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10 Undeniable Truths About Taking Action


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I. Systems Over Goals

Nassim Taleb offers an explanation to the mental perils of non-linear rewards in Fooled by Randomness:

“Our brain is not cut out for nonlinearities. People think that if, say, two variables are causally linked, then a steady input in one variable should always yield a result in the other one. Our emotional apparatus is designed for linear causality. For instance, you study every day and learn something in proportion to your studies. If you do not feel that you are going anywhere, your emotions will cause you to become demoralized. But reality rarely gives us the privilege of a satisfying linear positive progression: You may study for a year and learn nothing, then, unless you are disheartened by the empty results and give up, something will come to you in a flash. . . This summarizes why there are routes to success that are nonrandom, but few, very few, people have the mental stamina to follow them. . .Most people give up before the rewards.”

If you train yourself to be emotionally rewarded for actions taken rather than outcomes you may be able to lengthen the time you can spend in active “failure” and increase your chances of success.

A possible solution is to reward yourself for following your system rather than achieving a specific outcome. Select a system you know will lead to success and follow it.

Eating right vs. losing 20 pounds. Building a business vs. achieving financial independence. Going on dates vs. having a successful relationship. The first are systems, the second are goals.

Scott Adams, the creator of “Dilbert,” champions this idea in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.”

When I set a goal of “210 pounds and 13% body fat” I stopped going to the gym and began eating stupid amounts of ice cream. When I decided on the system of “work out every day” I began a real path to fitness success.

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