Explicit goals vs habitual systems

Hey there!

Today I want to explore and see others perspectives on the ‘goals vs systems’ debate. I have no doubt about the efficacy of systems in a general sense, because despite realisable goals, people put themselves forward in a variety of life areas from the actions their systems generate.
Goals on the other hand, seem less central to the direct growth of an individual, but nevertheless promote benefits such as long-term and short-term vision, clarity, and prioritisation.

Personally, setting goals is always challenging, and I may be leaning towards systems here because of my akrasia about the goal setting process. It also seems possible that a combination of both goals and systems might be the most balanced approach here, crafting goals to provide both motivation and structure, whilst your systems generate the direct self-developmental ‘revenue’.

I guess the central question is which is more effective: goals + systems, or double downing on systems as the underpinning of your overarching productivity model?

I’d be interested what any of you think about it :slight_smile:


I guess my thought is that goals are where you’re going, systems are how you get there. So both are important since they serve two different and complimentary purposes. The goal is the compass, the system is the paddle.


There is an unavoidable, inherent goal that’s baked into any system you implement for yourself, whether you realize it or not. It might not be a goal that follows the SMART criteria, but a goal nonetheless. Eg. “Do more of X, or Do less of Y”, etc.

However the reverse isn’t true, and you can set lofty goals with no easily discernable system that arises to achieve it.

It’s difficult to create good goals for yourself without taking a step back and looking at the broader, harder question of what life you want to live / the kind of person you want to be. If you do that, then start up systems that push you forward in the general direction you’d like to be going towards, then goals are sort of just a side-effect.


great question! related reading includes https://malcolmocean.com/2019/12/systems-and-goals-have-both/ and our original blog post on that question: https://blog.beeminder.com/systems/