How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams. Chapter Six: Goals Versus Systems (Summary)

Recently Lee Cho recommended this book to me and I started to see it mentioned in a lot of places. I took that as a sign to read it. It’s very good and I recommend it.

Today’s post is a summary of chapter six: the one where Adams introduces the concept of goals versus systems. Lee wrote about this in his post on Small City Daygame which I also recommend.

Adams quite bluntly states that “goals are for losers.” He’s not saying that people who make goals suck. He’s saying that when you have a goal you’re nearly always in a state of pre-success failure. Then you achieve the goal and feel good before going back to feeling bad again.

In contrast systems are something that you can succeed in every day. They are a powerful psychological trick which contributes to your personal energy.

Adams defines systems as something you do on a regular basis which increases your chances of happiness in the future. He says that with a system you can’t tell day to day whether it’s working but you have a rough idea that it will in the long run.

He encourages people to be empirical. Observe the patterns. Develop superstitions around them even. If it works consistently then it works for some reason. But that reason doesn’t really matter. Just develop a system to encourage the good parts of the phenomena or to avoid the bad parts.

Some examples that Adams uses are affirmations, being active every day, avoiding eating certain foods which make him feel tired and reframing each failure as a learning opportunity.

There are probably some systems that you yourself use already such as brushing your teeth twice a day and washing your hands after using the toilet. As Lee pointed out in his article the LDM is a kind of system: rather than the goal of “get laid” you have an actionable model to use while talking to girls in the street.

One reason why Adams stresses systems over goals is that “the better deal has its own schedule.” You never know when luck will strike. Systems keep you ticking over and open you up to more good luck.

I now want to link this to my post on The Big Five for Life by John Strelecky and expand on that concept.

At the top of the hierarchy is your PFE: the big dream. Then there are the Big Five: your big goals. But it’s pointless having a destination without a map to guide you there. That’s where systems come in.

In fact, the guy who recommended I read Big Five in the first place told me he reads it once a year to remind himself of the message (another system at play).

Here are some examples of the systems I employ to get me to my Big Five. These aren’t set in stone. They can change over time once I exhaust that system or find a new one that works better. They just work right now.

  • Reach 100 DG lays: walk the Daygame route two to three times a week in my Daygame clothes
  • Learn to speak Finnish fluently: complete a level on Duolingo each day
  • Stay lean and healthy: track my calories each day and stay inside my calorie limit

These are all actions I do on a regular basis which let me move the dial – if only by a little bit – consistently.

The point is to identify a goal and then work out the systems that work to achieve it. And don’t be picky about why it works.

For example: I remember an old Tom Torero podcast where he joked about a guy asking whether he should approach from the left or right. We know it doesn’t matter, but if that guy noticed that he did better by approaching from one side then he should do that preferentially.

And it doesn’t matter whether you have five systems which contribute to one goal but only one of them works. Be an empiricist and treat yourself like a guinea pig. Over time you can identify the greatest contributing factor (system) to your success but right now just do all of them and see what sticks.

I believe Adams does something like this in his book. There are a lot of chapters that are only two or three pages long. The important thing is that that gives him more to sling at the wall. You only need to walk away with one great idea to consider reading a book worthwhile.

Yours unfaithfully,

Thomas Crown

Hire me for coaching (infield and Skype available), buy my book and follow me on Twitter @thomascrownpua

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