Personal Development 2.0: The 7 Laws of System Sunday
I could barely keep up. A scribbling hand is no match for an uninhibited mind.
The possibilities! Law school. Writing a best-selling book. Becoming more interesting (to attract an extraordinary girlfriend)…
I was on a night train from Amsterdam to Vienna, reading my first-ever personal development book: Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. I’d seen the paperback at an airport kiosk a few days earlier, and it seemed like just the thing I needed.
It was 2013, and I was a broke college student who’d just escaped to Europe after a sports injury. My baseball career was over—and with it, my former identity.
On that train, my body was traveling to a new and far-off land. But the real adventure was in my mind.
Before my departure, I’d purchased a small leather journal, which I began to fill with all my favorite takeaways of The Success Principles. I never slept on that sleeper train. Today, its pages are dog-eared and coffee-stained (from the bumpy ride), like this one:
Since that momentous ride, I’ve read hundreds of personal development books. Most of all, they’ve taught me that being inspired about life is—and always will be—the best feeling.
You see, personal development comes from a place of joy and wonder and a world full of possibilities—not from a place of self-loathing or insufficiency. It’s about taking ourselves intellectually, emotionally, and physically to places we’ve never been.
Since reading Canfield’s book, I’ve been enamored by efforts to codify success. Think about it: to synthesize the wisdom of generations into a single tome! It’s quite an endeavor.
Among a few of my favorites:
- The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
With the 7 Laws of System Sunday, I’ve taken my turn at demystifying success, with one significant difference.
As I put together these laws, here’s the central question that drove my work: Which personal development strategies will be the most effective for the next 100+ years?
Yes, there is a strong bias toward the future, toward emerging laws of success. Why? Because the rules of the game are fundamentally changing. The acceleration of technology (AI, Big Data, Web 3.0, etc.) is forming a new landscape for personal growth.
In other words, the world of tomorrow will not look anything like the world of yesterday. I’m fully aware that humans adapting to new technologies is nothing new. What’s new is the acceleration of technology.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
A New World
- According to the World Economic Forum, nearly 2/3 of primary school children will one day hold jobs that currently don’t exist.1
- By 2030, AI will contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy (more than the current output of India and China combined). Of that number, $6.6 trillion is expected to result from productivity increases alone.2
- Humans are more integrated with AI than ever. The number of connected wearable devices is expected to increase from 325 million (in 2016) to one billion (by 2022).3
A Better World
- Autonomous vehicles will save Americans a collective 70 billion hours of driving time annually (reclaiming approximately one hour per day per person that can now be spent doing other things).4
- AI technologies are projected to increase labor productivity by up to 40% (enabling us to spend our time engaging in high-value strategic and creative thinking).5
- 332 million people came online for the first time in 2020—pushing year-over-year internet user growth above 7.5 percent (thus providing abundant opportunities for entrepreneurs and freelancers in an ever-growing global gig economy).6
As an innovation consultant, I have a front-row seat to cutting-edge technologies that are rapidly transforming businesses. As someone who’s also passionate about personal transformation, I think a lot about how we can take advantage of these leading strategies in our lives—not only to become wealthier but also to experience greater levels of health and free time (all at the same time).
As Naval Ravikant, the founder of AngelList, says:
“When you’re young, you have time. You have health, but you have no money. When you’re middle-aged, you have money and you have health, but you have no time. When you’re old, you have money and you have time, but you have no health. So the trifecta is trying to get all three at once.”7
The promise of today’s technology? To deliver that trifecta of wealth, health, and free time to more individuals than ever before. The purpose of System Sunday? To help bring that promise to life for you faster—through proven strategies and tech-enabled tools.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know that consistently following the 7 Laws of System Sunday has created breakthrough results in my own life. My intuition tells me they’ll do wonders for you, too.
Let’s get started. The path is just ahead.
01: Control the Controllables
Control the controllables8 means accepting:
- 100% responsibility for what you can control
- 100% responsibility for your response to what you cannot control
I like how Sam Carpenter introduces the value of control in The Systems Mindset:
“The opposite of being in control is to be out of control, and it’s the out-of-control parts of our lives that cause pain. Is being out of control ever a good thing?”9
Conversely, let’s see what control provides us:
- Control of your health means freedom of energy.
