Winners and losers have the same goals

James Clear loves systems.

James Clear is my kinda guy.

And he has one of the best takes I’ve seen on the function of goals and systems… and the mistakes we make in conflating the two, in his book Atomic Habits:

“Prevailing wisdom claims that the best way to achieve what we want in life—getting into better shape, building a successful business, relaxing more and worrying less, spending more time with friends and family—is to set specific, actionable goals.”

He then calls out an obvious-only-after-you’ve-heard-it point: winners and losers have the same goals.

“Goal setting suffers from a serious case of survivorship bias. We concentrate on the people who end up winning—the survivors—and mistakenly assume that ambitious goals led to their success while overlooking all of the people who had the same objective but didn’t succeed.

Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers. It wasn’t the goal of winning the Tour de France that propelled the British Cyclists to the top of the sport. Presumably, they had wanted to win the race every year before—just like every other professional team. The goal had always been there. It was only when they implemented a system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome.”

Which brings me to a line of questioning I’ve been obsessed with lately.

Whoever you’re looking up to.

Whoever you’re modeling yourself after.

Whoever you’ve chosen as a “mentor from afar.”

Did they get to where they are by way of doing what they’re doing now?

Or did they get to where they are through some hidden mechanism that even they aren’t fully aware of, and all of the visible activity just happens to be what shows up on the surface?

This the “stuff” I’m after.

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