Don’t set writing goals—they only hold you back!

by Timothy Pike
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Scott Adams, whose name you may recognize as the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, wrote a book called “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.” To sum it up, the book is about various ideas ventures he tried that didn’t work out, and the one big thing that did: his Dilbert cartoon. In the book, Adams declares very boldly, “Goals are for losers.” If you’ve ever read the book, you’ll know he is a firm believer in creating systems in place of setting goals. In fact, my 12-Month Author Challenge is centered around the idea of following a system to write your book and build your following at the same time.

The first point Adams is making is that goals can limit your options. He gives the example of a CEO he met whose strategy was to continually look for a better job than the one he currently had. So instead of setting his sights on an occasional promotion to a specific position, this man kept an open mind and realized that there were many jobs that could be better. And that formed the basis of his system: constantly keeping his eye out for something better. If he only had his eye on one higher position at a time, he probably would have failed much more often than he succeeded during his rise to the top of his company—but instead he succeeded every single day as he networked and considered better jobs. Using a system in place of setting a goal can keep you open to possibilities you never even knew existed.

Goal setting can also discourage you. For example, let’s say you’ve set a goal to finish your first draft in four months’ time. On day one, you think you have all this time, so you get distracted easily when you sit down to write, and you put it off a little bit. You think, “I have plenty of time!” Then you finally buckle down, but you realize you’re running behind schedule, and by the time you have one month left, you realize you still have a lot more to write. You get discouraged because you’re failing to achieve your goal. Your discouragement causes you to fall even further behind. Four months comes and goes, and you miss your goal. You’ve failed.

Now let’s see how having a system would improve the outcome. A system is not just committing to writing 1,000 words a day, because that’s still a goal—a goal disguised as a system. Most of success, however, really is just showing up. Showing up to write. Of course, you should make every effort to write but whether you actually do write or not that day is not the point. Since you showed up equipped to write and made the effort, you’ve already succeeded. And that successful feeling will help you finish—even if you start running behind. So in the end, maybe it took you six months instead of four. Big deal, right? You just wrote the first draft of your novel in six months!

So today, commit to creating a system in place of setting goals and see how it feels!

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