Want to be Successful? Stop Focusing on Goals

By July 18, 2015 Success No Comments

A few weeks ago, I had a moment of frustration. I started thinking negatively about the goals I have set in my life and how much progress I have made not made.

I’m sure I happen to be the only person who has ever had these kinds of thoughts. However, on the off chance 1 other person reading this has had a similar negative experience, maybe I can provide some ideas and encouragement to get you moving faster down that path of success and badassery.

About 10 years ago, I started to develop a passion for business. That passion has led me many places I would have never guessed: some good, others frustrating, but most were great.

In my moment of frustration, though, I wasn’t focusing on these mostly positive experiences. I was just focusing on where I thought my path had not led me: to my ultimate dreams and goals (and super, duper badassery).

I thought it would be a great idea to whine about my woes to my amazing wife. Well, I picked the wrong night. She was feeling particularly sassy after a couple glasses of wine and didn’t really care about me feeling sorry for myself like a big baby. She ended up doing the exact opposite of what I thought I wanted her to do: she challenged me to re-set my goals.

Like any typical hard-headed person, I dug my heels in deeper. I decided to send her an article I read a while back about how goals don’t work.

“That’ll show her”, I thought. I clicked that “send” button with a big-ol fat smirk on my face. After a minute or two, I thought it would be a good idea to skim through the article and refresh my memory a bit. You know… to make sure I was ready to go to battle if she told me it was wrong.

I’m glad I read that article again. I highly recommend you read it too.

The Problem with Goals

The point of the article wasn’t that goals suck or anything like that, it just was pointing out some obvious flaws to only focusing on “achieving goals”. Seriously, go read that article as well as this one by James Clear… when you are done with this one of course. 😉

My three personal key takeaways between these articles are:

  • Focusing on goals reduces your current happiness
  • Setting goals suggests you can control things you have no control over
  • Focus on a system or process instead of a goal.

Goals reduce your current happiness

Every single time I have ever sat down and “wrote out my goals”, I always think about how I want my life to be different. How I would “change” my life if I could just wave a magic wand.

The bottom line to this kind of an approach to setting goals is a fundamental un-happiness to where I currently am in my life. I don’t think that is a very healthy approach to living a full life.

If I am always striving for more and setting bigger and bigger goals, I will never be happy with where I currently am in my life.

Now, I don’t completely believe that is a bad thing. It is important to always want more for your life. However, if all I ever focus on is what I don’t have, I will never be happy in the here and now.

Goals suggest you can control things you have no control over

Can you predict the future? I most certainly cannot. If we can’t predict the future, then why do we set such concrete “goals” that we bind ourselves to?

Most of the goals I have ever set in my life have had very specific timelines. For example, at one point in my life, I wanted to be financially independent by the time I was 25. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I’m 28 and I am not financially independent. I failed to achieve my goal. I am a failure.

See how easy it is to go down that path? As ridiculous as it may sound, I think many of us put ourselves through that kind of self-deprecation. We don’t need to do that!

Focusing on Goals sucks. Do this instead.

After reading these articles, I didn’t feel like a light bulb went off in my head. No, I felt like it exploded in my head.

The main point of these articles was that we should focus on systems instead of focusing on goals. For whatever reason, this finally made sense to me.

The Inc. article that I linked to earlier talked about being a coach for a basketball team. If the coach forgot about the goal of winning a championship and focused primarily on the daily things that would most likely lead to building the skills of a winning team, would they still have as good of a chance of winning a championship?

The answer, of course, is yes. They probably would have just as good a chance of winning a championship if they only focused on the process or system that would most likely build the skills of a winning team.

This is exactly what we should do too. Focus on the process instead of the goal.

You need to know what you want to accomplish in life. However, more importantly, you need to think through the daily or weekly activities that you believe will get you to your goal. Those activities are your “system”.

Taking action. Eating frogs.

Within a week or so of that fateful night of me feeling bad for myself and whining to my wife, I decided to listen to an audio book on procrastination… or rather, the opposite of procrastination. It is a book by Brian Tracy called “Eat That Frog”.

This book was only about 2 hours and 30 minutes long, but man was it awesome. It is filled with 21 practical tips on stopping procrastination and getting a ton of things done.

The name of the book comes from a really good thought experiment. Basically, it goes something like this…

Imagine you had to eat a frog every day of your life. Pretty nasty thought, I know. Now, if you did it first thing in the morning, you could then go about your day knowing you probably already did the worst thing you would have to do all day. The worst would be behind you.

The frog in this analogy is the most important task you need to complete every day. Do the hardest, most impactful things first above all else. Just get it out of the way as fast as you can.

I don’t think I could have read this book at a better time in my life. I just had this realization about focusing on systems instead of goals and then I read a book about killing procrastination. Talk about perfect timing.

There is a ton of practical advice in this book, but the two main things I took from the book where around working from lists and prioritizing your list into doing the most important things first.

Putting it all together

Step 1: Write down your long term goals.

Now, let’s put this all together.

You still need to set outlines (goals) for what you want to accomplish and when you hope to get it done. Heather reminded me of a great analogy that helps explain this line of thinking.

