July 3, 2020

Systems are for winners, goals are for losers

Do you have systems or do you have goals? How do you think about the different areas in your life?

After reading Scott Adams’ How to fail at almost everything and still win big, I have looked at every area of my life to understand how I might use ‘systems’ thinking to my advantage.

What are systems? What are goals?

Systems

Systems is something that you apply with the intention of doing something. For example, you could have a system for healthy eating where you eat healthy every day. Or you could have a system for how you take on projects where you try to build new skills every project you take on.

Goals

Goals are something that you will achieve in the future. One of your goals could be to run a marathon at the end of the next year. Another goal is to become CEO in 5 years. Goals put you in a perpetual state of ‘pre-failure’, something that I learned from Scott. You work towards achieving your goal and you may or may not achieve it in the end.

Goals are for losers

Why are goals for ‘losers’? Scott puts it in this way to make sure that you pay attention to why you may set goals. James Clear has an article that also talks about systems vs. goals, and he puts it nicely: goals are for setting direction. If you don’t have a goal, a good system may not do very much. You can eat healthy every day, but to what end?

Systems are for winners

In contrast, take a look at a system that you apply to your life. For example, let’s say that your goal is to run a marathon at the end of the year. A system could be to be active every day. Every day that you are active, or have the intention of being active, means that your system is a success. On the other hand, maybe at the end of the year, you run, but not quite a marathon. This means that you failed your goal. However, if you had a system where you were active every day, it means that you would have made progress despite failing your goal at the end.

Many times, you set a goal and after achieving the goal, you stop doing all of the things that help you progress towards the goal. If your goal is to run a marathon, you may likely ‘take a rest’ after running the marathon, thus negating all your training and the benefits achieved up to that point. Systems help you make small progress every day. Systems allow for slack. Even if you are not active that day, maybe you put on gym clothes or thought about trying to be active in some way, the system has won.

Systems for your career

A better example of systems thinking is in your career. For example, a goal you may have is to get to a specific salary or to a certain position in your company in a few years. Who knows what could happen in a few years? Maybe you get laid off. Maybe your friend starts a company and wants you to join. Maybe you leapfrog ahead of everyone and start your own company. A better way of thinking about your career, I think, is to use systems thinking. Every single year or every project that you take on, you will learn new skills. Or build connections in your network. Or create content that you can use (blog articles, recorded videos, audio recordings, etc.). In this case, you may or may not achieve your goals. But with a systems approach, you will win regardless of whether you meet your goal or not.

Systems for your life

A few more systems for you to think about that I draw from my life:

  • Reading every day
  • Learning something new every day
  • Being active every day
  • Eating healthy every day
  • Improving the connections in my network every day
  • Thinking positive things every day

I have goals, but as mentioned before, these goals are compass directions. I’d rather have well-designed systems because these systems can help me improve in a small way every single day. And the systems are designed to help me achieve my long term goals.

In a way, I have systems that match a lot of the habits that I want to do every day. For example, I want to exercise on a regular basis so being active every day is the system that I use to achieve that. I also recognize the importance of my career so maintaining, building and improving the connections in my network is the system that I use for that.


What are your thoughts around systems vs. goals? What systems do you have in your life that you use?

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