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Make a System Be Your Goal


The advice that we frequently see (and rightly so) to create a path to success, is to "set some goals and work toward them."  Totally awesome advice, no doubt about it.  But... there's a further problem.  What's the best way to create goals?  

The acronym S.M.A.R.T., frequently attributed to Peter Drucker and his management by objectives concept, is a great place to start with creating goals.  The five attributes of this acronym are:  
  • Specific - nebulous goals like "I want to get my finances under control" are going to be less effective than "I will reduce my credit card debt by $2000 by March 1."  
  • Measurable - the goals need to be something that can be defined specifically.  Saying "I want to lose weight" is not measurable, but saying "I want to be 180 pounds by Sept. 3" is.  
  • Attainable - the goal must be something you can see yourself doing.  "I want to run a marathon" isn't something that you can see yourself doing if you've never run before, but saying "I want to walk/run a mile three times a week" is much more realistic in scope.  
  • Relevant - the goal should be something that is meaningful to the person creating it.  If a goal doesn't have meaning to the goal-setter, it's not going to be achieved.  This is also called "having a big Why."  
  • Time-bound - give the goal an end date.  A goal without an end date is just a dream.  
This is a very easy and complete way to create goals for one's self - it's been proven effective again and again.  

But, for the purposes of creating a better you, I'm going to suggest that it's incomplete.  

Once you've completed a goal, what does that completion get you?  Have you improved yourself as a result of that goal?  Has the attainment of that goal created a positive change in you?  Or have you just worked to get yourself a thing, something that isn't going to help make you a more successful person?  

To me, a goal should leave us with the need to never have to achieve that goal again.  

If we keep repeating the same sorts of goals over and over, our goals, though they may pass all the criteria above, are not really benefiting us as well as they could be.  

I'm going to suggest that the outcome of your personal development goals should be the creation of a system.  


Systems go by a lot of names:  habits, rituals, processes, and more.  But they all mean basically the same thing: a group of tasks or actions that are repeated on a regular basis to complete some greater task.  I would argue that systems are the primary method by which we incorporate change into our lives.  

So why should our goals revolve around creating systems?  Because if we change the way we do things in our lives, we change our lives.  The creation of system is adding positive actions to our lives on a regularly scheduled basis.  And if we positively change the way we do things on a regular basis, it stands to reason that we're positively changing our lives over the long term.  We're not just attaining something one time, we are creating the means to obtain that thing on a permanent basis.  

Let's look at an example.  There are thousands, if not millions of young men and women who have natural talent.  But not all of them have created the systems that let them achieve at the top levels.  Consider basketball legend Larry Bird, for example.  The former forward for the NBA's Boston Celtics was known for his ritual of shooting 300 or more practice shots of various types in the hours before a game.  He had a system that worked for him, and he kept at it because he knew that it made him one of the best players ever to walk onto the court.  

Did he have drive?  Absolutely.  But he also focused his drive into a system that led to his success.  

So how do we go about creating a goal that results in a system?

The same way we do any goal - using the S.M.A.R.T. acronym.  

Let's say we want to get into shape.  The outcome of our goal should be creating a system of regular exercise, then.  In this case, let's say that our hypothetical goal-setter, Joe, wants to work with a personal trainer three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before work.  One month from today, he wants to have completed four complete weeks on this schedule. 

Let's look at this with regards to the S.M.A.R.T. acronym:  

Specific:  Joe's goal has a well-defined outcome, which is the system itself.  

Measurable:  The goal will be measurable because we'll know whether we meet with our trainer on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.  

Attainable:  Joe has no responsibilities to anyone but himself in the morning - no children to get ready for school, etc.  The only thing that would cause Joe problems is his own will in this case.  He has the money to pay for a trainer.  

Relevant:  Joe just got the word from his doctor recently that he needs to reduce some of the stress of his job and his lifestyle or he's at risk for future problems.  This goal is definitely relevant to him. 

Time-bound:  He's got a time-limit of doing this for four weeks as of one month from today.  

So what does this do?  He is creating a system over the space of a month to get more exercise.  He's doing it over time, as well, which works into the idea of 21 days to build a habit (though the the numbers on this can actually vary person-to-person, it's a good start).  

And with the creation of a system, he knows when he is going to exercise.  The system may require modification over time, and that's perfectly okay.  Even if he drops the trainer at some point down the road, he still has that system of working out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at a specific time.  The point is that the system is created, it's part of Joe's life, and as he continues to do it, the system will cement itself into his routine.  

What goals are you trying to work into your life?  How could you do it with the creation of a system?  Let us know in the comments below!   


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