by Jenna Kutcher
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Here’s the truth… It really doesn’t matter all that much WHAT your big goal is — whether it’s to train for a marathon, start your own online business, make six figures this year, write a children’s book, or something in between. I think we’ve all experienced this desire to do something important and then have no clue where to start or what to do first.
Because, that big thing whatever it may be, is what holds us back more often than not! Let it be a guide, but focus more on the small, daily steps and actions to get you there because that is what will change your life. The only way to actually achieve your goals is to build systems that propel you toward them every single day.
In this episode, we’ll talk about how to build these systems so that you can achieve ANY lofty goal you might have on your heart, whether it’s for work, your family, your finances, or something personal. And more than that, we’ll talk about how to create habits that reinforce your system, so achieving a goal isn’t just a one-time thing, but a life-changing thing that sticks around and makes you better long-term, not just on the day you get to check off your goal.
Focus on the Process
As much as we all want big things and lofty accomplishments for our futures, the actual getting to accomplish that big thing is often more overwhelming than just dreaming it up. The steps it takes to bring our largest goals from idea to reality are usually many and they’re often time-consuming, so much so that most people stay in the idea phase, that feminine energy, because they’re not sure where to start with taking action or how to tap into their masculine side that can help get things in motion.
As humans, I think we’re designed to always want more and be on to the next thing and keep striving for purpose and accomplishment and while that can sometimes comes at the sacrifice of living in the present or finding joy in the in-between, I also think that yearning for something bigger and more is a GOOD thing if you can approach it with the right mindset and practices.
I didn’t necessarily set out on my entrepreneurship journey with the goal to lead thousands of entrepreneurs through processes to build their businesses and reach larger audiences… In fact, that wasn’t even on my radar. I was recently talking with a friend and work came up and she had this “aha” moment of like, “Whoaaa Jenna, you never really planned this whole thing, along the way and as you learned, it all started to fall into place, but you never started with any of this in mind.”
Unknowingly, I was focusing more on the processes and systems that worked vs. shooting for a random goal and hoping I hit it. And I was refining those processes and systems to make them as effective as possible, eliminating steps or actions that didn’t yield results, and nailing down the exact way to achieve the goal in mind.
Those systems? Those were what led to significant business advancement, a growing social media reach, partnerships and experiences I never could’ve dreamed to put on my list of goals at the beginning of all this. Those systems led to accomplishments that weren’t even on my vision board because I didn’t know they were possible.
Name your actionable goal
So even though I want you to focus less on the goal itself and more on the systems it takes to get there, it still helps to know where we’re going. You want to have some sort of way to name that thing you’re in the pursuit of.
SMART goals are definitely fabulous for everyday goals but for the purpose of attaining our BIGGEST, juiciest goals, I want you to focus on the “a” in SMART on making your goals actionable. So that means focusing on DOING rather than being or becoming something.
Instead of saying you have a goal to “BE healthy,” you could say your goal is to “live an active lifestyle, get 8 hours of sleep each night, move my body for 30 minutes a day and eat whole foods that fuel your body.” Or instead of saying “I want to become a millionaire,” you could say “I want to build a 7-figure-producing business through 1:1 services, group coaching, and online resources.”
Putting verbs and actions behind your goals rather than just titles makes it so much easier to break them down, add in the details that’ll support the goal, and build the systems it will take to get there. While you’re focusing on the actionable aspect, I want for you to go a step further too, and root your goal down to a why… WHY is it that you want this thing to happen or come to life? What’s the purpose behind it? What would it mean for your personal or professional or family life? Why is this important?
Getting clear on your “why” can sometimes find underlying desires or the real root of what you believe will be true if you achieve that goal and in that, it might reveal different paths you could take to get there. So really ask yourself “why” over and over again to get to that heart of the goal itself and then write down your why with your goal so you have something deeper to connect to when life gets busy or your schedule gets insane or distractions threaten to throw your goal off course.
Make sure you get absolutely crystal clear on your goal and your why before moving onto the actions, habits, and systems it’ll take to get there.
Break it down into milestones
The tough part about big goals is finding ways to make them less overwhelming — can I get an amen? So as you’re considering the end result, I want for you to also pick out 3 to 5 main milestones or markers to hit along the way. I want to give you reasons and excuses to celebrate along the journey — a lot of times in life, our biggest goals are marathons, not sprints.
So break up that giant goal into a few little milestones that will prove to you that you’re taking action and making things happen. These can look like anything that tracks your progress forward in what look almost like chapters.
So if your goal is to run a half marathon, your milestones might be: 1. create a running and training schedule, 2. plan out when and where you’ll do your runs, 3. start your training program, 4. Run a certain mileage and then 5. eventually do the race.
When you have pieces along the way to check in and check ‘em off, it doesn’t feel so big or all-consuming as this impossible, massive thing you’ve never done before and it helps you keep pace knowing that you’re progressing and that your actions are leading to results along the way.
Build systems to maintain consistency
Now that you know the big end picture and the general steps or milestones it’ll take to get there, you can begin to create systems to support your forward motion toward your goal.
Oooh, systems – just the word is sexy to me. I am a highly systemized gal, I thrive on systems. So let’s say you’re an entrepreneur who wants to take your side hustle and make it your full time biz in the next 12 months.
That’s your goal, and your system might be to test new offer ideas, hire employees to execute your plans at a faster rate, and run smart marketing campaigns. You’ll find that the results you get have less to do with the goal itself and WAY more to do with the plans and systems you set up and follow consistently.
The real way to win or achieve your goal is to practice getting better every day. Three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh said that “the score takes care of itself,” meaning that when we’re focusing on small practices that build strong habits, we’ll win when we achieve our goals. And in that process, we may even achieve something BETTER or more incredible than we initially imagined. The score takes care of itself.
There’s so much pressure and focus on setting ambitious goals and going after the biggest aspirations, but I’d argue that the best successes come more from focusing on the everyday choices and routines we build that move us toward those fancy-shmancey goals. James Clear says that goals are good for planning your progress, and systems are good for actually making progress. Being able to commit to a process is what makes all the difference.
Putting a system into action
Here’s an example of setting up a system to support a larger goal. If you want to start your own business, that feels like an immense project to take on especially if you have no entrepreneurship experience and have only ever worked a 9-5. Setting up a few milestones is the perfect place to start, like: picking a business concept, creating an email list to speak to potential customers, and building out your plan for a product or service that you’ll offer to customers.
That still feels pretty big, though, right? So setting up the system to launch your business looks like taking small steps every day toward each smaller milestone. So let’s say on day 1, you start working toward that first milestone and make a giant list of all the businesses you could realistically, potentially start.
Day 2 you could narrow it down to the top 3 ideas that excite you most. Days 3 through 10 could be spent surveying your network and friends to see which concept fills a hole or meets a need the best and what people seem most interested in. See how these little steps of action move you forward and toward your goal so much more fluidly and consistently than if you were to just name a big goal and then wonder what next?
Can you see how systems can fuel results around you goals and sorta be the gift that keeps on giving? The key to setting up systems is consistency.
Your goals won’t become realized if you’re not constantly taking action every day, but the kicker is that it doesn’t need to take over your life. You can spend 30, 15, or even 5 minutes a day working toward a big goal and still achieve it — and yeah, it’ll take some time but that’s not what matters. Time will pass regardless. What matters is the progress which builds momentum that feeds your desire to keep going, to keep taking those steps.
Start thinking of goals like a game
One thing that helped me approach goals more holistically was to start thinking of them as a game I want to continue playing again and again rather than winning once and then being done. What will be compelling enough to keep me coming back and experimenting and trying and failing but still being willing to show up in that arena and fight to achieve that thing.
Think about this: no matter who you are, the goal of a game is to win, right? So even the losing team has the same goal as the winning team, which makes it even clearer that goals alone aren’t the end-all-be-all as much as the system to get there.
James Clear explains this exact theory in his book Atomic Habits — highly recommend, but he says when we concentrate on the people who end up winning and mistakenly assume that ambitious goals led to their success, we overlook all of the people who had the same objective but didn’t succeed.
If all of your hard work is focused on a singular, one-time-only goal, what is left to push you to keep going and maintaining that success after you achieve it? Clear says, “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.” When you have systems that work, they become habits with time and habits sustain something even greater than a one-time achievement, no matter how impressive that goal is.
Your systems build a life that allows you to repeat your achievements and build on them and win things even better than you could’ve ever imagined, I feel like this is SO true for me.
People oftentimes get really disciplined and focused for a short while when they have ONE end goal to work toward, but then revert to bad habits and old ways after achieving the goal. Systems ensure that you keep progressing and advancing well after the goal has been actualized, and that’s so much more worthwhile than a one-and-done accomplishment!
The Big Picture
Living a system-oriented life might seem a little too structured or rigid for your taste because, well, it sounds pretty strict, right? Creating systems requires discipline and regularity, after all… But if you think about systems as tiny, bite-sized, daily action toward a greater mission, it’s actually incredibly freeing.
Your goals won’t take over your life or overwhelm your days with trying to figure out what to do first and then next… But instead your systems will fuel your days with small and doable bits of progress and momentum toward greater success, joy, and balance. You’ll be able to step toward the future, better version of you with confidence and knowing that you are building a routine-oriented life that supports growth rather than holding you back. And that’s all any of us could hope for out of this life anyway, right?!