Don’t set goals – make a system

Don’t set goals – make a system

Your parents, teachers, friends, peers and anyone else with who you have talked about achieving something in the future probably advised you to set goals. If they really know their stuff they might have even advised you to set smart goals. To back this up, especially teachers like this one, they told you about the Harvard 1953 or Yale 1979 study. These studies showed that the 3% of the students who had written down their goals earned more than the other 97% combined. This is more enough reason to set goals, right? The surprising answer is no. Both famous studies actually never happened, despite the fact that they are often referenced and used in books. On top of that Scott Adams makes a compelling case for abandoning goals all together in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

It can be though sticking to a goal like going to the gym three times a week. After the initial motivation wears of you have to use your willpower to keep going. A great example of this is the ‘gym of failure’ in January. Because of New Years resolutions the motivation is high and the gym is full, but in February the gym is empty again – the only winner is the gym accountant. On the other hand, setting up a system like being active every day and learning about being healthy works a lot better. If you are active everyday to the degree you feel comfortable you will start to crave the daily exercise after a while, the people who exercise regularly know this. Over time you train your body to increase the level of exercise and as a result you will be fit.

Goals versus systems, lets look at some more examples.

Winning a match is a goal while practicing everyday is a system.

Bench-pressing 120 kilo is a goal whereas getting fit is a system.

Losing twenty kilo is a goal whilst eating healthy is a system.

Learning how to play the guitar is a goal while practicing the fundamentals every day is a system.

If you’re a writer writing a blog post is a goal whereas writing every day is a system.

Goals are for losers.
Scott Adams

After you set a goal you feel a brief period of motivation, but once that is gone goals only give you pleasure when you achieve them. And even that gain in happiness is only temporarily because of hedonic adaptation; when we achieve our goals our expectations rise and we want more. Systems however give you little wins everyday as you slowly improve. Little wins increase your motivation making it easier to stick with the path you want to follow.

Goals also reduce your current happiness according to writer James Clear. When you set a goal you’re saying to yourself that you’re not good enough yet, but you will be when you reach your goal. This way you’re teaching yourself to put happiness off until your next goal is achieved.

Having a goal makes it more likely you miss the opportunities that come your way because your focus is so narrow. On the contrary, having a system doesn’t narrow your focus and allows you to capture the opportunities that improve you over time.

Buy a house and a nice car, once achieved, has nothing left to give you.
Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

To make a strong and efficient system Scott Adams suggests replacing willpower with knowledge.

Imagine you choose a system of healthy eating over a goal of losing 20 kilo with a diet. Choosing healthy raw nuts over the tastier, but not so healthy, processed nut bar will take willpower. Unfortunately for us willpower is a limited resource as described in the book The Willpower Instinct. Mark Zuckerberg saves willpower for important decisions by wearing the same t-shirt everyday and we should be saving this precious resource as well.

If you study healthy eating and know that raw nuts are a better snack than a nut bar choosing the healthier option will cost less willpower. By replacing willpower with knowledge you have more willpower left for other decisions.

If, on average, you choose the healthy option for 66 days you have created a habit. Creating habits in your system is what you’re really after. A habit does not require any willpower, in that sense it is good behaviour that you can have for ‘free’. Now you can use your willpower to improve yourself even further.

Should you completely stop setting goals? Well, setting a goal is always better than having no goal or system at all. If you know very clearly what you want, for example a specific job or result, a goal and focus might be good. But most people don’t know what they want to do in a couple years. James Clear says that goals are good for planning progress and systems are good for making progress.

In my opinion you shouldn’t confuse not setting goals with not needing a plan. Find out what is important to you and set up systems around it. For me health is my number one priority. My system to achieve good health is to study the topic and being active everyday. To improve my career in international business I know good communication skills and knowledge are important. My system is to write often and read books daily. If you commit to a system you will constantly improve, there is no end. This continuous improvement will add up and with all the opportunities that come along the way you increase your chances of success.

Beat procrastination by taking tiny steps

Beat procrastination by taking tiny steps

Procrastination is the enemy that keeps us from achieving our goals. Fortunately it can be beaten.

In the Kaizen article I argue that small continuous improvements, getting 1% better every day, leads to better long-term results than taking massive actions right from the start.

In this article I want show another benefit of taking tiny steps; it helps you to stop procrastinating.

While I am writing these lines many thoughts come to my mind. It is already 20:00 and if I want to watch a movie, and not go to bed too late, I should start now. Maybe I should read a book instead, that is more productive. Do I have a Whatsapp message? Everything comes to mind except continuing to work.

A year from now you may wish you have started today.
Karen Lamb

Procrastination does not win however. My only task left for the day is to finish this article as a draft. A small task compared to finishing the article, creating the graphs and uploading it.

We expect procrastination to show up when we start working on a new goal. Still we tend to overestimate ourselves and believe that we can beat it quite easily until the goal is reached.

We expect:


The graph shows the level of procrastination when we set a medium difficult goal and our expected ability to beat it. In this scenario we always ‘win’, we can achieve everything we want, great! Unfortunately that is not the reality.

In the first few days, when our motivation is high, we can beat procrastination easily. However set backs happen or our motivation goes down over time, and that is when procrastination gets the best of us.

Our ability to beat procrastination goes up and down.



We beat procrastination sometimes and sometimes it gets the best of us. This scenario might not seem to bad, but there is danger. When procrastination gets the best of us for too long we often give up on our goal all together.

How can we beat procrastination more often?

By setting an easier task.

Since an easy task takes less energy to complete the procrastination level goes down significantly. When our ability to beat procrastination remains the same we come out ahead more often as you can see on the graph below.


With an easy task we almost always beat procrastination, having many little wins during the day. An easy task might not seem to get you far but all these tiny steps add up quickly. We make a lot more progress than if procrastination gets the best of us and we give up.

Tiny steps add up to become big changes. Consider setting easy tasks to achieve during the day, this will make you win in the long run.

The concept of Kaizen

The concept of Kaizen

The concept of Kaizen changed my approach to self-development and the way I set goals.

Every year people set New Year’s resolutions such as reading more books. They take high intensity action immediately, reading 3 hours every day. The first days the motivation is high but after missing one day of reading all motivation is gone. The result is that they don’t touch a book for weeks. How much improvement did they make? Almost none.

While big actions are necessary to achieve your goals, setting big goals can overwhelm us. Consistently improving yourself is much more important.

Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency and creating the highest value. Kaizen literally means a change for the better.

In self-development the Kaizen philosophy is that you make small changes every day that will compound to the massive change you wanted.

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.
Bill Gates

At the start you might not even notice your daily 1% improvements when you compare yourself to someone who does not improve himself. However, over time the gap will be enormous!


When you compound 1% every day it will double every 72 days.

We all want instant gratification, to set a big goal and achieve it as soon as possible. However, following the concept of Kaizen will give you the best results long-term.