I've a few examples of where setting goals didn't work for me:
1. When I was actively trading in the past, I wanted to earn xyz per day. That became so overbearing and pressurizing because I focused so much on it that I gave up after a string of failures.
2. I was trying to train up to run 10km. From 2.4km, I progressed to 3km, then 4km, then 5km and I hit a roadbump. It's just getting tougher and tougher to hit that distance and the longer time needed to run a longer distance makes it even more painful. I gave up and stopped going to the gym for 5 weeks before picking myself up recently again. The constant focus on the goal of running 10 km means that I'm constantly failing to hit the goal while building towards it. To continue on, I need will power and I only have that much will power to spare. Eventually when it depleted completely, I gave up on that 'impossible' goal.
3. Also on the same thread of exercising, I started training for my IPPT earlier last year. My focus is always to pass it, having failed the pullups and 2.4km for a few years already. So I went to the gym with that focus. It's a short term goal because after 2-3 months, I will take the test. I think precisely because it's short term, my will power can last that long. Upon accomplishing that goal, I suddenly don't know what to do in the gym. It's like I've lost my purpose. That's when I started trying to set a longer term goal of running 10 km and failed miserably.
I figured that goals are good for short term achievements. How short depends on your willpower storage capacity and the drainage level which is domain dependent. I figured something that can be achieved in less than a year wouldn't drain my willpower to the extent that I'll give up, but other people might have different threshold. My willpower also drains more when I'm doing physical activities than when I'm doing mental activities. For example, if my goal is to read 52 books per year (i.e. 1 book per week), I can summon up all my reserves to do that. However, if my goal is to run once per week, I might find it hard on some days just to put on that running shoes to do it. If it's just to run once per week for 1 month, no problemo. But if this is to last for one full year, I suspect I'll fall out in 6 months.
I lived my life setting goals both unrealistic and realistic and achieved a good proportion of it to know that it works for me. But the alternate system approach is worth a look. I figured, without testing it experientially yet, that adopting a systems approach will work much better for those super long term goals. For these long term goals, adopting a systems approach should cheat my body of replenishing my willpower instead of depleting it. If it doesn't replenish it, at least it wouldn't drain it that much.
So, how does it work?
1. Instead of having a goal of running 10km, scrap that target and try running once a week until I feel a runner's high. When I feel good after a run, that's a good run regardless of the intensity, the distance or the timing. Each good run will make the next run more likely to happen. The goal will take care of itself in due time.
2. Instead of focusing on earning xyz per day, or per month, just concentrate on having a good entry and a good exit. If I make sure I have a good entry point and an equally good exit point, the profits will take care of itself.
3. I want to save 30-40k a year every year, so that's a goal. To achieve that, I need to get x number of students every year. To strip it down further, in order to achieve this, I need to make sure I add value to students and make sure the parents understand I added value. A systems approach will be to forget about the savings target and instead make sure that every lesson I 'perform' adds value to them. I also have to make sure that this value added is repeatable and visible. The savings target will take care of itself.
4. I recalled the times when I was in the air rifle team. When I focus hard on the score, it adds so much stress that the result is often dismaying. In the old days, you have to put in a target, roll the target using a pulley system to a certain fixed distance, shoot, roll it back and repeat for 100 to 200 times. I'll feel very happy when I scored a bull's eye and unhappy when I didn't hit it. This emotional ups and downs makes it hard to shoot well. Ultimately, I came up with a system where I concentrate on my breathing and the whole shooting process but ignore the target. In fact, when I rolled back the shot target, I'll purposely not look at it and just place it aside. I realised back then that the short term focus on results will create unnecessary stress that will affect long term performance.
Some may see that goals and systems are related. In every system there's a goal and in every goal there's a system to achieve it. For me, I'm going to adopt short term goals and long term systems - the best of both worlds. You have to know yourself and how you react to goals and more importantly, in failing to achieve goals, to appreciate the the advantage of having a systems approach.