Going to the dentist: An everyday example of Systems vs. Goals

I was at the dentist this morning, for my regular check-up. I passed with flying colors. According to the dentist, I’m really good at keeping my teeth clean. I have no holes. My gums are nice and pink, apparently, with no inflamation or pockets. So, am I telling you this just to brag? No, of course not.

I’m writing about it because I realized it’s a practical everyday example of what Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) says about using systems instead of goals and replacing willpower with knowledge.

I have good dental hygiene and I don’t have to use up any of my valuable willpower to keep it up. It’s not a chore, it’s just something I do. Apparently, you have a limited amount of willpower each day, it is a finite resource. But knowledge is infinite!

I paid 480SEK for the examination this morning and will be called back for my next check-up in 18 months. The man standing next to me was paying 3080SEK for his visit. That’s pretty much all I need to know for me to keep flossing and being thorough when brushing my teeth! Plus, I also know that waking up with what feels like hairy teeth sucks ass…

A goal is a guarantee of nothing. A goal is meaningless compared to a system that takes you in the right direction. Having a system will not guarantee success, either, but if it’s a good system it will increase the odds in your favour.

It’s not my goal to have healthy teeth. I just implement a system of having good dental hygiene, and that increases my odds of having healthy teeth. And all I do is floss now and again, and spend a few extra minutes brushing my teeth thoroughly every night before going to bed, no matter how tired I am.

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