Goals Are So Last Year. This Works Better.

A bit quiet on the blog recently! We spent December digging into snow sports in Bend and hanging with family for the holidays. In other news, a podcast interview we did called “Creating a Life of Adventure” was the #1 show for 2016 on The Startup Sessions. If you’re new to Traipsing About, it’s a great way to get to know us.


Ready to dive headfirst into the new year? It’s a time of reflection and goals to better ourselves, to keep growing. So why do many resolutions belly flop off the diving board of good intentions like an ungainly kid at summer camp?

“Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners,” says Scott Adams, creator of the comic Dilbert, in his book. This sounds flippant coming from a guy who draws pointy-haired cubicle workers, so allow me to explain.

Losing weight, that famous New Year’s resolution, is a goal; eating right is a system. “I want to travel” is a goal. A system of saving money or developing work you can perform remotely is a system.

Goals are great, but without a concrete system to underpin and support them, it’s all just talk, aspirations that wither beneath the hot sun of real life. Find a person who is successful – by any definition – and most are focused on systems, not stand-alone goals.

It’s full-on winter around here. Sometimes, you’ve gotta take the AT (alpine touring) skis to pick up take out for dinner!

From Wishful Thinking to a Business System

Early in my business career, I set arbitrary monthly revenue goals based on nice-sounding, random numbers. Turns out there isn’t a fairy depositing money in the Bank of Wishing. As the saying goes, wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first. Neither pays the mortgage.

My forecasts only worked when I laid a foundation (system!) beneath my aspirations and took concrete action. How many weekly presentations and meetings could I schedule? From those, how many potential clients would I talk to? Using actionable items, I built a solid understanding of how many people I needed to speak with to make a certain amount. (Yes, there were spreadsheets.)

Revenue increased, and also grew more consistent. As a benefit of implementing a system, I found confidence and peace of mind; if I did the work, success followed. From simple groundwork, I didn’t have to worry about revenue whipsawing like peaks and valleys in the Alps.

Day One alpine skiing at Mt. Bachelor! We almost look like we know what we’re doing…

Hanging with C’s bro on Mt. Bachelor. Goggles and face masks make one look so serious…

One Way to Organize Systems

To be clear, I’m not advocating for scheduling every second of our lives the way Cal Newport prescribes. (I’ve tried that and it wasn’t for me.) Time for the mind to wander and drift is important. My life isn’t a system – borrrrring – but my personal goals are (usually) supported by one.

When I need to crank out projects, I break things down into bite-size pieces using the Secret Weapon. This is simply Evernote coupled with the Getting Things Done method, and it serves as my external brain.

For recent updates to our Sprinter van, I used sub-projects. “Install water system” had components like “order sink” or “find water tank drain plug.” A big, nebulous goal languishes on a to-do list until the zombies attack. (Then we need chainsaws, not planning!)

The same applies to anything we seek to achieve. Be it business, physical ambitions, books we want to read, or a big personal project, systems rock.

Cruising XC ski trails with buddies.

Using Systems for Physical Pursuits

I’m currently focused on three primary physical challenges. Two have specific goals; all require systems.

First, I’m aiming to push my rock climbing abilities to new limits. (Specifically, leading a 5.13 sport route outside.) Can I achieve this by unfocused climbing a few days a week at the gym or Smith Rock? Perhaps…

It’s a hell of a lot more likely to happen if I dig into a periodized training plan that removes overthinking and guess work. It’s not a grind, it’s a plan, and I still have fun. (Except for hangboard workouts. Those are simply hard work.)

A system takes decision making out of the daily actions. Follow a step-by-step plan and find greater success than where we start. Even if I don’t crank out a 5.13 next year, I’ll make considerable gains.

It’s not all snow around here…Smith Rock still has fun to offer in the winter!

I’m also focused on a consistent, balanced strength and mobility system. Since I want to stay active for years to come by investing in my body’s 401(k), I need a system. Focusing on Gymnastics Bodies allows me to bike, climb, run and ski (a new hobby) without injury. With 30 minutes per day, I’m maintaining a strong foundation for the physical challenges I want to pursue.

Lastly, I signed up for a 100-mile mountain bike race in July called High Cascades. That’s more than twice as long as any mountain bike ride I’ve done and will likely take over 10 hours to finish.

