Systems and goals

By | June 6, 2016

This may or may not be the last time I mention this book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, but he has a chapter that I’m pretty sure he wrote just for me. He’s all like, Thriftygal,

…goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game.

Yeah, that does make sense, Scott. I wrote a bit about how I have a hard time being nice to myself. I love my resolutions chart with all my soul, but it does give me a very glaring account of my flaws. I always fail so miserably at “avoid time-wasters.” I wish I had never discovered how amazing I am at Freecell. I’m too good not to play it. It’s a real problem.

Taco Bell in Santiago, Chile.

Taco Bell in Santiago, Chile.

But overall, I’m a goal-orientated freakazoid. I so love my goals, my sub-goals, my crossing those suckers off when done and doing my victory lap. And, not to taint the whole humility image I’ve got going on here, but I really thought I had this part of life DOWN.

I started this blog because I nailed a goal that made me feel tingly. Now I look back only with fondness on Operation Get Rid of That Debt, Man. That final payment felt like shackles lifted, an elephant stepped off my chest and now it’s time to dance! Yes! My goals of getting out of debt and retiring early were — give me a second to polish my rose-colored glasses — easy and breezy and all part of the path. Also, rah rah rah, you can do it too!

But, after reading Scott’s advice, the jerk inside my head shouted “ah-ha!” at me. The only reason I nailed the financial goals was because I used a system that made sense to me. Why waste your resources on stuff? It wasn’t the goals that worked, it was the system.

Maybe it’s just semantics, but here’s what I’ve gathered so far. A system is a deliberate activity that you do regularly just because you know your life will be better if you make it a habit. You don’t have a specific end in mind; you just know that overall shit improves. A goal, meanwhile, is a very specific objective that you can very possibly fail miserably at.

I find most goals fall somewhere between those two extremes of utter failure (Free Cell) and easy success (retiring early). I’m not giving up my goals, my operations, my resolutions, my lists, but I will add Scott’s lexicon of using “systems” to my repertoire. Use a system to supplement your goal.

It’s probably just semantics. But I love words. Words matter. Framing matters.

Goal: Get out of debt
System: Don’t buy crap you don’t need

Goal: Retire early
System: Don’t buy crap you don’t need

Goal: What’s next?
System: Make it the journey.

By the law of averages, we are average at most things. We are below average at some things. We are above average at some things. Figure out the thing you like doing and that you’re good at and go do that.

Goal: Read a book a day for a year
System: Read

Goal: Be a writer
System: Write

You are what you do everyday. Fill your days with the things you love to do and you’ll love your life.  At least this seems to be working for me.

Goal: Learn 25 recipes
System: Cook

Pbthhhh. Here’s the thing. I actually don’t really like to cook. I love to eat and I will happily do the dishes after, but if I’m alone, I’d prefer to not make the dishes at all and grab a banana. Or go out. I still give myself a solid C in the learning to cook like mom goal, but as that’s average, it’s not something to rah rah about it.

Taco Bell in Seoul, South Korea. I love Taco Bell more than you.

Taco Bell in Seoul, South Korea. I love Taco Bell more than you.

I’m still trying because I can’t bear the thought of putting down this dream.

Goal: See the world
System: Travel

Always be traveling. Always have something fun planned. Always have something to look forward to.

Check out my Carmen Sandiego link and shoot me an email if our paths cross. Or sign up for my email postings and I’ll let you know if I plan a meetup. I might post it to Facebook. I probably won’t remember to put it on Twitter.

16 thoughts on “Systems and goals

  1. Biglaw Investor

    Ok, fine, fine, fine. I just added How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win to my library hold list. You’ve finally convinced me to read it. Looking forward to the Taco Bell chapter.

  2. tt

    The major upside to crawl, walk, run? No face planting from great heights when you should be on all fours…

    Toss in a dash of gratification deferral with the failures and you may find yourself @ 35(ish) with an entire world of possibilities!

    Great stuff.

  3. chc4

    Wow. You hit it out of the park with this post. I may even print it and hang it on my refrigerator.

  4. Rudi

    Goal: Live Long
    System: Stop eating at Taco Bell….LOL.

    Just keep grinding out these hits Anita!!!!

  5. birju

    what are your feelings on the lava sauce discontinuation?
    mexican pizza + cheesy gordita crunch FTW

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      @birju – it’s the hot sauce or bust for me. None of that mild, fire or flavor of the weeks. 🙂

  6. zeejaythorne

    Putting up the systems you need to obtain your goals is so important. I love concrete, tangible items to work toward. I need to make a series of choices to get there. I’ll definitely add this book to my reading queue.

  7. joes4u

    You love Taco Bell more than I love Taco Bell or you love it more than you love me?

  8. Roy


    I too love to set goals and meet them. I love the process of getting there or the system. Not sure if this is good or not. It may just be another form of OCD, obsessive compulsion Disorder, Roy

  9. thisbloggingbiz

    Exactly! I knew it was all about habits, but you put it into words perfectly for me… it’s about THE SYSTEM. Everyone talks about setting a goal and then define all the steps that you have to take to get you to that goal, which is all well and good… but it’s the system that gets you there. It’s saying the same thing, but your words make so much more sense to me. Thank you! 🙂

  10. Dwayne Dixon

    Goal: Get out of debt
    System: Don’t buy crap you don’t need

    Scott is also a firm believer in positive affirmation so he would have put System this way:
    I only buy things I absolutely need.

    I worked in the same building as Scott before he became famous and I heard he wrote on paper 15 times a day “i will be a successful cartoon columnist.” (something like that)

    Positive affirmation – so powerful.

  11. Andrei Palskoi

    The problem with goals is that they make you happy for like 5 seconds when you reach them, and (at least mildly) unhappy for the rest of the time, because your mind can’t help but keep noticing that your actual reality is not in line with the desired state. That disconnect is the essence of suffering.

    Solution: realize that all goals and systems are essentially fantasies, crude and inadequate models of reality, and pay more attention to the real world as it actually is. That, coincidentally, is also a way to discover how little you truly need for comfort (your “don’t buy crap you don’t really need” system). Often, a good breath of air and a bit of warm sunlight on your skin is all there is to want – unless your goal obsessions distract you from being happy with just that.

  12. Adventures With Poopsie

    I thought this was a very interesting post. A few years ago I set myself a goal of reading 52 books a year (one a week). So what did I do? I read every opportunity I could. I only made it to 51 books, but even though technically I didn’t achieve my goal, I read waaaaaaay more books than I usually would have.

    Now I lament that I don’t read enough. Maybe it’s time to set a goal and implement the system!

  13. steve poling

    I think you’ve identified why religion sucks. It presents a goal (e.g. keep the 10 Commandments) and then justifies the person’s bad feelings when s/he inevitably fails to keep one. OTOH, when I mind the lamp for my feet and the light to my path, it becomes a much more systematic thing that has me act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. Thank you for enlightening me: the goal is best met when the arrow is not aimed.

    Have you read the Habits book by Charles Duhigg? It seems to resonate with what you’re saying, but i’ve only read the title page so far.


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