- Control of your mindfulness means freedom of inner peace.
- Control of your money means freedom of experience.
So, when given a choice, being in control is preferable to being out of control, isn’t it?
Sidenote: This concept may sound familiar to those who read Jocko Willink’s best-selling book Discipline Equals Freedom (which I highly recommend!).
Here, we take action on the controllables that we know are good for us: getting the right amount of sleep, hydrating, eating clean, exercising, etc. These activities lead to resiliency and longevity, keeping us in the game.
The best part is that well-designed systems make the controllables easier. For example, I used to be terrible at drinking water. Constantly dehydrated, I experienced ear-piercing migraines as the norm. At first, I didn’t know the cause—I had no idea I wasn’t drinking enough water. (Turns out people tend to overestimate their abilities, even when it comes to fundamental life tasks.)10
Now, I use a smart water bottle: HidrateSpark. It’s Bluetooth enabled and comes with an accompanying mobile app that automatically tracks my daily water intake. The app gamifies the experience, showing a dial of current intake vs. recommended pace.
The bottom line: I’ve never been able to get my daily hydration under control. Until now.
Too often, to the detriment of ourselves and others, we try to control things outside our control.
A few examples of uncontrollables:
- Other people’s actions (or reactions)
- A delayed flight at the airport
- Inclement weather
- The New York Mets offense
Again, our job is to identify the things we cannot control and moderate our response accordingly. As Ryan Holiday, the author of The Daily Stoic, says:
“If we can focus on making clear what parts of our day are within our control and what parts are not, we will not only be happier, we will have a distinct advantage over other people who fail to realize they are fighting an unwinnable battle.”11
A younger me struggled with this, constantly attempting to control the uncontrollables. I still fall into the trap, though less often now, thanks to keeping Law #1 top of mind.
02: Slip, Slip, Knockout
A focus on defense in the game of life with selective, high-leverage offense.
Slipping is a defensive boxing technique that involves bobbing your head (to the left or right) so that your opponent’s punches “slip” by.
A knockout, you already know.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (the best boxer of our generation) is patently known for his defense. Mayweather would use superior head movements and footwork to wear down his opponents and then, later in the match, strike when they got tired. Here, we take inspiration from Mayweather, striving to excel at defense in the game of life.
The Law of “Slip, Slip, Knockout”12 means two things to me:
1. Doing the “defensive” fundamentals exceptionally well (drinking water, getting the right amount of sleep, sticking to a monthly budget, etc.).
Prioritize activities that lead to resiliency—a.k.a. “The Controllables” (see Law #1). Naval Ravikant perfectly encapsulates this idea:
“I want to live in a way that if my life played out 1,000 times, Naval is successful 999 times. He’s not a billionaire, but he does pretty well each time. He may not have nailed life in every regard, but he sets up systems, so he’s failed in very few places.”13
Let’s emphasize that last point: he sets up systems so he’s failed in very few places.
You see, success is often as simple as avoiding system failures and doing the fundamentals (defense) exceptionally well.
(Unfortunately, macrotrends toward extreme weather and globally induced viral pandemics seem to validate the need for defense. For example, podcaster Tim Ferriss bought two generators for his Austin home.14 His neighbors thought he was crazy…until a winter freeze halted regional power for two weeks—and Ferriss kept living his best life.)
Defensive life systems are the antidote to chaos. As a wiser Ben once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
2. Being an essentialist and mastering the art of saying “no.”
The ratio of “Slip, Slip, Knockout” is worth remembering: two parts defense, one part offense. Undoubtedly, offense in life is important for success (building new skills, networking, starting new projects, etc.). But, we need to be very selective about where/when we channel our time and energy into offensive activities. In the words of Essentialism’s Greg McKeown:
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”15
The future will relentlessly demand our attention. The options for spending our attention will be virtually endless—literally, in virtual reality (any on-demand experience that you could ever want). The most successful people will be the ones that direct their time and energy to that which is essential.
While knocking out your opponent in The Thrill of the Fight (for Oculus Quest) is fun, I can assure you that “knocking it out” in the game of life will be even more awesome.
Go further with “Slip, Slip, Knockout,” in my article How to Avoid Getting Punched in the Mouth.
