How To Change Your Life:  Set Systems Rather Than Goals

Understanding the value of systems over goals is key to success. 

As highlighted by James Clear in Atomic Habits:

“Success is about falling to the level of your systems, not rising to your goals.”

This thought is also echoed by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert:

“Focusing on systems fosters consistent progress and growth, emphasizing daily actions over the final outcome.”

A well-designed system trumps goal-setting as it cultivates resilience and promotes action. 

With this approach, you can create sustainable habits that align with your aspirations, making success more achievable and fulfilling.

Part 1: Understanding Goals And Systems

Goals are our ultimate aims, often leading to us continually putting happiness on hold until they’re achieved.

Systems represent our daily steps towards these goals.

The difference between a goals-first mentality and happiness in Progress individuals lies in their focus. 

Goal-oriented people target the outcome, while system-oriented ones value the consistent journey, deriving happiness from steady progress rather than rushing to the end.

Goal-Oriented VS System-Oriented

  1. Focus:
    • Goal-Oriented: Targets specific outcomes.
    • System-Oriented: Emphasizes daily habits and processes.
  1. Motivation:
    • Goal-Oriented: Driven by potential goal achievement.
    • System-Oriented: Motivated by consistent progress.
  1. Success Definition:
    • Goal-Oriented: Success is goal attainment.
    • System-Oriented: Success is adherence to the systems.
  1. Approach to Failure:
    • Goal-Oriented: Sees deviation as failure.
    • System-Oriented: Views setbacks as opportunities for refinement.
  1. Long-term Progress:
    • Goal-Oriented: Progress may stall post-goal.
    • System-Oriented: Fosters sustained progress through continual improvement.

Short Summary:

Goal-oriented people focus on outcomes, while system-oriented ones derive happiness from steady progress and continual improvement.

Part 2: The Drawbacks Of Goal Setting

Exploring further into the mindset of goal-oriented individuals, it’s evident that goals often instigate only a momentary change. 

They serve as milestones that, once achieved, provide transient satisfaction, leaving a void that can only be filled by setting the next goal. 

This cyclic process of fleeting fulfillment and extended dissatisfaction is a significant drawback. 

Goals can also limit daily life and hinder making progress, rendering us less adaptable and potentially stifling creativity. 

However, a balanced approach, which involves setting the same goals for direction and building systems for sustainable progress, might yield the same outcome and prove to be more satisfying.

Risks Of Goal-Oriented Thinking

  • Lack of Adaptability: While goal-oriented people exist, their focused thinking can sometimes lead to rigidity, making it difficult for them to adapt when unforeseen changes occur or new opportunities arise.
  • Example Scenario: John, a senior developer, resisted using an efficient new software tool, sticking to the outdated one. His refusal to adapt led to project delays, impacting the team’s productivity.
  • Burnout: The constant pressure to achieve a specific goal can lead to stress and eventual burnout, which can hinder overall success.
  • Example Scenario: Emma, a dedicated nurse, worked back-to-back shifts for weeks. Despite her passion for her job, the constant stress and exhaustion led to burnout, affecting her work performance and health.
  • Neglect of Other Aspects of Life: In the pursuit of a particular goal, other important areas of life such as health, relationships, or personal development may be neglected.
  • Example Scenario: Mike, an ambitious entrepreneur, was so absorbed in his startup that he neglected his health, relationships, and hobbies, leading to a lopsided, unsatisfying life.
  • Fear of Failure:  In the perspective of a goal-focused mindset, any deviation from the path toward the goal can be perceived as a permanent failure. This can generate a paralyzing fear of making mistakes.
  • Example Scenario: Sarah, a talented artist, let her fear of failure prevent her from showcasing her work. Her self-imposed inhibition hindered her success and personal growth.
  • Short-term Focus: Goals, especially those that are performance-based, often focus on short-term achievements, potentially sacrificing long-term growth and sustainable success.
  • Example Scenario: Tom, a stock trader, focused solely on quick profits, ignoring long-term investments. His short-term focus led to financial instability when the market fluctuated unpredictably.

Short Summary: 

Goal setting can cause transient satisfaction, limit adaptability, induce burnout, neglect important life aspects, and foster short-term focus.

Part 3: The Power Of Systems

Moving from the potential pitfalls of goal setting, let’s now explore the concept of systems.

Systems prioritize repeatable processes and daily actions that ultimately lead to goal achievement, placing less emphasis on the end result itself.

To build systems, identify your objectives, break them into manageable tasks, and establish routines to accomplish these. 

Systems people prioritize consistent progress over sporadic bursts of effort. They succeed by making small but steady advancements, turning actions into habits. 

This approach fosters resilience, as setbacks are seen as opportunities to refine the system. Over time, this leads to sustainable growth and long-term success.

Benefits Of Systems In Daily Life

  • Consistency: Systems encourage regular habits, like daily exercise, leading to consistency which is key for long-term progress and results.
  • Efficiency: Systems streamline tasks and routines, reducing decision fatigue and increasing productivity.
  • Progress Tracking: With a system, you can track your progress over time, providing motivation and clarity on your journey toward your goals.
  • Resilience: Systems help manage setbacks. If you miss a day of exercise, the system encourages you to get back on track the next day, fostering resilience.
  • Holistic Health: Systems like strength training not only improve physical health but also boost mental health by instilling discipline and reducing stress.

Examples Of Successful Business Systems And Repeatable Processes 

  • Hiring Employees: 

Companies like Google have developed a repeatable hiring process that includes multiple interviews, tests, and evaluations to ensure they select the right candidate for each role. 

