The Hierarchy of Success: Goals, Systems, Habits.

Goals: “How Do You Eat an Elephant?”

I’ll never forget this somewhat silly question or it answers, “one bite at a time.”  What do you do when faced with what seems like an insurmountable task? How do you wrap your head around volumes of material, climb the ranks of an association of superstars, or create an empire out of sticks?  The only way you can, “one bite at a time.”

As we stand at the precipice of 2019, everyone is going to start talking about goals: how to set goals, keep goals, record goals. Yet,  Goal-Setting really just attempts to procure a result rather than create a tested-process that can be applied over and over again to great success.  

Below is my hierarchy for long-term success.  Set the big-picture, end-result goal and then forget it.  Instead, focus on the nitty-gritty: the little changes you can make each day that move you closer to the way you want to be.  Recognise patterns and optimise your system for the best possible outcome. Be adaptive but keep marching forward no matter what happens and you’ll either reach your goal or change your goal to something better.  

  1. Goals
  2. Systems
  3. Habits

Systems: The New Goals

This is why we are going to focus on systems rather than goals: systems are more effective, longer lasting, and provide more intrinsic value.  If you abandon focusing on your overarching goal and instead pour all your energy into developing an effective system, you will still succeed. For example, if your goal was to lose 10 kilos and you developed a system that included habitually working out 3 days week, intermittent fasting from 8PM to 12PM, and eating a high fat-low-carb diet 6 days a week, you could completely forget about your goal and you would still lose weight.

Use goals to set your course, then develop a system of habits to navigate the seas of success.  Both winners and losers set the same goals. Every athlete wants to win a Gold Medal. Every candidate wants to get the job.  The difference is what they do in-between setting the goal and achievement. Here’s the secret: the “winners” break down their goals into simple, small, repeatable steps.  They create a system of continuous small improvements that eventually culminate in a big difference.

One of the biggest problems with being too focused on an end-goal is that achievement may not result in satisfaction.   Don’t tie your happiness to achieving a goal. Putting off being happy in the present moment in exchange for some future Shangri-La is one of the great pitfalls of human nature.  You must teach yourself to be happy right now. The easiest way to do this is to fall in love with the process, with the system itself. You know that quote, “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?”  Well, people who feel this way don’t spend their days wishing for some far off achievement, they enjoy what they do every single day.

Focusing on your system also allows you to be responsive rather than depressed when you fail.  Failure is inevitable no matter how good you are. It’s what you do with failure that creates champions.  If you are systems-based, instead of labelling yourself a loser because you didn’t hit your goal, you would just adjust your system accordingly and keep moving towards success.  

So if you want long-term results and/or to permanently change your behaviour, here’s how to set up your system so that you really can’t fail.  

Set forth systems for achievement, that are:

  • Clear
  • Time defined
  • Performed in small, simple, repeatable chunks
  • Make these steps habits that don’t require much willpower

Habits: Your Ticket to Success

“First forget inspiration.

Habit is more dependable.

Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not.

Habit is persistence in practice.”

— Octavia Butler

Habits are the building blocks of the systems that create long-term change and carry us to our goals.  

Stop multitasking.  Focus on one little step at a time.  Figure out a way that you can make achieving this mini-goal a part of your daily routine.  If you want to learn a foreign language in 6 months, commit to spending 30 minutes practising everyday for 30 days.  You can make any behaviour almost automatic if you practice it everyday for 30-60 days in a row. Once you’ve created a habit, you’re likely to keep doing that thing for life.  You’ll get a taste of success when you are able to complete these small steps towards your goal that will create momentum towards your end result. But this is the best part, once formed, habits don’t require much motivation.  You’ve effectively rewired your brain so you won’t have to summon up much willpower, you’ll automatically be moving towards your goal.  How cool is that?

Win the War, One Battle at a Time

What do you want to achieve?  Go ahead, write it down. Then figure out what steps you need to take to get them.  Break those steps down further into something you can do today and everyday from here on out.  Make the little things habitual, adapt and optimize your system every time you encounter an obstacle, and you’ll have a formula for success that you can repeat over and over again.  Make your ultimate goal to master the system by acting automatically for the better.

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