We’re halfway through the year already. How are your New Year’s goals doing?
It seems about the right time to check in now, isn’t it? You get to take stock of how you’ve done, and you still have time to re-steer the ship if things haven’t gone according to plan.
If you find that you haven’t even started on goals however, just know that you’re not alone. According to a random study I pulled up (and we know the internet never lies), less than eight percent of people actually meet their New Year’s goals.
I don’t know what the reason could be, but perhaps it has to do with this quote: “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall the level of your habits.” I forgot who it was that said that, but there’s no denying the logic behind the quote.
Habit is the ‘in’ thing right now (well, it’s always been the ‘in’ thing, but we’re seeing a revival), and people like Scott Adams and James Clear have been known to champion the power of habit.
But what does this mean to normal people like me and you? Good question. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be exploring today.
The power of concrete goals
If you had a bunch of self-help books from the seventies in your house growing up (Zig Ziglar, anyone?), then you’re probably used to the art of goal setting and how to make them more tangible.
So ‘losing weight’ can be revised into ‘lose ten pounds’, and ‘earn more money’ translates to ‘study for that certification that’ll net you the promotion’.
But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re just goals, and simply laying them out won’t bring you closer to making them happen.
This is where habit comes in. And a collection of said habits turn into a system. One that you could use to automate your path to realising your plans.
What’s the big deal?
Here’s where I throw you another amazing quote I’ve come across, and that’s: “Winners and losers have the same goals.”
Think about that for a second. You don’t get a priority lane to reaching your goals just because you wrote them in a notebook somewhere. In the end, everything depends on the actions you take, and the more worthwhile your goals, the longer it’s going to take you to get there.
So what do you fill your days with? More wishful thinking? Or little steps that could actually multiply over the course of years?
Let me give you a personal example. I’d always wanted to write a novel. In fact, I’d harboured the idea for eight full years before I actually started on it.
Did I suddenly revamp my writing goals? Not really. In fact, they remained on the exact same piece of paper the entire time. The only thing that changed were my habits. I had finally started committing to writing at least 250 words a day, and that habit would see me through my fourth novel today.
And that’s just one example. Now imagine how much different your life could be if you’d just get off your ass and start a system of your own.
Stop looking at results
This is another problem with goals. When you’re too focused on results, you tend to only do things just for the sake of metrics. In essence, you try to acquire, not become.
This can be a huge problem when you don’t care how you arrive at your destination. Goals such as losing ten pounds or getting a thousand more views on your blog can take a sinister turn when the methods stop mattering.
Because losing ten pounds is pretty damn easy if you do it by shedding water weight, but how sustainable is that to your actual long-term visions?
And getting an additional thousand views each month could be done through spamming all the Facebook groups you’re currently in, but how many months could you keep that up without being banned and despised?
This is why it’s important to know the difference between acquiring and becoming. This is also why it’s important to fall back to systems (after you’ve built a reliable one, of course).
Enter the system
As intimidating as it sounds, creating a system doesn’t have to be painful. You don’t need to pick up the keto diet or run five kilometres a day if all you want to do is lose weight.
You just need to make sure that there’s a way you could spend your time and end up in a better place than you were before.
In my case, I had based my system on a couple long-term goals and a few ‘for fun’ ones. My daily plan ended up looking something like this:
- Learn two new Chinese characters
- Write at least 250 words
- Meditate at least 12 minutes
- Do any exercise as long as I sweat
- Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables
- Practise my penmanship
- Sketch something, even one line
With that, I achieved some pretty amazing results. Here’s an Instagram link to one of my sketches, and this is how my penmanship looked like after a year. Note that these were my fun goals. I didn’t even know I’d come this far.
Oh, and besides completing the aforementioned fourth manuscript, I can also now hold basic written Chinese communications on WhatsApp and Facebook after a year. Not bad, eh?
What about you? What systems can you put in place so that the older you will look back in gratitude?
It’s all about the process
If there’s anything setting lofty goals has taught me, it’s that even the ‘funnest’ things have their sucky bits.
This is coming from someone who once dreamed of becoming a top Starcraft 2 player in Malaysia. You’d think that my interest in video games would’ve at least carried me through the endless hours of playing ladder. Nope.
There were so many other things involved in being a good player. You had to train your APM (actions per minute), and that’s done by drilling movements over and over. You had to dedicate an entire day’s worth of gaming to getting better, and you had to do that over the course of years. You had to study replays, learn the metas, and know the matchups for race.
That’s when I learned that just because I liked something didn’t mean I’d enjoy the process.
The trick to creating a strong system is being okay with the processes you’ll repeat day after day, year after year. If you think the drive is going to suck, then perhaps it’s the wrong journey for you.
This certainly puts goals into perspective doesn’t it? What’s the phrase again? That everybody wants change but nobody wants to change?
When you think about it, this is definitely a better way to look at your goals.
But life is about balance
Now, having said all that, I’d just like to remind you that neither goals nor systems are better than the other. They’re just different, and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by only sticking to one of them.
After all, you can’t hit a goal you can’t see, but you also can’t make things happen if you don’t constantly work your butt off.
So take those steps to a better life, but don’t forget which way you’re headed. And at the end of the day, no matter how you go about it, just remember that taking one single step each day is better than waiting for the perfect moment to make a hundred.