Subscribe to the Mountains of Wisdom Mailer

* indicates required

Atomic Habits highlights something the Japanese have known for millennia

stylish female walking in green park

Systems thinking versus goal thinking

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

James Clear

Goals are finite. They have a beginning, when you set them. A middle, when you’re working on them. And a definitive end, when you’re done with them.

Unless you have yet another related goal in mind, when you’re finished with one goal, you’re kind of done.

That’s it.

That’s all she wrote.

What’s worse is that this doesn’t matter whether you achieve the goal or not.

If you achieve it, great! Well done! If you don’t, you’re worthless. Should probably go home right now.

So what’s the solution?

Systems thinking.

James Clear’s book Atomic Habits has a comprehensive argument why goals are out, and systems are in.

Systems thinking is having an ongoing process. Rather than working towards one thing at a time, you’re working on a system that purposely has no end. A system that these goals are simply a side effect of.

In system thinking, the goal isn’t the goal. It may be part of it, but it isn’t the be all and end all. The goal is a system that keeps you striving not matter what goals you achieve along the way.

Sound familiar? It should.

道, Do or Michi is the path or the way.

With this path, there is no end.

It’s a consistent and constant process of betterment. It’s about improving yourself at every step in the aims of improvement, but not with one single goal in mind.

If there were to be a goal, it would consciously, knowingly, and willingly keep shifting.

Just like systems thinking.

I remember an interview with a now elderly kendo practitioner. They said that they only really felt any semblance of mastery after practicing for twenty-odd years. That the thing with the way is that you get better incrementally over time. So that by the time you’ve done it for years, you’ve benefitted from the passing of time.

This is straight up systems thinking. And its been part of Japanese culture for millennia now.

Sado, the way of tea, tea ceremony. Kado, the way of flowers, flower arranging. Judo, the way of the passive. Kendo, the way of the sword. In my case, Shugendo, the way of gaining supernatural powers through ascetic training.

The way is straight up systems thinking.

All of these are about the way in which we improve. Not through setting goals, but through setting up systems within which the goals are mere milestones.

This way, whether you succeed or fail in a goal, you still have something more to strive for. You still have a chance for betterment, and that goal isn’t simply forgotten. It’s added into the mix, and it helps you as you go along the way.




scenic view of lake and mountains against sky
Make yours an unhealthy obsession for helping people
person writing on a notebook beside macbook
Why you don’t need a website in 2023
man in white t shirt and black pants in a running position
Put your best foot forward, every step of the way


Understanding wax on wax off
The debate over age from which to learn English in Japan
banner school poster student
Team players


Three best mountains to hike in 2023
men in discussion at an event
Making your day longer
A sense of accomplishment: the only motivation needed


Subscribe to my yamabushi newsletter

Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

Get In Touch

Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 


Share this:

Like this:

Like Loading...
Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: