I don't believe in goals. I don't believe that setting some arbitrary milestone for yourself has any value at all, becaue it's just exactly that: an arbitrary milestone. It doesn't mean anything.
Setting a goal like "I wanna learn to code" or "I want to get X amount of Twitter followers" or "I want to lose weight" doesn't help you - because neither of these goals say anything about why you're trying to reach them, or, more importantly, how you're going to reach them.
Now that's not to say that the idea of having directions in your life isn't important. It's hugely important. I just think the key is to figure out why you want to move down a certain path and how you're gonna get there. And goals simply aren't the answer to these questions.
Goals also have a big inherent problem: they can make you feel bad if you don't reach them. If you don't reach that milestone you set out to, you might feel like a failure. You might get demotivated. You might even give up all together.
And if you somehow power through and manage to reach your goal without an actionable plan, then what? Will you be happy then? Do you stop what you were doing previously because your goal is achieved? Or do you just set a new goal (making the first one obsolete)?
In those cases, why bother having a goal at all (except to make you feel bad if you don't reach it)?
Now as you can tell, I'm not a fan of goals. But you're probably sensing that I've got an alternative method lined up for you, to solve all the problems surrounding goals.
And you'd be right. It's called systems.
To me, a system is a tangible process that leads you in some direction you want to go. It's best explained with an example, so let's take the earlier example goal of learning to code, but rephrase it and turn it into a system instead:
Firstly, identify why you wanna learn to code. It could be to make money, because you enjoy the creative challenge of building stuff, or just because you find technology fascinating. Maybe it's all of them. Your reasons are your guiding principles.
Whatever they are, the next step in creating a system is to define an actionable plan that's in line with your guiding principles. It could look something like this:
- Every day I'm going to spend a minimum of 5 minutes coding to learn a new concept
- Every Sunday, I'm going to follow a detailed tutorial and build a small project
- Every night before bed, I'm going to read one coding related article
That's it. That's a system that will teach you how to code. And the beauty of this system is that it's self working. It tells you exactly what you're going to do on a daily/weekly basis, and slowly but surely, you're gonna become a better developer. You just gotta show up at the pre-defined times and do the work. Nothing is left to chance.
Also notice that the system is never "finished". You can't "reach" it, because you're never done learning to code. You can only continue moving in the right direction to improve your skills, because systems work in the long term.
You never need to feel bad that you didn't reach some random milestone, or having to come up with a new one when you do. And when life inevitably happens and you miss a day, a week, or a month (which we all do sometimes) - it's not a problem: The system will bring you back. You just continue where you left off.
That's the beauty of systems, and why I wanted to share them with you as a much more reliable approach to guiding your life in any direction you want.
As an exercise, try to think of some goals you set out for yourself recently. See if you can find a way to turn them into tangible systems (spoiler alert: you always can).
I'm Mads Brodt — a developer, author, teacher, creator and blogger. To keep up with all of my writing, follow me on Twitter or sign up with your email above 👆