howtofailThat’s the advice of Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic and writer of the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

After years of failure, he concludes that success is not about goals, it’s about systems.

Adams knows something about not succeeding; he dedicates an entire chapter to outlining 23 of his own most memorable failures. Some of which include a psychic computer program and paper file folders that come with a built-in floppy disc holder.

Adams’ problems with goals is they’re only good as long as you haven’t obtained them. In other words, you’re not a winner until you accomplish the goal. And for most goal-oriented people that means it’s on to the next goal.

The problem is your winner-to-loser ratio is very small. Most of the time you’re spending hoping you’ll be a winner. And a fair amount of time you never win at all. You are, by definition, a loser. Tough medicine.

That’s why Adams’ recommends systems.


“Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.”

In other words, when you have a system in place, you win every day. This isn’t just semantics. I’ll give you a personal example of how systems instead of goals are critical for me.

I’m writing a book. That’s a big job. That’s a year-plus long job. So how do I define success?

In the one sense, it’s when I finally write the words the end. That’s certainly what I’m aiming for. But really, that’s just a small step at the very end. If my daily inspiration is to look for a tiny point far in the future, I’m not sure I’d make it. So, instead, I have a system: I write every morning before work.

If I write, I’m successful. I don’t put a word-count limit. I just write something. From this I’ve learned two things: First, the words pile up fast, and before I know I’m making progress. And second, I’m constantly energized to keep going, because I’m not hoping I’ll win someday–I am winning today.

What’s this have to do with you?

Most people have some desire to start the year right. I do.

But New Year’s resolutions almost always fail. Why? Because we give our selves crazy goals: loose 10 pounds before February. Or: get my financial mess in order.

This year instead of creating goals, try a system. What works for weight loss? It’s usually not dramatic; it’s usually eating healthier and going for a walk a few times a week. What works for finances? Getting an app like can help you monitor how your dollars go and come.  Pretty quickly you’ll start to see the cracks in the dam.

A system is a part of your regular life. It’s meant to change the quality of your life over the long-run. And usually it only takes small, regular changes. The Japanese call it kaizen: small steady changes make a big difference over time.  This is how Sony and Toyota have built their empires.

That’s a system.

And that’s how you’re going to make real change happen.


This is post is part of a series on Success Habits.

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