03: Think Future-Back
Think Future-Back is a mental model that enables us to solve complex problems by starting with the end product and working backward (also known as Inversion).
At System Sunday, we apply the model to personal development: first imagining our ideal Future Self and then tracing the path back to our Current Self. The process allows us to discover a roadmap to growth while also identifying emerging technology that will get us there faster.
For example, maybe you aspire to be a CEO. You discover that CEOs are incredibly well read (on average, reading about a book a week, or 52 a year).16 So now, because your ideal self reads a book a week, you’re committed to building that process in your own life. You know that if you think and act like a CEO, the inevitable result will be you becoming a CEO.
In the words of James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”17
Know this: Our systems (collection of habits that serve a common purpose) can be significantly improved with technology.
The next step is to consider the tech-enabled systems (process, tools, continuous optimization) that can help you achieve reading a book a week:
- Sleep with your phone outside your bedroom or outsource time-consuming meal preparation to a healthy meal delivery service (to reclaim 30-40 minutes in your day for reading).
- Time block reading on your calendar.
- Take a speedreading course or buy a Kindle Oasis with built-in speed reading features.
- Supplement your reading by subscribing to Audible and listening to books at 1.2x-2x speed. Even better, listen in moments that require no extra time (folding laundry, driving, at the gym, etc.).
- Every week, review your reading progress and course-correct if you fall off track.
“Think Future-Back” also means continuously looking for ways to upgrade your systems. For example, in a few short years, there might be immersive learning in virtual reality that’s even more effective than reading books! Or, perhaps there’ll be mainstream sensory deprivation tanks outfitted for accelerated learning (from Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal’s Stealing Fire: “By using the tanks to eliminate all distraction, entrain specific brainwaves, and regulate heart rate frequency, the [Navy] SEALs are able to cut the time it takes to learn a foreign language from six months to six weeks.”18)
The takeaway: There is materialism that makes a material difference in the quality of our lives. Integrate cutting-edge systems across life categories, and you’ll work smarter, not harder. Stay in the know with the System Sunday newsletter, where I feature the best tech products for personal development.
04: Automate: Man x Machine
A strategy of outsourcing tasks to other humans or technology.
In the words of Alfred North Whitehead, “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.”19
Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) will forever revolutionize personal development. Already, tech-enabled systems elevate the quantity and quality of an individual’s output. As a result, people can automate life’s admin work, allowing them to do more of what they love (without sacrificing an industrious life).
Work with technology, and realize a competitive advantage in every life category (health, personal finances, relationships, etc.).
For example, I try to minimize phone pickups throughout the day—to limit inbound distraction—and voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google can be great productivity partners. Amazon Echo is my personal choice; it helps me avoid distractions without missing need-to-know information. Request your calendar details, check a package delivery, scope out the weather, re-up on personal inventory, set a hands-free timer, control lights, music, and more through voice more quickly than hands-on operation.
If you’re curious, the principle-first reason for automating stems from the personal productivity equation:
Personal Productivity = Value Created / Time Invested
Automation helps us put a zero (or near-zero) in time invested and still create value. Mathematically, the productivity returns are literally exponential.
For example, I created a free guide: 75 Productivity Hacks to Be 500% More Effective. I’ve automated the delivery of that guide (so when people sign up, I don’t have to send it manually). Now, that system is creating value for thousands of readers in my sleep. Sure, I needed to invest time up front to create the guide and set up the system. But now, it’s entirely scalable, meaning it could theoretically reach an infinite amount of people without expending another minute of my time.
Learn more about life automation in my Ultimate Guide to Productivity.
05: Optimize for Energy
Personal energy management means designing your life to create, invest, and not waste energy.20
The System Sunday approach to energy management is holistic. Here, I teach how to align life systems to the shared goal of energy optimization. By life systems, I mean the following categories: Wellness, Wealth, Career, Environment, Relationships, and Mindfulness.
Emergence21 is a Systems Thinking term that describes the behavior of a system as greater than its parts. In other words, 1 + 1 does not equal 2. Instead, the combination of subsystems can lead to non-linear, exponential results.
For example, you might become aware of a time in your life when you were pulsing with pure energy. Perhaps you combined a great workout with healthy nutrition. That moment—when your energy surpassed anything you’d ever experienced via fitness or nutrition alone—is an emergent state.
