EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE DISCOVER EXTRAORDINARILY EFFECTIVE SYSTEMS

I try to upgrade at least one of my systems for living every week, not because I feel like things are always broken but because I know how energizing it is to try something new. It’s exciting to think that we can just swap in a new system like downloading a new app.

  1. THE DISCOVERY PROCESS. Many people discover new systems from books, conferences, or online courses. I make it a habit to read nonfiction books on a wide variety of topics that matter to me, such as parenting, work, and exercise. Think of it like browsing the App Store. It can be fun and enlightening when you find something that seems to work for others and might also work for you.
  2. YOUR REFRESH RATE. Your refresh rate is how often you upgrade your systems for living. In 2013, for example, I spent thirty days straight on Les Mills’s BODYPUMP. Minimum Effective Dose exercises such as Christine Bullock’s Total Transformation program. This year I’m trying kettlebells. I discovered them after reading books, having conversations with friends who were passionate about fitness. I simply realized I’m more likely to work out if I switch things up regularly so I don’t get bored.
  3. SET POINTS AND MEASUREMENT. How effective are your systems for living? This is the important bit that people often forget. For example, I have a waist measurement set point that has kept me at the same waist size for ten years. I measure it by seeing which hole is used when buckling my favorite belt.

The Discovery Process

I once bumped into Patrick in a local Starbucks in the neighborhood where we live, where I found him scribbling furiously on a piece of paper. When I asked what he was up to, he said, “I’m trying to solve this massive problem.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“I’m trying to figure out how I can make $100 million in one year,” he answered.

Patrick likes to get out of the office and ask himself big, tough questions, and then he says that the inspiration for his business ideas often comes to him. He makes sure that he gives himself the space and time to do this. Too many of us are so busy doing that we never step back and think about how we’re doing. Or why we’re doing it. I call this the do-do trap. You’re so busy doing what needs to be done, you don’t really know whether your systems for living might be obsolete, or even (pun intended) absolute crap.

Awareness is the essence of discovery. Every now and then, stop doing and gather some research. I know many people who have a disciplined system for going to the gym a few times weekly. But are your gym workouts fully optimized? For example, once a month I might actually skip going to the gym one day and instead read about new workout routines, buy a new fitness app, or study a new fitness method to optimize my gym time. This is what I mean by the discovery process. You step back from what you’re doing and seek to discover new ways to do it better.

Patrick Grove is the chairman of four public companies, and he still has time to step back and rethink his systems.

Your Refresh Rate

When was the last time you read a book about a topic you were interested in but knew nothing about?
Sat in a Starbucks and scribbled notes about crazy dreams you wanted to pursue? Or otherwise revitalized the systems in your life? Keeping your systems fresh is a system in itself. Your frequency of doing this is your refresh rate.


Exercise: What’s Your Refresh Rate?

Have you updated the systems in any of these parts of your life recently? If not, it’s time to hit the refresh button.

Write down the areas where you know you need to make some changes.
how you interact, raise your kids, a job hunt, your home, big dreams, new experiences, spiritual insights, or creative growth.

  1. YOUR LOVE RELATIONSHIP. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray. This book is a beautiful and somewhat humorous look at how to live with and love the opposite sex.
  2. YOUR FRIENDSHIPS. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I read this book seven times before I turned twenty; an amazing book for anyone.
  3. YOUR ADVENTURES. Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson. This book inspires you to live a life of adventure and to have fun while pursuing big goals.
  4. YOUR ENVIRONMENT. The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, PhD. This book inspires you to upgrade your quality of life and to dream bigger about your home, your office space, the car you drive, and more.
  5. YOUR HEALTH AND FITNESS. Here I have different recommendations for men or women. For men, it’s The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey. Dave is a friend and the most famous biohacker in the world. This is science meets eating. For women, it’s The Virgin Diet by JJ Virgin, which will challenge your rules about calories and exercise and show you that it’s not about how much you eat, but how you combine the right foods in the right order for your body’s “chemistry lab.”
  6. YOUR INTELLECTUAL LIFE. What better way to optimize your intellectual life than by upgrading your learning systems, learning to speed-learn and improve your memory? I recommend courses by Jim Kwik.
  7. YOUR SKILLS. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss is a great book on finding fast hacks to developing unique skills.
  8. YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE. Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch is the best book I’ve read on spiritual growth. But a close tie is Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, which was Steve Jobs’s favorite book.
  9. YOUR CAREER. Originals by Adam Grant is one of the best books I’ve read on how to be more creative at work and how to think outside the box, sell your ideas, and make a difference.
  10. YOUR CREATIVE LIFE. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield inspires you to shed your artist inertia and get moving with your creative work. It is also one of the most beautifully written books I’ve come across.
  11. YOUR FAMILY LIFE. I believe the root cause of most family issues is the lack of self-love, so I suggest The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz.
  12. YOUR COMMUNITY LIFE. Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is an inspirational read on starting epic businesses and giving back to the world in a big way.

Set Points and Measurement

You fall back into your procrastination habit. You spend more and save less. Or you stop keeping up with friends, or with your meditation practice, or connecting with your kids, or snuggling so much with your sweetheart.
I struggle with this as much as anyone. But I’ve figured out a way to reset myself when my systems start to slip. I devised a tool called nonnegotiable set points.