If success is like climbing a ladder (you know… “I’m climbing the ladder of success!”), goals are like the wall the ladder is leaning against.

If you just throw your ladder (read “system”) against the nearest wall (read “goal”), you could end up somewhere you really did not want to be. Unfortunately, I think many people do this to themselves without thinking about it.

Goals are critically important to determine the direction you are headed, but your system is what will actually get you there.

Write down your goals.

Step 2: Build simple, realistic, daily “systems” that you think will get you to your goals

This is where we take things to the next level. This step has made all the difference for me. I believe it will make all the difference for you too.

Had I been focused purely on a system vs. an end result (goal), I may have actually achieved my goal of financial independence at 25. At a minimum, I probably would be further along in the process.

More importantly, I would have been proud of how far I have come towards hitting that goal. Instead, I left myself feeling disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal of financial independence because I was focusing on something I couldn’t completely control: Financial independence by the age of 25.

I would have been much better off breaking down what could have led me to financial independence into weekly or daily tasks and focused on doing those things.

Instead, I just focused on how far away I was from my goal.

So, don’t do that. Do step 2 instead:

Build simple, realistic, daily “systems” that you think will get you to your goals.

Step 3: Set & OBEY a schedule.

Now, you need to start thinking about the systems you have and how you will actually incorporate them into your life.

If you have health and fitness goals, when are you going to hit the gym? How are you going to make sure you have healthy food to eat every day?

Building a business on the side? When will you work on it during the week and/or weekend? What time slots do you have available to get stuff done every day?

Once you have your schedule figured out, you need to obey it. Literally be a slave to that daily schedule.

As an example, one of my time slots that works well for me is somewhere around 9:00 – 11:30pm every week night. Once the kids are down for bed, I work on any side projects or other priorities like writing this article.

Set and OBEY a daily schedule.

Step 4: Work from prioritized lists.

This was a huge take away for me from “Eat That Frog”. I kid you not, I seriously believe I can double my productivity when I am actively working from a list.

Heck, it’s probably more than that because I am really forgetful. If it’s not on a list or I don’t do something immediately, I will absolutely forget it. Just ask my wife about that one.

I have worked from lists in the past, but I made a big change recently after reading “Eat That Frog”. Once I have all of my to-dos laid out, I immediately start working on the most important, highest impact things first.

It’s really easy to look at that list and try and knock off the easy ones first. Don’t do that. Tackle the most important things first. Spend time planning out your list with a critical eye as you think about what items you think truly are important.

I even work from lists at work. There are so many projects and things to take care of every single day in my current role at Bodybuilding.com. When I work from a list and focus on the most important things first, that sometimes means other things on my list may be late or even just removed.

The other option is delegating it to someone else. If that is an option for you, do it! Learn that skill.

A great tool that I use for my lists is Evernote. It’s awesome. It syncs up between all your devices and is super flexible and easy to use. #love

Work from prioritized lists.

Holding myself accountable

Accountability is as important as it is powerful. By sharing my goals and daily systems, I am hoping I can hold myself accountable. Also, if I start faltering, you can give me a swift kick in the butt to get back to work on this stuff.

As uncomfortable as this is for me, here we go. These are the goals and systems that ended up “on paper” the other night. I’m sure they will change and mature with age like a nice bottle ‘o scotch.

My Goals:

  • Be a super-hero dad and husband.
  • Be super healthy, ripped, and strong. Make my Meniere’s disease a faint memory of my past.
  • Be an internationally known business person.
  • Own and/or sell multiple successful companies for hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Be a board member and investor to 3+ amazing companies.
  • Feel super happy and positive about myself and my accomplishments.
  • Be a billionaire.
  • Be in control of my time and call the shots.
  • Travel the world with my family. Create insanely, amazing memories.
  • Prove that success isn’t just luck. Be an inspiration to someone else.
  • Leave a positive dent in this world. Make a difference for someone. Be a force for good.

My Systems:

  • Purposefully read/listen to self-development & business books every day to learn specific things I need to work on.
  • Come up with and write down 10 new ideas every day.
  • Work from a prioritized to-do list every day.
  • Take action on “needle moving” tasks for my best business ideas in order of highest impact first every single day.
  • Spend quality time with Heather and the kids every day. Quality time = distraction free, focused time.
  • Write for 30-60 minutes a day to create content for my blog.
  • “Give away the farm” and help everyone I can around me.
  • Study the area or language of a place we want to travel to for 30 minutes a day.
  • Work out intensely 5 days a week. Eat healthy at least 5 days a week.
  • Fall asleep counting my blessings every day.

Bonus Step: Show & tell!

Wow, you made it this far. I’m impressed… and sorry. Sorry you had to deal with my crazy ramblings. However, I think you and I are a lot alike. Why don’t we hold each other accountable?

Send me an email with your goals and daily systems! I’d love to hear from you. Derrick(at)derrickhicks(dot)org

If you really want to take it up a notch, why don’t you share a link to this article on your favorite social media channel with the hash tag: #systemsnotgoals

Alright… now get to work! Setup your daily systems. Go change the world. Be a force for good. Tell someone close they are important to you. Think about the blessings in your life. You are lucky to be a live at this point in time. Do it!

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