3 Ways to Set Systems, Not Goals: The Ultimate Lifehack

“And Life confided the secret to me: behold, it said, I am that which must always overcome itself.” ~ Nietzsche

Having a goal is just fine. Better than no goal at all. Better than stagnate inertia and plain laziness. But what is better than having a goal is having a system.

What’s the difference between having a goal and having a system? If you’re a football player, the goal is to win a Superbowl; the system is your conditioning and practice. If you’re a fiction writer, the goal is to finish a novel; the system is your writing schedule. If you’re a business man, the goal is to build a successful business; the system is your marketing process.

Having a goal is about dreaming. Having a system is about action. It’s about doing. It’s about seizing the moment which leads to seizing the day which leads to seizing a life. Goals get absorbed in the process of the system. They are subsumed and become more like guideposts than end-results.

Let go of trying to control everything:

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow, and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole universe lies in uncertainty. Live immediately.” ~ Seneca

When you let go of trying to control everything, you realize what is under your control and what is not – this moment. Not the end of the season, or the end of the year, but right now. You are in control of doing a push-up or not, writing a paragraph or not, marketing your product or not.

Everything else is out of your control. Will that extra push-up lead to winning? Probably, but maybe not. Will that extra paragraph be in the novel? Probably not, but it will be a stepping stone. Will that marketing strategy pay off? Perhaps, but perhaps it won’t. Do it anyway.

Stick to the system you’ve set up anyway. Do that extra push-up. Write that extra paragraph. Take that extra time for marketing. The goal is neither here nor there, at the moment. The system is here and now, in the moment.

Focus on action in the here-and-now so that you’re able to shed the heavy burden of the goal.

Don’t be results oriented just be productive:

“The goal is heightened stewardship of internal life.” ~ David Lenson

When you focus on the system and let go of the goal, the goal becomes more reachable than if you had held onto it. Why is this? It’s because you become more about the journey than about the destination. And since it is the journey that will lead to the destination (or not), then the journey must be the thing.

Just focus on being productive rather than being results oriented. The weight of expectation is lifted. The knot of attachment is unknotted. The heavy burden of your goal is shed.

The pressure that comes with clinging to a particular outcome is released. Devoting yourself to the system you’ve set up is a liberation from being too attached to a particular outcome, and it’s a surrender into being more productive.

So release the need for immediate results. Practice and conditioning is the thing that leads to championships anyway. Repetition and habit is the thing that leads to a body of work. Trial and error is the thing that leads to success. The championship, the body of work, the success, are neither here nor there. Practice, habit, trial and error, are here and now.

Process over Progress:

“My own words are not the medicine, but a prescription; not the destination, but a map to help you reach it. When you get there, quiet your mind and close your mouth. Don’t analyze the Tao. Strive instead to live it: silently, undividedly, with your whole harmonious being.” ~ Lao Tzu

Ironically, focusing on process regardless of progress makes us more likely to progress. When we make process primary and progress secondary, we are more likely to be successful in our pursuits. Devoting ourselves to a system is cultivating a process.

The reason why focusing on the system regardless of the goal works is because there is no expectation. There is only the process. There is only the action of self-improvement free from the pressure of needing to improve. Self-improvement is merely a side-effect of the process.

Focusing on a system despite our goals also rids us of guilt. This is because we are too busy doing, in the moment, to worry about what may or may not come, in the future.

Focusing on the system keeps us grounded. It keeps us action-oriented rather than results-oriented. It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. Just do the work and don’t worry about what will become of the work. The work will work itself out. No need to stress over it.

When we focus on process over progress, we free ourselves to enjoy the moment and improve at the same time. Goals are good to keep our hopes up in the short-term, but long-term success requires a solid system.

Ultimately, concentrating on a system rather than stressing over a goal helps us get out of our own way. It’s a strategy for leveraging healthy action into our lives. It’s a carpe diem tactic taken in small steps (moments) which leads to the journey being the thing (a life well-lived).

Image source:

Void System by Elreviae

Change is a process

Scott Adams quote

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  • Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

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