Forget Goals

Weekly I/O#8

Forget goals. Build system.

Book: Atomic Habits

Spending "too much" time on goal setting has some disadvantages:

First, achieving goals only changes your life for the moment. Accomplishing the goal to clean your messy room only needs a burst of motivation. But if you maintain the same sloppy habits that lead to the messy environment, you'll have to pray for another burst of motivation soon. You treated a symptom without addressing the cause.

Second, setting goals restricts happiness. The mindset of “Once I reach the goal, then I’ll be happy” just doesn’t work long term. Chasing goals is like being on a treadmill: wanting something, getting it, acclimatizing to the new normal, and starting to want more. If we only focus much on goals, we never get to have true satisfaction. It is the same as what I mentioned in the article This Is Water about what to worship.

Third, winners and losers have the same goals. Goal setting can suffer from a serious case of survivorship bias.

More about this topic can be found in the book. There’s also an excerpt on James Clear’s blog. It’s noteworthy that it is not that goal setting is useless, but focusing only on goals is dangerous.

For me, indeed building a system is important. But setting a better goal using methods like SMART criteria can be helpful too. Or just make more concrete goals such as “being able to have a five-minute conversation with a Spanish co-worker” instead of “being fluent in Spanish”.

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