Systems are better than goals

A system is a habit that you put in place to improve on something. The goal "I want to write a book" as a system is "I want to write one page of a book every day".

In terms of motivation, progress, satisfaction and well-being, striving for better systems and better execution of systems is superior to striving after goals.

(This is the practical application of You can live each moment for itself even in the context of greater progress)

Satisfaction and well-being

The fact is that You'll never get there. You'll never permanently win the game of life in any area, and if you could you would regret it because then that game would be forever boring to you. No single achievement will permanently make you happier. (Nothing external changes anything internal)

Goals can be useful for direction, but there is little satisfaction in actually achieving them.

We play games to have fun and make progress, not to end them as a permanent victor.

The true goal is to be a hiker, not to have hiked up and down the mountain and sit in your car thinking about it. The system is to hike once a week. Look, now you are a hiker! You don't need to pretend the enjoyment is in some distant future and it's important to remember that it never is.

The true goal is to be a writer, not to have written a book. Being a writer is something achievable in this moment, something you can see if you actually enjoy. The feeling of accomplishment of publishing a book would come once or twice in your life and diminish extremely fast, but if you truly enjoy being a writer you can tap into that joy every day.

Motivation and progress

Systems are motivating because Motivation comes from Action. The goal of running a marathon is paralyzing. The goal of running one mile today has much less friction. Then add the momentum from the 30 previous days you ran a mile. That's where the motivation comes from.

It's way more likely that you'll give up on a large scary goal. Systems give us a collection of small, easy victories to inspire further action and start to change our identity. (Identity change is necessary for long-term behavior change)


Goals don't inspire habits, systems are habits. Goals are easily forgotten, systems are painfully easy to remember. With a system it is clear what you should today to go in the direction you want to, and that makes you much more likely to both do it and enjoy it.


Atomic Habits

"The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It's not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress"

"Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it -- but all that had gone before.""Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.

"habits are the compound interest of self improvement"

"Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits"

"Time magnifies the margin between success and failure"

This comes down to a few observations - "Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits" - "Small changes appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold... you need to be patient" - Winners and losers have the same goals - Prior action motivates us - "Achieving a goal is only a momentary change" - "Goals restrict your happiness" to only being happy during peak experiences - "Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine. " - "You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems"

Related: Cultivating virtues is practical for better consequences