“Simplifying is generally the strategy of people who view the world in terms of systems.” – Scott Adams
Every year people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, save more, spend less or better their career prospects. According to Forbes, about 8% of these people actually achieve these resolutions.
Tracking the drop off in traffic at the gym between the first week of January and the last week gives you a good approximation of how this works.
A study in Botswana found that 91% of men said they knew they that the use of a condom could help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, yet only 70% of them used a condom. For women it was 92% that said they knew condoms would help versus only 63% of them that used them.
Even with very high stakes, knowledge and willpower alone are not enough to change behavior.
I’m not implying that your decisions on weight loss or your finances are life or death, but they can have a profound impact on your overall level of happiness.
Changing your behavior is hard. Trying harder usually doesn’t do the trick, though. You need systems to change your behavior otherwise you end up in the 92% of people that fail at their New Year’s goals.
Here are some of my favorite books that all involve changing your behavior to help with your career, finances, health, decision-making and happiness.
CAREER: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comic strip. In the book he talks about how his failures have actually helped him succeed in his career through lessons learned. He also discusses how passion is overrated when looking for the right career choice and building the correct skill set can help you create your own luck.
I like the distinction he makes between systems and goals:
To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.
Throughout my career I’ve had my antennae up, looking for examples of people who use systems as opposed to goals. In most cases, as far as I can tell, the people who use systems do better. The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.
FINANCIAL: I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
Sethi’s book goes through a step by step program to create your own automated financial system. He focuses on getting big wins as opposed to the benefits of cutting back on lattes (I agree with him on this).
While it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of decisions you are forced to make with your finances, getting the big ones right can get you three quarters of the way there. Those big decisions are the focus of this book.
I highly recommend this one for anyone in their 20s or 30s that doesn’t have a financial plan in place.
Ramit has also developed courses on his website (I Will Teach You To Be Rich) about earning more money and finding your dream job that are very system oriented.
WEIGHT LOSS & FITNESS: The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferris
This is a long book but you can skip around to different sections to get out of it whatever you need help with. The diet and exercise information is especially helpful.
Ferris goes through multiple tests before making his recommendations and he explains why his systems work with examples of how others have implanted them.
I had never been on a diet in my life before reading this book, so I took it as a challenge when I bought it a few years ago. I have made several small tweaks using Ferris’s lessons to my diet and exercise routines and saw solid results in a matter of weeks.
The best results came from using the same meals every day for dieting purposes and utilizing high intensity interval training for exercising. There’s also a great time saving ab routine and information on how slowing down your weight lifting movements can increase strength.
Most people have heard of the slow carb diet at this point and it gets covered extensively in the book. For a shorter version, see his blog post: Four Hour Work Week
ORGANIZATION & DECISION-MAKING: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
The creation of a simple system of checks and balances to make sure that you have thought of everything can help you in business, with your investment decisions, in long term planning, with short term tasks and much more.
It’s easy to dismiss the idea of a checklist but it’s amazing how much you can cut down on mistakes by going through step by step instructions to avoid error. This is also a great tool for reigning in overconfidence.
In fact, the book makes the point that having a checklist in hospitals for doctors (some of the most overconfident people there are) has had dramatic effects on patient safety and care.
HAPPINESS: Choose Yourself by James Altucher
Altucher offers some great advice for changing your life, increasing happiness or just getting yourself out of a rut. His plan involves a system to improve your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies (as he calls them).
Some of the simple fixes include being more active, keeping company with only positive people (avoiding negative people is key), reading to increase your knowledge base and being grateful for all of your blessing on a daily basis.
Happy 2014 to all and good luck with your resolutions.