I think of personal systems as intelligence built into habits. The effects of small, day-to-day actions accumulate and either make our lives (and the lives of those around us) better or worse.
The word “system” might have negative connotations for some, implying an overly mechanistic approach to life, one that precludes spontaneity and improvisation. My view is that having a good system for living can actually free up time, resources, mental energy, and willpower to pursue creative endeavors, adventures, play, civic involvement, relaxation, contemplation, etc.
On a social/political level, the word “system” has even more powerful negative connotations. “The System” is the monolithic, all-powerful machine of society that crushes our individuality and forces us into wage labor. To some extent that’s true. We live in the Corporate Age; large corporations influence lawmakers to dismantle labor rights, relax environmental regulations, and so on. But there are other forces at work too, those that push for a brighter future for humanity. We often underestimate our power as individuals and small groups to make positive changes and fight the forces of greed, entropy, and willful ignorance. Those efforts are the “social systems” that interest me.
Here are a few “systems for living well” I use every day. Some I’ve blogged about, some I plan to. The list is a work in progress. I don’t currently receive any benefit (financial or other) from any of these recommendations; these are simply systems that work well for me.
My own current diet is something in between Mark Sisson’s Primal Diet and a low-grain Mediterranean Diet. Years ago a paleo diet (combined with vitamin D and fish oil supplementation) helped me overcome asthma symptoms, but mixing it up with elements of the Mediterranean diet is easier to follow, cheaper (less meat, more beans), lower in iron (good for men), more sustainable, and better researched.
I don’t think there is any single best diet for everyone. People with digestive or autoimmune issues may thrive on a paleo diet (low in gluten and lectins). Endurance athletes might best thrive on a higher carb vegetarian diet, lower in protein and fat.
Complete Health System
Dan Pardi of DansPlan is a friend of mine and I also blog on his site, so this recommendation may be biased, but more than anyone I know Dan Pardi offers a complete, research-backed system for total health including methods to improve diet, lose excess body fat, sleep better, improve mood, and generally live well. Here’s a good infographic that provides an overview of Dan’s health system. In this video from Stanford Medicine X, Dan explains his loop model for positive behavior change.
I do body-weight and dumbbell exercises (no powerlifting), but for training principles I go by what Pavel Tsatsouline recommends: lower reps (don’t “max out”), more sets, and maintaining excellent form. Workouts are more fun this way, and safer, and more effective.
Purpose, Motivation, and Self-Programming
Tony Robbins has a lot to offer in this area, such as Neuro Associative Conditioning. I discuss some of his other techniques in this post. Robbins is a great salesman of his own techniques (which puts some people off) but he also gives away a great deal of material and is deeply committed to helping people. Here’s an excerpt from Unlimited Power (parenthetical notes are my own):
Tony Robbins 5 Keys To Wealth and Happiness
- Learn how to manage frustration (transform into fascination)
- Learn how to manage rejection (accumulate massive amounts, reframe as path to success)
- Learn how to manage money (handle financial pressure, give away 10% of all income, see money as a tool to serve you, focus on giving instead of getting)
- Learn how to manage complacency (happiness comes from progress/growth and comfort leads to distraction, judge self by goals instead of comparing to peers, associate with positive people)
- Always give much more than you expect to receive
Task, Project, and Time Management
I have been using a slightly modified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done for years. For me it’s an extremely effective system.
In terms of software, I use the following applications and services to manage my to-do lists, projects, scheduling, and planning:
- OpenOffice spreadsheets (personal and career goal tracking, personal and family budgets/expense tracking, various lists)
- Google Sheets (fiction submission tracking, music release planning, investment tracking with live market updates)
- Google Calendar — in-browser and Android app, syncing with Mac desktop Calendar
- Google Contacts — Android app, syncing with Mac desktop Contacts
- Todoist — Android app and Mac desktop (to do items)
- Evernote — Android, Mac desktop, and browser versions (shared shopping/grocery lists, story and blog post ideas, random note-taking, development notes for fiction and music projects)
- Dropbox — Mac desktop, PC desktop, and browser versions (file sharing between computers and with collaborators, some backups)
I also collect and study writing advice from about twenty other authors I admire … too much to cover here.
Bobby Owsinski offers great systems for recording, mixing, and mastering. His advice is relevant to all genres and production styles.
Business and Project Development
I use the Effectuation Method for developing my own business ventures (such as Loöq Records) and other projects (including this blog). The four core principles of the Effectuation Method (developed/researched by Saras Sarasvathy) are:
- Start with what you’ve got (existing means)
- Minimize risk (set affordable loss, never go “all in”)
- “When life serves you lemons …” (embrace surprises and reversals, look for opportunities within challenges)
- Build a team of stakeholders (get people invested in your project and vision and co-invent the future)
Charles Duhigg learned to stop eating a big cookie every day and wrote a book about it. In the process he learned a great deal about how habits are formed and how they can be changed. I’ve written about this topic and Duhigg’s method.
