Goals are for losers

It’s the first day of a new year—maybe a good time to share some ideas I picked up from a book by Scott Adams, the guy who created the Dilbert comic strip.


How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
(kindle or real book)

One of his central ideas is that our personal energy is the most important thing to pursue, and that goals often sap that energy. If we hang our success on some future event (“run a marathon in less than 4 hours”) we spend 99% of our time in a state of pre-success failure, even if we ultimately reach the goal. He suggests instead focusing on systems.

“For our purposes, let’s say a goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”

“Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction.”

To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal— if you reach it at all— feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you.”

“Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.”

Not every chapter is a winner, but he has a cartoonist’s gift for simplifying and entertaining, and I’m glad I read it when I did. I thought I’d pass it along.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

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2 Responses to “Goals are for losers”

  1. Marina January 1, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Does this mean you have decided to implement a system that allows for public consumption of your writing, or would it be premature to get excited at that prospect?

    • Paul January 1, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

      I will commit to nothing.

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