How much self-improving advice have you read or been told? By now you’ve probably heard every variation of goal-oriented counsel. In business, the five-year plan rules, while in sports, athletes speak of "performance targets." Meanwhile, over-achievers everywhere make claims that it's not just any sort of goal you should be aiming for, what you really need is a concrete, attainable goal. Instead of striving to “be healthy and fit in 2015,” success aficionados would explain, it’s better to tell yourself to “exercise four times a week.” The former goal is hazy, but the latter is exact — achieveable.

Clearly, not everyone agrees. In a recent blog entry, Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, debunks the entire model of goal aspiration and replaces it with a new paradigm of systems. By using a system of consistently working to increase your odds of happiness in the long run, you will be better off than if you worked toward some concrete goal, Adams argues.

“My problem with goals is that they are limiting,” he wrote. “With a system you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another.”

As an example, he explains how losing 10 pounds is a goal which requires willpower, something most people can't maintain, but learning to eat right is a system that substitutes knowledge for your sometimes wavering self-discipline. Additionally, Adams compares the goal of exercising three to four times a week with the system of being active every day at a feel-good level while learning more about exercise.

“Before long, your body will be trained, like Pavlov's dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day,” he wrote. Soon you will find it easier to exercise with no willpower required, while your natural tendency to challenge yourself and add a little variety to your life will inspire you to learn more and also lead you to become more active. To sum up, a system would have you heading in the right direction, rather than attempting to meet performance targets. And so by working and scanning ahead for opportunities, you naturally will increase your chance of success over time.

Oliver Burkeman likens Adams’s advice to the popular No Zero Days plan: do not let a single day go by without doing something, any little bit, toward achieving your life dreams. Not an exact echo of Adams's philosophy, the two concepts do share a similar mindset. Adams concedes that focusing on a specific goal means your odds of achieving it are better than having no goal at all. However, he says, steadfastly working toward one goal means you may miss opportunities that could be better for you. With a system, Adams says, you won't miss out. Because you are always looking around as you continuously upgrade your skills, you will naturally move toward positions with better odds.

It is when Adams ventures beyond examples of diet and fitness that his arguments persuade most powerfully. “The world is completely unpredictable now,” he told Fast Company. “You can't predict where your career will be in a year. You can't predict what technologies will change the world. You can't predict whether robots will be taking your jobs. So picking a goal in this world has its downsides.”

For anyone with their eyes open wide, this logic carries the day.

Published by Medicaldaily.com