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.
Adam Alter is an Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, with an affiliated appointment in the New York University Psychology Department.
Adam is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, which examines how features of the world shape our thoughts and feelings beyond our control. He has also written for the New York Times, New Yorker, Atlantic, WIRED, Slate, Huffington Post, and Popular Science, among other publications. Adam has shared his ideas at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, and with dozens of companies, including Google, Microsoft, Anheuser Busch, Prudential, and Fidelity, and with several design and ad agencies around the world. He is working on his second book, which asks why so many people today are addicted to so many behaviors, from incessant smart phone and internet usage to video game playing and online shopping.
Adam’s academic research focuses on judgment and decision-making and social psychology, with a particular interest in the sometimes surprising effects of subtle cues in the environment on human cognition and behavior. His research has been published widely in academic journals, and featured in dozens of TV, radio and print outlets around the world.
He received his Bachelor of Science (Honors Class 1, University Medal) in Psychology from the University of New South Wales and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology from Princeton University, where he held the Charlotte Elizabeth Procter Honorific Dissertation Fellowship and a Fellowship in the Woodrow Wilson Society of Scholars.
Adam Alter: Goal setting is fascinating because it's sort of a broken process in many respects. This is the way a goal works: You say to yourself, “When I achieve (whatever the thing is), that's how I'll know I'll have succeeded, and I'm going to do everything I can to get to that point as quickly as possible.” What that means is you exist in a failure state for a long time until you reach that goal, if it's a long-range goal. And so as you evaluate your process all you get is the negative feedback of not having achieved that goal. Perhaps as you move closer to it there's some positive feedback, but if the goal is really the end state that you're seeking out, there's a lot of failure before you get there. And now here's the thing: when you do get there it's a massive anti-climax.
So there are people who achieve the highest highs; people who achieve the highest highs in athletics, in business, and if you talk to them and you ask them to describe what it's like to reach their goals they say things like, “I got there and it was an incredible anti-climax. The minute I got there I had to start something new, I had to find a new goal.” And that's partly because there's something really unsatisfying about the moment of reaching the goal. Unless it has its own benefits that come from reaching the goal, if it's just a sort of signpost; that doesn't do much for us, it doesn't nourish us psychologically. And what that ends up meaning is that we have to try to find something new.
So really if you look at life as a series of goals, which for many of us it is, it's a period of being unsuccessful in achieving the goal, then hitting the goal, then feeling like you haven't really got much from that goal, going to the next one—and it's a sort of series of escalating goals.
A really good example of this is, say, smart watches or Fitbits or exercise watches. People, when they get those watches, a lot of them hit on the number 10,000. “I want to walk 10,000 steps.” When you do that, the thing will beep; you'll feel pretty good about it for a minute but then that feels a little hollow and the goal escalates over time. People will describe going from 10 to 11 to 12 to 14,000 steps to the point where they're moving through injuries, through stress-related injuries, because the goal is there; they respond to the goal more than they do to their internal cues, and basically there's something really unfulfilling about that.
The reason the goal keeps escalating and becoming more and more intense is because when they achieve the goal they don't actually get anything for that achievement, and so goals, generally I think, are in many ways broken processes.
I think part of the problem with goals is that they don't tell you how to get to where you're going. A better thing to do is to use a system. So the idea behind a system rather than a goal is that a system is saying things like, “I’m a writer, my goal is to finish writing this book but I'm not going to think about it in that way. Eventually I'll have 100,000 words, but my system will be that for an hour every morning I will sit in front of my computer screen and I will type. It doesn't matter what that looks like. I'm not going to evaluate the number of words. I'm not going to set some benchmark, some artificial number or benchmark that I should reach, what I'm going to do is just say, 'Here's my system: an hour a day in front of the screen. I'll do what I can—bam.'”
And the thing is, every time you set a system and you stick to it, you're achieving something. Instead of a goal that you're failing at, essentially, for long periods of time until you reach the goal, you're succeeding every day as long as you adhere to your system. And you end up getting to the same place but that framing is so much more effective. It gives you the kind of positive feedback you seek and the system is kind of geared towards psychological well-being: this is the thing I need to do to feel good about the way I’m moving through the world, towards whatever end state I'm looking for.
Goals don't do that. They just set signposts that you're supposed to look at from afar and move towards. Systems are a much more useful way of engaging with the world towards certain ends and certain outcomes.
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.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
The WashU electrolyzer<iframe src='https://mars.nasa.gov/layout/embed/model/?s=6' width='800' height='450' scrolling='no' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe><p>The WashU electrolyzer—it has no snappy acronym yet—will not be the first device capable of extracting oxygen from Martian water. That honor goes to the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/instruments/moxie/" target="_blank">MOXIE</a>, which is en route to Mars onboard NASA's <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/" target="_blank">Perseverance</a> rover. The rover was launched on July 30, 2020. It will arrive on February 18, 2021, and will perform high-temperature <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water" target="_blank">electrolysis</a> to extract pure oxygen, but no hydrogen.</p><p>In addition to being able to capture hydrogen, the WashU system can even do a better job with oxygen than MOXIE can, extracting 25 times as much from the same amount of water.</p><p>The new system has no problem with Mars' magnesium perchlorate-laced water. On the contrary, the researchers say it ultimately makes their system work better since such high concentrations of salt keep water from freezing on such a cold a planet by lowering the liquid's freezing temperature to -60 °C. He adds it may "also improve the performance of the electrolyzer system by lowering the electrical resistance."</p><p>Cold itself is no issue for the WashU system. It's been tested in a sub-zero (-33 ⁰F, or -36 ⁰C) environment that simulates Mars'.</p><p>"Our novel brine electrolyzer incorporates a lead <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0926337318311299" target="_blank">ruthenate pyrochlore</a> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anode" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anode</a> developed by our team in conjunction with a platinum on carbon <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathode" target="_blank">cathode</a>," explains Ramani. He adds, "These carefully designed components coupled with the optimal use of traditional electrochemical engineering principles has yielded this high performance."</p>
Back home<p>"This technology is equally useful on Earth where it opens up the oceans as a viable oxygen and fuel source," Ramani notes. His colleagues forsee potential applications such as producing oxygen in deep-sea habitats with ample water available, such as underwater research facilities and submarines.</p><p>The study's joint first author Pralay Gayen says that "having demonstrated these electrolyzers under demanding Martian conditions, we intend to also deploy them under much milder conditions on Earth to utilize brackish or salt water feeds to produce hydrogen and oxygen, for example, through seawater electrolysis."</p>
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- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
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Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at -100°F until it's administered. Can caregivers deliver?
- Fair distribution of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is especially challenging because they need to be stored at extremely cold temperatures.
- Back in 2018, the WHO reported that over half of all vaccines are wasted worldwide due to lack of cold storage, and they were only talking about vaccines that need to be chilled or kept at standard freezer temperatures.
- Real-time logistics data, location tracking, and information about movements are crucial to track shipment progress, product temperature and other conditions.