Systems are made up of goals

Systems are made up of goals. I’ve been thinking on this a lot the past week or so, after doing quite a bit of reading about goals and systems. I was having a difficult time working through certain ideas, the main one being that goals are somehow inherently different than systems (and they might be, but not in the way you think). Don’t set goals, some people say. Create systems instead. Work the system and all will be well.

Except… I couldn’t stop thinking that this doesn’t make any sense. How can you create a system that takes you where you want to go if you don’t have some vague idea of where that might be (a goal)? No matter how I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a system that didn’t have goals built right into it.

Then it occurred to me that so many of these articles gloss right over the fact that goals come in all sizes and scopes. As soon as I realized that, I also realized that the authors of all these articles are trying to redefine what a goal is so that they can separate goals from systems—and by doing so, essentially claiming that most small goals (the daily kind) aren’t goals at all.

That’s not how I see it. A goal’s a goal, whether it’s the concrete goal of writing 100 words in the next 20 minutes, of writing every day, of sticking to a writing schedule, of writing 1,000,000 words over the next year, or the more abstract goal of just doing your best to write as often as possible.

I know now why this concept of systems versus goals didn’t want to sink in, why it didn’t make sense to me: every example I’ve found of a system is just a collection of ever smaller goals that for some unfathomable reason no one wants to call goals.

Finally, the systems versus goal debate makes sense (a focus on small goals versus one large goal).

Whew. I feel better. ;D

Now that the issue of semantics is past, I can focus on the real issue: setting up my goals as a system so that they make it easy to get where I want to go without setting myself up for failure.

What kind of system will inevitably lead to the future I want without me having to commit to a win/lose scenario such as “write 5 or 8 or 12 books this year?”

Smaller goals make it more likely I’ll have frequent wins, and lots of small wins are more motivating than one huge win (and honestly, how often do we get these huge wins even when we do the best we can?). Lots of small wins equals more motivation, and failing to reach a huge goal can definitely be demotivating if one doesn’t view it in the right light (and how often do we do that?).

How can I set myself up for lots of small wins when I already have experience that says if I aim for a daily quota I’m just going to disappoint myself? That, unfortunately, is going to require some more thought.