Because goals are for losers.
That is the counterintuitive argument put forth by Scott Adams in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. As he cleverly does in his comic strip Dilbert. he forces you to confront familiar situations in unexpected ways.
Adams proposes that we shouldn’t set goals; they are too limiting and often too low. Instead, we should institute systems.
The distinction is subtle, but makes eminent sense when you think about it.
An example is dieting. If you set a goal to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment being miserable trying to achieve that goal. If you fail, you feel worse. If you reach it, you feel great, until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose–the goal of losing 10 pounds.
Instead of setting goals, Adams recommends you implement systems. Rather than making a goal of losing weight, create a system of eating right. You will still lose weight, and you will have started an enjoyable lifetime habit.
Other examples of using goals vs systems:
Fitness Goal: Run a marathon
Fitness System: Exercise daily
Business Goal: Become CEO
Business System: Start every job looking for a better job
Success Goal: Become a millionaire
Success System: Study hard, get good grades, go to a good school, develop a new technology or product
The point is when we do something productive every day, all day long, good things accrue. It’s not the big hairy goals that pay off; it’s the tiny steps we take that are within our control. Habits increase the odds you will be successful. As Adams states: A system beats passion every time.
To test his theory, I overlaid this template on my life. I found some correlations. Here are two examples:
Goal: To be a starter on my high school basketball team
System: Starting in junior high, played basketball year round, before school, during lunch, and after school, shot baskets every day at a hoop on our maple tree, even in the snow and ice, joined every club and community team, played on the “B” team
Result: Near the end of my senior season in high school, I finally started a game
Goal: To be a published writer
System: Volunteered to be reporter for my 4-H club, kept a journal since 1970, entered local writing contests, studied books on writing, read great writers, wrote every day
Result: Published several books, had a song on the radio, and obviously attempting to write a weekly newspaper column
Try it out on yourself. Did you reach your goals? Did you do it by setting goals or by implementing systems.
How intimidating it is to saddle ourselves or our children with dreams of being president, or famous, or rich, or becoming a doctor or lawyer or explorer. What if instead we asked them to get better at everything they did, from studies to sports to relationships to work skills to eating habits. Those moments will pile up into an unstoppable force that not only takes them where they want to go, but will make for a satisfying journey whether they get there or not.