If you’re looking for ways to make positive adjustments to your daily life. There is so much stuff you can do. From reading books to watching videos to actually doing the strategies suggested in the just mentioned mediums. But if you don’t have time for everything, like most mortals, focus on understanding one thing. Learn more about systems thinking.
Everything around you is a system. And every system is part of another system. By understanding how things around you interlink. You become better at seeing how things work together and how these same things can be manipulated, changed, modified to your advantage. This process is called systems thinking.
I know. I know. It sounds too… formal? But don’t worry. In this article, I’m going to explain what are the principles of systems thinking. How you can apply systems thinking to 7 different areas of your life. And, without any sign of regret, explain why your current beliefs, the way you think, is something sabotaging you. Something you need to alter.
What Is A System?
In theory, we know what a system is. In fact, your consciousness is currently in a vessel that houses a lot of complex systems. Yes, your body is a system – a set of systems, actually.
We have a nervous system. Immune system. Respiratory system. Reproductive system. An internal system – called banner blindness – that automatically dodges ads presented on a web page helping you read only the text without watching the annoying devilish advertisements trying to manipulate you.1
So, a system is simply a set of things – organs when talking about the human body – that work together towards achieving a mutual goal. Your liver, on its own, is nothing but a piece of meat. Connect it to your whole body structure and you have a well-working digestive system that we can’t live without.
Imagine systems thinking as a factory. In order for a factory to produce something, the outcome, it needs something to work with, an input. For instance, if a factory is constructing wooden chairs, it will need lumber. The processes happening inside the factory are the actual systems producing the chair – machines, instructions, ways of work.
And to simplify, this is how things work:
- Input: Lumber.
- Systems: The internal factory systems that make it happen.
- Output: A wooden chair.
And here’s how we can present the digestive system of the human body:
- Input: Food and liquids.
- Systems: The digestive (or gastrointestinal) system doing its work.2
- Output: Hopefully, you know what is the outcome and I don’t have to mention it.
Following the same structure, we can apply systems thinking to our daily lives to make strategic, well-calculated decisions if we want to make improvements.
Why It’s Important To Implement Systems Approach To Our Daily Life?
One of the most important concepts in relation to systems thinking is that you stop thinking linearly. You start to spot structures and patterns.
The brief distinction between the two can be portrayed as follows:
To picture this, let’s consider a person with reckless habits. Someone who tends to go out every Friday and spend an extremely large amount of cash in bars. If we think linearly, we can say that he simply wants to have fun. But if adopt systems thinking. Consider all the processes involved. Understand his relationships with his friends and family members. We can reach the following conclusion: that he’s probably lonely and wants to attract attention.
By understanding systems and patterns, you can predict the future. Well, not predict like in the movies where a funny-looking lady is waving her hand above a crystal ball and “seeing” things. Rather, find feedback loops and make changes that set you on the right path.
For instance, your current daily routine is a system (but we often see it linearly). You get up. You wash your teeth. You go to work. You consume information. You do actual work that earns you income. You talk to people, etc. If you do these same things for 20 years, you’ll probably do the same things for the rest of your life. Your system defines both your present reality and your future reality.
And that’s fine a lot of times. I’m not saying that you should change anything if you love what you’re doing.
But if you do want to make a change, you need to change your set of systems. That is, to implement new systems in your day. Something you’re probably too afraid of doing – become a public speaker or get up early to teach yourself how to become a stand-up comedian.
After all, you can’t expect to make a change if you do the same things, right? Or as Albert Einstein famously explained, you need to avoid insanity: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
For example, exercise daily if you want to gain muscles. Read more if you want to improve your decision-making process. Blog daily if you want to create an online business. Invest if you want to retire early. Learn new skills if you want to switch careers.
As you can see, I’m not saying exercise once if you want to gain muscle. Or write a single article if you want to become a writer. It’s a process. A system. You can’t expect results from doing something once. You need to implement a particular system in your daily life based on your goal. Something you repeatedly do if you want to keep progressing and actually do want to make a change.
