Goal Setting

Forget About Setting Goals in 2021. Do This Instead!

by Andrew Stroud | 2 min read

We’re halfway through January and according to statistics, most people who set goals for 2021 have already failed. Yikes!

A new year means a fresh start and most of us try to capitalize by setting New Year’s resolutions, often in the form of goals like “Lose weight.” or “Spend more time with family and friends.” or “Read through the entire Bible this year.”

While setting goals for the new year is common, so is our failure to follow through on them. So if you’re like the majority of people and you’ve already hit your mid-January slump, let me suggest a different approach. This new year, don’t set goals. Instead, build systems. I promise you’ll get better results.

Systems vs. Goals

The difference between goals and systems is well explained by James Clear in his book,  Atomic Habits. He writes, “I began to realize that my results had very little to do with the goals I set and nearly everything to do with the systems I followed. Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.”

Another book that promotes systems over goals is How To Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. Adams is even more blunt when he writes, “Goals are for losers.”

He’s not being mean. He’s making the point that goal-oriented people exist in a state of near continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. This is because a goal is about achieving something specific at some point in the future.

How Systems Work

For instance, let’s say your goal is to lose 30 pounds. Well, as of now you haven’t done it. At this point, you’ve failed to meet your goal even though one day you hope you’ll achieve it. Day after day you step on the scale only to find you still haven’t achieved your goal. What a loser! Even if you’re shedding pounds and moving in the right direction, discouragement can start to wear on you.

A system, on the other hand, means you can start achieving immediately.  It’s something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of success in the long run.  Systems are for winners because every day you live by your system is a success!

Take the example of reading the Bible. Let’s say that instead of setting a goal to read through the entire Bible in a year, you decide to create a system to start each day by reading 4 chapters of the Bible.

You do some math and figure out it’s going to take 15-20 minutes a day to read that amount. You start getting up 30 minutes earlier each day so you have plenty of time to read.

Meanwhile you also start going to bed 30 minutes earlier so you still get enough sleep.  Not a big deal since most nights you realize you’re simply scrolling through social media or watching YouTube videos before going to bed anyway. You decide going to bed a little earlier so you can rise a little earlier is a better use of your time.

You also build in accountability by deciding you won’t eat until you read. No Bible, no breakfast. This helps you remember and motivates you to read each day. Now you have a system!

The Success of Systems

See the difference?  If your goal is to read the entire Bible in a year, your BEST case scenario is that you accomplish that ONE time a year from now. That’s a lot to ask!

But if you create a simple system to read 4 chapters of the Bible each morning, every day can be a success. And the best part? Sticking with this system means that in less than a year, you will have read through the entire Bible!

To quote James Clear, “We don’t rise to our goals. We fall to the level of our systems.”

This year, don’t set goals. Build systems.


Andrew has a passion for discipleship and disciple-making and has trained leaders for the kingdom who are living and sharing their faith around the world. He loves being outdoors and enjoys reading, writing, and running. He and his family live in San Diego, CA.

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