Success is a System

The Gist:

  • You must choose between living an intentional life or allowing yourself to “drift.”
  • Success is the attainment of some aim or purpose, requiring you to decide what you want.
  • Success is a system that you can adopt and repeat in every area of your life.

Yesterday, I joined a room on Clubhouse, a new social site, devoted to setting and attaining one’s goals. Several participants shared ideas about goal-setting mechanics, covering things like whether it is better to handwrite goals in a journal or type them into some sophisticated software program. One person shared the idea of writing down some goals, numbering them, and then having Siri choose a number and adding the corresponding goal to your pursuits.

What struck me most, though, was a young man who revealed to the group that he didn’t set any goals for himself. Instead, he did whatever felt right to him at the moment. He offered the example that if he gets thirsty, he pours himself a glass of water. Someone asked him if he meditated, perhaps hoping that his approach stemmed from enlightenment rather than laziness.

In truth, living without goals is less like simply drinking water when you’re thirsty and more like being swept away by a fast-moving river: you either end up somewhere you don’t want to be, or you get battered by the rocks. Now, maybe you’ll get lucky and end up someplace attractive or even luxurious. But good fortune is not success—you cannot succeed without actively pursuing and securing a specific accomplishment. Without an aim and a purpose, there can be no success.

A pyramid to show success

Success is a System

Success starts with deciding what you want. For many, this is the most challenging part of setting goals, especially those beyond others’ expectations. You have to choose from an infinite number of results you want for and from your life. One of the reasons people don’t set goals is that they are overwhelmed by the prospect of designing their lives and committing to manifesting those designs in however many years they have left on Earth. Often, they just refuse to imagine the life they want because they are afraid of failing.

Attaining success requires making and executing a plan. So many who do set goals don’t reach them because they stop after the list: they don’t create a plan that will move them towards their goal. Part of that plan should be analyzing how others met similar goals, as Jerry Seinfeld described in a recent interview with Tim Ferris.

Success requires that you actively pursue your goals. Any plan must be coupled with disciplined actions taken repeatedly over time—sometimes more time than you expect, sometimes less. Those who fail to reach their goals generally struggle with these disciplines, allowing themselves to become distracted by the day’s events or some novelty that captures their attention. When you say “yes” to one thing, you say “no” to something else. When you say “yes” to what captures your attention, you are saying “no” to your intentions.

But knowing what you want, developing a plan to create that result, and backing it up with discipline isn’t enough to ensure you attain your goal. The success system requires that you persist until you achieve your goal, and that you change your approach when something isn’t working. You want to be committed to your goal but flexible on how you bring it to life.

Living a Life of Intention

You are gifted one single life on planet Earth. You have the right to do with it what you will, even if it means rejecting your right to what we might describe as a “fully intentional life.” Those who don’t live intentionally will find themselves caught up in the currents, regretting their decision to not decide for themselves.

Attaining a goal generates a certain satisfaction, but that feeling rarely lasts more than a few days. Instead, be sustained by a sense of living intentionally, moving towards becoming the better version of yourself, doing the things you want to do, having the things you desire in your life, and contributing to people and causes you care about.

When my Clubhouse acquaintances asked me to comment on goals, I shared my belief that one could wake up to find that they don’t like where they are, having lost years that would be better used to move towards something positive. Nothing about intentional living prevents spontaneity or excursions. Intentionality is what makes these things possible, as the path is never a straight line—true growth rarely is.

Do Good Work

  • Decide for yourself what you want, then put in the time and effort to be intentional in designing your life.
  • Plan and include the disciplines that will move you towards your goals.
  • Persist in your goals and, when necessary, adjust your approach.

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