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“You can get past the dead end. You can break through the ceiling. I did and so have countless others.”

Build Systems, Not Goals

What was the last goal you made but didn’t reach? From slimming down to a certain weight to making your first hundred thousand dollars as a nurse practitioner entrepreneur, you’ve probably been encouraged to reach for the stars and set some pretty high goals for yourself. 

But what happens when those goals don’t materialize? Most gurus would have you believe it’s all your fault. They might say, “Obviously, you didn’t try hard enough or lacked the proper motivation!”

Others might try to convince you that the problem is with the goals themselves. They’ll let you off the hook easy with rhetorics like “90 percent of all new businesses fail” so that you’ll feel better. However, the problem with that line of thinking is that while some people fail, others actually do succeed. So what makes them so special and why aren’t you on the winning side of that equation?

Perhaps the real reason why you’re not reaching your goals isn’t that they’re too grand or that you don’t have the capacity to fulfill them. What if instead it’s because you’re lacking the right infrastructure to grow into the person you want to be? What if rather than focusing on your goals, what you really need to zero in on is the process of continuous improvement?

How to Become 37 Times Better 

One of my favorite quotes from the New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits by James Clear is:

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Let that sentence sink in for a minute …

Sure, we all need goals. Goals are the destination. It’s that better place we want to be tomorrow or five years from now. But how we’ll get there isn’t as easy to visualize. Why? Because the steps are often dynamic. Life doesn’t follow a script. 

Most people are happy to work towards their goals until something goes wrong. When that happens, you either have to be quick on your feet to react and try something new, or you’ll allow this setback to become an impasse. This is why so many gym memberships end up expired or musical instruments end up in the closet. 

In Atomic Habits, Clear offers a simple solution to this problem. Stop putting all of your focus on the goal itself. Instead, turn the focus on yourself by simply becoming one percent better every day.

One percent is barely anything. If all you did today was take the stairs one time instead of riding the elevator, that would be like making a one percent change. It might feel insignificant right now. But the power of what this could mature into when practiced on a continual basis is amazing. 

Look at the simple equation in this articles image that shows just how much those one percent daily changes will be when compounded 365 times over the course of a year. Seriously, scroll up and look at that image again…

That’s right … a 37X output!

Amazingly, this is the same exact phenomenon that investors use to build long-term, sustainable wealth. Compound interest is how a person in their 20s can invest $500 per month for 30 years and end up becoming a millionaire. Even though that’s only a total of $180,000 of contributions, the earnings that built upon the earnings from the previous years turned it into seven figures. All the investor had to do was build the appropriate system and stay consistent.

Of course, this process can be applied to far more than just money. For instance, let’s say you wanted to be more productive. You could:

  • Day 1 – Wake up a half hour earlier
  • Day 2 – Do 15 minutes of stretching within that new half-hour
  • Day 3 – Use the remaining  15 minutes to prioritize what you have to do today.

… And so on. 

The systems we create become the safety net of our success. Think about how a person with a great physique gets to be that way. They most likely:

  • Have a set routine of going to the gym several times per week
  • Meal prep on a certain day of the week so that they’ll have healthy food choices throughout the week
  • Eliminate junk food and other temptations from the house  

Each tiny change isn’t monumental. It doesn’t accomplish the goal on its own. But it is an easy win. And like it or not, our brains are programmed to be more motivated when something feels good like winning.

The amazing thing about compounding is that the trajectory isn’t linear, it’s exponential. Becoming one percent better isn’t a one-for-one return. The further you go along this path, the more substantial each new advancement becomes. This is how nurse practitioners can go from being overworked and underappreciated to accomplishing the unthinkable goal of owning their own practice and breaking free from the rat race.

Just like investing starts with making that first contribution and letting it compound, creating a system starts by taking that first step – changing your habits. You don’t have to make a total change to who you are. But you do have to create an environment and mindset where small bouts of continuous improvement will be allowed to happen daily. This is how you build a successful niche practice, develop passive income streams, and ultimately become financially independent.

Beware of Becoming One Percent Worse

If the key to reaching your goals is as simple as that, then why aren’t more people successful?

The problem is that the one percent rule works both ways – we can also create systems for ourselves that allows us to get progressively worse.

Think about a past coworker who was eventually let go or quit. This probably didn’t happen overnight, nor was there likely any major event to trigger it. Perhaps they became:

  • Bitter over workplace politics
  • Burnt out from having too many patients
  • Frustrated when they were passed up for a promotion or didn’t get a raise

These little setbacks have the power to chip away at your progress, and you’ll incrementally become one percent worse as your demeanor changes, the quality of your work diminishes, and you start to lose your passion. Instead of being on a trajectory to become 37 times better, you’ll decline to the point of zero. 

Please don’t do this. It will be like standing in quicksand where you’ll slowly sink becoming further out of reach from the goals that are just above your head. This is why it’s so important to recognize what’s happening around you and change it for the better. Far too many nurse practitioners are sinking in quicksand and don’t even realize it…

What Type of System Will You Create?

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all the inhabitants of the systems we live in. But you don’t have to be its prisoner. You can also be its architect.

Commit to improving just one small thing about yourself per day. It may not seem like much at first, but after leveraging the power of compounding returns, you’ll see just how much time can magnify the difference between good and excellence. So, I challenge you to work on one small thing every single day. If you do so, you will be in an entirely different place in just 1 year!

3 Responses

  1. I needed to hear this today. I am a registered nurse working towards any MSN as a FNP. I also am a clinical coordinator, and mom of 6. Our financial situation isn’t what I want it to be even with both my husband and I working. I don’t finish school for another 2 years since I am doing part time. In the mean time I have been inspired to utilize my 9 years of working in the newspaper industry to open an online content writing company for healthcare providers. I feel like I can definitely apply what I’ve learned from this article to my situation and become 1% better everyday. I just barely started my website but I have a plan and I am working towards it everyday.

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