Again, system dynamics teaches that 1 + 1 can equal 3, 10, or even more. That’s why I often refer to the emergence of personal energy as exponential energy.
Published in 2003, The Power of Full Engagement was an instant best-seller. The book’s main takeaway: Managing your energy is more valuable than managing your time. Nearly 20 years later, thanks to technological advances, people have the tools to quantify and optimize their energy.
The future will be led by individuals who:
- Combine time and energy management
- Channel that creative force into creating high-leverage systems (see Law #4)
Learn more about exponential energy in my Ultimate Guide to Energy Management and my Superhuman Trends Report .
06: Be Data-Driven
Being data-driven is the discipline of 1) measuring your performance and 2) using data to continuously improve.
Perhaps you’ve heard the famous quote, “What gets measured gets managed.”
Across both life and business, keeping track of your health, wealth, and time can help you better manage those factors on a day-to-day basis.
As renowned venture capitalist John Doerr shows in Measure What Matters, the most profitable organizations use data to drive performance.
My question is: Why should that kind of growth only be limited to businesses?
You can also learn more in my Ultimate Guide to Self-Tracking.
07: Design Your Environment
Environment design is the intentional organization of physical and digital spaces that makes achieving your goals inevitable.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear writes, “Environment is an invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”22
The good news is that you can make the invisible hand your hand by designing smarter spaces, nudging your future self to be your best self.
It starts with designing for person-to-environment interactions. So, how do we interact with spaces? Simple: through vision, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Our senses pass information to the brain to perceive and understand our reality.
The best part is that people can optimize each sensory interaction to unlock more energy, productivity, and happiness.
Let’s play with scent. Maybe you’ll use an aromatherapy diffuser (with essential oils) to trigger positive memories or stimulate particular moods like focus (peppermint) or relaxation (lavender). Simultaneously activate another sense like sound, with a flow-inducing playlist? Realize a multiplier effect.
I see a future of smart homes programmed to orchestrate wildly satisfying flow states in their owners (of greater frequency and duration). Or, perhaps the owner decides to voice-activate the “optimal relaxation experience.” Mind-set it and forget it.
Aside from being practical, designing smart spaces is a lot of fun. Dive deeper with my Ultimate Guide to Environment Design.
A CODE OF PRACTICE
In summary, here are the 7 Laws of System Sunday:
Do these laws crack THE code to Personal Development 2.0? Or, do you see a crack in my code?
Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Let me know on Twitter.
- “Chapter 1: The Future of Jobs and Skills,” World Economic Forum.
- “PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence Study: Exploiting the AI Revolution,” pwc.com.
- “Number of connected wearable devices worldwide from 2016 to 2022” by Federica Laricchia, Statista.
- “70 Billion Hours Of Driver Time To Be Freed Up By Self-Driving Cars” by Lance Eliot, Forbes.
- “Accenture Report: Artificial Intelligence Has Potential to Increase Corporate Profitability in 16 Industries by an Average of 38 Percent by 2035,” accenture.com.
- “6 in 10 People Around the World Now Use the Internet” by Simon Kemp, DataReportal.
- The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson, p. 139.
- I borrow “Control the Controllables” from coaching giant Alan Stein Jr. I highly recommend his book, Raise Your Game.
- Systems Mindset by Sam Carpenter, p.1.
- “The Superiority Illusion: Where Everyone Is Above Average,” Scientific American.
- The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday, p. 9.
- The title of this law was inspired by Gary Vaynerchuck’s “Jab, Jab, Right Hook”—a marketing strategy of building customer trust by offering free content (jabs) and then selling (hooks). Aside from both being boxing analogies, the similarities are thin.
- The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson, p. 183.
- “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: The Random Show — Biohacking, Tim’s COVID Experience, Holiday Gift Ideas, Favorite New Apps, Bad Science, Quarantine Delights, and a Small Dose of NFTs and DAOs” (Episode #549)
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
- “Most CEOs Read A Book A Week. This Is How You Can Too (According To This Renowned Brain Coach)” by Brian D. Evans, INC.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear, p. 27.
- Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, Location 433 (eBook).
- An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapter 5 (1911).
- Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life by Jim Kwik, p. 110.
- “Emergence,” Wikipedia.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear, p. 81.