Why I’m Not Setting Goals This Year

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Turn things upside down this year. Don’t set goals. Instead create systems that will help you have a better life!

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Usually I’m all about setting goals at the new year. In fact, I relish the time to sit down with my planner and emblazon my goals in ink on the pages.

However, a lot of the things that I write as goals are really just dreams

So to power out on my “goals” sometimes seems silly because while you can wish for dreams to come true, you can’t really make them come to fruition.

For instance, last year at this time I was struggling with vertigo. It was a long, arduous, six-month process before I could lie down without the room spinning. 

I had a goal to cure my vertigo. And while there were some things I could do to increase my chances of that happening, like doing my exercises and going to physical therapy, it wasn’t completely in my hands.

With the possibility that it was a tumor causing my issues, it took an MRI and a negative testing for Meuniere’s Disease, more than just exercises, to rule out the possible causes and get me “cured”.

Eventually, my PT and I got it done, but there were times when the “goal” felt much more like a wish. 

For what it’s worth, I’ve still got ringing in my ear that the ENT said might never go away. #wishing

tulip paintings on wall behind arm chair and table with vase of tulips

Another goal of mine from last year was to have a more restful, tidy home. It’s a great goal and 100% achievable — if you live alone.

But I don’t.

I live with six other people. I can increase my chances of having a restful, tidy home by giving my kids clear expectations and setting up procedures in our home for everyone to follow, but it’s not completely in my hands.

My goal is dependent on circumstances that are sometimes outside my control.

You get where I’m going with this, right? As a mom, goal setting doesn’t always look the same as someone else’s. And it’s not always as cut and dry as the productivity books would have you think. So, I’ve been rethinking this whole productivity/goal setting paradigm.

Last spring I read Atomic Habits. And before that I read How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big which is now a yearly reread for me. A key message in both books is this:

Habits trump goals.

In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams writes,

goals are for losers….For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal — if you reach it all — feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game.

weight loss before after pictures

How I’m Fighting the Frump

Now before you think this guy is the loser, let me point out that 1. the book is brilliantly hilarious, and 2. rather than just be a party pooper, he suggests an alternative to goals:

systems, or as some may say, habits.

A system is something that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal….goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in your life.

I don’t know about you, but I want to get to a better place in life. And while goals are good, I think systems are better.

Developing systems that will go the distance.

Last year one of my biggest accomplishments was that I lost over 20 pounds. Believe it or not, that number wasn’t even my original goal. I surpassed my goal!

My goal was to lose 17, but I had developed a system of nutrition* that worked well, so well, that I lost more than what I intended and have kept it off for over six months.

The goal wasn’t the thing. The system was.

When you develop a system or a habit for healthier, better living, and you practice that system, you’re always moving forward to that better place in life. It’s more sustainable than a goal, emotionally and physically.

journal of accomplishments

So, this year, rather than setting goals, I’m developing systems that will help me live a better life and be a better person.

Healthy Habits & Systems I’m Cultivating

  • Move every day – take a walk, run at the gym, do yoga
  • Stay hydrated – I’ve got a great water bottle and a great mug as well as teas that I enjoy stocked up.
  • Eat veggies most – One of the things that helped me lose weight last year was loading up on vegetables before I ate other foods. Meal prepping helped me do this even on days I didn’t feel like it. Let’s face it: laziness plays a big factor in our eating habits. I plan to continue this habit forever.
  • Journal every week – My journaling is half rant/half prayer. I feel it when I don’t do it. My thoughts are jumbled and I’m much more selfish. When I journal, I feel like I can think straight.
  • Surround myself with good people – Whether through reading/listening or in person, I’m choosing to surround myself with people who will spur me on to be the best version of me. This means making it a habit to text or talk with good friends, read good books, and fill my social media and podcast feeds with people who inspire me to be better. This also means avoiding or eliminating sources of ill will and toxicity, even if they share DNA with me. (Yes, I really said that.)

I want to continue learning and growing as a person. I want to be a better version of myself. And while I have a list of accomplishments I want to tackle this year, I know that it’s systems that will help me get there.

What do you think? Will you work on goals or systems this year?

*Yes, I’ve got a post in the works to explain how I lost the weight.

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  1. I just started “Atomic Habits” this weekend. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.

    Reading your post made me stop and think about my own goals. Although I call them goals, they are more of systems to build habits and keep those habits on track. I’m going to look at them again and see if there are any other ways I can build systems into my days and weeks to help me.

  2. Thank you for writing this! It really helped me. I have been struggling mentally this whole month. I want to make changes in my life but I am sooo tired of setting the same dang goals and getting nowhere. I want to give up. So I am at war with myself. I like the idea of working on systems and habits instead of worrying about the end result and feeling like a failure. You have given me a lot to think about.

  3. I’ve requested the book from the library and looking forward to it.

    Sounds like a great idea! Years ago I stopped making resolutions and started stating intentions. For example: I will eat healthier as much as I can and hope to also lose a few pounds, instead of I will lose N pounds and not be overweight. This was especially helpful since N was a large number but I could feel good if I ended the year even 4 or 5 pounds lighter and year by year I got closer. I’m still not all the way there, but every year I try to at least not gain any back.

    I think it is important not to set yourself up for failure and negative feelings by keeping even intentions as attainable as possible.

  4. I have struggled with obesity my whole life. One of my earliest memories is sneaking food in the hopes no one would catch me eating between meals. Based on where we lived, I know I was less than 5 years of age. I managed to lose and keep off 95 lbs. for a decade. Then I started having children. Over the course of my pregnancies I gained back 60 lbs. I have yet to feel the motivation to work long term to lose and keep the weight off again. Going on a diet never seems to work for long. Might have to give the systems vs. goals some thought. I know I would feel better if I lost the excess weight.

    1. Dieting has never worked for me, but I am slowly approaching a healthier weight by concentrating on eating healthy and moving/exercising more. I try to lose a pound every month or so. This doesn’t require the strict dieting, but still keeps me getting slowly healthier. The best part is that I’m doing it by making small changes in my lifestyle that I plan to be permanent so no up and down peaks in my weight.

      Do whatever works for you! But, this granny just wanted to chime in with a suggestion and some best wishes for the year ahead. I do think it is important to stay positive and set positive goals instead of negative ones, such as I will eat more vegetables first instead of I won’t eat X. For me planning not to eat something never works, but concentrating on eating healthy does help.

      Good luck whatever you decide.

    1. Do! He’s pretty sharp, that guy. Definitely read the Fail one. I’m still working on Loserthink, but it’s definitely giving me food for thought.