With that being said, let’s see how we can implement systems thinking in 7 different areas of our lives:
How Can you Apply Systems Thinking in Your Dialy Life
1. Create a Workout System
Personally, I get up at 05:00. The first thing I do after brushing my teeth, barely holding to the sink because my brain is still asleep, is this: I exercise.
I work out for around 20 minutes before I start writing blog posts like this one. To be honest, I barely do anything for the first 5 minutes during my morning training. But after my body realizes that we should finally wake up, I start to diligently follow what the coach on YouTube is doing.
But my workout system doesn’t start in the morning. No. I’m actually preparing the day before.
I place the mat and my workout clothes, plus equipment, in my living room before going to bed. This way I reduce the friction. When I get up, everything is ready and waiting. I only have to do the work. This is something really important. If the alarm rings in the morning and you, while half-awake, know that you have to arrange your equipment, you’ll most probably go back to bed. Your mindset will be quite different when you know that everything is ready and waiting.
In this case, this is how the system looks like:
Workout system example:
- Input: Muscle power.
- System: Prepare everything I need for my workout the day before. Get up at 05:00 and exercise. If for some reason I skip the workout, I exercise later that same day. Rule: Don’t skip workouts.
- Output: Energized. Feeling good. Better health.
Of course, your workout system can be completely different. But the importance of exercising is something I believe doesn’t need further explanation. With age, we start to become less mobile. Therefore, we need to frequently stretch our muscles.
2. Create Productivity System
Producing more work doesn’t mean working 80 hours a week. Even if you sit behind the computer the whole day, chances are that you’re most probably procrastinating for most of the time.
People who ship products quickly don’t work themselves to the bone. They have a strict system they follow.
For instance, my system for writing blog posts on this website is not so complicated. I do the following: I gather topics while I’m reading books. Then I block time during the day where the only thing I do is writing.
For example, after my workout, I write for 2 hours. From 06:00 AM to 08:00 AM. For these 2 hours, I produce on average 2000 words. But the system is not only the writing. I do these things as well: Before going to bed, I write down what I’m going to write about in the morning. Also, I make sure that I’ve done my research for the blog post I’m going to write. This way, when I get up, the only thing I focus on is writing about the particular topic I’ve chosen. Nothing else.
This same process can be applied to different fields. The idea is to schedule time for the specific work you’re going to do. Avoid distractions. And have a clear goal of what you’re doing.
Productivity system example:
- Input: Time.
- System: Clear goals. Distraction-free environment. All the necessary tools must be ready in advance.
- Output: Work done faster.
If you’re working a 9 to 5 job, you might say that you don’t need this approach. After all, you have 8 hours blocked where you should be supposedly working. Well, we know that people don’t work exactly 8 hours. Most of the time, people are procrastinating. Actually, in an 8-hour day, the average worker is only productive for around three hours a day.3
To get more done, after understanding the dynamics of your job in detail, you can apply systems thinking and get your work done faster. For instance, if you need to call clients. You can block 2 hours of your day where you execute this specific task. Also, you’ll prepare in advance for all the calls and make the calls without doing anything else.
3. Create a Simple (Yet Stylish) Wardrobe System
Although my wife finds it extremely annoying, I’m wearing the same clothes since 2018. A black t-shirt and matching black trousers. What about sneakers, accessories, jackets, or gadgets? All black. Everything I get is black. By default, I reach towards the black version of everything.
Not that you have to adopt the same minimalistic approach. I mean, I don’t share this to convince you that I’m something like a modern Batman. It’s simply my wardrobe system.
Back in the day, I had a wardrobe full of fancy clothes. Screaming red ties. Extravagant-looking pants. Ripped jeans. Sadly, the more clothes I owned, the more I wanted. It was an endless loop where I looked for new clothes all the time, hoping that this will make me look cool and feel better.
