Systems Not Goals

Goals are notoriously easy to set and just as easy to fail to achieve. As I’ve discussed in prior posts on the lack of benefits from focusing on body weight as THE marker for health, having goals can be counterproductive for many of us. We get caught in a cycle of goals setting and failure, reinforcing the common belief that it is just too hard to make lasting lifestyle changes. One solution to this psychological reality is the concept of prioritizing systems in our life instead of goals. In this way, we can create new habits that lead to lasting change – the “how” part that is often left out of lofty goals.

To follow this method to improve your health, instead of focusing on the goal of “getting my cholesterol into normal range” or “getting to a healthy BMI” you would reverse engineer the solution. Think of what you need to do to accomplish these goals. What types of lifestyle changes will reduce your cholesterol or your body weight? These are the systems, and they will be unique to you and the realities of your life.

How to create healthy systems:

  1. First, what do you want to accomplish? Yes, this is the goal setting we are avoiding, but stick with me as we will be letting this recede into the background. An example from my life is that I wanted to find a way to be less stressed, to be able to navigate my day without so much tension and anxiety.
  2. Pick a strategy. You may want to do a little research at this point, find out what experts or people you know recommend for making the change you are looking for. I decided that meditation would be effective, and I had tried it out before and kind of sort of liked it. Or at least felt like I could reasonably give it a try. This is important, bringing a dose of realism to the system you choose will increase the likelihood that you will incorporate it into your life.
  3. Evaluate the barriers. What are the realities of your life that make it harder for your to incorporate your strategy? It might be your schedule (no time), a lack of ability (I don’t know how to cook), or a lack of motivation (I get lazy at night and don’t feel like exercising). For me, I would often forget to meditate, and I wasn’t really sure I knew how to do it “right”.
  4. Create your system to overcome your barriers and make the strategy part of your daily routine. You may need to increase your skills or knowledge or change your schedule.  I decided to make meditation the first thing I did every morning – even if it was just for one minute. In addition, I added a meditation podcast to my commute listening routine to increase my understanding of the techniques.
  5. Revise and perfect. As you go along, the system you are putting into place needs to adapt to you and the changes in your life. It may be that you were too ambitious and need to make it simpler, or that you incorporated the changes easily and need to create new ones to keep moving forward. The key here is that you have a dynamic system that allows you to change and not fall into the failure trap.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. It takes time to cultivate new habits and create new lifestyle practices. The real path to successful health improvements is a longterm view. This is not a “crash diet”. You are making changes that will benefit you for the rest of your life. Today, I meditate for 25 minutes every morning- something I never could have imagined when I started out last year.

Learn more here –

Happy eating (and systems creating)!


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