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Everyone thinks goal setting is the path to success. Here’s why they’re wrong.

We all have things that we want to be successful at in life.

We want to get into better shape, write a book, have a loving relationship, raise a happy family, win the championship, and so on.

For most of us, the path to success begins by setting a specific and actionable goal.

This was how I approached my life until recently. I would set goals for my health, relationships, business and even my body.

What I’m now realizing, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done in areas that are meaningful to me, there’s a much better way to approach things.

It comes down to the difference between goals and processes.

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Here’s what I mean.

The difference between goals and processes

  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your process is to write a certain amount each day.
  • If you’re a long distance runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your process is to run a certain amount each week.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. You design marketing, sales and product development processes.
  • If you’re a sports coach, your goal is to win the championship. Your process what your team does at practice each day.

Think of the following question:

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your process, would you still get your results?

My proposition is that you would. In fact, you would more likely achieve success.

Here’s an example. At Ideapod we created the blog you’re reading this article on, and over the last 6 months we’ve written over 2,000 articles at an average word count of 700 words each, reaching around 140,000 words. The average book is 50-60,000 words, so we’ve written enough to fill more than two books since beginning this blog.

We never set a specific goal or writing two books. If we had have, that would have been overwhelming. Instead, we set up a process where we consistently wrote 10 articles per day between us (usually two people although we’ve also had some guest writers).

Our results have exceeded expectations, with the blog bringing over 2 million unique visitors monthly and growing, and more importantly generating a lot of awareness for our social network, Ideapod.

Having the goal of reaching this many visitors would have been the wrong focus for us. It’s been much better to focus on process.

Here are some reasons why you should focus on processes instead of goals.

1. Goals reduce your current happiness

When you have a goal in mind, you’re basically saying that you’re not currently good enough, but I will be when I reach that goal.

Think about this.

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You’re creating a mindset where you’re putting off your feelings of fulfilment and success until the next milestone is achieved.

You’re putting off your happiness to a later date.

Here’s the solution: commit to your processes, not your goal.

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Committing to a goal creates a massive burden. Think about the blog we created. Can you imagine how much stress we would have been under if we had set the goal of reaching 2 million unique visitors monthly within 6 months? Or writing two full books worth of content?

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Just thinking about that creates stress for me.

Yet we’re always creating this kind of stress in our lives. We’re continually telling ourselves that who we are today is not good enough. We define a future version of ourselves and berate ourselves for not being that person.

When you focus on the processes rather than the goal, you can enjoy the present moment while knowing that you’re continually improving yourself.

2. Goals don’t help achieve long-term progress

It seems logical that goals will help you get better over the long-term. Yet that’s not always the case.

I once ran a marathon in 2012, which I consider one of my greatest achievements. About six months before the marathon, I set the goal of finishing it.

I started running every day, quickly improving my fitness levels. All of my efforts were focused on achieving this goal.

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Finishing the marathon is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. Yet after I achieved that goal, my running ground to a halt. I didn’t have the goal to motivate me anymore.

Instead, if I had have been focused on the process of running every week, I may still be running today. I may have run many more marathons in the last 5 years.

The solution is to let go of the pressure of trying to achieve immediate results.

Let go of the goal based mentality and start focusing the long term processes that will create continual improvement.

In the end, processes always win.

3. Goals create the illusion of control

Despite the claims of many clairvoyants, you can’t predict the future.

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Yet whenever we set a goal, that’s what we’re trying to do. We base our goals on all manner of predictions about how fast we’ll progress, even though we really don’t know what’s going to happen along the way.

Instead, it’s much more effective to build in feedback loops that will tell you whether you’re on track or not.

Every day, we look at a range of metrics for our blog. We look at our website analytics, how many people sign up for our email list, whether people are joining Ideapod and how many people are becoming fans of our Facebook page. We also look at the ratios between all of this to understand what our conversion rate is, which we monitor weekly.

Feedback loops are important for the design of any good system because they’ll tell you whether your processes are keeping you on track.

Forget about trying to predict the future, and instead build processes that will tell you when you need to make adjustments.

Embrace your processes

I’m not saying that goals aren’t important. They are. They help set the direction for where you want to get to.

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However, once you’ve set your goals, it’s time to focus instead on the processes that will help you live the life you want to live.

As the author Chuck Close says:

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

HT: James Clear


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Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

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