5 Golden Rules for living your dreams

Learn the trick for using Systems Thinking to make your dreams a reality

5 bars of shiny gold bullion
Photo by Jingming Pan on Unsplash

In July last year, I wrote a post on goal setting which outlines how to discover and set your life goals and break them down into concrete milestones and another on and staying on track to understand how your subconscious might not be on side with the actual realisation of those goals (and how to make that happen).

As I discussed in that prior article, it is an oft repeated meassage that Goal Setting is essential; but it’s important to remember that the goal is simply the target — it is not the plan.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is right now

In the picture above there is a mature sycamore tree, which represents the realisation of your dreams.

That tree grew from a single seed. That seed is your idea, your dream.

Sycamore “Helicopter” Seed. The helipad of your dreams

So how does one go about turning the seed of an idea into a tree?

The tree’s almost got it easy, it is a biological system which has evolved into an organism that harvests sunlight water and nutrients as the building blocks for growth and it runs simple “programs” to reach towards the sun, bifurcation of the branches to spread the leaves wide to maximise sunlight collection, leaf loss in autumn to preserve energy through the winter, a strong root system, about as large as the tree above the ground to collect water and nutrients, producing seed and reproducing. These biological “systems” that are used by the tree have evolved and continue to evolve over time.

Our human bodies have evolved similar biological systems to handle growth, movement, smell, sight, hearing, touch, taste, with the brain we’ve grown comes emotion, a sense which motivates us to our intrinsic base goals of getting water, getting food and reproduction. In order to achieve higher level functions related to movement and learning, the brain has evolved to become a learning machine where the programming itself can change to react differently to more stimulus and importantly novel stimulus, leading us to what we call consciousness whereby a portion of our brain (you can think of it as a program running on your brain, the paralells are quite strong) thinks it’s in command and control of our actions, but there is a huge amount of the brain running on automatic (the back bit) and it’s worth pointing out that the automatic bit of the brain is blazingly fast, where the conscious part of the brain (literally the surface of the front bit) is relatively slow. The brain itself and the consciousness upon it are systems. Your memory is a system, and this is where the computer metaphor falls slightly short because the brain doesn’t store 1s and 0s, rather it stores sensory memory tied in with emotion. This sensory memory is in effect “recordings” of past events, we can also store imagined events (e.g. remembering dreams). The more a given bit of memory is utilised and linked with other memories, the stronger that memory becomes, i.e. more deeply linked with other memories which makes retrieval easier.

So, there are a load of bilogical processes going on, so we are aware of and are in conscious control of — like me typing this for example, or you reading it. There are a load of processes of which we have no control, unless we point our awareness at it — e.g. how is your right ankle feeling? You only know now because I asked you — the information is always there, but it’s not part of consciousness, you need to look it up, and that’s a good thing. Consciousness doesn’t need to know all of those things especially because it’s so relatively slow compared to the optimised automatic systems.

Ever played QWOP? In this game, you have to control a runner, but the control that you have is controlling the thighs and the calves of the left and right legs and you need to think of the combination of those muscles and how they interact — the result is hilarious. We want that stuff to run on automatic.

QWOP by Bennet Foddy

OK. So, what’s this got to do with Golden Rules?

Ah yes, the golden rules — the trick of taking advantage of having both fast and slow processes within the brain is to create systems. Systems are just things you do, routinely. You already have systems in place. You probably call them habits. Good habits, bad habits, both work in the same way. Using the slow deliberate consciousness to build a habit that is performed by the fast impulsive subconscious.

You have a system for washing yourself (shower when you get up typically, certainly that’s what I do)

A system to wash your clothes — pop them in the basket, until the basket gets full, take them to washer, dry them and then fold and put away.

A system for making sure you remember your keys, your wallet, your phone. I keep mine all together in the same place all the time.

These systems are the basis of the golden rules approach. You decide to commit to a system and then decide what to do and then just keep it up.

Tim Ferris created a system to write two crappy pages each and every day, that simple system (not to mention his work and skill) produced his “ugly” New York Times best-selling book.

James Clear committed to a system to write Articles every Tuesday and Thursday and he was a writer after a year. He was a writer because writers write. Equally if you practice guitar, you’re a musician (albeit initially a shitty one), not a wannabe guitarist, not if you’re lifting the guitar.

Golden Rule Number One

Have Clear Goals — or even unclear goals, the goal isn’t so much the important thing as the direction of travel, the want, the desire. Point yourself in a direction that interests you and use those goals to help shape your systems. Read more here.

Golden Rule Number Two

Make a system and forget the goal. Identify a behaviour that will lead you to a goal and then systemise it. Want to bulk up your muscles? System is going to the gym 3x per week, work day, recovery day and weekend — and when your’e there, commit to doing meaningful, measurable work — I personally recommend GZCLP.

Golden Rule Number Three

Track Your Progress. Write down your goals, use functional decomposition if you know that skill (break it down into manageable chunks). Write down the system that you’ve chosen to meet the goal. Keep it stupidly simple (write 2 crappy pages every day).

Golden Rule Number Four

Never Skip Twice. Life gets in the way, I get that, commit to a system to never skip a system twice. Once you fall off the horse, especially in the early days, skipping more than once can be bad for habit building. Do your best to avoid it. Write that into your systems

Golden Rule Number Five

Get curious. Learn how your brain works, I have written down some of what I’ve learned and linked out to wonderful sources. Keep feeding your brain, you live there after all.

So that’s it, golden rules for living, goals are important for aligning your personal North Star, but it’s the day to day systems that get stuff done.

Related Posts

The GZCLP Program For Beginners (Infographic) | Say No To Broscience

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