Systems Mindset 101
Written by:Systems Thinking
Simply, the systems mindset1 is about seeing the world through cause and effect.
Here we apply the systems mindset to personal development—where the cause is our actions, and the effect is our results.
|By consuming fewer calories than the body burns…
|people lose weight
|people calm their minds
|By getting 7.5+ hours of sleep…
|people feel rested
Very obvious, very overlooked.
Unfortunately, most people don’t see the mechanics of life because they aren’t paying close enough attention.
It reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, “This is Water,” at Kenyon College (2005).2 He shares the following allegory:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
If you’re reading this today, it means you’re ready to live with your eyes open: to see the cause and effect, to see the systems of life, to see the water you’re already swimming in.
Don’t misunderstand me: it’s not always easy, and it’s not always comfortable. But it is worth it.
Because the systems mindset is the single most effective strategy for accelerating personal growth.
With systems thinking, we study the world (and ourselves) from an outside-and-elevated view. From this higher vantage, we objectively see the life systems that directly cause our results.
At System Sunday, we isolate our life systems (Wellness, Wealth, Career, Environment, Relationships, and Mindfulness), take them apart, and show you how to rebuild them to operate at peak efficiency.
For example, if I were coaching someone to rebuild their Wellness System, I’d guide them to refine its sub-systems of Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, and Personal Care.
But even more than just optimizing at the individual system and sub-system level, we ensure that each system works well together. For instance, perhaps you’ll start doing HIIT workouts to boost your energy levels for the workday.
In other words, the purpose of aligning systems is to get our holistic system to operate at full tilt.
System management is not about trying to control everything. It is about taking 100 percent responsibility for your life, and learning about controlling the controllables.
We embrace a deterministic mindset, shared by Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList.
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.3
In other words, with systems, you can factor “luck” out of the success equation. That’s not to say you won’t experience luck on your personal quest; it's just to say you won’t need it.
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.”4
So, if there’s only one thing for you to remember, it’s this: Our lives are the product of our life systems. And if we can refine our systems, we can create the life we choose.
- I credit much of my systems philosophy to Sam Carpenter—author of Work the System and The Systems Mindset. These books are required reading for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of systems…and take control of their life/business.
- “This Is Water” by David Foster Wallace, 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College.
- The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson, p. 183.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear, p. 27.