plans. People of action have habits. Thanks for sharing this. Love your site!

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Jeff: Thanks so much for the kind words! I agree-action and habits get things done. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Tony John says:

    That was so short and crisp. When we have a lot on goals and targets, this articles provokes us to think in the real sense of the word – “Out of the box”. Perhaps this novel thought should go on to explain that the ‘System’ has always been there wherein goals, success, failure, etc are the various parts of the system. Looking at the larger picture, the system lets us focus on all the parts of it, not just on success, failure or goals. Not to forget that the system is inclusive of you.

    Thanks for the article!
    Tony John

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Tony – You are right – the goal is just a cog in the wheel of the system. That’s a great way to look at it. Focusing on all parts of the system causes us to look closely at the question of what failure and success really are, as well. Thanks for the feedback!

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