Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners; says Scott Adams, in his new book titled “How to fail at almost everything and still win big”. I’d heard the same idea from James clear in his book “Atomic habits“. This is an interesting idea/thought-process, which is worth pondering over.

What exactly does it mean?
It is kind-of-the-opposite of what we’ve always been advised; having a Goal and being relentless in pursuing that goal.
Instead of focusing on the goal alone, give more importance to “systems”. The goal could be an eventual outcome, but when importance is given to systems; even if we don’t achieve the goal, adhering to a system will always benefit us. A systems-based approach cannot fail.

I thought I’d illustrate it by taking a couple of examples from my own life where I’ve found systems being more useful than goals.

There was a time, when i was in pretty bad physical shape. So, i decided on a goal: “To get a six-pack in one year”.
In order to achieve that goal, I had to put systems in place. I’ve described the systems i put in place in an earlier blog titled: How to get (and stay) fit over 40
The plan was to have a photo shoot on a specific date in exactly a year.
I managed to get what you could call a 4-pack. The last tiny bit of belly fat refused to budge and I was disappointed. If you viewed things purely from a goal-based perspective, I had failed. I had over a year to achieve something and I didn’t.
But here’s the good part: After that year, I’ve never ever been out of shape. The systems that i put in place have been paying me dividends ever since. I gained knowledge about diet, supplements and exercise which i never had earlier. I developed self-discipline and healthy habits which I never had. If I was only bothered about getting a six-pack (a goal-based approach),  I would have been disillusioned and probably gone back to my old eating habits and become fat again. But, because i had focused on a systems-based approach, I continue to benefit from it. That is the true value of a systems-based approach. You always win.

The second example I’d like to share is a professional one. About 20 years ago, I made a (rather naive) decision. I wanted to be “The best Endodontist in the world”. I would do whatever it took to be the very best. Fast-forward to the present; Have i achieved my goal? Of-course not! There are hundreds of Endodontists out there who are far more skilled than me, have more focus than me and have achieved way more than I ever will. From a goal-based perspective, I had failed.
But, what i did in terms of systems continue to pay me dividends. Because my goal was “to be the best”, I had to invest in better tools, learn more skills, aim higher and emulate my role models. In the process, I had evolved into a better clinician.
If I was focused on a goal-based approach, I would be miserable till I achieved my goal. I would be a very negative individual, jealous of all those clinicians who were doing better than I was. But, because I had invested in systems, I became a better Endodontist. And because my focus is always on systems and not goals, I will continue to be inspired by people better than me. 

We can apply the same principles in almost any field. Focus on systems and let the goals take care of themselves. Invest in systems and you just cannot lose. A system always rewards us.

Thank you Scott Adams!





8 thoughts on “SYSTEMS VS GOALS”

  1. Hi Dr Siju, that was quite a thought provoking read…all this while right uptil now I’ve been goal oriented…..and my goals aren’t even a single item… neither are they given a time frame…had to be a great teacher, one with many research and publications, a great endodontist, a great mom, even greater wife, great daughter -in law…but at the end of the day all I’m left with is disappointment…just to take one of my failing goals…that is being a great endodontist…I am having the scope and a very basic armamentarium for obt and inst retrieval…. My documentation is horrible… Other than the rvg images , I’m just not taking enough photos…I’m not practicing inst removal on extd teeth inspite of having a phantom head…I’m not buying the necessary tools thinking I’ve already invested enough…my mindset, my attitude everything needs to change.,’s time I started focusing on systems… And màybe try to get one thing done at a time.. and when one system is in place I can move on to the next one…. thank you so much. Lekshmy


    1. Hi Lekshmy, Glad you found the blog useful. Yes, you are right, the trick is to have small victories. Do one small thing at a time, but make it a recurring habit. A series of small wins yields dramatic changes over a period of time.


  2. Absolutely true. It is almost like mindfulness in success i.e. the systems approach makes you focus on the here and now, one day at a time and in the present. The process is good, the result is ensured


  3. Absolutely doctor I admire you are lot for all the skills you have achieved in life . Very well written can corelate to it, a lot. I agree, but in also feel we should have goals in life which we should try to reach for, with systematic approach, that instills discipline and also works on our EQ( self awareness, self management part). But the problem is we also judge ourselves that if we couodnt reach our goal we are losers, which is not entirely correct.


  4. I have enjoyed reading this article more so as its a reminder of the book Atomic habits that I enjoyed reading a year back . When mentors like you put forth your thoughts and talk about your struggles in blogs like these , it gives us a glimpse into your life . It inspires us to emulate role models like you . Do continue writing these blogs sir. we are here waiting for your next blog !

    Liked by 1 person

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