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Goals Are For Losers

Scott Adams in an excerpt from his new book that appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.

If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize that you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or to set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent pre-success failure.

The post goes on to describe Adams personal methodology of motivation and success: systems. I agree. Both from my own personal experience, and my observations of almost every other “successful” person I know. Goals are short-lived and temporary, whereas when a person adopts a system – it becomes an ongoing, sustainable process.

Systems are useful in almost every aspect of life – business or personal. Think back to the last “networking” event you attended. You likely gathered a dozen business cards (or should have). What happens next is that most people get back to their office and throw them into a desk drawer and never look at them again. You might have good intentions to follow up, but without a system in place to do so it is unlikely to happen. But it’s easier to capture contacts and connect with people than ever before. Take Evernote Hello. All you have to do is take a picture of a business card and it automatically stores all the contact information and provides the ability to connect to the person on LinkedIn in one click. At that point, it’s very easy to turn around and send follow up emails to people as their contact information will already be stored. It provides a simple, systematized method of “closing the loop” with new people you meet.

financial planning buckets


Finances have the same problem. New professionals often have financial savings goals or targets they wish to hit. They want to save six figures in savings and investments by their mid-forties – but then do nothing to make it happen. There is the goal to save money, but no system to make it happen. Which is ridiculous considering that automating your finances is one of the easiest things in the world to do as long as you have a steady, regular income (and is doable even if you don’t). The the old rule of investing: pay yourself first. It’s nothing to set up  savings accounts, IRAs, and the like. Banks and financial institutions will practically fall over themselves in attempt to make it easy for you – they want your money! Then set up a system of automatic transfers after each paycheck: emergency funds, 401k, IRAs, savings, etc. Once it’s up and running, your savings and investments will largely be on autopilot. Forget goals – develop a system.

This focus on systems – and systematic improvement – can apply to almost every aspect of being a lawyer. Want to improve your writing? Develop a system in which you consistently write and receive feedback. Want to improve oral argument skills? Get together with other lawyers and set up an informal meeting/group devoted to affording lawyer the opportunity to engage in oral arguments and receive feedback. Think mock trial team from law school. Hell get your firm or the local bar to sponsor/support it. You can’t just skate by and hope to succeed as a lawyer. You have to work at it.

The Best way to do so is to adopt a system of relentless improvement. The current legal job environment demands it. Anything less is trying to remain an amateur amongst a sea of professionals.

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