Make your goals more robust by doing this:

Make your goals more robust by doing this:

I knew the exact path I would go down once I escaped high school. Get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in accounting, conquer the CPA exam, and get a good job with benefits.

That was my goal from day one. Every day in school this goal was in the back of my mind.

I thought about getting to the end of the road. I had my eyes on the prize, and imagined how my life would be better once I reached the finish line.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. In an early undergraduate accounting course my school required a minimum grade of a B before moving on to the next course.

I messed up on the first exam. My world almost came crashing down. Everything I was focused on almost disappeared. The future I dreamed of was slipping away. (In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. But in that moment, that was my whole world.)

Goals are great, but can be burdensome

I’ve been a fan of goals since I was young. They kept me accountable. They gave me a something to shoot for. They helped me zero in on what I needed to do.

Goals are important. But they are not the only thing that matters. (In case you were wondering, I had to retake that class, got an A, and lived happily ever after.)

The missing ingredient

In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg explores the depth of how humans function, including the neurological patterns that govern our habits.

He defines the habit loop and divides it into three elements: cue, routine, and reward.

According to Duhigg, cue and the reward are neurologically intertwined, creating a sense of craving. This is why some folks crave certain actions, like smoking a cigarette or eating that candy bar. What we really seek is the reward from the routine.

What can we do with this knowledge of habits?

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, wrote “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” where he explores the idea of goals and habits with a unique twist.

According to Adams, there are two types of people in the world: those who are goals-oriented and those who are systems-driven.

(For the purposes of this article, I use habits and systems interchangeably.)

Adams believes that goal-oriented people always exist in a state of pre-success or failure; there is no in between.

However, systems driven people look at the familiar in new and different ways. Those with a system in place succeed every time they implement the system.

For example

In honor of NoNoWriMonth, let’s say I have a goal to write a book. My hope is to achieve this goal in the next few months.

Thinking of this goal, I see a gorilla of a task at hand. Writing an entire book? Sheesh, that’s tough to do.

Now imagine this: Say I get 70% of the way through the book, but can’t do it anymore. I’m a failure. All of those hours were merely a waste of time. Unless…

I have a system.

What would your system be?

My system would be writing for a minimum of 10 minutes first thing in the morning. In those 10 minutes, write at least 500 words. It doesn’t matter how good or bad those 500 words are. The system is merely the act of writing within this time frame.

These mini-goals, or systems, are what is going to help me reach that long term goal of writing a novel. By writing for merely 500 words per day, I could easily have a draft with 45,000 words within 3 months. That’s the power of systems.

Systems also make it so you never truly fail

The system is writing for 10 minutes, first thing in the morning. What would I hope to accomplish with this system? Well…

  • I want to improve my writing skills
  • I want to improve my editing skills
  • I want to share my thoughts with the world

With my system in place, I would achieve bullets 1 and 2 every time I write. The 3rd bullet allows me an out even if you never finish writing the book. How so?

Let’s go back to the scenario earlier. Say I’m 70% of the way through the book and decide I can’t finish it. I just wasted a bunch of time.

But, if my goal is to share my thoughts with the world, I can still accomplish that!

I could break up the book into bite-sized pieces and share it with the world through articles my blog.

Systems increase your chances of success

Scott Adams looks at systems as a technique to increase your chances of success. It’s not simply success or failure, as it is in the goal-oriented frame of mind.

Instead, with the right system in place, you can succeed a little bit each and every day. These small wins drive you closer to accomplishing your goal of writing a book.

Adams actually recommends that you set up systems all throughout your life in order to accomplish those things that you want and increase your odds of success.

Another system example

One such system that I’ve implemented into my life is having 10% of my paycheck transferred into my retirement accounts every single month.

Instead of setting some audacious goal (say saving $1 million) and the obsessing over it every single month, I have a system in place that operates automatically. This one simple habit helps puts me on track for success. This system operates every single time I get paid.

