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Why Overall Rank Goals Are Meaningless

While casually researching the relationship between goals and accomplishments, I came across an extract from James Clear’s book titled Atomic Habits. He reasoned that the systems he used were the cause of achieving results, rather than setting specific goals. A particularly intriguing quote was, ‘The goal in any sport is to finish with the best score, but it would be ridiculous to spend the whole game staring at the scoreboard’. This got me thinking about FPL and whether it would be beneficial to avoid setting a rank target at any stage of the season and instead purely focus on how to maximise your score. Those are of course not completely mutually exclusive concepts, but there is a distinction between a goal and a process of achieving it. This article will consider the extent to which Clear’s four problems with choosing goals over systems relate to our choices in FPL.

Clear’s first problem: ‘Winners and losers have the same goals’.

This certainly applies to FPL. Anyone that takes overall rank seriously has roughly the same aim; it might be top 1k or 10k or 100k, but even though the numbers vary, the target is to finish as high as possible. Yet despite this, there is a reason why a certain set of FPL managers are able to consistently triumph over other engaged ones and it certainly isn’t luck. My own overall ranks tell this story, as a consistent top 35k finisher with four out of seven ranks in that bracket. These are perfectly good finishes, but despite a top 10k goal in the last three seasons, I have been unable to get back there after a top 3k 2016/17. I can have the same goal as a ‘winner’, but that goal alone does not get you there. As Clear states in the below interview, ‘we do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.’ Having reached 11k and 6k overall in January of the last two seasons, only to finish either side of 30k, I can certainly relate to this. I may have had the goal of maintaining and even improving on those positions, but ultimately fell to the level of my 30k system on both occasions.

James Clear interview on choosing systems over goals.

Clear’s second problem: ‘Achieving a goal is only a momentary change’.

As my failure to get close to matching a top 3k finish in 2016/17 demonstrates, achieving a goal, even in a game like FPL, does not equal future success. It was fun to look back and think about how enjoyable a season it was, especially having experienced the interaction of the Twitter community for the first time. But within two months, there was the challenge of a new season and the associated question: are you capable of replicating that goal? Evidently not in my case. This is where Clear’s idea of systems being more important than goals comes into play again; striving for a top 10k finish means nothing without an effective strategy to achieve it. Goals can achieve short-term success if you happen to stumble along with the right calls like I did; systems enable you to effectively tackle the difficulties posed by different seasons.

Clear’s third problem: ‘Goals restrict your happiness’.

This is a big one, especially having seen it first hand on many occasions on Twitter. If you experience a degree of disappointment at failing to achieve your goal, that can become amplified by seeing others get what you want online. Live rank sites allow you to check how you are faring an infinite number of times, turning one disappointment in several across a single weekend. I certainly found this to be the case for a short period during a poor 2017/18. On the other hand, let’s say you do well, there might be an initial feeling of accomplishment. After that, it’s only natural to think about the new season and a new goal, delaying that same feeling until another achievement is met. The way I have been able to enjoy FPL so much over the last two seasons was to put the goals to one side. I still want to do well, but that isn’t my primary motivation; enjoying the interaction online and the strategy element of the game is. As Clear states, ‘When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy.’

Clear’s fourth problem: ‘Goals are at odds with long-term progress’.

This neatly ties up the three previous points. ‘Winners’ and ‘losers’ may have the same goals, but as Clear argues, they are separated by their respective systems and it is these systems that facilitate long-term progress. If only short-term progress is achieved, then as his second problem indicates, reaching a goal can only be seen as a ‘momentary change’. Subsequently failing to achieve that goal can then, as he puts it, ‘restrict your happiness’, losing sight of the process in favour of a single-minded aim. Clear’s message is simple: long-term progress and consistency in life, related to FPL for this article, is achieved by adjusting your systems rather than setting specific goals. I am not here to force an FPL system or strategy for success upon anyone; that is for you to decide. Monday’s article mentioned my preference towards a highly owned core of players, especially in Gameweek 1, but that is merely one approach. To illustrate this point is a quote from Clear in the above interview, that your system should be formed by ‘selecting a strategy that fits well with your particular make-up, with your personality’. If that isn’t a recipe for FPL decision-making, I don’t know what is.

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Link to James Clear’s Atomic Habits

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