Goals Are For Losers

by Mike Sententia on October 14, 2013

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Scott Adams (Dilbert creator), writing in the WSJ:

To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.

If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize that you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or to set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure.

Instead, he advocates systems: Ways of solving a problem that you do, continuously, trusting that it’ll work, even if you’ve gotten unlucky the last few times you’ve tried. His examples include continuously looking for jobs (because it’s unlikely that the best job for you happens to be open when you happen to be out of work), or selecting a sales field based on how likely current customers are to renew their subscription (and therefore, give you another commission for zero extra work).

This resonated with me. Because I enjoy magick more when I just explore, rather than picking a problem and trying to solve it. And exploring is a system: Find something you don’t understand, figure out how it works (which may include asking a spirit), learn to use it, then find something else you don’t understand. Over time, once you understand enough bits, new techniques just become obvious, and they usually work the first time. And each part is exciting: Finding something you don’t understand, teasing it apart, finding something else, and seeing a new technique that ought to work, and then finding you’re right (most of the time). Compared to the cycle of permanent pre-success failure, there’s really no contest.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon October 15, 2013 at 4:19 AM

There’s a writer Tom Evans that i’ve been checking out who has a concept of ‘goals of learning’. In a nutshell you focus on what you want to learn rather than traditional ‘SMART’ goals. A good point he makes is that traditional goals can restrict you because you conceive them from what you currently know.

Having tried his method for a bit its definitely superior to the usual stuff. he has a free course on udemy.com with that title – ‘goals of learning’. He also has some very good material for writers who are feeling blocked. Not being his pr agent :-)- just thought it tied in with what you were saying.


Mike Sententia October 21, 2013 at 6:27 PM

Thanks, Simon. That looks interesting.


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