Going back to the habit loop, the cue is receiving my paycheck, the routine is having it automatically transferred. What’s the reward? Checking my investment accounts and seeing the balance I’ve managed to accumulate.

This is one instance where having a system in life increases my odds of success. By creating the habit of saving, I don’t blow through my whole paycheck.

Instead, I slowly invest my cash that will help me reach my eventual goal of financial freedom. Do I know when I’ll reach that goal? No, but the system in place takes it from a pipe dream to a realistic probability just like that.

Systems-driven thinking

Systems influence your mindset. The right systems allow me to become mindful and focus on the present moment. Instead of thoughts about some future audacious goal, I focus on that task at hand.

I focus on what it is that I have accomplished already. With systems, the accomplishment is taking action. It’s writing 500 words today. It’s saving 10% of my paycheck every pay period.

The system becomes routine, and there’s no obsession on the end result.

Goals and anxiety

Personally, goals make me worry about the future to the point of anxiety. Goals can be overwhelming, especially if they aren’t expected to be accomplished for years or even decades.

Systems are a form of mindfulness, present state focus on the moment. They allow you think about what you are doing right now. You don’t think about how far away you are from that goal. This frees up your mental faculties so you can do deep work and do the best you can now.

Systems keep you grounded and present. They allow you not to obsess over the progress bar.

Don’t rob your present state awareness with audacious goals about the future. You can still reach them, you just need the right system.

What systems (or habits) have you implemented in your life that have had a big impact? Are there any systems you think we can benefit from by implementing into our lives?

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How you can discover your passion and purpose in life

How you can discover your passion and purpose in life

I don’t have a passion.

I work as an auditor. I chose a safe major in school which led to a safe career path. I’m good at what I do, but it doesn’t make me feel alive.

Every day I feel a little more anxious because I haven’t found my passion. Four or five nights a week I wake up, without fail, apprehensive and scared.

I worry that I’ll never find my calling. I want to follow my passion, but I don’t know what that is.

What am I doing wrong?

Teachers, leaders, mentors, and family members encourage us to do what we love. The message is everywhere. On television. At Harvard commencement speeches. In Ted Talks. “Do what makes you come alive,” they say.

What if nothing comes to mind?

I don’t have a passion. There isn’t one thing that make me come alive. At least not in the way those public speakers make it sound.

I have a wide variety of interests. I love sports. I enjoy learning and helping others. I find psychology and entrepreneurship fascinating. But I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about any one of those things.

The problem with finding your passions

The educational system

The education system don’t foster students’ passions.

The educational model is the same system that popped up during the industrial revolution. Kids spend the six or seven hours per day in a class room, performing academic drills in math, science, and English.

As a result of this model, we don’t foster children’s natural creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson talked about this in his popular Ted Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Robinson believes that we are all born with “immense, natural, creative abilities” which “slip away as we get older.”

Instead of nurturing creative abilities, we devote equal time to specific academic areas every day.

Robinson believes that the educational system is too standardized. He’s right. Everyone learns differently, but school doesn’t foster to these individual differences.

Standardized testing overrules creative activities. Teachers are evaluated based on how many students they can get to pass a test.

Administrators don’t nurture creativity. You can’t measure creativity. You can’t put a number on it. You can’t rank students and pay teachers based on the creative ability of their students.

Students are steered away from their passions

According to Robinson, students are steered away from their passions and interests in the current educational system.

The educational system is a factory learning environment. You plug students into the system, teach them up, and send them on their way. This one size fits all system kills passions.

If an 8 year old kid loves science, they aren’t encouraged to spend more time on science. Instead, they have to take the same classes in equal parts for over a decade of their life.

Then they go to college and focus on what their passionate about (if they haven’t developed a distain for education yet). But they still have to go through 2 years of prerequisites so that they are “well-rounded” citizens.

As a result, children and driven away from their passions by taking a decade and a half of the same classes instead of focusing on what they love.

Dreams Crushed at a Young Age

“You can’t make a living doing that.”

“No one will pay you to paint or play music.”

“There’s too much competition.”

