Rafael Nadal’s Secret to Goal Setting

Rafael Nadal, the supreme clay court player of all time, understood one of the most important lessons in productivities: the focus on systems, not goals.

A goal is something you normally set out to achieve, which results from hard work and perseverance.

However, most of the time we only control a limited part of the goal, while most of it remains exogen. In other words: very rarely we have the control to reach the goal.

For example:

If you work hard throughout your career, delivering good projects – or whatever metric of success you define – you are at some point expecting a promotion and raise.

This a goal many people set up: to rise up the corporate ladder and bring a bigger paycheck home.

Doing hard work is necessary to reach that goal (but not essential: plenty of people that didn’t deserve a promotion according to only to their work still get it). But it’s not the only thing. You have to factor in a lot of other variables, such as:

  • If a higher position in the hierarchy is available. If not, most people end up moving to another company, since there is no space at the top for them at that moment in their company
  • How many people are competing for the same position? Consider not only people in your department but also from other departments as well as other companies

All of these factors are external, which you have absolutely no control over them.

And yet people seem to think that getting a promotion comes exclusively from hard work.

People are passed up for promotions every day. Either they are too young or too old, they don’t possess the qualifications or – worse yet – are overqualified. Or because “it was not the moment yet, but surely you will get there”.

It seems that work ethics – the amount of hours you put into your work, the projects you finish – is a small variable when considering promotions.

Let’s look at another example in sports:

In order to be celebrating a championship at the end of the year, a football team must have the most amount of points at the end of the season.

However, that number is variable every year, depending on your own results and of the other teams. Sometimes the team that came second (and sometimes even third) would have been champions the year before if they had made the same amount of points.

In other words: to be the champion you need to have the most amount of points in that specific season.

That means winning more games than everyone else.

So while the goal is to become champion, the system is to make sure that your training prepares your players to win every single game.

The same applies to almost every walk of life.

Choosing a goal for this blog would be to reach a certain amount of people every month or a number of subscribers.

The system that ensures I reach those goals in focusing on writing every single day.

Being consistent and develop the habit of writing means that at some point I will have something that I am proud of publishing.

I only end up publishing about 20% of what I write, while the rest either gets edited or deleted entirely.

It’s classic Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule): 20% of my writing brings me 80% of my results.

The next time you think about a goal, something you deeply desire to achieve, think of the system that you will follow – and how often – in order to reach it.

Then simply forget about the goal, only checking it at the end of the cycle. For me, this means the end of the month but it could also mean week or year(s). Instead, focus on the system.



This article was written by Daniel Silvestre, a blogger who writes about personal development, productivity, self-ownership through psychology, optimization, self-education, philosophy, health, finance, and improving your thinking.

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