Systems vs. Goals, A Fishing Analogy

Using “systems” instead of “goals” is a concept I first learned from Scott Adams, which he addresses in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Switching from “goals thinking” to “systems thinking” has been very useful to me, and can be applied widely in one’s life.

A simple weight loss analogy to describe the concept of “systems over goals” is that losing ten pounds is a goal, whereas learning to eat right is a system. Systems thinking substitutes knowledge for willpower.

Systems are habit based, requiring less will power to sustain and without the decision fatigue that comes with goals-based pursuits.

When you follow a “system” for success, you win every day that you carry out the system you have put in place. With a “goal” of success, you loose everyday until you finally accomplish your goal. 

One suprising application of “systems over goals thinking” has been fishing. In fact, employing this concept in fishing has allowed me to see the value in “systems over goals thinking” to an even greater degree.

In fishing (like in other areas of life) there are aspects you can control (bait, fishing method, focus level, where you fish) and aspects you cannot control (weather, feeding patterns, fish behavior). 

Good anglers know how to discern between the aspects of fishing they can control, and adapt themselves to the aspects they cannot. This is easier to do with “systems thinking” where success is found in the system of good fishing, not by the goal of catching a certain number of fish. (Not entirely in your control)

What does “systems thinking” look like in fishing?

“Systems based fishing” is fishing in the most likely place to find fish, and using the most strategic method to target those fish. This mindset focuses on the aspects of fishing you can control like fishing your method, bait/fly selection, mental focus, and casting precision. In systems based fishing, you as the angler adapts the aspects you can control instead of lamenting over the aspects you can not. (Weather, fish behavior, end results)

Systems fishing also increases your odds of success. By removing the pressure of goals, you allow yourself a greater clarity in assessing the success of your fishing methods. This shifts the odds of catching fish in your favor, no longer pulling the slot machine of “hopeful” fishing with each cast.

This shift has caused me to fish more strategically, and given me a feeling of success even on days where I was unsuccessful by other metrics.

Here’s how this breaks down for me when I go to the water. My success is tied to the fulfillment of these systems:

  • Fishing in the most likely spot to find the fish I’m targeting. (According to my current knowledge)
  • Using the fishing method/fly pattern best suited (according to my current knowledge) to the feeding patterns of the fish I’m targeting.
  • Experimenting with these two variables by fishing for the minimum time taken to gauge effectiveness.

If I do these three things, it was a successful day.

If I don’t, I don’t blame the fish, other anglers or the weather for my lack of success; the ball is completely in my court.

Adapting this mentality in fishing has helped reinforce the idea of using systems vs. goals in other areas of my life as well. Many of life’s pursuits require a consistency of action that is far longer than the will-power of goals can sustain.

To gain consistent excellence in any field or discipline, I highly encourage you to adapt a systems mentality over the more popular (and less effective) goals mindset.

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