Set your goals, then build your systems to get there

Let’s talk goal-setting.

If you have been reading my weekly posts this year, you may have noticed that I’ve been harping on about ‘How to get what you want’.

When I started blogging in 2010, I wrote about different ideas as they came to me, going with a free-flow, let the inspiration strike and do its thing kind of way.

For the first few months of this year, I decided I would do something different and put forward a series of ideas I hope could all work together to help whoever read it in the quest to ‘get what they want’. Getting what you want, speaks to success. Which is something we all want.

Tom Bilyeu defines Power as the ability to close your eyes, see a vision of a world that is better than the one you are in now, open your eyes and then create it.

That’s a power I crave. And one I’d imagine you would love to have as well.

Once you have figured out who you are, what you want, considered the cost and decided to jump it, it’s time to let the rubber hit the road. It’s time to get practical. It’s time to set some goals.

Goals set the target, they move the dream from being just a wish to becoming a mission. We all tend to have a vague idea of what we want, setting goals helps us make that desire tangible and specific.

There are two types of goals you must have. There is the big hairy audacious goal (BHAG), and then there are the smaller approximate goals I like to call checkpoints.

Your big, hairy audacious goal has to be huge. It is the north star that sets the tone for your life, so why go small? A goal isn’t that interesting if you know exactly how to achieve it. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not that exciting. The goals that are really interesting are the ones that are so huge that they demand a completely different, evolved YOU. And that is the power of the BHAG – it’s a goal so huge, it pulls you forward on a path of incredible growth. What you eventually get is amazing and mind blowing but it is not as cool as the person you have to become to get it.

You may have no idea how to get to that BHAG, but you can definitely find out ways to orient your present situation in the direction of the BHAG. You have to be patient and play the long game. You may not be able to fly straight to the top of the mountain right now, but at least you can climb a little higher. Looking at where you are now, and where you want to go to, you can figure out the next step to take, the next immediate goal to focus on.

These are the approximate goals, the checkpoints. They are more manageable. They may require a stretch, but they are presently doable. These are the goals we refer to as SMART – They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results focused and Time-bound.

Your approximate goal might be changing your diet, it might be going to school to get a qualification, it might be buying some books or doing some research on the internet. But it must be taken, and this goal must take you to the edge of your present ability. Perhaps you want to be filthy rich, enough to buy an island one day, you can start by setting a goal to double your income in the next 12 months.

Now once you have set your goals, the usual logical step is to take the linear approach to achieving them. Break the goal down to smaller chunks and lay out a sequence of things to do to eventually get there. But life is not that simple, between the inertia of your present situation, your environment and limited willpower, it is very easy to lose focus and burn out on the way.

The problem with the typical advice of goal-setting as a whole was expressed by Scott Adams in his book ‘How to fail at almost everything and still win big”. I touched on it back in 2014…and I will proceed to quote myself verbatim.

The problem with goals is tri-pronged. The first problem is the prediction issue. The assumption when you make a goal is that (a) you think you know what you want and (b) you believe that getting what you want will make you happy. 

The second problem is the usual unconscious assumption that the whole world will remain fairly static in the time it takes you to get there. Your mind also plots the clearest route imaginable to that result and decides that said route is the only way to get there.

The third is the implication of the goal itself. As long as you have not achieved it, you are a failure, or at best in a state of pre-success failure.  

Goals are wonderful, they give us something definite to work towards and a way to evaluate our performance. But in an uncertain and fast paced world, goal-setting comes with its own problems. The better framework to approach getting what you want is to combine goal-setting with a focus on systems.

The reason why you don’t achieve your goals could be because you are trying to take action without considering and adjusting the system that you are presently operating in – your environment, your mind-set, your resources and so on.

Systems are a web of consistent actions, strategies and habits that create a desired effect. A goal is that desired effect. You must be focused on achieving it, but never be disconnected from the actual grit and grind that it takes to getting there. Being system focused roots you in the day to day and moves you towards your intended result.

Always think in systems. When you set goals, ask yourself, how does the person who already has what you want, behave? What did they do on a daily, what was their mind-set? What actions and steps did they take over time that resulted in getting that thing or living that life. Armed with that, you can begin to build the systems in your life that support you in achieving your goal. The pursuit of what you want moves from a frantic chase for a goal – a one-time event and becomes more about the process – a way of life. A systems approach brings a holistic view and allows you to relish the journey for its sake and the work it does on your person.

Systems require a considerable investment upfront to set up. It can be long and arduous work. But once they are running, systems save you time and energy. As they hum along, they make it easy, almost effortless to achieve your goals.

For example, I set a goal this year, to blog at least once a week. Every Monday, some thoughts from my brain will be released from my little corner of the internet. I’ve been blogging for a while already, but like I mentioned earlier, I only blogged when I felt inspired. Which meant that months could go by with nothing happening. I do get busy, things get in the way.

To actually be able to post every Monday for the past 7 weeks, I had to take a step back and design a system that allows me to do so. Deciding to start a series instead of just blogging ad-hoc allows me to outline and plan blog posts a couple weeks at a time. I set a general day to work on posts (usually on the weekend). I draft on some days, and then edit and clean up on others. I have setup ways to capture ideas on the fly and now I have a whole swipe file full of ideas waiting to be developed into blog posts and even books. This is only possible because I have designed and adopted a system that does the heavy lifting and allows me to execute regularly and be creative. My job is to follow the system and keep on working on and optimising the system.

That is essentially the core of entrepreneurship and building businesses. A start-up is a system looking for a sustainable value proposition and business model. A business is a system that predictably creates, distributes and collects value. The entrepreneur’s core job is designing and building that system.

Systems are a superior way to achieving goals, and once you wrap your head around the idea and tackle the pursuit of your dreams in a ‘systematic’ way, you will reach your goals that much faster and have way more fun doing it.

Next week I’ll break down this systems thinking even further with some practical tips.

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