This systemized approach helps them maintain their high standards and culture as they grow source.

  • Solving Problems: 

Amazon’s “Six Page Narrative” process is a successful system for problem-solving and decision-making. It requires employees to write a detailed narrative about a problem and its potential solutions before any meeting. 

This fosters thorough thinking, clear communication, and informed decision-making (source).

  • Customer Outreach: 

HubSpot has created a repeatable process for customer outreach, combining automated emails with personalized follow-ups. 

This system ensures consistent communication with customers, driving engagement and loyalty (source).

Short Summary:

Systems prioritize consistent progress, fostering resilience and efficiency. Good systems streamline tasks, track progress, and promote holistic health in daily life.

Part 4: Case Studies

Transitioning from the limitations of goal setting, let’s delve into the power of systems.

As per recent insights in self-improvement and productivity domains, focusing on systems over goals presents multiple advantages.

It’s a strategy that’s been backed by numerous success stories, underscoring its effectiveness in fostering continuous improvement and sustainable progress.

Running As A Lifestyle, Not A Goal

Consider the example of many runners. Some set a specific goal, like finishing a marathon within a certain time. Once they achieve this goal, they often cease training. 

However, those who adopt a system – such as running every day or every other day – continue their practice long after achieving their initial goal. 

This continuation is due to their focus on the process, integrating running into their daily routine.

Scott Adams: Systems For Success

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, offers another compelling illustration of this concept. Adams credits his success to systems, not goals. He suggests that “goals are for losers, systems are for winners.”

Rather than setting a goal to write a book, he focused on improving his writing skills each day, a system. 

This system enabled him to enhance his abilities over time, leading to the creation of one of the most popular comic strips.

The Business Perspective

From a business standpoint, many entrepreneurs and companies set precise financial goals. 

Yet, those who concentrate on creating systems – such as enhancing customer service, refining their product, or streamlining their processes – often experience more sustainable growth and success. 

This success stems from the direct impact these systems have on their product or service quality, resulting in satisfied customers and increased sales and profits.

Focusing on systems rather than goals can lead to sustained progress and success. It’s the journey that matters, not just the destination.

Short Summary:

Systems over goals foster sustained progress. Examples include lifestyle runners, Scott Adams’ writing improvement, and businesses focusing on process enhancement.

Part 5: How To Set Systems For Continuous Improvement

Shifting from a goal-oriented mindset to a systems-oriented mindset involves changing your focus from the end result to the process that leads to that result.

Step By Step Guide: Goal-Oriented Mindset To A Systems-Oriented Mindset:

STEP 1: Understand the Difference: A goal-oriented mindset is end-state and future-oriented, focusing on achieving specific outcomes. 

STEP 2: Identify Your Goals: Start by identifying your goals. This could be anything from losing weight to writing a book or improving your business

STEP 3: Create a System: After identifying your goal, create a system that supports it. If your goal is to lose weight, your system might involve exercising for 30 minutes each day and eating healthily.

STEP 4: Commit to the Process: Once you have a system in place, commit to it. The key here is consistency.

STEP 5: Let Go of the Outcome: One of the main principles of a systems-oriented mindset is letting go of the outcome.

STEP 6: Evaluate and Adjust: Regularly evaluate your system and adjust as necessary. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it.

Short Summary:

Shifting to a systems-oriented mindset involves focusing on the process, committing to consistency, and adjusting as necessary for continuous improvement.

Part 6: The Role Of Systems In Achieving Overarching Goals

Systems help in achieving overarching goals by focusing on the daily habits and routines that lead to long-term success. 

Instead of targeting a distant goal, a systems approach promotes consistent actions that align with that goal, effectively setting the right direction. 

Understanding Atomic Habits: The Power Of Small Changes For Significant Growth

Atomic habits are small, routine behaviors that are performed consistently over time. 

The term comes from the idea that atoms are the building blocks of all matter, suggesting that these tiny habits are the fundamental units that lead to bigger changes.

Developed by James Clear, the concept of atomic habits is based on the premise that making small improvements in our daily routines can lead to significant changes over time. 

This is due to the power of compound interest – just as money grows exponentially over time through interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.

Here’s how atomic habits work:

  • Start Small: Atomic habits are all about starting with small changes. For example, if you want to develop a reading habit, start by reading one page a day.
  • Be Consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to atomic habits. It’s better to do something small every day than to do something big once in a while.
  • Gradually Improve: Once you’ve established a habit, the next step is to gradually improve. This might mean reading two pages a day instead of one or running a little farther each day.
  • Leverage Compound Growth: Over time, these small improvements accumulate into significant changes, particularly when you want to achieve specific results. This is due to the compound effect, which implies that the impact of your habits multiplies as you consistently repeat them.

Short Summary:

Systems achieve overarching goals through consistent, small, daily habits, or “atomic habits”, that compound into significant changes over time.


Adopting a transformative approach by shifting our focus from goals to systems can significantly alter our lives. 

Systems people succeed because they emphasize the process over the end result, which can make our journey toward personal and professional development more manageable and enjoyable. 

This goal-less thinking can potentially lead to greater success and satisfaction in our endeavors.

Remember, it’s not about the destination but the journey that truly matters. 

Each small step we take is part of a larger system, contributing to our overall growth and success

So, as we move forward, let’s redefine our approach. Instead of setting lofty goals, let’s create effective systems. 

Instead of being obsessed with outcomes, let’s enjoy the process. And remember, it’s in the small, daily routines where real change happens.

Let this be your new motto: “Don’t just set goals, establish systems.” 

Here’s to a life full of purposeful actions, continuous learning, and steady progress.