Now, I know what I’m going to wear even before I open my drawer simply because I have no other option in my wardrobe than black.
How this is beneficial?
Well, in two main ways: You think about the type of clothes you want and you create a stylish wardrobe based on your desires – in advance. You become more strategic with your purchases and everything you have is nicely matching. For instance, you won’t get a pink handbag when everything you own is in the brown spectrum because this will lead to an uncontrollable shopping spree (called the Diderot Effect). And secondly, you save tons of money.
This is how it looks:
Clothing system example:
- Input: Clothes.
- System: A thoroughly tested wardrobe system where everything is matching.
- Output: Look slick.
You think that thinking about this is unimportant? I argue the opposite. Reportedly, the average American spends more than $209 per month on clothes.4 This is every month. New month, new clothes. In contrast, if you have a system. You’ll create a set of items and only get new ones when you actually need to. But it’s not only that. If you don’t have a system, you will spend a lot of time deciding what to buy (or what to wear). So you don’t only save money, you save time as well.
4. Create An Antifragile Money-Making System
Getting a job is the default way to earn money. You study something. Then, when adulthood arrives, you start to visit an office, or a factory, in exchange for cash. Sadly, working a 9 to 5 job is not only an overwhelmingly boring thing to do. But it also doesn’t guarantee lasting cash flow. I mean, losing your job is part of modern capitalism.
Personally, I believe that creating your own money-making system consist of two parts. First, do work that pays you money. Whether this will be by (yes!) working a daily job or starting some sort of business revolving around (yes!) what you are passionate about, that’s up to you. Secondly, something many people miss to incorporate in their lives, is that you need to continuously expose yourself to new knowledge. But not just random stuff online that will help you solve crosswords. You need to deliberately expose yourself to content focused on making you an expert in a particular niche.
These two things, when combined, will make you unstoppable. Even if you get fired, you’ll have the needed skills to bounce back and get a new job fast. If you’re running your own commerce, you’ll adapt based on the ever-changing world.
Money-making system example:
- Input: Time.
- System: System that will help you stay competitive in the ever-changing world.
- Output: Ever-flowing stream of money.
5. Create an Investing System
What do you do with your earnings?
Surely you waste a lot of them on buying unnecessary things. But if what you have left is just sitting in your bank, there are better options to use your cash.
Online forums and expert investors overcomplicate investing. You don’t have to read the daily news to pick quality stocks to invest in. You need to pick a good stock, company, or another asset, and invest regularly without overcrowding your brain with useless information.
A small greyish box saying that I’m not a financial advisor and this is not a financial advice.
Once you decide what will be your portfolio, you can review it occasionally, but not every day. If you trade on the stock market daily, you’re not an investor. You’re a trader. Two completely different things.
Personally, I invest in ETFs, a small portfolio of stocks, P2P funds, and a small percentage goes into buying crypto. I’ve picked the assets a long time ago. Now, I simply wire funds towards the specific platforms I use for the mentioned assets. I try not to look at how my portfolio is doing because it’s discouraging at times. I remind myself that it’s a long-term investment. And finally, I don’t hope that these things will grow within a year – nor 5.
Investing system example:
- Input: Money.
- System: Wire funds every month towards the assets that I’ve hand-picked a long time ago.
- Output: More money.
6. Create Note-Taking System
There are two groups of people when it comes down to note-taking. First, we have the people who completely dismiss the idea. They think that note-taking is something only students need to focus on. Secondly, we have the group that is tirelessly searching for the perfect note-taking system. And while searching, they don’t take notes.
My personal suggestion after writing over 100 book summaries thanks to my imperfect note-taking approach? Decide on a simple note-taking system and stick to it.
Content is being produced online at the speed of light. Bloggers and YouTubers are publishing content like crazy. If you don’t take notes of what you’re consuming, you’re relying on your fragile memory to remember stuff – which is not a good long-term strategy. If you’re serious about progressing in life, you need to take notes regularly.
