What Are Success Systems and How do They Work?


This is going to sound like “coach blasphemy,” but I am going to pose the question anyway: how well do goals work? I’ve seen goal-setting work incredibly well for some people, but in all honesty, I’m not one of them. Do they work for you? If not, I may have an explanation … and an alternative.

While I didn’t find any specific facts about goals, I did find this: According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and only 8% are successful in achieving that resolution. Since resolutions are a lot like goals, I’m going to take the liberty of allowing this small leap to validate my position.

Here are some pitfalls to goals that get me twisted up:

  • We tend to look for large changes instead of reasonable shifts or progress towards change.
  • We tend to ignore the environment and culture around the goals, causing conflicts or barriers to success.
  • We tend to think abstractly about goals instead of being objective or concrete about the outcomes – and more importantly, the process by which we will live and behave in the pursuit of those outcomes.

In fact, setting goals as “cultural procrastination” is one of the most significant barriers to accomplishments, according to Dr. Timothy Pychyl, Professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

Goals, after all, are a process … but we often forget about the process when we set goals as if the goal alone will pull us into a successful result. So how do we break through these barriers and pitfalls? Two words: Success Systems. Read on to find out why.

  1. Goals Delay Happiness.

When we engage in traditional goal-setting, a psychological phenomenon known as “hedonistic adaptation” supports a subconscious internal message to our brains saying “I am not good enough.” This is not a low self-esteem problem; it’s our tendency to put off happiness until the next milestone – and no matter how many milestones are set, we are conditioned to not be happy until there’s another milestone. This phenomenon attributes “shadow energy” to the driven and ambitious leader rarely being satiated and worse, possibly missing the fulfillment of achievements along the way.

Success Systems celebrate the achievements along the way. They encourage and enable us to find happiness and a sense of achievement in the journey, rather than the end result. For example, instead of setting a goal to “hire the best administrative assistant,” you can set up a hiring system that calls for two meaningful interview conversations a week for the next three weeks. As you have those meaningful conversations, the aspiration of hiring the best person will show up, or not. The idea is simple, really – focus on the smaller steps toward the aspiration!

  1. Goals Derail Long-Term Progress.

Goals do not modify current behavior very well, and they also stunt long-term progress by redirecting our attention from process to outcomes. Outcomes are important, obviously; however, and somewhat ironically, they are not the most important part of fulfillment. In the book “Stumbling on Happiness” by Dan Gilbert, the author shows that the dynamics of true fulfillment and happiness are proven to be in the pursuit of such, not the achievement.

Success Systems focus on the pursuit. Instead of setting a goal to “Increase monthly sales by X percent,” breaking down sales in your industry into meaningful steps and focusing on the activity of those steps will bring more fulfillment (and achievement). Focus on five new client calls a week and touching base with three existing clients each week in the month. Track the sales percentage increase, of course, but focus on the process, not the goal for increased performance and fulfillment.

  1. Goals Lure Us Into Believing We Can Control The Future.

Controlling the future appeals to me a great deal, despite knowing it’s complete folly.

Success Systems aimed at an aspiration work for me much more effectively than traditional goal-setting. As I read more on the topic, I found that many people who have ADHD or ADD, are on the autism spectrum, or struggle with anxiety, depression, or stress – as well as those who are simply languishing (neither depressed nor flourishing) – find Success Systems to be much more effective than setting goals. I am keenly aware that many people fall into one or more of the previously mentioned categories, and I wonder just how our mental well-being may shift by putting better Success Systems – and therefore more potential for happiness and sense of achievement – in place for ourselves and those we lead.

For more information on how Emergent can assist you and your organization’s leaders achieve more with success systems, email me at bill@getemergent.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Christy on June 10, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    Goals need to be set and sometimes you meet them and sometimes you don’t, have to be ok which ever way it turns out.

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