Goals Are Overrated – See Why


My philosophy is that losers have goals and winners have systems. – Scott Adams

When it comes to health and fitness, setting goals is the go-to strategy for most people. It is often termed the best way to achieve success. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that goals are overrated, and according to the above quote from Scott Adams setting goals is like setting yourself up for failure, especially when it comes to health & fitness. An alternative and much more effective strategy is implementing systems.

Let’s break down the two philosophies:

  • The goal-setting approach involves setting specific goals (for instance: I want to lose 20 kg) simply put, if you’re waiting towards achieving something sometimes in the future, it’s a goal.
  •  The system approach by contrast revolves around your habit and the overall process. It’s something you do every day. (For instance: I want to eat a healthy meal every day). This approach is more effective because it increases your happiness in the long run regardless of the instant result. The basic idea is simply not allowing a single day to pass without doing something, irrespective of how little it is. 

A lot has been said about these two philosophies, with wildly different opinions. Let’s examine why you shouldn’t set health and fitness goals for yourself:

  1. Goals focus only on the desired result
    You want to lose 25 pounds, bench more than your weight and get visible abs. These are great goals. But then how do you intend to make all that happen? The fundamental problem with goals is that, they don’t address the most important thing – action.

  2. Goals set you up for failure
    Setting goals keeps you in a state of constant failure. For instance, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, you may easily lose your motivation and give up completely because you are not seeing instant progress. Even if you eventually achieve that goal, what happens next?  You set another goal, plunging yourself right back to where you’ve started, again at 0% progress towards this new goal. Any delay in progress can easily kill your motivation and enthusiasm towards this goal and you may abandon it completely.

Health & fitness success is actually a system, not a goal
Unlike goals, systems allow you to stay on track and in the right direction. Even if and when you experience setbacks, you don’t lose motivation, because you’re not fixated on a specific goal but instead a path. All you have to do is push yourself back towards that direction. You work in synergy with the system to optimize your effort and maximize the odds of the desired outcome coming to fruition.

You want to lose a ton of weight, sounds great, but how exactly do you plan to achieve that feat? Most times we focus on the grandeur of the expectedsuccess, without laying a concrete plan. Instead of concentrating on how much weight you want to lose, implement systems that will help you to achieve the ultimate goal. For instance, you can have a system like this in place:

  • Eat breakfast every day
  • Go the gym four days a week
  • Substitute all beverages with water

By mapping out a system and defining the steps, your weight loss goal is broken down into easily trackable habits, which helps you to clearly identify what needs to be done. You can confidently point to the road map and say “these steps lead me here”.   Implementing a system could also include educating yourself about healthy food choices and exercises, drawing on the knowledge to form good habits. The systems will make each day productive without the fear of failure that accompanies focusing on goals alone.

Main points 

  • Systems is a superior alternative strategy to goal-setting, gives you a structure that you can build your lives and routines around to keep you on track. 
  • A system will allow you to focus on what you can control (your actions) rather than what you can’t (the infinitely unpredictable external world). 
  • Building a system will help you to be more effective and allow you to spend more time on what’s important. 

Implement systems
Having said all the above, understand that goals are not useless, in fact they are important when it comes to planning the process. However, systems are effective for actually making progress. Your goals can motivate and provide direction in the short term, but ultimately a well-designed system will always win. Implementing a system and committing to the process is what makes the difference in the long run.