How do you drive consistent outcomes over a long-period of time?
There are two ways of implementing a system to drive outcomes—goal driven or process driven. In my experience, the best kind of outcomes were driven by continuous efforts from every day, not occasional.
Why lean on process driven? A well-defined process can unload cognitive overhead by nurturing creativity. And as you know, creativity never stops. A well-defined process also never stops. But goals do!
Systems can act as a superpower or supervillain.
As a basketball fan, I loved late Kobe Bryant's mindset on journey. He defined the process approach as a way of life. There are countless other athletes and celebrated artists who thought similarly.
In my early professional days, I often thought chasing goals would yield happiness. But just like a butterfly, the more I chased goals, the more it evaded me. The moment I abandoned that chase, I found butterflies sitting on my shoulders. Process allows you to be mindful and observe things around you. Process allows you to go on a journey and enjoy it.
Direction then becomes so much important than speed because goal is time bounded whereas process is not. Process allows you to account for failures and being wrong. It supports the complexity of life, and it works beautifully if it has a feedback loop. You can turn the lever up or down depending on how life is on any given day.
Life-changing transformations don't happen overnight. It requires mundane, everyday lifestyle choices over long-period of time. Setting a time bounded goal of eating healthy is a short-term thinking vs a healthy lifestyle. Another example is looking for a quick dollar vs long-term investing.
A well-defined process allows for a long-term over short-term outcomes. It accounts for small and incremental changes which then forces us to build right habits, sustainable work-ethic, and positive behavior. However, systems could also backfire. For example, drinking alcohol every day can also turn into a habit. Systems thinking takes a lot of time and effort, but when compounded over time, it seems to be the best path towards true and meaningful progress.
The danger with goals is that when reached, the motivation seems to decline. Goal seeking mode will lead to a depression wall. Goals are gamed in a way to yield short-term benefits. Goals are outcome-based. Hence, systems are better than goals.
If systems are superpower then process should be your goal.
For me that is how I operate! Without process there is no discipline, without discipline there is no rigor, without rigor there is only hope.
This is my only goal in life when it comes to setting goals. I say this loudly and repetitively to remind myself that goals are trap (to a certain extent). But it didn't start out that way. In an information driven culture, I saw ambitious goals of others, so I also wanted to set ambitious goals for myself. Read 24 books in a year. Start a company by xyz date. Travel x amount of times. Accumulate x amount of wealth.
First, I didn't always accomplish these goals. Reading was the closest thing I could accomplish, but that also became a task. So I abandoned a hobby that I enjoyed so much. Second, I felt empty if I ever accomplished any of my goals as if I had forgotten about being grateful and show gratitude.
Then I came across Deep Work by Cal Newport and focused and diffused technique by Dr. Barbara Oakley. I adopted those lessons in my own workflow. However, I still kept up with setting goals for every new year. My productivity increased, and I managed to accomplish several of my goals. But the feeling of emptiness persisted.
Goal setting was clearly becoming a status game so lessening the importance of accomplishing x number of goals became a primary objective. I started focusing more on process. A system that would enable the dynamics of my environment. By eliminating status seeking goals, I have accomplished more than I could've ever imagined. And the most important of all, I no longer feel empty.
I started taking an inspiration from Benjamin Franklin's daily system. He was a systems thinker. He also accomplished a lot in his lifetime. He set up a system to ask daily questions at the start of the day and at the end of the day: what good shall I do today? and what good I have done today? This is a very simple, yet impactful system. He spent time reflecting back everyday while moving forward. He frequently journaled which allowed for daily reflection.
As an adult, I have gone deeper and deeper into habit creation which are strictly practiced. I use Notion to manage my process. However, tools do not shape me or my process, but the process does. Tools play an important role to keep up with the process, but the tools could be a simple pen and a paper.
On the cautionary side, a system is useless without a good path to guide it. Systems driven thinking has gotten popular because it can lead to mediocrity. You can fool yourself by checking off boxes. For example, just checking off a box that you are exercising does not indicate progress.
If no results have been gained over a period of time, your system is broken. You need a system with well-defined feedback loops. Process can invite a participation trophy which is not meaningful at all. If a system is well-defined and used deliberately, it can bring a positive change.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. They both yield results. A meaningful result or not is upon you to decide.