Scott Adams, in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big presents the idea of Goals Vs. Systems. He tells us how goals are for losers, and that systems are better than goals.
This idea potently resonated with me when I read about it in the book. So today I’ll tell you about the importance of systems as opposed to goals, and how systems thinking is better than goals thinking.
Sources of Happiness
First, let’s talk about what makes you happy.
In life, you feel happy when random good things happen to you, and/or when you achieve what you were aiming for.
So here are the two sources of happiness. 1) Random good things happening, and 2) Success – which is achieving what you were aiming for.
If on a given day something good happens in your life then you feel happy, but something good happening everyday is not guaranteed; because we don’t particularly aim for good things to happen everyday. They happen randomly once in a while. Much of it just happens by luck. So, it can be said that the happiness they cause is accidental.
Another time you feel happy is when you succeed. But that also happens once in a while because you don’t achieve your goals everyday. Goals are usually medium to long term things. So, most of the days you are working towards goals, and that’s not the same as success.
Accidental happiness – one which arises out of random good things happening to you – is out of our control. So we won’t talk about accidental happiness anymore.
That leaves us with happiness from success – and that’s where systems are better than goals.
Success and Meaning in Life
Let’s say you are a goals person. You set goals, and you achieve those goals. You feel happy when you succeed by achieving the goals. When you achieve goals it is this feeling of success that gives you happiness. It is this success that gives you the boost.
Success is very important. It provides meaning in life. If you’re not aiming for things, you lack meaning in life. If you aim for things but don’t achieve those things, then that’s a lot of demotivation and you lose the meaning and may feel depressed.
For a meaningful life it is important to aim for things and to achieve things; to succeed.
Why Goals are Not Good for Success
With goals you can taste success only once in a while. Goals won’t help you feel successful constantly everyday.
You feel successful only when you achieve some goal.
If I say that my goal is to become a fitness trainer five years down the line, then I’ll have my focus on that goal. When my focus is solely on one goal I might miss other opportunities coming my way. And since I’m devoted to this goal I may not learn anything else. I won’t put in time learning guitar for example. Or I’ll not write blogs. I’ll not learn about technology. I’m only focusing on things that will help me achieve my goal of being a fitness trainer. And that seems like a perfectly sensible thing to do.
Being devoted and intensely focused on one’s goal is considered to be a good thing.
But let’s say if something goes wrong with my body, like if I meet with an accident, or get some illness, or something happens that affects my ability to become a fitness trainer. Or let’s say after five years I find that the practice and preparation I did to achieve that goal was not sufficient. I’m still not there. I’m lacking the knowledge that’s required.
In five years, anything can happen to prevent me from achieving my goal that I was intensely and singularly focused on.
In such a case I would have lost many other opportunities that came my way while I was focused on the goal. Since I won’t have developed myself in other areas, I would end up getting nowhere.
Besides, we now live in an extremely complex world where technologies are changing so fast that it is not even wise to set a long term goal and devote all the time and energy to that goal.
In the long term the thing that you chose as your goal may not remain the best thing for you. In that case, you may achieve the goal and still may not feel successful if it won’t be the optimal thing anymore.
Scott Adams says that in the modern fast-changing times achieving your goal is like riding on a horse with only one arrow and trying to shoot with that arrow a target that is moving all the time. The odds of success in a meaningful way are dismal.
Systems and Success
With systems approach, however, you can feel successful everyday. And that’s a big advantage of systems approach.
As Scott Adams puts it, a system involves some things that you do everyday as a routine that increase your odds of achieving success in a non-specific way in the future.
As a systems person I do several things everyday. My current system involves working out for an hour, practicing guitar for 15 minutes to half-an-hour, reading for 30 minutes to an hour,..
You may have five to six things, or more, or less. But there has to be several things of interest to you that you do regularly everyday without a miss.
I don’t have a goal of being a fitness trainer. I don’t have a goal of being a professional guitarist. I don’t have a goal of being a writer. I’m working on all these things purely out of interest, more like a hobby.
What makes it powerful, however, is that they are part of my system. So I do them as a routine everyday.
And it doesn’t require much will power as I’m not doing anything to an extent that would burn me out. I don’t have to put strenuous efforts – because I don’t have the pressure of achieving goals.
If I had a goal, say that of being a fitness trainer, there are chances I may not achieve that goal. But in the systems approach I don’t have a goal, so there’s no way I can fail.
My system only requires me to do the certain things I do in little portions everyday. And since they are things I’m interested in, I will most likely succeed in doing them everyday.
What are the chances I won’t be able to exercise on a given day (thereby not succeeding), as against the chances I won’t be able to achieve the goal of being a fitness trainer (thereby not succeeding)?
In the former, I will succeed almost everyday. In the latter, the chances of me succeeding are slim.
So, which is easier and more likely to make me succeed tomorrow? Carrying the uncertain goal to be achieved years down the line, or adhering to the system which requires me to do small things that I’m interested in?
As a person with systems approach you succeed everyday. And that keeps you happy everyday.
Because all you have to do is small things as a routine everyday. If you do those small things that don’t require much willpower, you are successful.
What’s more, everyday you keep getting better at the things your system involves doing. So in the long run, your odds of hitting it big with one of those things are ever increasing!
That is the greatest bonus of systems approach.
If you don’t have a goal, you can’t fail. And with systems, you can be more certain than a person with goals about hitting it big one day.