Why Processes Matter


Recently, while reading Atomic Habits, I came across an idea that deeply resonated within me, "forget about goals, focus on systems instead." I had already come across this in different forms throughout my life, but this particular statement struck. For me, goals have always had a negative connotation. Everytime I achieve a goal, I tend to forget about it within a day or two and start working towards the next goal, as if I never did anything at all.

♪ Run, rabbit run. Dig that hole, forget the sun. And when at last the work is done. Don't sit down, it's time to dig another one. ♪ - Breathe, Pink Floyd

The human brain is never satisfied. Reaching one boundary only means looking for the next one. One popular way of remedying this problem is to take time off and reward yourself by acknowledging your achievements. This is a relatively newer way of coping. There are other ways such as training yourself to be satisfied with only what you need and not what you want.

For me, the above methods have never worked. Ultimately, they are not the root cause of the problem. They still require us to have, and reach goals.

"I think the solution is to work in the other direction. Instead of working back from a goal, work forward from promising situations. This is what most successful people actually do anyway." - Paul Graham

What are you doing right now? And how does that relate to the kind of person you wish to identify yourself as? For me, I wish to become an accomplished hacker. It shouldn't matter where I see myself in 5, 10, 20 or a 1000 years. Are you living the life you want, right this moment. If not, what can you do to change that?

Remember, living life without goals doesn't mean living without method. I have a daily schedule and a monthly schedule and I plan my day using an app (TickTick) and I track my time using an app (aTimeLogger) and I use yet another app (Habits) to keep track of my day-streaks.

That might be over-kill for the average person (I only do it out of interest) but the point here is that without goals you are still productive, yet you are not bounded by your initial commitment. The only reason an anti-goal approach is condemned by most, is because it can seem spontaneous or haphazard, which is the furthest thing from the truth.

"The score takes care of itself." - Bill Walsh

You still win competitions, you still get certified, or promoted, or get good grades, or finish that side project, or achieve whatever goals you wish to achieve. It's just that you don't focus on the the what, but on the how.

This is an updated version of a (now removed) essay I wrote on 2019-11-01.