How to Incorporate Systems Into Your Goals

My fiancé has become all too familiar with my recent obsession with the artist Akira the Don, who mashes podcasts with music for a unique blend of motivational/inspiring content. In one of the albums I listen to, The User Interface For Reality, I kept hearing Scott Adams mention that systems work better than goals. Given that I co-authored a book, called The Path, on goal setting, this caught my interest as I am always looking to further refine my goal setting strategy. 

So I picked up a copy of Scott Adams’ How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big to learn more about the hype behind systems. The first example Scott gives of systems is from an executive he once met when he was young who advised him to always be looking for his next job, since the best opportunities don’t always align with exactly when you decide to look. Scott  elaborates on other systems he uses, I’m going to touch on two: his career & fitness systems. His career system was a two pronged approach: gather as many skills as he could on his company’s dime, while consistently trying his hand in scalable entrepreneurial ventures until one hits. Scott’s fitness system is to exercise daily, but not so much that he will be sore the next day.

In my goal setting system I would divide what Scott calls a system into either a meta-habit or a strategy. A meta-habit is a daily or semi-daily habit that moves you toward a broader objective. For example, if your objective is to be more mindful you may adopt a meta-habit of meditating 3 times per week which you can roll up to 36 total meditations on the quarter. I view a strategy as an intentional but general approach toward moving toward an objective. An example of a strategy with food consumption would be following Michael Pollan’s advice of “eating whole foods, mostly plants, not too much”.

Systems / meta-habits / strategies, whatever you want to call them are certainly beneficial. It is important to have a general approach so that you don’t have to make thousands of tiny decisions for every given situation. Where I separate from Scott is with his disdain for goals. His contention is that if you do not reach a goal you feel let down, and you should avoid that while still making progress via systems. I think people are more resilient than that. I argue that articulating and implementing both strategies and meta habits will keep your ship afloat, sailing  in the right direction, AND setting goals will (to continue with this ship analogy) motivate the crew to reach land sooner rather than later. If you happen to miss the mark, you’ve still maintained your ship and you can easily set a new course. 

If you haven’t done so already, think about what your strategies and meta-habits are that will keep you moving in the right direction. Once paired with a goal to focus on you become unstoppable.