“Be realistic.”

Parents who do this stunt, and even destroy, a child’s growth. It discourages natural curiosity and tells people not to follow their passions because they’re not realistic.

This leads to the wrong focus. Get a safe job so that you can pay the bills. Get a job that is well-paying and well-respected. Parents push their kids to go to medical or law school so that they can have a successful life.

That’s what happened to Eric Reed. Eric was a successful lawyer who had everything you could imagine. He had a fancy house, nice car, and could buy almost anything you could imagine.

But Eric was working crazy hours. I’m talking 12 to 14 hours a day. When Eric wasn’t sleeping he was working. He hardly saw his family and was unfulfilled with life.

Eric did everything that you’re supposed to do. He got a respected job. He could buy anything he wanted. But he still wasn’t happy.

Eric isn’t alone. Many people face this same struggle. I know because I’m facing that struggle. I picked a job that was safe and pays well. But I don’t love it.

Eric broke free from his shackles. He followed his passion and became a travel writer. Now if only I could do that…

Misconception of Passion

Passion is a strong term. For me, starting with passion isn’t a good place to begin. I don’t feel passionate about anything in particular.

I think maybe the word itself is the cause for a lot of anxiety.

So what do I do since I don’t feel like I have a passion?

Pick One Thing and Move in That Direction

What interests you today? For me, it’s writing, entrepreneurship, and psychology. These are areas that I pursue a little every day.

I don’t expect to make money from these interests right now, and that’s okay. Because I enjoy these things already, I don’t need to make money.

Dive Deep in What You Like

What area do you really like? What are you interested in at the moment? Dive deep into that area.

Discover everything you can about that area. Read about it. Talk to people who work in it. Study it. And finally, become that area.

Take music for example. If I become really passionate about music, I would first start to play an instrument and understand music theory.

I would talk to other musicians and get their advice. I would hire a coach or teacher to help me become better. And I would practice every single day.

What if I lose interest?

I talk to other musicians and take lessons for six months. But don’t feel as interested in music as I did before. Now what?

Naturally, I would move on. It’s a simple as that! It’s okay to quit something that you thought you were more interested in at one point in time.

You are searching for your passion (or something like it). Don’t pursue something that you don’t want to do anymore. It isn’t a life sentence. Don’t be afraid to quit.

Move on to the next thing

Move on to whatever interests you next. Pursue this thing until you lose interest. Or continue to pursue it as long as you enjoy it.

It’s okay to quit what you are doing and move on to the next thing. One of two things will happen: you will find what brings you to life or you will add tools to the toolbox for the future.

When you pursue diverse interests, you become proficient in different areas.

Let’s say I’m interested in music for a few months but eventually get bored. I become interested in psychology and marketing. Then I become extremely interested in computers.

After becoming proficient in those areas, I could take all of this knowledge and combine it into one new idea. After all, that’s how many of the great careers or products began.

Doing many things before finding “the one”

One person who’s done a number of things before finding his true calling is Robert Greene.

Robert Greene is the bestselling author of the 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, and Mastery. But he didn’t become a best seller overnight.

Greene said that he worked 80 jobs before becoming a best-selling author. He previously worked as a construction worker, screenwriter, and hotel receptionist.

He learned a lot from those jobs. He worked many crappy jobs with crappy people and was able to take everything he learned and make something out of it. This ultimately led to him writing The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction.

That’s what I strive to do

I follow my interests in my free time, working on them a little bit here and there as I can. I pick a path and go down that path as far I want. There will be detours along the way. There already have been. And that’s okay with me.

I don’t get paid for what I’m pursuing right now, and that’s fine.

I don’t make money from writing, but I do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy the challenge of researching and writing and expressing my thoughts.

I don’t have a passion. But lately I haven’t been waking up in the middle of the week worrying.

I pursue what interests me in my free time. If these interests amount to something down the road, great! If not, at least I’m doing something I enjoy in my free time and staying productive.

What do you think? Have you found your passion? What did your journey look like?

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