I want you to think back to the goals you’ve achieved over the past year and pick out the single most important one. Take a moment and really bring that memory to the forefront of your mind.
Got it? Okay – What did it feel like when you accomplished that goal? Can you remember the satisfaction you felt? How long did it last? My bet is that the feeling of success was not long lasting. You probably quickly moved on to the next big thing.
When we accomplish major goals in our life we tend to only take a short time to celebrate and reflect. The celebration might last a few days, or if you’re lucky it could even stretch out to over a week. At the very least you will probably go out to dinner or drinks. You might even schedule a vacation to celebrate a raise or big promotion. However, these celebrations are more about rewarding yourself than the implicit feeling of success you attain when your goal is accomplished.
Let’s pull together all the goals you’ve achieved in the last year and the moments of satisfaction associated with each one. Add them up. How much total time did you spend feeling fulfilled after achieving your objective? For an example, let’s assume in the last year you accomplished one large goal, five mid-size goals, and twenty-five smaller goals.
We don’t have a great way to measure the time we are happy or satisfied after accomplishing a goal but we can use the celebrations as a proxy. Let’s use the following assumptions – A large goal equates to a full weekend celebration – 48 hours, a mid-sized goal is equivalent to a dinner or a night out – 4 hours and we’ll set a small goal equal to 15 minutes. That’s a total of 74 hours and 25 minutes.*
If we assume 8 hours of sleep a night, each year the average American has 5,840 waking hours. This means that of the hours you spend awake only 1.27% of your year is spent reflecting on accomplishments.
Maybe focusing on the completion of goals alone is not the route we should take.
The traditional maxim of setting a goal and grinding until it’s done has been working for ages, but what if we didn’t have to do it that way? What if there is a better way, an easier, more enjoyable way of accomplishing your goals?
What if I told you that we are focusing on the wrong aspect of goals? The focus shouldn’t be on the outcome alone. It should be on how we accomplish that goal and the system we put in place to make it happen. As I demonstrated earlier, life is not made up of goals or celebrations but rather the journey we take to get to each of them.
Scott Adams, the creator of the iconic comic strip “Dilbert”, has written an entire book on the idea of implementing systems instead of setting goals. I wanted to pull a quote of his that was truly relatable, and I’m sure most of you have been on a diet before so this example should ring true.
“…losing ten pounds is a goal (that most people can’t maintain), whereas learning to eat right is a system that substitutes knowledge for willpower.” — Scott Adams
That makes a lot of sense to me. Learn how to eat right you will able to lose those ten pounds you were so worried about before but could never keep off.
Scott Adams wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea of a system and he also wasn’t who I heard it from first. I’m not exactly sure who it was but I don’t want to you think that I’m proposing this as an original idea. I simply want to share my experience.
A little over three years ago I set a goal for myself of trying to read more. I picked up an old book that I bought the prior year that was never finished and I started to read it. I attempted to read that old, uninteresting book immediately before I went to bed each night.
Undoubtedly, I would end up nodding off before I finished a single chapter. It went on this way for some time but I eventually finished the book. I can confirm that reading half of a chapter at a time makes it very difficult to get into the flow of a book let alone retain any information. It was neither fun nor enjoyable and it felt like hard work. I accomplished my goal when I finished the book but I wasn’t satisfied. I needed more out of the experience.
I came to the realization that I would need to change my approach for the next book. I decided to put a system in place. First, I would select a book that would be an easy read and one I’d enjoy. I did some searching online and purchased “The Martian” by Andy Weir. I want to add my obligatory, “The book was better than the movie” comment here.
I laid out a precise process. I would come home, sit directly on my bed without changing my clothes and read for 15 minutes. If after 15 minutes I wanted to stop, I would. In the beginning there were a few examples of when I did stop at the 15 minute mark but more often than not I would continue to read, occasionally for several hours if I was captivated by the story.
I rarely use this method now but there are still times that I need to read for work and will go back to this exact system. I’ll sit down and commit to 15 minutes of reading and if I’m still not feeling it I allow myself to stop and come back to it later.
At least in my case, it’s pretty obvious that using a system works. I don’t have hard evidence to proclaim it as the superior method for achieving goals but at the same time I feel like anecdotal evidence is enough reason for anyone to give it a try.
Old-fashioned goal setting techniques work for many people and I’m not here to tell you that your process is wrong. I am simply saying there is a finite amount of enthusiasm and passion one can use to attack their goals. Willpower can be an effective tool but not necessarily a reliable one. When motivation is high willpower is strong but when motivation is low or you simply feel tired it can be embarrassingly weak. The idea of a system I’ve presented here can help to override the times you aren’t able to push through to the end.
Now that we can agree on the effectiveness of this method let’s discuss the other major benefit that comes along with it. We get the choice to implement a system that we find enjoyable and no longer need to focus on the end goal alone. Instead of merely celebrating at the finish line we can teach ourselves to concentrate on the process which keeps us in the present moment which can be truly gratifying.
Pardon the cliché but it fits particularly well here. Life is about the journey not the destination. So let’s make the journey a more enjoyable, satisfying one. Choosing a system to achieve your goals is truly a win-win. You get to accomplish your objective as well as having a rewarding life along the way.
As you begin to think about your next goal consider what I’ve laid out here for you. Take the time to consider a process that you will love doing. I promise you by putting in the time on the front end you can find satisfaction well before you ever reach your goals.
Thanks for taking the time to read the article – If you liked this post I’d ask you to comment, like, or share.
*(large goal = 48hrs; mid-sized goals = 5 dinners * 4 hours = 20 hours; Small goals = 15 minutes * 25 goals = 6 hours and 15 minutes)