When we set goals, we actually set ourselves up for failure.
Typically we make a declaration to ourselves such as “lose 20 pounds” or “make a 6 figure salary.” Then we work our butts off to reach these specific goals. We might even set a deadline for ourselves like “before the summer starts” or “by the time I reach 30.” Put that extra pressure on.
If we’re lucky and we do achieve our goal, our work isn’t done. We must also sustain it. If you lose 20 pounds – your goal is technically reached – but if you gain the 20 pounds back then it’s almost as if you never succeeded at all. It might even sting more than a straightforward failure.
This is why, according to How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, “goals” tend to be short-term thinking, while “systems” tend to be long-term thinking.
Therefore, if you’re looking to make a sustainable change or improvement to your life, what you need to create or find is a system that works for you (not a goal, which is ultimately temporary).
Unlike goals, having the right systems in your life can energize you and sustain you long into the future.
Systems vs. Goals
Logically, creating goals puts you in a state of continuous struggle and failure.
You either achieve your goal or you don’t achieve your goal. And when you do achieve your goal, the high of “success” is temporary and eventually wears off. Then you need a new goal to pursue – and the cycle repeats itself.
When setting goals, we often become too eager and shoot too high – trying to go above and beyond what we are currently capable of. This automatically places ourselves in an unsustainable position.
Systems are different from goals because they are focused on sustainability. Systems don’t require a specific benchmark that we reach or don’t reach, they are an approach to life that we practice and build on daily.
The difference between systems vs. goals:
“In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.”
Do you see the difference? Systems are your daily habits and routines. They aren’t goals, they are your lifestyle.
The truth is: you already have a system in place in your life. It’s your daily routine. This is why I often recommend people to make a complete list of your daily routine, because this will give you a clearer picture of the “systems” currently running in your life. Are they working for you?
Your daily routine is essentially a “microcosm” of your entire life. Because the small things you continuously do on a daily basis will eventually build up to what you will become in the future.
The systems currently in place in your life are everything in determining where you are going – not even a temporary goal can stop them.
Paying Attention to Your “Energy Levels”
When trying to build a system that works for you in your life, it’s very important to pay attention to your “energy levels” and how they change throughout the day.
The right system will make the best use of how your energy levels change – including when to do activities that energize you vs. when to do activities that drain you.
Of course, “energy” isn’t meant to be a magical or esoteric concept here. When Scott Adams uses the term “energy,” he is just referring to your ability to focus and be motivated to complete a task.
Your energy levels can depend on multiple factors, including your individual personality.
For example, often people have different “energy levels” throughout the day. Some people are naturally energized in the morning, while others are naturally energized later in the day or at night.
Paying attention to these differences will be important for deciding on how to build a system that works best for you in the long run.
If you’re choosing a profession, it’s easier to be a bartender if you’re the type of person who is energized at night. If your profession doesn’t match your natural energy levels, you’re going to have a very difficult time finding satisfaction at your job.
You’ll notice that some activities take energy and effort (like work or taking care of kids), while other activities give you energy (like exercising or a favorite hobby).
A proper combination of these activities can help maximize your energy throughout the day. It’s important to know when are the best times to really buckle down and get some work done, but also to know what activities are best when you need a small breather.
Throughout my day I often include small breaks – going for a walk, playing with my dog, or reading a book – that often serve to re-energize me before I get back to doing work that requires more focus and effort.
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is a part memoir and part “self help” guide by famed cartoonist Scott Adams, most known for his comic strip Dilbert. This book shares an interesting range of life and career advice based on Scott’s various experiences dealing with missed opportunities, company failures, investment disasters, numerous job changes, health issues, and other strokes of bad luck and failure. Despite it all, he has developed a simple system over the years that has helped him find sustainable happiness and success.
Key Functions: Exercise, Diet, and Sleep
When it comes to building an effective “system” in your life, three important functions that every system must include are: 1) A healthy amount of exercise, 2) A good diet, and 3) A consistent sleep schedule.
According to Scott Adams, these are non-negotiable. In fact, we should be selfish when it comes to taking care of our health and our body. It’s the center of our livelihood and therefore should be one of our top priorities.
