The Power of Systems

The single best mindset shift that you can make with both your training and your life as a whole is to embrace the power of systems.

Introduction

A few months ago I discovered something that simply changed both my life and those of many of my athletes.

What you need to know about me for this post to make sense is that I am a recovering serial procrastinator. If it isn’t perfect, I don’t want to do it or foist it upon an unsuspecting world. The problem with this however, is that nothing is ever perfect & therefore nothing gets done.

This is especially true for things that, as athletes we know we should do, like daily basic mobility exercises, drinking enough water etc.

Over the years I’ve tried SMART goals, SMARTER goals, willpower, massive action at times when I was enthusiastic, one thing at a time.

What did they all have in common? They worked well for 6 weeks or so & then failed dismally when my focus faded. Legendary strength coach Dan John is known to say often that “everything works… for about 6 weeks.” Acute observer of the human condition that Dan!

Systems versus Goals

Then in the space of two days I read articles by James Clear & Andrew Read, two people whose ideas and advice I greatly value. And they both said the same thing:

Systems outperform goals every time.

So I gave it a try and asked the athletes I coach to do the same.

Here’s what we did.

Sorry, here’s what we are doing...

First we chose small things that we know we should do, but which tend to fall through the cracks and created systems that will ensure we do them daily.

Then we came up with systems that would make them easy to do. You might also call these triggers. Examples include...

  • Every time you have a cup of coffee or a glass of alcohol, drink a pint of water - the result: Average water intake from 1 litre to 4.5 litres per day!
  • Every morning when you walk into the living room, office etc, the first thing you do is your 5 minute daily mobility routine - the result: 0 minutes daily mobility work on average per week to 35 minutes per week.
  • Before sitting down on the sofa to watch TV of an evening, do your one key mobility exercise for 5 minutes: The result is the same as the morning mobility.

The extra bit I added was to have everyone create a “streak chart” and put it where it can’t be missed. All this consists of is a list of your systems and a tally mark every day that you implement them. Any day that you miss one, you have to delete the entire streak and go back to zero.

The result is nearly everyone now has streaks of 6 months or more. This is awesome, because research tells us that the average time to ingrain a new habit is 66 days. Do you think these habits might now stick? That's the power of systems over goals.

Of course systems don’t have to be for daily stuff, they can be for anything. Just choose things you know you should do (and probably want to do) and work out how to create a simple system that will help you achieve it effortlessly.

Summary

The reason that systems have more power than goals is that they focus on the process and not the outcome. A process-orientation makes for a far happier and more engaged athlete because every time you execute a system, you win.

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Will Newton


In over twenty years of coaching, Will has coached everyone from absolute beginners to world champions. His interest in getting the best results for athletes who compete for the love of the sport, rather than as professionals, drives him to find the most effective ways to get results.

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