I have just finished reading Scott Adams’ book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. In the book the cartoonist behind Dilbert comic shares his views on success in a witty and humorous way.
He talks about goals among other things. He finds goals to be inadequate for long-term personal success. Among the reasons is the perpetual feeling of failure. And what do you do after reaching a goal? Goals are not relevant for ongoing improvements, like staying fit and well rested. Instead, the author argues for the value of creating habits (or systems, as he calls them) to keep essential efforts going.
The idea struck a chord with me. As I’ve written before I had never found goals to be especially useful in life. Not only I can’t find any motivation for reaching arbitrary targets I also don’t understand what am I supposed to do when I reach them. Suppose I’ve put a goal to lift a certain weight. Should I stop exercising once I can do it? Pushing goals further is not workable either. I can’t increase my strength forever - there is a limit.
Forming habits has always worked for me. I had spent a considerable amount of willpower once to fall in love with exercising daily. Now I feel bad if I don’t do it. I occasionally break out of the routine (e.g. when I travel for weeks at a time) but resuming is never a hassle. However, I find habits/systems to be out of place for things that are to be enjoyed sporadically. It is a lousy habit to go to the cinema every week because it won’t be fun.
Also, the line between habits and goals is a fine one. A habit to meditate daily can be framed as a goal. I don’t have a good enough grasp to put a clearly defined distinction. Goals are well defined targets with specific dates attached to them. Habits are a collection of embraced practices to continuously maintain and improve prioritized areas of life without excessively expending willpower. More generally, I can think of habits as processes that solve problems and dilemmas of life to get me closer to what I consider important.
I’ve enjoyed the book. Although there’s more circumstantial evidence than scientific proof I have discovered a couple of valuable ideas to evaluate and to experiment with. I suggest to read Farnam Street Blog post about this book for an expanded overview.