Want to Succeed? Focus on This

At the start of every new year, people around the globe resolve to eat less, smoke less, exercise more and make a myriad of other commitments that will never be met. In fact, a study published in the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology found that while about half of Americans make New Year's resolutions, only 8 percent of them achieve their goals.

Nonetheless, the beginning of the calendar year is an ideal time to reevaluate your life and make decisions that will improve your health, wealth and happiness. However, simply making a goal isn't enough to motivate most people. Success requires a well-developed plan. Instead of setting goals and failing to reach them, why not spend this year changing the way you go about achieving your goals altogether?

We've been told all of our lives that the first step to making big changes is to set an achievable goal. That part is easy. Unfortunately, most of us never get around to taking the next step. Whether you're training for Olympic gold, studying for a major exam or just trying to be the best teacher, parent or spouse you can be, learning how to prioritize systems over goals will lead to natural improvement in the long run.

What's the Difference Between Goals and Systems?

To put it plainly, goals are your ideal outcomes, and systems are what you do to achieve those outcomes. Here are some simple examples to illustrate the differences between goals and systems:

• If you are a professional writer, your goal is to meet deadlines, and your system is your writing schedule and habits.

• If you are an athlete, your goal may be to go to the Olympics, and your system is your training schedule.

• If you work in sales, your goal may be to make a certain amount of money, and your system is your marketing plan.

• If you are struggling with obesity, your goal may be to lose a certain amount of weight, and your system is a diet and exercise plan.

What if everything we've been taught about goal setting is all wrong? Could ignoring goals and focusing only on systems be a more effective way of improving our lives?

When you set goals, you're trying to predict the future, and there are too many factors that you just don't have any control over. For example, you could experience certain circumstances such as getting a new job, the birth of a child, the breakdown of a relationship, health complications, regulatory changes, economic and industry volatility or simply making a miscalculation, all of which could throw you off your perfect plans. Getting into a position where your goal is unattainable often results in frustration and giving up. If you forgo goal making and instead stay focused on your system, you're likely to eventually exceed any goal you could have imagined.

Why Systems Are So Important

Goals aren't totally useless. Visualizing yourself as healthier and happier may provide motivation to propel you through the self-improvement process. However, motivation for success isn't sufficient without a system.

Think of systems as the daily or weekly activities someone does to make long-term improvements without regard to immediate results. The goal of writing 10,000 words a week is attainable, but when and where will you do the writing? At what hours does your brain work best, and how will your writing schedule fit into the rest of your life? The answers to these questions are your blueprint for building a system.

Even with the seemingly perfect system, you will inevitably have weeks where you can write only 5,000 words due to illness, emergencies or writer's block. If you try to make up for it the next week by setting a goal of 15,000 words, there's a good chance you will fail and get more and more behind, which can eventually throw off your whole system. Taking a break from goal setting can help you learn how to accept and deal with the natural ebbs and flows of life. As long as you have a system, you can easily get back on track anytime.

This year, don't bother keeping your eye on the prize. By keeping your attention on your system rather than your goal, you are focusing on factors you can control, such as your eating, exercise or working habits, rather than obsessing over the unpredictable future. How you achieve your goals is more important than the goals themselves because aiming for a target without a system is setting yourself up for failure. Full committal to the process of self-improvement will keep you moving toward success even when faced with setbacks.