One of the last photos that we took before moving from Hawaii in 2010.
Today on the show, we share the systems that have enabled us to complete some of our life goals, and we are applying it to our business goals. As James Clear says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
You can download this episode from Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn Radio, and Spotify – or listen to it below! Welcome to the Show Notes! Check out this page for any links, notes, or photos we referenced in the podcast.
There is an unsexy secret out there about achieving goals and changing your habits. It’s not about willpower. It’s not about how much effort you can put it daily. It’s not going to be found in a listicle article. And it’s definitely not about how smart you are.
It’s about creating a process that works for you.
Processes and systems are just about the least sexy thing on the planet. Which is why if you want to save money/write a book/get in shape/whatever your goal may be, you’re going to find a lot of advice that tells you to make these goals S.M.A.R.T: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Then you’re supposed to take this SMART goal and break it down into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks.
I followed this advice for a long time. It was ingrained in me from school, work, and every single goal-setting self-help book I’ve ever read.
And though this approach definitely makes sense, it didn’t work.
If I had a goal that was somewhat short-term, like get three new clients, clean out my closet, or stop eating out for a week, I could use this advice and it would work. I’d prioritize those things, make a real effort to get them done for a few days or weeks, and everything would be great.
But very few of our big life goals are short term.
When Jordan and I sat down to think about this podcast episode, we struggled. Jordan, a meticulous note taker, has goals that we set back in February 2016. We spent a weekend at a cute little inn in the English countryside (yes, it was quaint and obscenely charming) and we sat down to really think about what our big life goals were for the next few years.
He recently dug out this piece of paper from his very well organized file cabinet and we looked at it to see what we actually have achieved. What goals did we set for ourselves that have come true and where have we fallen short.
We had reached our active lifestyle, healthy eating, and money goals. We’d fallen short on any of my freelance and business goals as well as the goal of keeping in touch with family and friends (which is tricky when you live 5,000 miles away).
So what gives? We have we been so great at some and so terrible with others?
Systems have been our secret weapon
For all of the goals that we’ve reached, there was one common theme: we created systems that inched us closer and closer to our goals.
I’d tried for years (and year and years) to eat healthily. I bought the books. I tried (and failed miserably) with a juice cleanse. And I rid our house of every single piece of junk food only to pass by the new Taco Bell that opened near us and pop in to get a crunch wrap supreme one too many times.
Healthy eating was a priority, but I couldn’t make it stick.
That is until I created a system around it.
Now our healthy eating runs like clockwork and I can’t even remember how we lived before. Why were we eating out for every weekend meal (and some during the week)? Why did I struggle to get my greens in? That feels like a lifetime ago.
Our system includes:
- Ordering groceries online for delivery on Friday
- Meal prepping over the weekend
- Washing and cutting all vegetables before putting them away
- Keeping a blender and healthy snacks within arms reach
Built into our system are some very intentional things that have made this system stick. I have built in rewards — and now I love meal planning and doing dishes (who am I?) — which I hated before.
And we’ve focused on designing the right environment to make this system happen effortlessly. The most basic example of this comes from moving our blender. Our blender used to be on the top shelf of a cabinet. If I wanted to use it I’d have to take the step stool out, walk three steps, and reach it. Now that seems simple and easy, but I never did it. Ever.
We moved our blender to our most used drawer in our kitchen. If I need a quick snack I can grab it in 0.0002 seconds. Making the smoothie has now become the default snack option just from that one simple change.
Where we’ve failed
While we’ve created systems around our active lifestyle, healthy eating, and money that have helped us reach our goals without much resistance, I’ve fallen really short with other goals. Specifically, the goal of building my freelance writing portfolio and implementing all of my big ideas for The Worth Project.
And, unsurprisingly, I haven’t had a system. I’ve set specific goals. I’ve given myself monthly, weekly, and daily actions. But as always, life happens. After a few days of making progress, something comes up that takes me completely off track.
After realizing that the common theme between goals we’ve achieved and the goals we’ve struggled to achieve has been systems, I went looking to see if there was anything out there that validates my idea.
My favorite habits writer James Clear, strongly believes that systems are needed to reach your goals. In this article, he breaks down the problem with traditional goal setting. He argues that winners and losers all have the same goal, so it’s not setting the goals that make the difference. It’s setting up a system of continuous improvement that will actually deliver the life change that you’re aiming for.
And, because he is so wise, he also clearly articulates why goal setting can ultimately make us feel so crummy: goals restrict your happiness. I used to subscribe to the philosophy that once I reached my goals, then I’d be happy. When I didn’t reach them, I’d be pretty bummed out. Obviously, I was happy, but I had convinced myself to withhold some happiness to really celebrate when I achieved that goal.
If you want to actually do the things you really want to do in life, whether that’s writing a book, eat better food, plant a garden, or start a business, it’s all about your systems. In this week’s podcast, we talk all about the systems we’ve created and the new systems we are creating to make these new lifestyle changes easier.
Erica Gellerman, CPA
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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