Systems Vs. Goals

I have always considered myself a goal oriented person. Being an engineer I love to measure progress and achieve objective results. I use spreadsheets and tracking apps for nearly every aspect of my life. I have goals for career, hobbies, fitness, etc. It’s a constant goal setting and goal achieving cycle.

Sample of Current Goals:
1. Read 52 books a year
2. Learn 1 new programming language a year
3. Race Eagleman Half Ironman June 8th, 2014 in 6 hours or less
4. Complete 100 pushup Challenge
5. Side Project – Auto Drip Coffee Maker with Raspberry Pi

how to fail boo cover

This perspective recently changed for me upon reading Scott Adam’s latest book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big“. One of the core tenets of the book highlights creating systems over goals. As Scott puts it, when you have goals you are essentially in a perpetual state of failing to achieve those goals. This attitude may be a bit over the top but I liked his comparisons to systems. Systems are more general guidelines on how to live and when you successfully act within the system, you are winning.

Goals re-written as systems:
1. Read every day
2. Always be coding in a new programming language every week
3. Workout on a regular basis (swim bike and run 2 days per week)
4. Do pushups everyday
5. Work on side project at least 1 hour per week

It took me a few days to let this concept of systems vs. goals to sink in so don’t worry if it seems like I just re-wrote my goals. Take reading 52 books for example. I set that goal for myself a couple years back and I will admit have “failed” it some years where failing means reading less than 52 discrete books. Despite the “failure” I still read a tremendous number of books (reading 50 in a year isn’t too shabby especially since some are huge technical books like Code Complete). By restating my goal as a system of constantly reading I am constantly in a state of success and keeping my eye on my true goal — learning.

Bottom Line: Rephrasing your goals as systems orients your life in the same direction but also puts you in a constant state of success. This boosts your mental attitude and increases the positive feedback loop to continue to successfully execute.