Goal Setting Is a Hamster Wheel. Learn to Set Systems Instead.

Goal setting is a hamster wheel, says Adam Alter. If you want to channel your best work and get off the failure circuit, set systems instead.

Mind & Brain

You've just achieved a goal you've been working towards for two years. You did it! Congratulations. Someone asks you: how does it feel? "Kind of anti-climactic, actually," you say. This scenario is quite common among those who have achieved even the highest benchmarks in business, athletics, or art, says Adam Alter, and it's because the goal setting process is broken. With long-term goals particularly, you spend the large majority of the time in a failure state, awaiting what could be a mere second of success down the track. This can be a hollow and unrewarding process. Describing an idea first proposed by Scott Adams in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Alter suggests swapping quantitative goals (I will write 1,000 words of my novel per day. I will run 1km further every week) for qualitative systems—like writing every morning with no word target, or running in a new environment each week—that nourish you psychologically, and are independently rewarding each time you do them. Adam Alter is the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

The Internet Is Heroin and Your Smartphone, the Needle

The advent of portable technology has exploited our reptilian addiction switch like never before.

Culture & Religion

It's not your screen you're addicted to — it's just the conduit for your high. NYU professor Adam Alter explains that behavioral addiction is similar to substance addiction: it feels good in the short term, but over time can negatively impact your mental state, social life, financial stability, and physiological wellbeing. There's been a steep takeoff of digital addiction in recent years, with approximately half the developed world now exhibiting addictive tendencies when it comes to the internet. It comes down to portability. The more wireless our devices become, the more our addiction follows us around, and the more we turn to our phones as "adult pacifiers" — just a swipe of your screen is enough to feel relaxed again. Adam Alter is the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

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The Incredible Value of Consistency

There is a lot of value in consistency, fluency, regularity.  What’s especially tricky, though, is you also need to keep a brand vibrant.

In business one of the classic findings is that you derive a lot of value from consistency.  So a brand that is consistent across time attracts value because people are used to seeing certain images over and over and over again.  And this is true about money.  Money acquires value through its familiarity or its fluency.  So in one of our experiments we asked people how much they thought they could buy with money.  And we gave them either a picture of a dollar bill, a standard dollar bill, and then said to them, “How many thumbtacks could you buy?  How many paperclips could you buy?  How many Skittles?  How many M&Ms?”  Things like that.  

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I think one of the keys to success is being quick to respond and that’s been a truism in business for a very, very long time.  Opportunities don’t last forever and if you want to seize the opportunity, it’s better to seize it earlier rather than later.  And there’s an interesting effect that suggest that if your name – if your surname – your last name – happens to be near the end of the alphabet, you spend such a long time in so many contexts waiting for everyone above you to go first, to be called on first.  Maybe in a class or in some other setting where people are using the alphabetical list as the order, the guide to order.  

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