Why goal-setting is overrated
A pet-peeve of mine is when a player or coach before a game states that ‘We have to win today’. The problem is that it is a meaningless comment, both teams will have the same goal to win, yet both teams can’t.
This article will be using the lessons learned from the award winning bestseller “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, “The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.James Clear
Is goal setting completely useless? Of course not, it serves a purpose but many times it is misinterpreted. In football especially we’re victim to this, ‘its all about winning’, ‘you have to want it more than them’. These kind of statements tend to become white noise and unhelpful. I was once told by another coach ‘dont think about who’s going to win the race, think about how you’re going to run the race.’
As the author of Atomic Habits, James Clear says ” A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.”
James Clears’ 4 problems with goal setting:
- Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals. Goal setting suffers from a serious case of survivorship bias. We concentrate on the people who end up winning—the survivors—and mistakenly assume that ambitious goals led to their success while overlooking all of the people who had the same objective but didn’t succeed.
- Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change. Imagine you have a messy room and you set a goal to clean it. If you summon the energy to tidy up, then you will have a clean room—for now. But if you maintain the same sloppy, pack-rat habits that led to a messy room in the first place, soon you’ll be looking at a new pile of clutter and hoping for another burst of motivation. You’re left chasing the same outcome because you never changed the system behind it. You treated a symptom without addressing the cause.
- Problem #3: Goals restrict your happiness. The implicit assumption behind any goal is this: “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.” The problem with a goals-first mentality is that you’re continually putting happiness off until the next milestone.
- Problem #4: Goals are at odds with long-term progress. Finally, a goal-oriented mind-set can create a “yo-yo” effect. Many runners work hard for months, but as soon as they cross the finish line, they stop training. The race is no longer there to motivate them. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it? This is why many people find themselves reverting to their old habits after accomplishing a goal.
Clear found that a more effective long term solution to goal setting, is to set up ‘systems’. So what is the difference between goals and systems?
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.James Clear
Goals tend to set the direction of where you want to go, but systems are what you do to get there.
HOW TO SET UP A SYSTEM
- SET YOUR IDENTITY: First, decide what you want your identity to be. “The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this”. An example that Clear used in his book was somebody who wanted to quit smoking, a man who was asked if he wanted a cigarette changed his answer from “I’m trying to quit smoking” to “Im not a smoker”, study after study showed this a more effective way in changing and cementing a habit.
“The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader. The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician”James Clear
- 1% A DAY IS BETTER THAN 0%: Start Small – In the beginning, small improvements can often seem meaningless because they seem like it wont make a difference. Just as one coin won’t make you rich, one positive change like meditating for one minute or reading one page each day is unlikely to deliver a noticeable difference. Setting a target of 30 minutes reading/exercise a day may be easy for the 1st day or 2 as your motivation is high, but for the majority this will soon waver. Start with something small, simple and regular. 5 minutes exercise a day, 10 push ups a day, even 1 push up a day. Whatever it is, the important thing is for it to become a habit. Without a doubt, if you start with 1 push up, you will most likely automatically start to increase it, as with reading 1 page, you’ll soon start to bypass to more pages.
Set a 2 minute rule to get yourself started (you’ll most likely go beyond that): “A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path”
“If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection”James Clear
- FALL IN LOVE WITH BOREDOM: “The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom”. Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated. It’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference.
So what to do when you don’t feel like it? Do it, but make it easier. The important aspect is consistency. “This is why the ‘bad’ workouts are often the most important ones. Sluggish days and bad workouts maintain the compound gains you accrued from previous good days. Simply doing something—ten squats, five sprints, a push-up, anything really—is huge. Don’t put up a zero. Professionals take action even when the mood isn’t right”.
“The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom.”James Clear
- CONNECT A NEW HABIT ONTO AN EXISTING HABIT: What is a habit that you do everyday without really thinking about? Showering for example could be a good action trigger to attach your new habit to. “Before I have a shower I will do 5 push ups”, again this is nothing groundbreaking, but you’ll be amazed by how quickly you’ll see improvements, and how often you go beyond 5 push ups.
“Your morning routine habit stack might look like this: After I pour my morning cup of coffee, I will meditate for sixty seconds. After I meditate for sixty seconds, I will write my to-do list for the day. After I write my to-do list for the day, I will immediately begin my first task.”James Clear
As a coach this has allowed me to add habits into my training sessions (as well as advising players how to create individual habits). “Before we start training (action trigger), set up a rondo between yourselves”; “After the final whistle of training (action trigger), shake hands with your teammates and put the bibs in the bag”.
JAMES CLEARS’ 4 LAWS OF BEHAVIOUR CHANGE:
- Make it obvious,
- Make it attractive
- Make it easy
- Make it satisfying.