Using Systems + Goals to increase success

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.  Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there.” James Clear (6)

Many people start the new year by setting goals but less than 10 % of people keep their New Year’s resolutions each year (1, 2).

Is there a better way?

First, to set effective goals, consider the following:

  • For goal setting, consider S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound) (4).
  • A goal card (5) may also be helpful.

After effective goal setting, focus on the system:

In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear suggests the following strategies to think of systems (6):

  • Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making sustained progress (6).
  • For example, you might ahave a goal to clean up a messy room (6). But if you maintain the same sloppy, pack-rat habits (system) that led to a messy room in the first place, soon you’ll be looking at a new pile of clutter and hoping for another burst of motivation (6).
  • If you’re a student, instead of getting an A, a better goal could be to become a better student (a system).  This would shift your focus to the daily process:
    • How often and how much you study
    • Improve your study skills
    • With whom and where you study
    • How you address difficult topics
    • Your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.
    • Your method for tracking progress before grades/exam. This could be in terms of quizzing or testing yourself, etc.

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.



  2. Norcross, John & Mrykalo, Marci & Blagys, Matthew. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of clinical psychology. 58. 397-405. 10.1002/jclp.1151.
  5. Goal card:
  6. Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear