Are Goals for Losers?

I’m not a big believer in goals.

But I am a big believer in systems.

Let me explain.

The distinction between goals and systems was first made in an excellent book by Scott Adams called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

“To put it bluntly, goals are for losers”, writes Adams. “For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game.”

Now maybe that’s a pretty harsh or negative way to look at goal setting. After all, most of us have had at least some positive experience with setting (and attaining, I hope) a goal or two. But Adams’s point is that you’re way better off having a system—which in this case would be eating right—than you are having a single goal of losing ten pounds.

Running a race is a goal. Exercising every day is a system. Making a million bucks is a goal. Being a serial entrepreneur is a system.

Which has the bigger possibility of ongoing rewards?

Look, we all hear about lottery winners and other people who become suddenly, instantly rich, because those stories are interesting and newsworthy. But how many people do you know who really became millionaires overnight? I know a lot of millionaires, and virtually all of them became wealthy by having a system, not a goal. And that system probably meant saving, budgeting, prioritizing, investing, calculating risk, and cutting loses. And it was that system that ultimately got them the rewards they now experience.

A system is basically something you do all the time, at least on a regular basis. It’s part of your lifestyle, like drinking water every day, or practicing the mambo, or meditating. “A system”, writes Adams, is something you do on a regular basis that increase your odds of happiness in the long run”.

If you do it every day, it’s a system. If it’s something you’re waiting to someday “achieve”, then it’s a goal.

And while I’d hardly agree with Adams that goals are for losers, I do think that goals without systems are ultimately lacking something as a strategy for living. They’re a “grab the brass ring and you’re done” kind of a situation, whereas a system—a practice—is something you can start right this minute, do for the rest of your life, and that you can reasonably expect will improve your life overall.

Most people who succeed—whether it be in weight loss, fitness, investing, business, relationships or even spirituality—follow systems. Goals are just road-markers, a by-product of those bigger systems.

Don’t get me wrong. Setting a goal– and then achieving it– feels fantastic.

I highly recommend it.

But you’ve got a much greater chance of having that experience if you’ve got a system in place—a practice, a lifestyle, an infrastructure, a “way of being” in the world.

A good system—and a little bit of luck—may even help you reach goals you never even dreamed you could achieve.

And the best part is that you don’t have to wait to experience success. You can start with your system today. Right here. Right now.

Now that would be a real accomplishment.