‘Atomic Habits’ Takeaway: Why setting goals isn’t going to help boost your productivity?
I felt like writing about this as soon as I finished James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’. There are some things that you have to write down to remember and I felt this one should be right at the top. Cause it is one of the biggest misconceptions of the 21st Century (who knows, maybe our ancestors knew better of it).
In Atomic Habits, James clear talks about essentially two things: Goals and Systems. For those, who might not have crossed these terms before, here’s a layman’s way of putting it: Goals can be said as the result of an experiment while System is the procedure that gets you to the goal (result).
In short, we have been doing it wrong all these years. At least, I have been.
By paying more attention to the goals of our life, we have made them a center of our attention and being for so long, that on their accomplishment or failure of accomplishment, we disorient ourselves from them completely.
Let’s take two examples:
- You decide to clean your room tomorrow. You get everything ready. You work hard tomorrow to accomplish this goal of yours and voila! Your hard work pays off and at the end of 3 hours, you have a tidy room like you never imagined before. But after a few days of not cleaning again or not caring enough to keep it clean, you have the same mess you started with. Do you need another goal now?
- You decide to start a blog. Before starting itself, you have set a goal you want to accomplish at all cost: 1 Million Views in 12 Months! Sadly, you end up with 400k views at the end of the 12th month. Your goal is unaccomplished. You are disheartened. You quit blogging. Do you need another goal now?
Both examples end with the same sentence: “Do you need another goal now?”. Well probably not. Because it won’t mean anything to you. What you need is a System!
The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.
Back to our examples:
If you simply had the habit (system) of keeping your room clean as much as possible, you wouldn’t need a goal of ‘room cleaning’ in the first place. Your habits would have taken care of it. Maybe next time, you would find a cleaner room to clean than before. Over time, as you emphasize more on systems, your goals become less idealistic in nature.
Similarly, in case of your blog that you shut down cause it didn’t reach 1 Million views in 12 Months, you could have instead focused on what went wrong and continued with your system of self-improvement. If not 1 million views in 12 Months you could have achieved 2 million views in 18 months with a good system in practice.
As James Clear to put it in his book,
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
Think about systems, the next time you set a goal. Is it realistic? How do I get there? When you have the latter one sorted, everything will fall into place, eventually.
Post Takeaway: Do not make the mistake of making goals before you set a system for it. Goals without systems are essentially meaningless. Whether accomplished or not, goals without systems are bound to fail you over time.