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Sorta Random Sunday: You Don’t Rise to Goals, You Fall to Systems

I love Atomic Habits by James Clear. I know I’m not the only one. And one of my favorite quotes from the book is, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”

This is such a powerful, yet intuitive statement.

But it is not always immediately clear to us. And it shows up in our lives all the time. In certain areas, we use it successfully. In many areas, we don’t.

rise to goals

Understanding this has already helped me refine my habits and build towards my goals more effectively.

So, let’s unpack the statement a bit.

You don’t rise to the level of your goals

Sounds almost blasphemous. At least it did to me. I am a tried and true goal setter. I love setting big goals and I think setting big goals has played a huge part in my successes.

And this is true.

But the goals were not the engine that drove me to actually achieve them. The goals were the compass. The systems I built based on that compass was the real engine.

And there is some obvious evidence of this.

Let’s take two people. They both have the same goal, to complete a marathon in one year.

One is successful and one is not. It’s not the goal’s fault. The truth run life is that unsuccessful people often do have goals too. They have the compass but lack the engine.

Goals are not sufficient on their own.

We fall to the level of our systems

In the example above with our to-be marathoners, what makes the difference?

We can easily imagine that it is their systems. One person may develop a system of running every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. This becomes a habit. It’s a baseline that they just do because that’s what they said they would do.

The other person says they will run. But they don’t plan anything via an intention statement or anything else. They don’t create a system. Life gets in the way and they run sporadically for a few months before their goal fades away. They did not create a baseline system to fall back on.

This is true in all areas of life…academics, personal finance, personal, relationships, fitness, dieting, reading, and on and on and on.

A simple way to start building systems

Once you create a goal, the next step needs to be building a system.

This can seem daunting. But a great first step is just creating a statement of intention. It’s basically a mini-plan.

When I wanted to make a financial comeback, my intention statement was that I would read 10 pages in a finance book each day and read one financial blog post each day.

Then I did this. It became my system to fall back on. The other stuff naturally followed.

I didn’t say, I’m going to be millionaire in one week. I also didn’t say that I would figure it out when I had the time.

My statement of intention became the system that I fell back on as I used my goal as a compass.

Try it out!

What do you think? Do you rise to the level of your goals? Or fall to the level of your systems? How do you build your systems? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

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