I also use the 30-Day Trial (I first learned about this technique from Steve Pavlina’s blog) to develop good habits, break bad ones, or just change things up. My own 30-Day Experiments have included giving up electric light, cutting out all sugar and desserts, giving up web surfing, giving up TV, no booze, etc. Even if I don’t make it the full thirty days the experiment can still yield useful results.
Tim Ferriss has a great system for accelerated learning, summed up in the two acronyms DiSSS (Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, Stakes) and CaFE (Compression, Frequency, Encoding). He lectures about the system here, and has provided a free download excerpt from his book The Four Hour Chef here (see page 38 for a detailed description of his accelerated learning system).
Household Organization and Tidying Up
Nothing beats the KonMari Method.
Getting Rich Slowly
Pay yourself first. This idea and some other core strategies are covered in this little book.
Going Big and Changing the World
This section is still in development, but I’ll be adding notes regarding examples of countries and institutions doing things exceptionally well in the following categories:
- climate management (stratospheric dimming, carbon sequestration)
- sustainable, affordable food production
- sustainable, affordable energy production
- water management
- ocean/fisheries management
- ecologically protected areas, ecosystem reconstruction
- waste management and recycling
- healthcare and public health
- poverty reduction
- equalizing opportunity and increasing social mobility
- urban planning (with public health and aesthetics bias)
- efficient transportation (clean, safe, rapid, automated)
- effective, efficient government and bureaucracy
- crime reduction and restorative justice
- family planning and population management (increase or decrease)
My Own Life System
I started writing this blog in order to share some of my personal experiences in terms of overcoming health issues, living more consciously and intentionally, fostering mental well-being, considering solutions to some of the problems that we collectively face as a species, and other topics that could fit under the umbrella of “living well.” Since I have a systems mindset, I’ve tried to organize my thoughts into a coherent system.
Everything I share on this site is in the spirit of “take it or leave it.” What works for me may not work for you. I share my own life systems as a resource from which the reader might take bits and pieces. Ultimately, everyone has to find their own principles and “how to live” philosophy via direct experience (and trial and error), not from reading a book or a blog, or by following another person’s system (for more on that idea read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha).
On the other hand, I find it both fascinating and helpful to learn about other systems for living (from the pedestrian and pragmatic, like David Allen’s Getting Things Done, to the anti-guru spiritual philosophies of U.G. Krishnamurti). So I’m sharing my own ideas and systems in the spirit of openness/open source.
I use the word metaprogramming (borrowed from John C. Lilly) to describe this kind of self-programming/self-creation/conscious-change. In other words, I try to define the principles, values, and behavioral guidelines that I want to live by, and then do my best to meet those standards in my day to day life. I often fall short of my own ideals in one way or another, but I choose to frame my day-to-day shortcomings as “always striving” (rather than hypocrisy — for more on that distinction read Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age).
My Own Life System in Outline Form
To keep things simple, I use what I call “Prime Directives” to guide decision making and conscious-awareness:
- OPEN HEART
- RECEPTIVE MIND
- INDOMITABLE SPIRIT
- ACTIVE BODY
- CONSTRUCTIVE THOUGHT AND ACTION
- JOYFUL CONTRIBUTION
To get into more detail, here is my complete “System for Living Well” in outline form. In my personal notes I have more detail in each category, much of which I’ll eventually share via this blog or in other formats. I’ve linked to a few relevant posts.
I. Personal Systems
A. Consciousness System — Cultivate Quality of Consciousness
1. Open heart/choose love
2. Self-empowerment (Mind On Fire)
3. Self-awareness/focus (Mind Like Water)
B. Meaning System — Create a Meaningful Life
2. Invest in relationships
3. Prioritize experiences
C. Progress System — Keep Getting Better
3. Improve working relationships, connections, and reputation
D. Health System — Engineer Vitality
1. Clean fuel
2. Stimulation (including exercise, social, acute stress, novelty, etc.)
3. Rest, recovery, and prevention
II. Social Systems *
A. Education Engine — Empower Teachers and Students
1. Universal access to high-quality education and the entire universe of accumulated knowledge
2. Empirically-tested teaching methods, social and financial support for teachers
3. Ideal of the empowered citizen
1. Environmental stewardship
2. Ethical society
3. Real wealth creation
C. Progress System — Expand Mental and Physical Frontiers
1. Human/post-human settlements in solar system and beyond
2. Research and development for the common good
* I consider myself a “science-fictionalist” in that the brightest aspects of our future are often imagined into existence. I’m in favor of diverse, empirically-driven “messy utopias” that allow for great personal freedom for citizens and many possible solutions to existing problems.