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Goals vs Systems

In Life in General, Organization on 2014/12/07 at 20:03

Goals reduce your current happiness. When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.”

That’s a quote from an article on Entrepreneur.com, which was first published at JamesClear.com. It was inspired by an article on The Wall Street Journal, which was adapted from the book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” which I have not read. But I was introduced to this concept by a certain Master Programmer, and now I will extend this short chain of article references with my own amateur blag post.

The idea is simple, but takes some courage to embrace. Setting goals puts you in a situation where you are currently failing until you finally reach that goal.When you reach your goal, you become successful–for an instant. Suddenly you find yourself without the driving force that led you there. You can either stop moving forward, rest on your laurels until it stops being satisfying, or make a higher goal and re-enter the cycle of “pre-success failure,” as the article puts it.

Instead, the article seems to propose a better way to get things done: put systems in place that will not only take you to your goals, but also motivate you both before and after. Make your goals, develop systems that will take you to those goals, then put the goals out of mind and focus on your system as you live each day. Every time you follow your system, you are succeeding. Perhaps “system” is just another word for “habit,” and we have been hearing about the habits of successful people and the power of habit for a while. In a physics metaphor, goals give you direction and systems give you velocity. This all reminds me of GTD, which focuses heavily on the Next Action. Goals are un-doable by nature; action is necessary for progress, and systems make you take action.

Let’s apply this new method to my own organizational life. I think my current system (sadly abandoned in 2014) attempted to implement systems by defining more and more granular goals until they became tiny actionable items on a to-do list. But in my system I had to create the Next Action as I went along. I reviewed my actions daily and judged whether they led me to my goals. This created cognitive overhead and stress. Instead, systems should generate the Next Action, either by repetition (if you want to write a novel, write 1,667 words every day for a month) or by following a predefined set of steps (if you want to get fit, follow a fitness program).

To me, this idea took courage to embrace because it comes with an identity-damaging admission that my goal-oriented systems were a bad idea (well, not exactly bad, but not viable as a long-term strategy). It was identity-damaging because I took such pride in my systems, my thorough thinking and planning, and how these things aided the image of willpower that I wanted to portray. Well, it’s good to bring my hidden arrogance to light so I can change it.

I’ll try to implement systems for the goals I’ve been failing to obtain and see if I can realize the dual benefits of satisfaction and attainment.

The end of NaBloWriMo: This was a triumph

In Uncategorized on 2014/12/03 at 12:48

Eight blog entries in a month. You might call it a 25% success rate, but eight in one month is about eight more than average. I call that a HUGE SUCCESS.

Sorry, I just finished playing Portal twice this Thanksgiving.

Day 8: Sarcasm, and the better way

In Life in General, Self Improvement on 2014/11/15 at 18:26

Buckle down, this one will be long.

Growing up as an only child, and without the influences of a wholesome family, I grew up thinking that all families were as dysfunctional as was portrayed on TV. It’s what sells, right? (I remember seeing a t-shirt celebrating it with the words “putting the ‘fun’ back in dysfunctional”). Bickering, backstabbing, and sarcasm were among the most frequent tools used to perpetuate chaos in family relationships. And so our entertainment media succeeded, intentionally or not, to instill in me a belief that families were all defective as a matter of course. Growing up by myself, and then moving to a different country as a child, helped to isolate me from experiences that contradicted that faulty belief.

The first challenge to my misconception happened in the dining room of a family that my teenage brain decided to visit. I had known them for many years but never had reason to go see them, and still didn’t, but I went anyway, and they were happy that I was there to play with their son (he had three sisters but no brothers). I can’t tell you how old I was, or what we did that day, but three things I witnessed were so shocking that I still have vivid memories of how I felt. The first was the father issuing strict orders to his rowdy children to settle down, which I had fully expected to be ignored with disdain. Instead, they complied happily. I was speechless, and stood there trying to understand what had happened. Such a minor thing in hindsight, but to me it was world-changing: it was the first sign that families do not, as a matter of course, do everything in their power to frustrate and diminish each other.


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