How to fail at almost everything and still win big – Scott Adams
This book was recommended by Tim Ferris in his book Tools of Titans. Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert and a successful writer, cartoonist and philosopher (as well) now. The book was published in 2013 and is 247 pages.
There are 5 major concepts in this book that I have summarized – they are a) improve your personal energy, b) improve your luck by learning multiple skills, c) focus on systems not goals, d) develop a habit of simplifying not optimizing and e) affirmations work.
There are multiple book reviews of this book since it has been published 7 years ago, so I am going to only focus on the ONE takeaway that I am implementing starting today. I will give you multiple examples of how this has affected my life so far and how I think it will improve it going forward.
Focus on systems not goals
In 2013 I was about 175 Lbs (80 Kgs). I was not overweight but I was heavy. I went for my annual checkup when I learned that I would be a higher risk for diabetes with my weight. So I set myself a goal to be 150 pounds in 3 months. I was exercising daily, sleeping well, but I have a fondness for chocolate and snacking.
In 3 months I hit my goal and then some, I was 146 pounds. Thrilled.
3 months after hitting my goal I was at 155 pounds. Not bad, but not great either.
6 months after hitting my goal I was at 160 pounds.
I set myself a new goal – 140 pounds in 3 months. You know the drill.
I hit the goals I hit consistently, only to not be able to keep up after.
In hindsight it was the classic dog chasing a car. Once I got to the goal, I did not know what was next. I could put a new goal – e.g. Maintain the weight at 145 lbs, but was not as motivating.
The answer according to Scott is to build a system – e.g. change behavior with small habits that is repetable everyday.
This actually makes sense in the context of the weight loss. By limiting what I eat daily to a few set of thing that I can repeat, I create a mechanism to see the long term rewards of my system.
Now that does not meant you dont have goals. I read this as have a goal, but put a system in place to support long term changes and goals.
If you focus on a repeatable system you will likely hit the goal.
Now for the frequently asked questions.
Does this apply to work (as opposed to personal goals)?
I think it does apply to everything. Goals are important, but if you can create a repeatable system (mechanism in Amazon’s vocabulary) you are more likely to see the long term effects of your habit change.
Do systems help with short term or long term progress?
It is easy to say they help with both, but in my experience systems help more with long term changes you want to make.
Should I give up setting annual goals then?
A SMART goal is very useful and important. It helps you focus on achievement. Without goals you are not sure what you want to achieve. How you can sustain that achievement is by putting a system in place.
What role do systems play in motivating you to achieve the goal?
Systems replace motivations with a routine or process. Once you set a goal and hit it, you are likely to focus on the next thing. Sometimes you up your goal. E.g. after my weight reached 145 Lbs I thought the next goal should be to maintain it, but the motivation to stay at that weight was not as high.
It is easy to measure progress toward a goal. How to you measure systems?
Lets take the example above.
The goal: Lose 25 lbs in 12 weeks. Roughly 2 lbs a week. A goal is easy to measure. So I will eat less every day (lets say 1000 calories) to make sure I am making progress towards losing weight. The metric I track is my weight. If it goes up or down a day I will have to adjust my eating the next day accordingly.
Lets say I wanted that goal, but I now put a system in place to eat 1000 calories a day instead of my usual 1200. The metrics I track the # of days I am sticking to that system, instead of tracking the weight. That way the system helps me in the long run by tracking the # of days I stick to 1000 calorie diet.