This requires a training regimen containing endurance and speed work, plus dialing in my hydration and food plan. It will take work, but if I follow the plans I lay out, I’ll have fun, learn a ton, and have a solid shot at success.

Dawn patrol skate ski session near Bend. Skate skiing is proving to be a) an incredible workout and b) very technique-heavy!

Get Your System On

As you’re reflecting on 2016 and eyeing next year, think about ambitions for 2017 and beyond. Take aspirations and build support lattices around them. Tell friends about your plans (or maybe not); make a bet that you’ll stick to it; allocate a reward for hitting your target.

Enjoy the day-to-day plan, training and focus that’s necessary to slowly build toward success. Think about what your future self would thank you for and start the long-term projects. The days are slow, but the years are fast!

As 2016 wraps up, are there systems you can put in place to build toward ticking projects off the bucket list?

Hiking Pilot Butte with my folks, views of the Cascade Mtns in the background.

Chelsea and fam showing off their ski skills.

Road trippin’ to Portland to for a visit.

Views to the west from Mt. Bachelor.

15 replies
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Howdy Ray! Glad you enjoyed it. After kicking back a bit the last few months on the blog, I’m aiming to write one per week for 2017. Guess I better put a system in place to make that happen… 🙂

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, Bend is in full-on winter fun mode this year. We timed it right! Next time you’re in town, drop a line and we’ll go ride some bikes, climb some walls, or ski some white stuff. Thanks for saying howdy!

  1. Pam
    Pam says:

    D – you nailed it, AGAIN. Excellent points. I especially like this tidbit of wisdom: “The days are slow, but the years are fast!” Yes, yes, yes!! Time to get off my arse and get those systems in place. Life is a work-in-progress, and I can only hope it’s forward and not backward 😉

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Danke schoen! I think this way: the time is going to pass anyway, so I might as well put systems in place to make my life more awesome so my future self will thank me for planning ahead.

  2. Jim Parker
    Jim Parker says:

    Great post! Very similar to the tack I am taking this year but laid out much better than I could. Drop a line when you head down to Colorado. I would be happy to swap belays at Rifle or Shelf Rd. (You can ropegun the 13s!) 😉

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Sounds like a plan! Although the vertical crimp-fest climbing at Smith Rock isn’t the best training for Rifle, from what I hear… Good luck with your 2017 plans and see ya on the road!

  3. Ewlake
    Ewlake says:

    Enjoyed the post, Dakota. curious if you have a training plan plotted out for your bike race yet. I’m looking for one that can help me prepare for a similar race. Thanks!

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Yo! Nothing specifically mapped out yet, but I have a few ideas. It will depend if I focus on MTB and racing at the edge, or enjoy all the skiing and climbing around here too and race to finish.

      For the former, I’d focus a lot on intervals: 4 min sprints, then a 4 min rest, for 4-5 blocks. Do that 1-2 times per week, a tempo ride one other day, and then probably some 3-5 hour rides as often as possible. I don’t have any experience with races like this, but a few friends are advising me. I’d try to race at just below my lactate threshold and basically pin it for the entire 9-10 hours.

      For the latter, I’ll still do intervals, but the training will be dialed back ~20% (to make up a number…). I’m leaning toward this for my first 100 to make it more fun and not focus exclusively on MTB. I’m stoked on climbing again and my goals there are almost 180 degree opposed to riding my bike a lot!

      Hope that helps!

  4. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Interesting post, but I’m more curious about the snow-covered Sprinter I saw in one of the photos. Have you guys actually lived out of the Sprinter in the cold? How did you deal with the moisture – the condensation, the tracked-in snow, etc. We’ve shied away from taking ours into the cold because we haven’t figured out such issues.

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Ha, cut to the chase don’t ya! “That’s nice, but here’s what I REALLY care about…” Yes, we’ve lived in the Sprinter in the cold, though not below ~15F. You’re going to get condensation no matter what you do; cracking the windows or opening the vent slightly while running the heater will help this, but there’s a good chance it’ll happen. Then again, it’s just a van, so might as well use it to do the things you enjoy most, and if that’s winter sports, get after it! A little rust around some screws or damp (easily replaceable) insulation ain’t a big deal.


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