Not only that, but any impact on your health can have a “spillover” effect into other areas of your life: work, relationships, family, happiness, personal hobbies, etc.
Even a simple thing like not getting enough sleep can decrease your focus and increase stress, possibly influencing you to make a big mistake at work or more quickly start an argument with a friend or family member.
We often aren’t even aware of how these little things in our health can impact our moods and behaviors on a daily basis. Exercise, diet, and sleep are often taken for granted, but the difference between getting them fulfilled and not fulfilled can be light vs day.
Scott Adams recommends we be particularly mindful of how certain foods may increase or decrease our energy levels, and how we can use that self-knowledge to make better choices in how we eat.
Systems are focused on sustainability, so making small and steady changes are often more important than trying to make big changes to our health overnight. The book has an attitude similar to the “everything counts” mindset, which I’ve found to be a very powerful perspective when it comes to diet and exercise.
From a systems standpoint, health plays a very important role in maximizing your energy and making sure you are running at your best and most optimal state. If exercise, diet, and sleep are areas you tend to neglect, you may be surprised by how much of a positive difference they can make when they are all in order.
Add “Energy Boosters” To Your System
In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams shares a lot of tips and advice that have worked for him and his personal system. Here are some “energy boosters” that Scott has identified in his own life:
- Find things you’re good at (it could be anything) – Any activity that you’re good at can be a starting point to future success. Maybe being really good at that video game won’t earn you a living, but it can be a source of motivation that you can learn something and become successful at it. In the book, Scott Adams frequently talks about his love for playing Tennis as a great source of energy that fueled other areas of his life. Being good at anything can have a nice spillover effect into your life as a whole.
- Harness the power of affirmations – Affirmations are one tool Scott Adams talks about throughout the book. He is a great believer in them, though he realizes they can sometimes look like hocus pocus. While working on his famous Dilbert series, one of his affirmations was “I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.” If you aren’t already familiar with affirmations, I recommend my free guide The Science of Self-Affirmations. I don’t think there is anything magical about them, they are just a tool to get our minds moving in the right direction.
- Use your imagination for a change – Another popular tool Scott Adams talks about throughout the book is the use of your imagination. He became trained as a hypnotist and claims it’s become a very powerful way for him to boost his mood and optimism. Here he shares how anyone can use their imagination to influence their minds:
- “Your body and mind will respond automatically to whatever images you spend the most time pondering. If you imagine winning a Nobel Prize, buying your own private island, or playing in the NBA, don’t worry that those things are unlikely. Putting yourself in that imagination-fueled frame of mind will pep you up. Imagination is the interface to your attitude. You can literally imagine yourself to higher levels of energy.”
- Listen to epic motivational music – Music is also a popular way for us to boost our focus, energy, and motivation throughout the day. For example, epic movie soundtracks are one motivational tool I’ve been using a lot over the past year when I’m looking for that “extra boost” in motivation (I’m actually currently listening to one now as I write this). Energy!
- Be a student of life, never stop learning – Make it a habit to always want to learn new things. Scott Adams shares an extensive list in the book of subjects that he thinks the average person could greatly benefit from learning more about. These included: public speaking, psychology, design, accounting, business writing, technology, and a second language. In general, learning can be a great source of energy and motivation. It gives you the sensation that you are continuously moving forward and evolving as a person, which can fuel motivation in other areas of life as well.
- Surround yourself with positive and motivated people – One of the biggest “energy boosters” in our lives are other motivated and positive people. Similarly, people who are generally lazy and negative can be “energy drainers.” We often unconsciously adopt the habits and patterns of the people we spend the most time with, so it’s important to be mindful of this and try your best to surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.
These types of “energy boosters” can be very important for building an effective system that keeps you motivated, focused, and on point. I particularly like Scott Adam’s use of affirmations and hypnosis, which I’ve practiced on my own for many years as well.
Overall, I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for simple and practical wisdom. Scott Adams is a natural self-learner and self-explorer, and you can tell he’s a very smart, interesting, and stand-out guy. This is definitely a few steps above the typical “self help” book.
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