3 Essential Ideas for Starting a Successful Online Business Part 3: Goals vs. Systems

In part 2 of this series we talked about how to use identity-based goals that will help you keeping going on the road to becoming who you want to be (like a world travelling owner of a successful online business).

And we talked about using identity-based habits to make consistent progress towards those goals to make sure you reach them, even when you can’t find the motivation.

But here’s the thing about goals: they’re not really the best way to get what you want in life.

In fact, it’s possible to do and have more than you could ever imagine if you drop the idea of goals entirely.

Goals can be useful, bet there’s a better way to get the things you want in life.

Confused yet?

Let me explain.

3 Essential Ideas

So, about those goals…

We all have things we want to achieve in our lives.

To get in shape, travel the world, start a successful online business.

But as we’ve talked about in the last two parts of this series (and I’m sure you’ve realized by now), it takes more than a moment of inspiration, a burst of motivation, and a goal to set your sights on.

Working first on who you are, rather than what you want to do, have, or look like is a good start.

But when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress towards what you want in life, there’s a better way than setting even the most specific, actionable goal.

Enter the system

I hinted at this better way in the last post in this series.

It has to do with habits, but today we’re going to take it one step further.

Let’s talk about systems.

Habits are an important part of systems, but systems go further than just habits.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a best-selling book.
  • Your system is a writing schedule that you follow each week to finish the book.
  • If you’re a traveler, your goal is to visit as the most exotic place in the world.
  • Your system is all the planning and travel arrangements that get you from one place to another with everything you need to have a really great time.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a $1 million business.
  • Your system is the production, sales and marketing processes you use to generate and deliver value to your customers (to get paid in return).

So as you can see, we’re might not completely abandon goals yet, but there’s more to being successful than just having good goals.

3 Reasons to focus on systems not goals

Think of it this way:

If you’re an entrepreneur that ignored your goal of building a million dollar business and instead focused only on what you do every day to build products and promote your business, would you still get results?

If every day you were to write a blog post, keep your team on track, and reach out to potential partners, you’d likely get the same if not better results than just focusing on getting to that million dollars in revenue.

Which leads to four really good reasons to focus on systems rather than goals.

1. Goals reduce your current happiness

When you’re working toward a goal, you’re basically saying “I’m not good enough yet, but when I reach my goal, then I will be.”

This is the fixed mindset in action, and like we talked about in the first post in this series, it’s a great way to not get very far in life.

The real problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved.

“Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.”

Not only that, choosing a goal puts a huge burden on your shoulders.

Can you imagine telling yourself “I’m going to build a million dollar business this year.”

Just writing that sentence stresses me out.

But, in less seemingly impossible ways, we do this all the time.

Even a goal that seems easier, like starting a blog that gets 1,000 visitors a month, can have a similar effect.

How do you set up a website?

How do you find a good name for your blog?

How often should you write?

What should you write about?

How are you going to get visitors to your blog?

Why start a blog anyway?

We put unnecessary stress on ourselves when we set goals we don’t know how to achieve and don’t let ourselves feel happy until we achieve them.

Instead, things can be much simpler and less stressful if you focus on the daily process and sticking to your schedules, rather than worrying about big, life-changing goals.

The added benefit is that when you focus on practice and process instead of performance, you can enjoy the present and improve at the same time.

If you decide to start writing every day in order to work towards having your own blog that gets 1,000 visitors a month, you can feel good about yourself every day you write.

2. Goals aren’t very good for long-term progress

You might think your goal will keep you motivated in the long run, but that’s not necessarily true.

Remember that race running story from the last post?

When you set a goal to run in a 5k, you might work hard for months leading up to it, but once it’s all over, you’ll probably stop; you’ve reached your goal.

When all your hard work is focused on pushing towards a certain goal, what’s left to keep you going afterwards?

Going back and forth from goal to goal can create a “yo-yo” effect that makes it hard to build on your progress for the long-term.

Setting a new goal is such a pain!

But when you’re focused on the process, what you accomplish day to day isn’t so important.

For instance, let’s say you have a system of writing every day, and let’s say you’ve gotten up to writing 1000 words.

But then one day, around word 750, your computer crashes (the absolute worst!), and you lose everything.

A goal-based mentality would tell you to start all over again, you’ve got to get those 1,000 words back.

But with a systems-based mentality, you remind yourself that you’re in this for the long haul.

