Remember that list of new resolutions you wrote up a year ago? Did you achieve them?
If you focused only on goals, you probably failed. If you focused on systems and processes you probably succeeded. That’s the argument that habit-expert James Clear makes in Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.
He insists that setting specific actionable goals is not the key to success. Rather, it is to develop systems.
“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results” (23).
He points to the fact that winners and losers have the same goals. The difference between them is the system or process they are using to achieve that goal. “Goals,” explains Clear, “are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress” (24).
The classic example is dieting. If the goal is to lose ten pounds then happiness is restricted to the moment of attaining that, it is a momentary change, and it’s likely to lead to the “yo-yo effect.”
However, if the focus is more on the process of healthy eating, then happiness can be found in every step and day of the process, the change is more likely to be achieved, and the change is more likely to be permanent.
I think Clear overstates his case here. Goals are still useful. However, he’s right that without a plan for getting there, goals are unlikely to be achieved. He’s right that there needs to be a much greater focus on process.
For example, if we simply set a goal of having a happier marriage in 2019, without any plan, without any thought for the process needed to achieve that, it’s not going to happen. But if that’s broken down into simple, small, daily steps, each day of following the steps will not only give us a motivational boost, but we will be much more likely to achieve the goal and maintain it.
Perhaps you want to preach better sermons in 2019. Very good. How are you going to get there? What process will you use? What books are you going to read? What preachers are you going to listen to? What courses are you going to take? What critique are you going to invite? Who will you ask for feedback? What criteria will you give them?
Clear’s book is called Atomic Habits, not only because of its advocacy for multiple small changes, but because the accumulation of these multiple small changes can eventually explode into a radical new world.