setting goals

Why Setting Goals Is Not Enough (And What To Do About It)

Setting goals is one the staples of productivity, time management and success in general.

You want to achieve something, set a goal and it will (almost magically) happen!

You know that is not the way the world works, yet so many people keep on setting goals, hoping for the best, just to realize later on that something is missing.

What’s missing? How can you take your goals to the next level and actually achieve them?

This video will give you the answers:

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How do you take your goals to the next level? How do you put your goals on steroids so you can really achieve your version of success? These are the questions we are going to tackle today!

If you want to achieve something in life, conventional wisdom dictates that you have to set goals. Set your goals – whether it’s a bigger house, a happier family, a smaller nose, a bigger nose, a million dollars writing a book, losing weight, whatever it is, set a goal and you’re going to succeed.

But…

You can only wish you it was that easy! Simply “setting goals” is not enough, not by a long-shot.

Wait, what?!

Let me explain.

Setting goals and goals by themselves are not enough for three main reasons:

1) Having Goals Reduces Your Current Level Of Happiness

First of all, goals by themselves, even if they’re “smart” or specific, big or small, reduce your current happiness.

By definition, a goal is set to be in the future. In other words, you’re saying, “when I lose the weight, I’ll be happy.” “When I make the money, I’ll be happy.” “When I write the book, I’ll be happy.” “When I do X, only then I’ll be happy.”

In essence, you’re trading your current happiness for your future happiness. If achieving your goals takes a week or two, not a big problem. But goals sometimes take a year, or five years, or twenty years to accomplish.

Does that mean that from now until you achieve your goal twenty years from now, you’re not going to be happy? That’s a good question.

Goals by themselves put you in a state of nearly-continuous failure. You’re always failing until one day, you succeed. And that  “one day” might be five years from now, ten years from now, a long period from now.

Goals on their own reduce your current happiness and that is a big problem because a happy person is a productive person.

2) Goals Are (Usually) Not Continuous

Goals are seldom continuous.

If you set a goal to lose some weight and then one day you hit that goal and cross it off your list… you get to the natural question of “now what?” Do you stop exercising? Do you set a new goal and keep on goal? It’s a very interesting question.

Goals on their own provide a sort of an yo-yo effect. You reach a goal, and then what happens? You win the championship, you write the book, or you buy the car, then what?

“Then what?” That’s the question that goals by themselves don’t answer.

3) Goals Are Not Practical

Yes, you heard that right! Goals are NOT practical, at least most of them.

You want to take a trip to Italy, you want to meet the love of your life, you want to get a new car, you want to lose the weight: that’s awesome.

How do you do it?

Goals by themselves are not inherently practical, because they give you something to aim for, but they don’t tell you how to actually get there.

Having a goal, having an aim is important, but how do you actually get there? That is the million-dollar question.

How do you get there and continue your progress? How do you get there and stay happy in the process? These are some important question that goals don’t have the power to answer.

So if goals reduce your current happiness, are not practical and are rarely continuous what is one to do if they want to achieve success and happiness? Are you doomed?

Of course not.

Enter systems!

The Power Of Systems

What are systems?

If your goal is to lose weight, the system is all the little steps that you do on a consistent basis that get you there.

If your goal is to write a book, your system is the writing schedule, or how much you write every single day.

If your goal is to win a championship, whether it’s basketball or baseball or tennis, the system is all the little things that you do, all the little practices that you take every single day.

A system is made out of all the little, seemingly trivial, things that you do on a consistent basis that when put together make up a big result. A big result that oftentimes surpasses the initial goal that you set for yourself.

Is that to say that you should completely ignore setting goals and you should concentrate only on the system? Maybe! Before you can answer that question, let’s example some of the major benefits of systems.

1) Systems Provide Small And Consistent Wins

“I want to lose that extra holiday weight” – a noble goal that might take you some time to achieve.

“Go for a 20-minute jog every single day” – the system that will get you to your goal.

The benefit of the system: every single day after that jog is completed, you feel successful, you feel like you won, you get that small win. That provides you with a sustained amount of happiness. Every day, you go out there, you practice, or you write, or whatever it is, you concentrate on the system, and it provides you with small, continuous wins.

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2) Systems Are Continuous

A second major benefit of systems is that they are typically way more continuous than goals.

With systems you’re concentrating on what happens every single day, or every single week so you can achieve your goal.

The goal is to lose the weight, but the system is that you need go to the gym every single day. If you concentrate on going to the gym every single day, you’re going to lose the goal weight and maybe even more.

As an added benefit, concentrating on the continuous system tends to eliminate (or at least reduce) the yo-yo effect where you lose the weight, then you gain it, or you lose the money then you make it again, etc.

3) Systems Provide You With Specific Steps

If the goal is to lose the weight, the system provides you with specific steps: go to the gym or exercise on a regular basis, or eat better food, or whatever it is. Or if you’re going to write a book as one of your goals, the specific steps (the system) could be to write two pages every single day.

Systems are specific and practical.

Systems are great! They are practical, they are continuous and they provide you with small consistent wins that keep you motivated to push forward.

But… systems, like goals, are unfortunately not enough if you want to achieve long term success.

Setting goals provides you with something to aim for, but don’t really show you how to get there. No good!

Systems are practical and give you something to do on a consistent basis, but being in consistent “go and do” mode without having an end goal (pun intended) is a recipe for disaster. No bueno!

So what can you do?

The Path To Success

Combine goals and systems!

Goals provide you a way to measure your progress, and systems provide a way to make the progress.

If you combine the two, your success becomes inevitable.

You have a goal, you have an aim, and now you also have a way to get there. You combine a system with a goal, and your success becomes almost automatic. It’s not a question of if you’re going to get it, it’s a matter of when you’re going to get it.

Over To You Now

That is all nice, but unless you take action and put these concepts to work, nothing will happen.

So I have a challenge for you: examine each one of your medium to long-term goals and see if there’s a system behind them. See if you’re trading in your current happiness for future happiness. See if your goal is continuous. See if your goal is practical. See if there is a system attached to it. If you don’t have one, it’s time to get cracking and create one.

You need to also examine the systems in your life. Ask yourself what are the things that you do every day? Is there a goal for each of those things?

Goals by themselves are awesome, but not enough. Systems by themselves are even more awesome, but again not enough. You combine goals with systems, you provide yourself with almost inevitable success.


This post was inspired by the ingenious work of James Clear in this post and Scott Adams in this book.

“Successful By Design Lab” Member Extra

Access your “How to Create New Habits and Stick To Them”  video lesson in Successful By Design Lab.  

Take the concept of systems to the next level by turning them into habits. This training goes in depth into exactly how to do it.

Click here to access this 24-minute video.

Not a Lab member? Click here to learn more about SBD Lab.