Think about it. Say you’re reading books. Participating in online courses. Watching TED talks. Enviously reading the corporate essay-poetry shared on LinkedIn (called Broetry).5 You’re doing the hard work to stay competitive. But if you’re not taking notes of the insights you find, these things will quickly fade.
After just a couple of weeks, you will be in the same position as before consuming the material – confused and agitated with the number of new things your brain needs to process – because you won’t remember anything. So yes, it’s vital to note down what you’re finding in the endless sea of articles online.
Besides, the cost of note-taking is insignificant: A bit of time and an app installed on your phone.
Note-taking system example:
- Input: Time.
- System: Crete categories in your note-taking app. Take notes of the material you consume. Schedule time with yourself to go back to your notes from time to time.
- Output: Retain information for longer. Build a library of insights.
7. Create a Learning Strategy
The moment you’ve all been waiting for! At the beginning of the post, I mentioned that I’ll explain why the way you think is something sabotaging you. Here’s why…
Formal education ends when we graduate. Education in general, though, should never stop.
With age, we adopt certain beliefs. Mental models that govern our lives. This often leads to a downfall. For example, if you’re 40 years old and you’re convinced that you don’t have what it takes to lose weight. Then, no doubt, this will become your reality. Or, if you’re 53 and you’re absolutely sure that you can’t transition to a new job. Again, this will be your reality.
Our core beliefs are what move us forward but often they cage us. Children are unstoppable explorers not only because they are full of energy. But also because they still don’t have set beliefs. Thinking patterns that are holding them back and will make them, at some point, adopt a grim view of the world that nothing can be changed.
As mentioned in the beginning, you can’t make a change if you do the same things. But the first thing you need to do is to convince yourself that change is possible. Instill a dose of hope in your life.
This happens by being a passionate learner. Read books. Meet new, interesting people. Doubt your instincts. Get familiar with the mental models for learning. Go outside of the comforting bubble you’ve built and try something new and exciting. Of course, this needs to be a continuous process. Motivation evaporates. Like exercising, we need to create a system that will encourage us and help us keep moving in the right direction.
Learning strategy example:
- Input: Time.
- System: Expose yourself to new experiences. Inspiring people. Books. Ideas. Try new things regardless of age.
- Output: Purposefulness and hopefulness.
Some Closing Thoughts
Don’t be a closed book. A closed system where you don’t consider new ideas and you don’t actively seek ways to make enhancements in your life.
Become an ever-growing organism as we’re designed to be. Be an open system.
Probably the best quote from the book about systems, Thinking in Systems – the book that actually inspired me to write this post. Is this one: “If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory.”
If you hate your job and you want a change, but you don’t change your rationality, the way you think and what you do, this will simply lead you to the same type of work. Which, as you can guess, won’t be a substantial change – you’ll find a similar job that you’ll eventually also hate. The change should first happen from the inside.
You need to alter the way you think.
The new way of thinking will help you see things that were previously there, but out of your sight. Help you spot opportunities that previously seemed impossible. And more importantly, become flexible and extraordinarily excited about the new day.
Add to your mental toolset by reading the following:
- How The Iceberg Model of Systems Thinking Can Help You Solve Problems?
- How To Think Better (Evidence-Based Ways to Think Better)
- Critical Thinking Process (Or Acting Wisely Even If You’re Not Very Bright)
Dare To Act:
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- Yes, this is true. Banner blindness is a web user behavior described as people’s tendency to ignore page elements that they perceive (correctly or incorrectly) to be ads.
- This system includes not only the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, which move and absorb food, but associated organs such as the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder, which produce digestive enzymes, remove toxins, and store substances necessary for digestion.LINK
- Curtin, Melanie. In an 8-Hour Day, the Average Worker Is Productive for This Many Hours. Inc Magazine.
- P, Kim. Average Cost of Clothing Per Month Will Surprise You. CreditDonkey Blog.
- If you’re not familiar with Broetry, check this amazing piece of writing: Dead Broets Society.