Recently, I listened to How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. I read the paperback version a week before hearing it on Audible. I highly recommend doing either. When Scott said early on that goals are for losers and systems are for winners, I was hooked.
Scott’s an original thinker with a shrewd sense of humor. It’s evident that he is a humble guy who enjoys his life. HTFAAEASWB is not written as a self-help book, although I found it more helpful than most books in that category. The ease with which Scott shares ridiculous stories from his past gives the reader permission to lighten up around some of their perceived failures. Scott’s view is so optimistic and energizing that I walked away feeling enormously excited about putting his advice into practice.
A key distinction Scott makes early on in HTFAAEASWB is the difference between Goals and Systems. One of my new systems, for optimal material retention, I already mentioned in the first paragraph. When I read a book that hits home, even if I love and underline every word, most of it evaporates in a month. Maybe this is a 44-year-old female thing, or perhaps I am just running out of storage space; whatever the cause, I wanted to create a new system to integrate thought-shaping books fully into my DNA. Reading or listening to them once doesn’t get the job done. HTFAAEASWB is the second book I have tested successfully with this two sensory approach, so now it’s officially become one of my new systems.
Scott also says that goals are for losers. I laughed out loud as he explained this in detail. He goes on to say that people with systems are the successful ones. It’s helpful when someone gives language to something that you do and don’t realize you do because that way you can start doing it with intention. My life is full of unconscious systems, and I am a far more successful person now than I was back in my goal-oriented youth.
In my 20’s, I was always chasing some goal. Losing 10lbs, finding a better boyfriend and saving up for a new article of clothing were consistently the top three. Clearly, these weren’t lofty goals, and they still consumed my focus. Yielding rapid, tangible results, the 10lb goal was my favorite, and I would embark on new diet plans regularly. The pattern was the same; I spent a month focused on losing the weight, reached the goal and then abandoned whatever it was that I had been doing the past month. Most of the diets were of the extreme variety so that I could reach the goal as fast as possible. I wasn’t just a goal person; I was a cut corners to obtain the goal person. I would then celebrate my weight loss with a pig out meal of French fries and cupcakes.
Goals are great distractions packed with short-lived highs that keep us nestled in a false reality. They spare us from having to look a layer deeper. Gaining and losing 10lbs a few times a year kept me busy. It was a much more comfortable subject to focus on than my alcohol issues and unresolved trauma from my childhood.
In my 30s, unbeknownst to me, AA introduced me to the world of systems. Systems helped me stop drinking and stay stopped. Friends and family used to ask me when I would graduate from AA. People go to AA meetings their entire life because AA is a system for staying sober, the same as eating healthy and going to the gym is a system for staying fit. AA taught me that all permanent change happens within a system structure. Simultaneously, my standards got higher, and this was the key. I created a new identity based on my higher standards.
Goals happen outside of identity and systems happen within.
The issue is that most of us defined ourselves a long time ago based on outside influences. Our parents, peers, teachers, bosses created our identity. We didn’t choose who we wanted to be, so our standards are a reflection of other’s thinking. Lucky for me that I was forced to start from scratch when I entered AA. My character was too warped to salvage after years of excessive boozing and bad behavior.
It was hard work developing a new identity but what a gift it was long term. I continue to update it every year, building systems to support new identifying traits. For example, I just started calling myself a writer two months ago. I thought I wasn’t allowed to call myself that until my name was in print. We often have random rules like this, which dictate our future possibilities. Sure, I had a goal of becoming a writer one day, which existed outside of my identity. There were periods I wrote and periods I did not. In January 2018, I made a choice to call myself a writer. Bold decisions have magic in them, and the commitment solidified after a few days of sitting down at my desk and writing. Writers write regularly, that was my new requirement for membership.
Over that hurdle, I started experimenting with writing during different times of the day to figure out when I was most productive. The morning was the winner. The entire process took a month to cement. Now every morning I sit down at 8:30 and write to 11:30. It’s a non-negotiable new system like going to AA or the gym.
Updating your identity is a choice that is always available. Decide what you want to be and set up systems to support you. Habits may take a few months to cement but change happens in an instant.