Goals vs Systems — How To Get What You Want

If you aren’t achieving your goals, how about creating a system? When it comes to goals vs systems, a set of regularly performed habits — a system — might make you better at manifesting your desires. Here’s how to do it.

goals vs systemsTHE BEST time to review your goals and the process you’re using to attain them is when you first realize that you’re off the map.

If you’ve wandered off the path that you’ve mapped out, something needs to be adjusted. It could be that you need to construct a system to focus on that rather than your goals.

Before I delve into goals vs systems, let’s review how we typically go about attempting to achieve our goals.


Is mapping your milestones working for you?

goals vs systems

The “map” is the plan you’ve designated as the best way to achieve your goals. Ideally, the map indicates the direct way to get from A to B, but also some predetermined detours should the direct route get blocked.

There are also scheduled assessments — those places along the route where you’ve plan to stop at a predesignated point in time to review where you’re at, where you want to go and if you’re making the progress you expected.

Think of these as “milestones.”

Many of us want to accomplish many things. This is particularly true in the New Year.

A new year, a fresh start. Perhaps we scribble down our goals in some notebook, complete with time lines and milestones. Then, while all of this is fresh, we enthusiastically begin traveling the route we’ve designated to be the best way to reach our goals.

Then one fine day, you suddenly realize that you’ve done nothing lately to achieve your goal.

You haven’t been doing what needs doing. The milestone dates have passed with barely a notice. You’re off the map.

And, as it turns out, I’m there with you wandering in the wilderness.

Last December I wrote all my goals out in a Word document. I categorized them and added timelines and milestones. Then I put it all in my Panda Planner.

This was an ambitious Plan, but I was motivated. I “planned the work and worked the plan,” as the saying goes.

By year’s end, I intended to be:

  • Physically stronger as measured by number of push-ups, pull-ups and squats;
  • Leaner as measured by body fat percentage;
  • More mindful, serene and stress-free through my daily meditation practice;
  • More financially stable through obtaining consistent consulting work; and
  • Finished with my book.

I knew that to achieve these goals, I had to be specific, have a plan (road map) and do something on a regular basis that would add up to achieving specific milestones along the way.

So, for instance, to attain my goal of 10 pull-ups, I planned to heal my tennis elbow, which combined with insufficient strength relative to my body weight and long arms has kept my maximum rep count to a paltry three.

The milestones to judge my pull-up progress: just one more rep each month. There was room for the unexpected, so I could miss adding a rep for a few months and still get to 10 over the course of 12 months.

But there was no room for not following the plan.

I healed my tennis elbow, but never got my pull-up bar installed outside my home; thereby, requiring me to drive to a near-by park to use the pull-up bar there. And, given this extra friction of having to drive somewhere, after the first couple of months I was no longer following the Plan. Now it’s December and rather than 10, I can do only four pull-ups.

  • I had the best intentions.
  • I planned the work.
  • I had milestones to check if I were on track.
  • I had a system (the Panda) to help keep track.
  • I knew that what’s most important with achieving goals is to focus on habits that inevitably will lead to the goals, not the goals themselves.

Despite all this, I did not fully accomplish any of my goals.


Two reasons:

  1. There were too many goals requiring too many new habits.
  2. I stopped pulling out the map on a daily basis to check where I was along the route I Planned, and to ensure I was meeting the milestone tests.

Not to say that 2017 was a total bust. I did make headway toward accomplishing all of my goals. But I could have done much better.

If the Plan I had in place was used to create more effective habits, whether engaged daily or weekly given what was required, I would have done a better job attaining my goals. If the goals themselves were fewer or more modest, I would have made them happen.

Ultimately, the problem was that there was a system failure.


Goals vs Systems

goals vs systems

You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned “habits” a few times. Any goal that isn’t pretty quickly attainable typically required a new set of behaviors, and that’s where habits enter the picture.

For instance, if you want to be able to do 40 push-ups within six months, but can do only 10 now, you need to establish a regular routine (habit) of doing push-ups with sufficient effort to incrementally improve how many you can do.

That’s pretty much what human potential blogger James Clear advocates.  He says that you could ignore your goal and focus only on the habit that would inevitably lead to the accomplishment of the goal. In the push-up example, then, the focus would be on simply doing a certain number of push-ups each or every other day and adding a certain number of repetitions each week or month.

The drawing of the arrow and target above is Mr. Clear’s. In this context, he equates a habit with a “system” and suggests that if you completely ignored your goals and focused only on a system instead, you’d achieve your aim.

What’s the difference between goals and systems?

Mr. Clear offers these examples:

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

This is an interesting way to look at how you may go about achieving your desires, so if you feel you need to improve on how you go about meeting the goals you set for yourself, consider establishing a “system”.


Plan and systematize what you want to achieve now

goals vs systems


I write this in mid-December. This is a great time to be ruminating about what you want to achieve next year, so come January you’ve done your homework, created a Plan and begin the New Year locked and loaded.

Hopefully, you will join me in being more discerning about what you choose as your goals – fewer are better – and to reliably check with your Plan on a regular basis to ensure that you’re on track to meet your milestones, and ultimately achieve what you want, your goals.

Mull over which among your many potential goals are those that are the most important and urgent, and then contemplate what kind of system – that set of regular habits – you will make that will inevitably lead you to attaining your goals.

To this end, I’ve got your back. Check out the following subjects below, read the articles pertinent to what you want to achieve and get a head start for the New Year.


What do you want to accomplish in 2018?

goals vs systems

The New Year is nearly upon us. It’s time to consider what we want to experience in 2018.

I’ve written some guides to help you take great strides in achieving better health and longevity.

How to learn new habits:
How to build a better mindset:
How to eat more nutritiously:
How to get leaner:
How to get stronger and more muscular:
How to do a detox cleanse:
How to heal your gut:


Your Takeaway

We all want more.

Our desires are endless.

But we can’t have it all now, and if we plan to get it all, all together, perhaps no one thing will be accomplished.

You have to choose, and perhaps the best way to do that is to choose what’s the most important and urgent thing that you want to attain.  Make that your goal. And then craft the system — those daily habits — that will inevitably lead you to getting what you desire.

If it’s a big, complicated goal, break it down into it’s component parts and develop the habits that when systematically engaged will let you grab the Golden Fleece.

May your New Year unfold per your Plan.

Last Updated on February 27, 2022 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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