Why Set Goals, and Why Systems Might Be Better

We all have a unique relationship with goal setting. January is the time of year for goal setting junkies to rally. Then there are the rest of you — the 83% of the U.S. population who do not set goals.

I am guessing this group falls into one of five categories:

  • Despisers: “Don’t fence me in!”
  • Avoiders: “I don’t have time right now.”
  • Cynics: “Why bother? Studies show most people don’t achieve their goals.”
  • Been burnt: “I failed last time and don’t want to face failing again.”
  • Don’t care: “Why do people do that anyway?”

No matter what category you fall into, here are some interesting facts — some of which may support your “position” and some may inspire you to rethink your relationship to goal setting and try again.

  • 92% of people do not achieve their goals.
  • 68% of people don’t remember their goals by the spring.

In spite of the much documented failures around goal setting, there is much more evidence for the value of engaging in the process: Besides the fact that people who set goals are 14% more successful than those who do not set goals, there are even more compelling reasons to set goals.

Benefits of Goal Setting

Goals change our brain. Studies show that when we envision a preferred future vision, our minds think about what we want in life and start behaving differently to achieve it. Our impressionable brain actually begins to rewire itself in order to attain and achieve the image you’ve set forth.

Goals give us a more positive perspective. People with consistent goal-setting practices focus on the good happening in the world and in their life. They view challenges or failures as temporary setbacks rather than personal shortcomings or character flaws.

Goals give us a greater sense of control. By setting goals, you’re focusing on what you do control rather than what you do not control. This in turn gives you a sense of self-mastery.

Goals help you make friends with reality (as opposed to living in denial). Getting real with our abilities isn't as scary as it may seem. To set goals, you have to get honest with yourself. This builds your self-awareness by making you more aware of your strengths and weaknesses.

Goals help you build a growth mindset, meaning you are open to new learning, more willing to build new behaviors and develop the resiliency it takes to pick yourself up when you fall down and sustain a positive momentum in life.

Systems over Goals

Additionally, the concept of systems is gaining popularity in the self-improvement community as it is a more effective way to reach your goals. In Atomic Habits by James Clear, he emphasizes the importance of creating systems rather than relying on goals. He argues that goals are too focused on the end results and overlook the process of achieving them. Clear believes that systems are the key to long-term success because they focus on the behaviors and habits that lead to the goals.

For instance, Clear gives the example of a dieter who wants to lose weight. If they focus on a goal such as losing 10 pounds, they are only looking at the end result. However, if they focus on creating a system of healthy habits such as eating nutritious meals, exercising regularly, and drinking plenty of water, they are focusing on the behaviors that will lead to the desired outcome.

Overall, systems are a much better way to reach your goals than focusing on end results. By creating systems of small habits, you can make consistent progress towards your goals. With systems, it is much easier to stay motivated and stick with the process, which is the key to achieving long-term success.

Give it a try!

Goal setting can be a powerful tool for personal and professional progress, but it is important to keep in mind that the process of achieving the goal is just as important as the goal itself. Systems can help you focus on the behaviors that lead to success and make it easier to stay motivated and stick with the process. With the right attitude, dedication, and consistency, you can make your goals a reality.

Just give it a try!


Elaine Morris
Executive coach and positive intelligence expert

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Elaine Morris is a master-level emotional intelligence and executive coach who brings more than 30 years of experience to upper level executives and their teams.

Elaine Morris