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Goals versus systems

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Goals versus systems

Scott Miker

Most people assume that the way to keep improving and getting better in life is to set goals and then work to reach them. We set goals that we can then point to as motivation to keep our effort up while we struggle through the steps until we reach the goal. Then we start over.

The idea is that to do this, we keep getting better and better over time. It sounds like it perfectly fits in most improvement programs and is necessary if we want something better from life.

But many systems thinkers take a different approach. Instead of setting goals, we are constantly making tweaks to systems in our life. This allows us to keep improving and growing.

I still like to set goals and have a general sense of where I am headed. This helps to build the right systems and habits to make sure I am going in the direction that I choose.

But Scott Adams, author of the Dilbert cartoon series, says in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, “You might say every system has a goal, however vague. And that would be true to some extend. And you could say that everyone who pursues a goal has some sort of system to get there, whether it is expressed or not. You could word-glue goals and systems together if you choose. All I’m suggesting is that thinking of goals and systems as very different concepts has power. Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if thinks never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system.”

Adams makes a fantastic point here. Part of the reason I work hard to stay content but not complacent is because I can use systems to help me improve instead of always having to set goals. Instead of constantly setting the bar higher than where I am and feeling inadequate, I constantly feel confident as I continue to get better.

What is easier to stick with – something that feels horrible but we have a prize at the end of the journey to motivate us, or having the right systems and habits that move us to success without constant battles with our own willpower?

Because the systems approach is much easier to keep going, we can then keep adding more and more adjustments to the system. We can mold the system to be whatever we want it to be.

This helps us slowly make the necessary changes in order to see better results, and better results mean we are accomplishing more.

When I first started to learn about using systems to help me improve it changed my life. Instead of missing my goals constantly and moving in the opposite direction through life, I started to finally be able to DO the things necessary to go in the right direction. It gave me power and confidence. Then the accomplishments started to come and I could see that over a relatively short time frame I suddenly had a new approach to life.

This approach has been significant in my life. It has allowed me to keep getting better and consistently take steps to improve that most people struggle to even do for a short time.

I may not be as strict as Adams on my view of goals. I think adding the systems perspective will always help us grow and improve without the stress associated with feeling as though we are lacking in some way. This might just be enough of a push to keep us going and going until we start to see the positive results of having good systems in life.