So maybe you write a quick 250 to get there in spirit, or maybe you just move on to the rest of the day.

You’ll get another 1,000 done tomorrow.

With systems-based thinking, it’s never about hitting a particular number, it’s about sticking to the process and not missing a writing session.

Of course, if you never miss a writing session you’ll be able to write a book, or a blog, or anything you want to in the long run.

That’s why systems are more valuable than goals.

Goals are about short term results.

Systems are about long-term process.

In the end, sticking to a process will always win.

3. Goals assume you can control things you can’t

In case you didn’t know, nobody can predict the future (for now).

But that’s exactly what we try to do every time we set a goal.

We try to plan where we’ll be, when we’ll be there, and that we’ll want to be there when we arrive.

We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what challenges will pop up along the way.

So in our writing example, let’s say every Friday you look back on how many words you wrote that week and scan through your writing to find the one thing you did best and the one thing that you could improve the most.

You don’t have to spend every minute you’re writing stressing about reaching a certain number of words, or how well you’re doing.

Just by checking in every week, you’ll be able to see if you’re writing more or less, whether you’re making the same mistakes or getting better at them, and naturally, you’ll begin to guide yourself towards becoming better.

Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without having to predict what’s going to happen with everything, all the time.

Which is harder to do when you’re too stressed and too busy putting your head down to grind towards some big goal.

Forget about predicting the future and build a system that tells you when you need to make adjustments.

But there is a place for goals

None of this means goals are totally useless, though.

They have their place in doing the things we want to like starting a successful online business.

Goals are great for planning your progress.

Goals help you figure out what direction to go and can show you how close you are to the right path.

If starting a successful blog is your goal and you have a system of writing every day, you’ll make progress towards building that blog, rather than writing a book, or just a really long diary by being able to focus on writing for your blog.

Goals can even give you a short term boost when you need it by reminding you of what you want to achieve, how far you’ve come, and how close you’re getting.

With the goal of starting a successful blog, you can look back at all the posts you’ve written to get that next one written when you’re thinking about skipping, and you can see your traffic growing to remind yourself of how well you’re doing when you’re in doubt.

Systems, on the other hand, are good for actually making progress.

Systems are a lot better at keeping you moving when times get tough.

When you build a habit of showing up and writing every day, no matter what, on those days when you feel sick or tired or distracted it’ll be that much easier to sit down and just start writing anyway.

If what you write today isn’t that good, there’s always tomorrow (as long as you stick to your writing system!).

And systems ensure you’re consistently making progress towards becoming the person you want to be, the person who has the things you want to have and does the things you want to do.

It takes at least dozens of blog posts and months (if not years) of consistent effort to finally have a successful blog you can live off of.

But if you stick to that commitment of writing every day, you’ll always be making progress, even when you can’t tell how close you are.

One last perk of using systems

So getting what you want in life comes down to not just goals, not just systems, but using the two together.

In case you’re not quite on board with using systems yet, here’s one more reason you should start using them: systems create opportunities you can’t even imagine.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you’re doing an amazing job of building your blog.

You post twice a week, without a miss.

You write every day and are constantly getting better at it.

And you’ve been working to build enough traffic to your site to be able to make decent money from ads (which you haven’t put up yet because that’s a whole other project!).

You’re just getting ready to start working on figuring this whole advertising thing out when you get an email you totally weren’t expecting.

It’s from someone that runs a similar blog, one you constantly read, saying they really love your work and are thinking about writing a book.

And they want to write it with you.

Now all of a sudden, an entirely new thought enters your mind: what if you made money selling books, rather than advertising?

If this book does well, you could reach a whole new audience (which ads won’t do).

If it does really well, it could open you up to doing speaking gigs around the world (which ads won’t do).

And it might even lead to enough exposure that that personal hero of yours reaches out to meet you (which will NEVER happen because you run ads on your site).

Better yet, what could happen if you write 2 books, 10 books, or more?

Just like that, you’re on an entirely new, better path that you weren’t even planning on taking (at least for a while, if ever).

And because you’re focused on systems, not goals, it’s super easy to drop that whole ads business to pursue this book writing thing.

That’s why it’s systems + goals

Goals to get you on the right track with a little boost every now and then.

Systems to get you where you want to go and where you’d never imagine getting to.

Additional Resources:

Previous Posts in this Series

  • Part 2
  • Part 3

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