Systems and Goals

By Jamie McSloy / August 2, 2018
systems and goals featured image

Systems and Goals

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this before. I’ll write in some of the links below if I have time to search them out:

Today, Alexander Cortes and Ed Latimore engaged in a tweet game about systems and goals.

Alexander said:

A lot of you “Systems over goals!!” individuals have created systems that produce nothing other than you mentally masturbating over your directionless “self-improvement”

And Ed:

Like the people who shout “Work smarter, not harder” Show me what you’ve produced. Everyone has a good idea, but it’s gotta be tested by reality. Results are the only thing that count in this game.

Now, there’s some interesting stuff to come out of thinking about systems and goals.

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But before we do that, let’s talk about a basic copywriting lesson that clears the light on why people say the things they do and what it means in reality…

Most People’s Goals Never Happen

When most people say “goals,” they’re actually talking about daydreams.

“Systems” are no different. Most people mean “routines.”

When most people say, “Work smart,” they mean, “try and avoid expending effort.”

When most people say, “Work hard,” they mean, “mild discomfort.”

Humans have this weird quirk of being able to imagine multiple futures. This is a strength and a weakness.

When it comes to setting goals and sticking to them, most humans are pretty useless. In most instances, a person doesn’t set a goal and stick to it. They have an idle thought about a better future and then it promptly gets stuck with all the other dreams in their minds and forgotten, not acted upon.

The same is true of systems. Most people are unorganised and there’s the vague sense in their mind that they should be somewhere else because somewhere else is a happier place.

And so they go into “I’m going to build a system” mode where ultimately they say, “Here’s my diet” and they write a meal plan and then stick with it for three days before being hungry gets to them and “just one cookie” slides them all the way back down the hill.

Ultimately, people have an idealised self and that’s the one that does the dreaming. The one that does the work isn’t the same personality nor identity, though they share a brain.

That’s the basic copywriting lesson and it’s the thing we tap into when we sell someone on a solution to their problems.

What About Systems and Goals?

You have a goal. Nobody goes to the gym for the sake of going to the gym. You don’t really do things to fill the time. We’re all chasing something, whether we know it or not.

In most cases, “I’m not chasing anything” means you’re chasing some small dopamine hit because it’s nice and easy. Netflix and Facebook have built multi-billion dollar empires based on this. It’s insidious because it’s invisible.

So you always have a goal or intended consequence to your actions, no matter how subtle.

Systems don’t replace this. They allow it to happen.

Ergo, you go to a gym because it’ll get you a step closer to being a Herculean hunk or an Instagram booty model or whatever.

The system achieves the goal.

Let’s quickly talk about what makes a good system.

Good Systems Remove The Cognitive Element And Randomness

The aim of a good system is to make everything work as intended.

This is true of physical systems like computers – which are designed to compute – and behavioural systems which are designed to do whatever you intend to.

So step one of a system is reliability.

Surprise, surprise, most people don’t get this one right.

“Hey man, I’ve got this great system for becoming a Herculean Hunk. It involves 6 days a week at the gym, exactly 3430 calories per day and exactly twelve-point-five minutes in the tanning bed every Friday morning.”

The above is a terrible system because a) it won’t likely get you to your goal and b) it’s too complicated.

This is why most people fail at fitness.

Going for a fifteen minute run every morning before breakfast is a better system for the average person so far as step one goes.

Except steps two and three take care of that.

It’s not just about reliability, but also about realistic progression and relating properly to the goal set.

You go to the gym and run on a treadmill for 30 minutes every day. You won’t gain muscle doing this.

So you go and train with the weights. You gain a couple of pounds. The system needs to be able to scale, change and adapt.

If you’ve reached your goal weight, then you need a system to maintain it. If you are 5lbs off and plateauing, you need a system that’ll bump up the pressure so you adapt and gain that last 5lbs.

A good system will do this reliably and repeatedly. It’ll also take the cognitive element out of your process.

If you have a good exercise system, you don’t have to work out what you’re doing on any given day. You simply look up (mentally/physically) what the next step is.

This is a good system.