Building a better system and ten ways to hack it

Our default settings suggest that in order to solve a problem, we need to put more effort into the solution. But research has shown again and again, that will-power is finite, a resource that will deplete rather quickly.

There are far better ways to improve yourself than simply trying harder. The answer then is to build a better system.

Human beings have an incredible ability to jump in and out of systems. We are the only creatures on this planet that can do this.

We can operate within the rules, constraints and boundaries of the system. And at the same time, we can break the rules, constraints and boundaries. We can think about the system as a whole, from outside in.

We don’t spend enough time creating a system that would lead us to the continuous desired results we seek.

On this blog, I’ve talked about finding better ways to change our default settings or making change happen. More often than not, I am talking the building a better system that will help you live the life you deserve.

Ten ways to hack the system:

  1. Don’t make 20 year plans. Instead, make a 20 year commitment.
  2. Once you make a commitment, then the challenge moving forward is to keep your promise.
  3. If you don’t have a TV, you’re not tempted to watch it.
  4. You’re far less likely to check your apps if you have to sign-in to them each time.
  5. Money is a story. A story we tell ourselves. Debt free-living maybe one of the greatest single hacks I am aware of that will give you the freedom to design the life you want to live.
  6. A house, cars, clothes, electronics…are status symbols. Higher cultural status rarely ever leads us to a life of joy or meaning or happiness.
  7. Too often, we fall into this trap of a fixed mindset. We let our biases, prejudices get in the way of the endless possibilities that are available. Adopt a mindset of growth. What is, isn’t what has to be.
  8. Triggers send us into cycles. Identifying triggers could, theoretically, help us avoid unwanted cycles.
  9. The number one factor in measuring happiness: the quality of our relationships.
  10. We can change external conditions. But we can go a lot further by changing how we perceive them.

A juxtaposition of The Game of Life and real life

Hasbro’s The Game of Life requires minimal skill to play. Almost all of the critical thinking is taken out.

Spin the wheel. Pull the card. Repeat.

The most difficult decision you make is right at the beginning. You get to choose whether you want to go straight into a career path or invest in college. That decision will affect how you play the rest of the game.

Here’s the thing, real life is not that fixed. Yet, we treat it as such.

I have a car payment so I can get to work. I go to work so I can pay my car payment. Repeat.

We carry around this fixed mindset that once a decision is made, we can’t go back.

“It’s just in my nature.”

“I was born this way.”

“Life is so hard.”

And so on…

Yes. It’s true. There are things that are completely out of our control. We are born with weaknesses. We are born with certain attributes, dispositions, characters, attractions, temperaments, personalities…


We have agency. We can create systems that help us with our daily decisions that have long-term (positive) consequences.

The reality is, we can backtrack, we can push forward, we can pivot. We can take paths less traveled. We can make mistakes and learn from them.

By adopting this posture, this growth mindset, we can turn setbacks into learning experiences. That up-cycle can launch us further and farther than what we thought was possible.

Sure, the decision of going to college, investing tens of thousands into a piece of paper may be essential in the arc of the work you want to do. But keeping your hands and feet inside the vehicle, waiting for things to happen, following the instructions, isn’t going to bring you the life you deserve.

Big by difference

When seeking out to change things, most of us become too discouraged too quickly because of how we measure.

Let’s be clear, there are lots of ways to measure your results.

Most of us fall into this trap of trying to be big by numbers. As a result, we look for more Facebook likes to lead us to more customers or more sales.

Quickly though, that tactic can become discouraging. There is always going to be someone out there that is more popular (or richer) than you.

However, big doesn’t have to mean aiming for the masses. Instead, you can focus on being big by difference—the difference you make to the people you serve.

As Kevin Kelly has pointed out, you don’t need a million followers to do this.

The quest then isn’t to make a little difference to a lot of people but to make an enormous difference to a few.

Waiting makes things feel longer

As obvious as it sounds, waiting doesn’t help us move forward.

The alternative then is to work your way into relevancy.

Instead of waiting to be hosted on someone else’s popular blog or podcast, start your own.

The Muse doesn’t show up to the idol. She’s attracted to the writer who is constantly typing or the entrepreneur that won’t stop pursuing. Always, when no one is watching.

Why wait?

Be found instead.

Survival of the fittest is how we survived but it isn’t how we thrived

For thousands of years, civilizations thrived on a culture of gift giving.

You had extra hay so I could feed my horse. I used my horse to plow the field. And come time for the harvest, I parted with extra crops.

Somewhere along the way though, we fell into this trap of thinking we needed to take care of ourselves first before we take care of others. That you can’t possibly fill someone else’s cup if yours is empty.

But that simply isn’t how we got here.

We got here from relying on each others. By trusting that when we feed the network, the network turns around and feeds us back.

To make things worse, we are taught from a very early age that it’s a dog eat dog world. Only the fittest will survive.

What exactly do you need more of to be generous?

It’s not money or time. We have more resources than any population in human history. All we need is to decide. To care more.

It’s just good business too. Everyone wants something from someone now. It has left us starving for true, authentic generosity. Something freely given away that touches us without any expectation of a return.

That interaction leaves a void that we want to fill. We want to thank someone for their efforts. And it inspires us to turn around and do it again for someone else.

May I suggest a different approach, rather than focusing on ourselves, instead:

Don’t run faster than what you have the strength to do.

By doing so, you don’t miss the little opportunity to help those around us along the way. Today. Right now. You can start with the resources you have.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.