Systems vs Intuition - Which One Do You Need Right Now?
You’ve probably heard a hundred times that good systems are a critical component for continuous and sustainable personal development. However, while I’m totally on board with this idea, I’d like to suggest that it’s not the entire picture.
It’s true that good systems help you create recurring spaces for deliberate practice, and consistently show up to do what you want to do.
For example, having a solid, non-negotiable daily exercise routine (system) will help you show up on days when you don’t feel like it, compounding your progress and leading to having a body in which you feel amazing.
However, there are two major pitfalls, that await you at every corner:
- You might feel resistance towards living your life in a structured, pre-planned way with little space for spontaneity. What about listening to your body? What about living in the present moment?
And if that doesn’t sound bad at all, then you might fall victim of:
- Procrastination by perfectionism, as in getting stuck in infinitely researching, improving, and tweaking your systems. And that’s a deep, deeeeeep rabbit hole (trust me, I’ve been there).
In this article, I’ll share an alternative approach: cultivating intuitive systems for personal development, using four simple practices you can implement right now.
Towards Intuitive Systems
Let’s start with reframing our thinking a little bit.
I’d like you to look at intuition and systems not as opposites, but rather as two complimentary skills you can improve simultaneously.
Just like you need both focus and peripheral awareness to increase the capacity of your conscious mind, optimizing both your intuition and systems gives you the combined benefits of both, leading to tremendous personal growth that actually feels playful and aligned with your constantly evolving needs.
Consistency leading to compounding growth
Acting in alignment with your current needs
Clear strategy removes decision fatigue
Being present in the moment
“Lifeline” when your willpower is low
How To Cultivate Systems And Intuition
Ready to cultivate intuitive systems? Below are four of my favourite practices that you can start implementing right away.
You’ll notice that the practices build in on each other and overlap. Mix and match them to suit your preferences, and feel free to share your own practices with me. I’d love to learn from your experience!
This simple practice requires no more than 10 seconds, and you can engage in it at any point of your day, wherever you are.
The check-in is particularly effective in transitions between different activities, early in the morning, and during moments of confusion, disconnection, or procrastination.
Simply check-in with yourself: Why do I want to do what I’m about to do?
The check-in creates a moment of mindfulness, allowing you to connect with yourself and understand if what you’re about to do is something that is serving you or not.
To give you more context, here are three real examples of how Silvia and I are using the check-in:
A while ago, Silvia identified that too much coffee increases her anxiety levels, and she created a system that consists of never having coffee two days in a row. It seems to work well, but coffee addiction is a cruel mistress. So, whenever she considers breaking this rule, she checks-in with herself to understand why does she want to drink a coffee and if that’s the best thing to do right now. As a result, the check-in helps her actually use the system she created, become more aware, and re-kindle her motivation, even if sometimes it feels hard to resist a delicious cup of Joe.
I used to get stuck in content consumption binges following links I found in newsletters and social media. Does this sound familiar? To deal with that problem, I created a system of saving all content I want to engage with to Instapaper instead of reading it immediately. The check-in happens whenever I feel like reading. Before opening the app, I ask myself “what do I want to read about?” and only then find a piece of content that feels relevant.
This example came up a few times in our community of practice and it’s particularly relevant when most of us work from home. Before and after every virtual call, ask yourself: “what can I bring to this call?” and “what am I taking away form this call?” This simple practice helped me to be more deliberate about my interactions, and removed agitation connected to switching from one call directly to another.
And yes, you guessed it right: the check-in works in a similar way to meditation. The long term-goal is for this sense of connection, clarity, and intentionality to carry over on to other moments of your life, so you can be more present at all times.
This is one of the most effective practices and it takes only 5 minutes per day (or week if you’d rather do it in that rhythm).
Reflect: *What was good? What wasn’t so good? What’s next?
You can take notes, but it’s not really needed for this practice to work. If you keep a journal, it’s also a great idea to flip through your pages before engaging in the practice.
Here’s an example:
Every Saturday I flip through my journal and write down my plus/minus/next in my PKM (personal knowledge management) app. I used to do my review on Mondays and on paper, but I changed that during one of my recent reviews, because it felt more aligned with my current needs. See where am I going with this?
A review practice helps you cultivate an agile approach to personal development. After all, you are constantly evolving, and your systems and practices need to evolve with you.
Note: if you’re looking for a minimalist weekly review practice combined with weekly planning, we’ve created one for you.
This one goes to all the perfectionists out there: stop trying to create a perfect system right off the bat.
First of all, there’s no such thing as a perfect system. Secondly, you’re constantly evolving, so the system needs to evolve along with you.
Instead, focus on tiny tweaks you can implement right now that would make a difference to your biggest bottleneck.
Recently I had a conversation with a person who finally managed to build a consistent journaling practice by using the Infinity Squares. The key was to start with a tiny square every day with very little writing, and gradually build up the practice. No need for a perfect journal. No need for setting up a complex productivity system. Draw a square every day, write a sentence about your day, and take it from there.
I recently decided to learn Portuguese. I can understand quite a fair bit, yet I never really made an effort to speak. To address this bottleneck I committed to speaking out loud the contents of one flashcard per day. This habit is so tiny that I never skipped it and on 95% of the days I end up actually speaking quite a lot with my partner, neighbours, and Portuguese friends. Needless to say, my Portuguese improved dramatically and it felt completely effortless.
I often get overwhelmed by the imperfection of my digital environment. The perfectionist in me wants to optimize everything and gets overwhelmed by the rabbit hole of productivity software. Taking the Collector to Creator course forced me to make a tiny tweak that changed everything: commit to ONE note-taking app and stick with it, no matter how imperfect it is. I picked Obsidian because it resonated most with my values and needs, and this simple decision skyrocketed my digital productivity. And whenever a new idea for improvement comes to my mind, I just add it to a brain dump, and then implement whatever feels most effective right now.
Remember: the purpose of tiny tweaks is to actually start moving forward, rather than getting stuck in “preparation phase” forever. A perfect system is a moving target, and the only way to get there is to keep moving.
This is a personal favourite of mine.
Thing is: You don’t have to do it all alone.
In fact, having another person to listen to your thoughts can provide you with insights that otherwise wouldn’t surface for months. And sometimes all you need to do is say out loud what’s in your head.
For best results, create a rhythm where you meet with another person or a group on a regular basis, whether it’s weekly, monthly or bi-annually. This will create a recurring space for relational growth that is harder to postpone or avoid, since you’re committing to another person. And you can use the space to refocus, reconnect with what’s most important for you, and find the best way forward – again, and again.
To make it more intentional, I recommend having a direction for your conversation, for example a topic you want to explore, a habit you’re building, or a goal you’re working towards.
Every six months (roughly) I have a call with a good friend of mine. We like to keep this spacious rhythm because it helps us filter the most meaningful events, reflect, and witness each other’s growth.
Last year Silvia and I were experimenting with the microsolidarity framework and we co-created three different groups where we connect and explore different topics/areas that are important to us: exploring challenging emotions, navigating challenges of romantic relationship, and connecting on a deeper level. This was one of the most nurturing experiences of 2020 for us.
Instead of the typical conclusion paragraph, I’ll leave you with two very practical steps:
- As you finish reading this article, check-in with yourself to reflect on what is a tiny tweak you’d like to implement in your life right now.
- At the end of the week, review how it went and what’s next.