Updated: 6 days ago
Set SMART goals, they say. That’s the way to achieve anything you want in life, they say. Oh, how I wish it was that simple! Whilst goal setting certainly has its own value, I’m here to talk about why you should focus more on something else. Linked to the first 2 blogs in this series where I spoke about how to train smarter not harder here, and a different perspective of failure here, I’d like to zoom out slightly to the bigger picture. I want to talk about why setting goals is overrated, and why we should be focusing on setting systems instead for more effective badminton training.
Firstly, why do people set goals? Because they ignite the motivation to take action, they help to guide our focus, they provide a sense of accomplishment when we achieve them, and therefore develop our self-confidence to achieve more. Amazing. But… what about when we don’t achieve the goal that we set out to achieve? And what about the giant gap between where we are now and being able to achieve the goal? I think there may be a lot of valuable information missing, which may also be why there’s often a perception that success happens overnight - because we promote the idea of merely needing to set goals to achieve them. We don’t talk about the many failures before that, or the hours and hours of hard work prior, or the systems that were built and running for years to get to that place.
So, what do we mean by setting systems? In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks extensively about the importance of systems. Systems are the processes, repeated actions, and habits built into your lifestyle and routine. This can also include your mindset, the type of content you consume, or the people you surround yourself with. Clear talks about how his results had not so much to do with the goals he set, but almost everything to do with the systems he built and followed. For example, in badminton, your goal may be to win a specific competition, and the system is what you do every day or week to enable that to happen. How many other people do you think have the same goal as you to win that competition? But why doesn’t everyone reach their goal, and why do people improve at such differing rates? Well, you can thank systems for a large part of that.
Think about it like this - if you ignored your goals and only focused on your system, would you still make progress? Most likely yes. Whereas, if you ignore your system and only focus on your goal, then it would probably be more difficult. You’d most probably be relying on your motivation to keep you going, whereas the great thing about systems is that it doesn’t assume that you will be motivated 100% of the time. On the inevitable days or weeks when you lose motivation, the system is already there and the habits have already been built to keep you going.
Another issue with a goal-first mindset is that it focuses on the outcome. So whether we achieve that goal is actually out of our control, and it doesn’t allow us to feel accomplished until we’ve hit that milestone. We often forget to enjoy the process and don’t allow ourselves to feel content unless we achieve this result. Compared to systems, which largely focus on the processes to achieve long-term improvement, it is the daily, weekly, and monthly habits that we’ve built over time that are largely within our control and allow us to feel accomplished each day/week rather than waiting for this one milestone moment. Essentially, when we focus on systems, the results are likely to follow.
Here are some questions and considerations to think about when creating an effective system:
Does the current environment I am in allow me to build healthy, sustainable habits?
Just how I might have a daily or weekly to-do list for my work or errands, do I have this for my badminton training too?
Do I have the right triggers to help me achieve the daily/weekly to-do’s? E.g. putting a heavy racket out where I can see it every day or setting reminders on my phone.
Am I surrounding myself with people that encourage me and keep me accountable?
What is sustainable and realistic for the lifestyle that I currently have?
Am I taking care of my physical and mental health outside of badminton so that I can maximise my energy and focus during badminton sessions?
Am I focusing on the process or the outcome?
To conclude, both goal setting and systems have their place in success, but systems are what really keep us consistent regardless of fluctuating results or loss of motivation along the way. Goals give a sense of direction, whilst systems are the daily/weekly habits to get there. As a final note, it is super important that you make small and gradual changes in relation to what you’re used to doing already. This makes things much less overwhelming and more likely to be sustained in the long term.
I hope you enjoyed this series and a big thanks to CK for letting me use his platform to share my ideas! You can check out my blog feetengliew.com, or chat with me, keep updated with what I’m up to as well as some other thoughts that I share on my Instagram @mindfullyfee. :)