From quite an early age, I tried to figure out the smallest set of principles to help us make significant changes in our lives.
Here's what I came up with, and some ideas on how to apply these principles.
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.
Humans 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?
Like sailors, we can’t really control our ships. They're too heavy and complex. You probably can’t recall a sailor swimming near their ship and trying to push it.
Instead, what sailors can do is steer their ships. Sailors use their engine, the water, the wind, and how to maintain their ships.
Let's think of our ship’s engine as our subconscious mind (from now on gaining the nickname “subco”).
Our subco is an extremely powerful tool, capable of incredible things - think of the speed in which it’s capable of dreaming, how well you perform / experience when you’re sharp and focused, or the number of things it processes when you enter a room and notice that something is out place.
So if we’re trying out a new method of managing our tasks, we must make sure that our subco is on board with this.
And methods that take into account how our subco, our motivation, and our focus work - win over methods that don’t.
Because sailors can try to paddle without using their engines, but they’re going to move much slower, especially if their engines are driving somewhere else.
So - sailors - let’s talk about how to create a change in our lives, and how to fully realize the potential of our ships.
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.