(Originally published in 2017, updated for 2019.)
In business, there is often a fixation on big goals and dramatic results. "Get 1 million followers! … Build a 6-figure business!"
When you constantly focus on future numerical goals, two things happen:
1. Your subconscious keeps telling you—daily—that you aren't there... that you aren't yet "enough".
Desire becomes a contract we make with ourselves to be unhappy until something specific happens. (paraphrase of Naval)
The fixation on a big numeric goal (such as “6 figure income” or “1 million followers”) creates an underlying layer of unhappiness or anxiety with one’s current life.
2. The more you focus on the specifics of the goal, the more you become attached to how it must turn out.
If that goal doesn't happen in the way you visualized—or in the timeline you expected—it deals a blow to your self-identity. It erodes your sense of empowerment.
Let's look at a healthier, less stressful way:
Focus on your systems—your processes—rather than your goals.
(You might find that it creates better results, too!)
I'm not saying to get rid of goals. I, too, have a vision for my future life and specific milestones I am interested in achieving.
Yet I hold loosely to those future goals, numbers and milestones. I think of them as potentials rather than as a rigid definition of "success."
I use future milestones to help me design a daily system that will move me toward the goal... that turns possibilities into probabilities.
The farther out the timeline, the less we’re able to accurately predict.
When it comes to whether I will achieve my milestones, I know that there are too many uncontrollable factors in life: unforeseen personal circumstances, technological and market changes, and other big revelations that may require a change in direction.
Therefore let's be careful not to get fixated on a specific future goal that we made up.
Instead, let's create a system for action that makes the goal more likely.
Goal = Lose 10 pounds.
System = Jog for 15 minutes a day.
Goal = Write a book.
System = Write 1 page a day.
Goal = Get 10 more clients.
System = Contact 10 people a week.
Goal = Have $3,000 in passive income.
System = Create 1 new online course every 60 days.
If the system feels daunting to you, then specify smaller, more doable steps, in order to prevent procrastination.
Apply your system consistently, and you’ll find more clarity on how to make the system better, thereby increasing the probability of reaching your goal!
As soon as we create the system—the process of daily or weekly actions—then I suggest that we elevate our internal reason for that system to a higher purpose: to grow our skills and capacity.
Because the only “goal” that truly matters is our growth.
As long as you are growing in your abilities and character, you are becoming more valuable to society. Life becomes progressively more joyful and meaningful.
Any goal becomes more achievable when you focus on the deeper goal of growing yourself.
Interestingly, when we focus on our systems—rather than our goals—we also tend to experience better results.
Here's a wonderful little story from the book The Practicing Mind:
"I once read an interview with a coach for the U.S. Olympic archery team. He commented that the biggest problem he faced in coaching the American team was that they were fixated on their scores, or the result of their shots.
It was as if they were drawing the bow and releasing the arrow only to hit the bull’s-eye and earn a good score.
This was in contrast to the Asian teams, who, having grown up in different cultures, were consumed in the process of properly executing the technique that led up to releasing the shot. Where the arrow hit the target was almost unimportant compared to the motion of drawing the bow correctly and releasing the shot.
They viewed the result with an almost detached indifference. For them, the desired goal was a natural result of prioritizing the proper technique of drawing the bow. They operated in a completely different paradigm, and because of it, they were very difficult to beat.... The minds of the Asian archers were quiet, uncomplicated, and free from mental turmoil.
The irony was that, when compared to the results-oriented Americans, the Asians were the ones who were winning. Now, U.S. sports psychologists are teaching our athletes to think along similar lines.”
I'll end this article with a deep truth I believe for everyone:
You will be taken care of.
Everything will turn out beautifully for you. Truly.
Therefore, do not be afraid if you do not reach goals.
Focus on your systems and processes.
Use those systems to grow yourself everyday.
By doing this, the journey of life becomes joyful, and you may even travel well beyond your original goals.
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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