My evolving thoughts on how I interpret “resolutions” and “systems”
Every time we begin a new year, a decent portion of people will have new year resolutions (i.e. basically goals). It’s like a “restart” for a lot of people, and certainly, it would be nice to “restart” and say goodbye to the wild year that was 2020.
With resolutions, I have gone through a complicated journey with how I approach them. I used to not believe in resolutions at all, believing it was ridiculous to “force” having them at the start of the year every time. I then started believing instead to focus on systems (i.e. the micro routines and tasks you do day to day), but realised you can do that but very quickly get lost in the “trees” and forget about the “forest”. So I have now come full circle, back to resolutions, but in a different light.
I describe it as a more yin and yang approach now. I consider resolutions and systems both equally important, being consciously aware of simultaneously always having one foot in the resolutions and the other foot in the systems. That is a delicate balance.
I think the prevailing wisdom, is that most people tend to focus on setting specific, actionable goals. Each one is treated as simply a goal to be reached. I used to do this too. Whether that was getting into a specific school, attaining a certain HSC mark, securing a decent WAM, reading the Bible more, breaking into the hedge fund industry, picking a number of stocks to generate a return, meeting my soulmate, etc… I succeed in some, but fail in others. It was really only 2016 onwards, when I began to realise that my results had relatively less to do with the resolutions I set and relatively more to do with the systems I followed.
Three examples to distinguish the difference, courtesy of “Atomic Habits” author, James Clear:
- If you’re a coach, your goal might be to win a championship. Your system is the way you recruit players, manage your assistant coaches, and conduct practice.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal might be to build a million-dollar business. Your system is how you test product ideas, hire employees, and run marketing campaigns.
- If you’re a musician, your goal might be to play a new piece. Your system is how often you practice, how you break down and tackle difficult measures, and your method for receiving feedback from your instructor.
Where I believe I differ from James Clear is that he emphasises more on systems > goals, but I like to ideally think of systems = goals.