There’s some semantic tomfoolery afoot here…

“Goals are for losers…”

That seems like a bold statement to make, but it’s pretty easy for me, for two reasons.

First, because it was an “anti-goal” approach that landed me my own radio show at a time when doing so was only slightly less likely than me winning the Tour De France on the racing bike my Dad made me from things he found at the local tip.

And second, because I’m not the one who came up with it.

In his book, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, Scott Adams explores the idea of goals not being the all-conquering idea the self-help market would have us believe.

Goals make you feel bad for a couple of reasons.

  1. You spend most of your time feeling like a complete failure because you’re not there yet.
  2. And, when you DO achieve them, the dopamine reward is short-lived, leaving you feeling empty, as you wonder “what the hell do I do now? I know… another goal!” (see step 1)

Also, it’s possible to follow your plan perfectly and still fail to hit your goal (not everyone gets a gold medal). What are you meant to feel then? Good, for having the willpower to follow your plan… or terrible for picking the wrong plan and falling short?

There’s only one conclusion:

Goals are for losers.

Systems on the other hand. Systems are for winners.

What’s the difference?

Goals are things you want to happen in the future.

Systems are actions you take to get there.

“Losing 10 pounds” is a goal.

“Exercising every day and not eating my own weight in chocolate” is a system.

This sounds like wordplay, right? After all, you’re still doing the hard stuff and besides… the “goal” of exercising and not eating chocolate is to lose weight.

Here’s why it matters. If you’re only focusing on your goal of losing 30 pounds, 99% of the time stepping on the scales will make you feel like a loser because you’ve not achieved your goal.

That’s the kind of mental assault that’ll cause you to give up.

But if you’re focusing on a system… you’re not looking to lose 10 pounds. You’re looking at today. And today is something you can win.

“Did I do my workout and not lapse into a diabetic coma after gorging on chocolate? I did – yay me!”

When you only focus on a goal, most of the time you’ll feel terrible.

With a system, every day has the potential to be good.

Back to my radio thing…

Applying (and getting rejected) by radio stations was my system.

I knew how hard it was to break into radio. If my goal for every demo tape was to land my own show, I’d have been constantly disappointed and I’d have definitely given up.

(The combination of my superpowered ADHD and low-powered willpower would’ve seen to that)

But I didn’t give up. I had a system.

“Create a great quality demo tape every single month and send it to the radio stations I want to work at.”

My system wasn’t to land a job, it was to get on as many programme controller’s radars as possible, using demos to convince them I wasn’t completely useless on the mic, and cover letters that showed I wasn’t going to nightmare to work with.

And I could do that every day of the week. I know because I DID it every day of the week.

That was my system.

There was an added benefit to this system. Occasionally, I’d get a reply that wasn’t just “thanks, but no thanks”.

They’d give me feedback, which I used to make better demos and reference in the next tape…

“Thanks for telling me I sounded like a constipated Owl. You’ll be pleased to know I’ve upped my fibre intake accordingly. I really think you can tell the difference during the promo read for Dave’s Shipping Containers….”

Again, I’m aware that “goals” and “systems” seems like semantic tomfoolery.

There’s a good reason for that… it IS semantic tomfoolery, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful to think of goals and systems of two separate ideas.

It’s the difference between:

– Having the goal of “landing a new client”… or a system of “sending 10 cold emails to potential new clients every week”.

– Having the goal of “wanting 1,000 new subscribers”… or a system of “creating a great lead magnet and writing emails that my audience find useful and entertaining”.

– Having the goal of “writing a book this year”… or a system of “sitting down and writing for 30 minutes every day.”

The good news is, you don’t need to set fire to your goal planner or vision board to make this work.

You can still have those big, fat, hairy, audacious goals, but once you’ve got clear on what you want, switch your focus to the systems and actions that are going to get you there.

Do that and you’re more likely to keep going. And you’ve got to keep going if you’re going to hit your target.

If you need any help, let me know.

John Holt