I love my wine, whiskey, chocolate, and cheese. But I like to stay in shape because I feel and perform at my best when I’m at peak physical energy.
I should be able to drop and do fifty push-ups. No excuses.
Fifty push-ups is my health pulse check.

We can establish these system checks for our finances, the time we spend with our kids, our endurance, the number of books we read per week, and so on.
Things slip when we don’t have a detection method for knowing when it’s happening.


Exercise: Your Non-Negotiable Set Points

You can use set points not only to prevent or reverse slipping but also to improve over time. Imagine getting fitter as you get older . . . more intimate with your partner . . . more secure financially . . . or closer to your kids.

Step 1: Identify the areas of your life where you want to create set points.

Look back at the Twelve Areas of Balance list from Chapter 3. In which categories did you score the lowest? Where are you slipping? Pick two or three to focus on, for which you’d like to set specific, achievable set points.

Step 2: Determine your set points.

Make sure that your set points are absolutely achievable.
For things you can measure (your weight or your bank account, for example), you can establish specific amounts: My weight set point is X. My bank account set point is Y. You can establish set points for your intellectual life (I will read X books per month) or even your work (I will spend two hours a week researching or studying something that will make me better at my job). The more specific you are, the easier it will be to keep track of the set point and actually stick with it.

  1. YOUR LOVE RELATIONSHIP. Set up set points for how much time you spend together, whether it’s the frequency of date nights, working out together, or even regularly scheduled lovemaking.
  2. YOUR FRIENDSHIPS. Create set points for keeping in touch; for example, calling a close friend at least once a week, inviting friends for brunch or dinner once a month, writing a short weekly note to someone going through a tough time.
  3. YOUR ADVENTURES. Consider setting set points for the frequency of holidays or adventure trips. I go on at least two long trips with my entire family every year. We don’t have to be going somewhere exotic or expensive, but by committing to extended time with my family, I have a chance to show them how much I love them while we create lasting memories together. You could commit to going to one new place every month, even if that place is somewhere in your neighborhood. It doesn’t have to cost any money at all, but your world will feel bigger and brighter when you regularly expose yourself to new corners of it.
  4. YOUR ENVIRONMENT. Set a few simple set points for keeping your home tidy; for example, making the bed every morning, making sure the sink is clear of dirty dishes at night, sorting the mail as soon as you get it and recycling what you don’t need to keep, and so on. You can also create set points for the level of quality of your life; for example, a weekly full-body massage or spa treatment.
  5. YOUR HEALTH AND FITNESS. Set some specific set points as fitness benchmarks. For me, it’s my push-up routine. It could also be maintaining a specific waist measurement or getting in the routine of going to one yoga or Pilates class per week, or even tracking your eyesight or blood pressure.
  6. YOUR INTELLECTUAL LIFE. Start to incorporate some systems for bringing intellectual richness into your life. It might be reading a few pages each night before bed, visiting a gallery or exploring one room of a museum each week, or attending one play per month. A great set point here is to read at least two books per month.
  7. YOUR SKILLS. Commit to spending a certain number of hours per week reading or studying material to improve skills in your field. I have a set point of taking off one day per month from work to focus on studying and learning how to work better.
  8. YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE. You might make fifteen minutes of meditation per day part of your spiritual practice, read several pages of spiritual literature each day, or pray or send your thoughts to someone dealing with a problem. My set point in this category is fifteen minutes minimum of daily meditation.
  9. YOUR CAREER. Join a professional group and make sure you go to a certain number of meetings per year. Read one book per month on career issues. If you’re looking to change careers, commit to reading a certain number of articles online per week about this new field and how to break in.
  10. YOUR CREATIVE LIFE. Choose and pursue a creative outlet, and set a reachable set point for making it part of your life. It could be spending twenty minutes journaling each day, joining a weekly improv class, or setting goals to move forward on a creative project that’s been stalled or you’ve been meaning to start. I have set points for the amount of writing I do every week.
  11. YOUR FAMILY LIFE. Set a goal of spending a certain amount of time doing family-oriented activities per week, whether with your kids, the entire family, your parents, or other relatives. It could be calling your mom or dad every couple of days just to say hi, going out for Sunday breakfast as a family, having playtime with your children each evening.
  12. YOUR COMMUNITY LIFE. Decide on an amount to donate annually to good causes, or identify a place where you’ll volunteer on a regular basis. I have an annual set point for money donated to charity. Each year I ensure I can give away a healthy sum to good causes I believe in.
Step 3: Test your set points and correct if you miss.

I test my fifty push-ups set point once a week. If I can’t do fifty—whether because I’ve been slacking off on exercise, my energy levels are low, or I’ve put on weight—I immediately initiate a set-point correction procedure.

What works for me is to immediately go on a low-carb diet for a week to get my weight back to normal and commit to working out at the gym three times a week. Typically in one week I’m back to fifty.

I turn forty the year this book is published. I intend to live to one hundred. And even at that age I expect to be able to do fifty. I don’t believe in letting this slip.

Step 4: Turn up the heat—in a good way.

If you slip, aim to get back to fifty and a little more—say, to fifty-one.