The Problem with Goals (and What to Do Instead)

What James Clear realized about achieving real success

Read time: 1 minute

Popular advice tells us that setting clear, practical goals is the key to success.

But focusing too much on goals can hurt us.

While setting goals is great for finding direction, it’s our systems that bring us:

  • faster progress,

  • improved outcomes,

  • long-term results,

  • and more happiness.

After many failures in business, fitness, and life, James Clear came to this realization:

Results have very little to do with goals and almost everything to do with following systems.

“Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win.”

– James Clear

In his book, Atomic Habits, James presents four major problems with having a goal-oriented mindset.

🔸 Problem #1

Winners and losers have the same goals.

Goal setting is misleading because it only looks at the winners. It ignores the people who didn’t succeed despite having the same goals. Real success comes from making small, continuous improvements.

🔸 Problem #2

Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.

Cleaning your room fixes it temporarily, but without a system to keep the room clean, the clutter will always return. True improvement comes from changing the systems behind our actions, not just the outcomes

🔸 Problem #3

Goals restrict your happiness.

Focusing only on goals delays our happiness until the next achievement. This creates a mindset where happiness is always for the future. Adopting a systems-first approach allows us to find joy in the process itself.

🔸 Problem #4

Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

A goal-oriented mindset often leads to a yo-yo effect. Motivation disappears after achieving a goal, causing us to revert to old habits. Long-term success depends more on commitment to the process than on reaching a single milestone.

Read the full article here (5-minute read)


In my letter next Tuesday, I’ll show you how to create effective systems using tips from Atomic Habits.

🤖 Robert

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