The Things We Can’t Control

Finding a healthier way to strive for what we want.

I’m a big fan of the concept of systems vs goals. Basically:

The idea is that it’s better to focus on systems.

There’s a good summary of the advantages of this on James Clear’s website. For me, the main one is that it’s a neat solution to the problem Naval Ravikant once described:

Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.

By focusing on systems, I’m building the life I want now, instead of pinning my happiness on some hypothetical future thing that may or may not happen.

But the problem with this is that we can’t avoid goals completely: they’re still a useful way to make sure we’re heading in the right direction. After all, getting an agent is an important step on the way to becoming a writer-director.1 So how do you avoid binding yourself in an unhappiness contract?

I think it helps to be more specific.

So instead of systems vs goals, it should be more like: systems vs the goals I can control vs the goals I can’t control. I focus my effort on the first two groups — and in such a way that I increase my chances of achieving things in the last group. And if I don’t, that’s okay!

So for example: I write every week (system), so that I can polish my scripts to a high standard (a goal I can control) so that I can increase my chances of getting an agent (a goal I can’t control).2

Are there any approaches to goal setting you’ve found particularly useful?


  1. My thoughts on agents has changed a lot. If you asked me even six months ago, I would’ve said I wasn’t interested, because I was so keen to avoid those things I couldn’t control. But then I watched an AMA with Emma Obank, and thought: oh wow, this does actually sound pretty great 😬
  2. Or, alternatively: so that I can increase my chances of making it through a screenwriting competition.

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