From quite an early age, I tried to figure out the smallest set of principles to help me in my personal life and work life.
Here’s what I came up with, along with concrete tips and tools for putting these principles into practice.
There are many personal development methods out there.
Most of them presume we can control ourselves, and give us straightforward recommendations: “Do A, B will happen”.
And they’re usually right; It’s true that doing meditation really helps with stress, or that adopting a new task management platform really helps, or that using the “pomodoro technique” for time management really helps.
But in reality, it's quite hard to choose a method, then actually get started, and then actually persist.
People are more like big ships. Big, heavy ships, made out of many parts.
We can’t just move one part of the ship without moving all of it. And when we manage to do that, we still need to overcome the big body of water around us, which is our ever-changing environment and challenges.
But we can’t just leave our ships to drift. When undirected, our ships are prone to doing what they know as default, rather than what is truly important to us. So - what can we do about it?
We can do what sailors can - steer. Sailors use their engine, the water, the wind, and knowledge of how to maintain their ships. We need to do the same when thinking about steering ourselves - we need to take the whole system into account.
Personal change systems have to take into account how every aspect of me works, especially my mind and my internal world in general. Otherwise, I’m just trying to drag one part of my ship.
To get future-me to do something, I can’t just rely on my will and intention - I need a system that will affect the situation in which I wish to do it.
Strong academic principles such as Implementation Intention or Choice Architecture suggest we should turn statements like “I want to start meditating” to “I’ll set a time notification for 2 PM tomorrow to remind me to go into this room and meditate using these instructions”. This works better than mere goal-setting.
Our environment changes, our internal world changes, and our goals change. Therefore, the “systems” discussed above need to be flexible, and easily changed.
Even though we’ll face an insanely wide range of tasks in our lives, some skills are mutual to many of these tasks.
Some examples are: Persuasion skills, managing my motivation, cheering myself when I’m down, keyboard-typing speed, ease of capturing and organizing notes, and even advanced Google search.
While some of these (especially the last ones) aren’t regarded socially as skills we need to improve, the cumulative effect of improving them even just by 1.01% - is incredibly high.
The importance of fundamentals also manifests in how management knowledge is cascading up; For instance, effective management of others requires understanding of effective self-management.
This is the main model I created using the four principles listed above, divided into two parts: steering our internal worlds and setting the directions we steer toward.