As someone who was always interested in maximising my productivity with the goal of achieving a better quality of life that was emotionally fulfilling, I have spent a lot of time reading and researching different tips, tricks and guides to achieve this. However despite the dozens of self development books and inspiring quotes, I find myself cyclically back in the same slump of going back to my bad habits instead of maintaining the good ones.
The cycle tends to look like this: I get motivated, I write down some goals (for example keeping a tidy workspace), I achieve the goal (I tidy up my workspace) I repeat till one day I don’t I forget or am not motivated to clean the clutter and mess on my desk and therefore go back to square one.
While this is a very simple example that doesn't seem that inhibiting as it is very normal to have a tidy workspace all the time, this cycle is mirrored in so many other things in life whether it be our school work or our well being such as fitness and nutrition. In James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits”, he writes that “you don’t rise to the level of your goals you fall to the level of your systems”.
So what is the difference between a goal and a system? As explained in Atomic Habits “a goal is a result you want to achieve. A system is a process that leads to those results.” Goals are hyper focused on our destination whereas systems embrace the journey which indeed most agree is where the emotional fulfillment of achieving our goals actually lies.
“The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game, true long term thinking is goal-less thinking. It's not about a single accomplishment. It is about the endless cycle of refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress”
Reviewing my goal of keeping a tidy workspace, the reason why I always find myself back with a messy workspace is because I have not built a habit of putting things back where they belong straight away, there is no system maintaining its organisation. While it is important to have a general idea of where we are going, the main point Clear puts across in his book is to remove the habit of continually delaying our happiness until we reach xyz milestones or goals. Instead it is to focus on trusting ourselves and the system we have built in place. It's about ‘trusting the process’.
The reason I bring this simple yet powerful piece of wisdom from James Clear, is because life as we have seen is unpredictable and fluctuates uncontrollable. While many of us thrived off of rigorously structured routines those who have systems in place are more likely to be emotionally fulfilled and in turn more productive than those who rely on overly narrow goals. Avoid making goals for the sake of making goals, sift through what you want from life, figure out what is essential and make you genuinely happy and build systems that maintain them.