Chapter 4

The Universal Formula for How Things Happen

Carpenter_Systems_Comps_R6.inddLet’s go backward a bit: How exactly do you define a system?

A system is a linear sequence of steps that execute over time, leading to a result. In your kitchen, your toaster is a system. After a couple of minutes of operation, the toaster’s result is a slightly charred slice of bread. From the TV system, you’re delivered information and entertainment over various periods of time. The system of the hand at the end of your wrist gives you a multitude of results all having to do with the physical manipulation of external objects—each instance of which takes some amount of time to accomplish.

And your relationships and informal communication protocols are systems, too, creating, over time, results. You can’t touch these systems, though, because there is no physicality.

Here is an interesting nuance, and it’s a bit on the subjective side, but as the years have passed I’ve become more certain of it: Systems want to execute properly to produce their intended results. There is some intangible power that drives them forward. Even very basic systems have an internal spirit that moves them toward completion. The true proof of this is in nature. What makes the grass grow and the seasons change? There is something enthralling out there, propelling things forward. Call it God or the Universal Life Force or whatever you want, there is a power surrounding us that very much wants systems to execute to completion.

You talk of a simple perspective change that will make everything better. Is that really possible?

Your new stance will enable you to solve the vast majority of your problems because you will be delving into the actual system mechanics of your life. You’ll be traveling to the place where your life-result systems are operating so you can tweak those systems to produce the exact results you want.

Here it is: To get desired outcomes, you must direct the machinery that produces the outcomes. Again: Most people don’t see the systems of their lives so they don’t manage them, and unmanaged systems produce random results.

You don’t want random results! It’s a numbers game, and indiscriminate results will not often be congruent with your goals. You want the exact outcomes you desire.

This is foundational to the Systems Mindset, and I summarized it in the Introduction: In this moment, every condition of your life was preceded by a linear process that executed over time. Consider the following, what I call the Universal Formula for How Things Happen: 1 -> 2 ->3 -> 4 = Result. This squarely explains how reality unfolds on planet earth: Things happen in sequence over time. One leads to two, two leads to three, three leads to four, etc. Once a process has completely executed—it might have been four steps or it might have been four hundred—the result appears. This is cold, hard, unemotional physical reality.

This was in the introduction too: The systems of your life are executing all the time. You can’t turn them off. The conditions of your existence are the products of these relentlessly executing individual machines—machines that will remain invisible and unmanaged—or, through the Systems Mindset, machines that you will choose to see and then direct.

Think about your immediate surroundings right now. At this precise point in time as you contemplate these words, where are you? Are you at work or at home? Are you on vacation somewhere? Do you find yourself in a subway or on an airplane, or in bed preparing to go to sleep? Now, I ask, where were you physically before you arrived at this place that you occupy now? What were the steps you took to travel from that previous place to where you are in this very moment? Did you walk? Did you drive? Did you ride a bicycle or take public transportation? Did you step onto a train or into a plane? Did you walk from your living room into your bedroom? If you’re listening to these words in audio, did you step into your car before you started listening? Or, if you’re jogging and listening, where were you physically located ten minutes ago? Three minutes ago? One minute ago?

However you arrived at this place that you occupy now, know this for sure: There were steps that executed one after the other, over time, that delivered you here.

In this illustration, the getting-there process—the part that executed over time—is the 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 component of the Universal Formula. Where you are right now, exactly in this moment, is the Result.

Let’s go through some other scenarios. Assume you’re married. How did you get to the actual marriage? Were there years of courtship? Or months? Did you fall in love? (In many cultures, marriage is arranged.) How is the marriage right now? Your relationship as it is in this very moment, represented by the Results side of the equation, is the end product of the 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 part of the equation, the part that occurred over time.

How about your high school education that led up to your diploma? What was the process necessary to get the diploma? Did you go through four years of public or private high school? Or, over some duration of time, were you home-schooled?

What about your refrigerator? How did it come to be where it is? (Chances are you or someone else visited an appliance outlet or shopped online, considered various models, made the purchase, and arranged the delivery.)

Look at the details and conditions of your life in this moment (e.g., the shoes on your feet, your car, your friends, your family, your job, your body). Can you, considering them one at a time, visualize the systematic steps over time that delivered them to you—exactly as they are—in this here and now?

The Universal Formula fits everything. Here it is again: 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 = Result. There is no disputing that each result of your life came about because of a series of steps that executed over a period of time. This is how things happen!

So how does this affect me?

What if, one by one, you isolated the various critical systems of your life and then spent significant time improving the efficiency of each? And, at the same time, what if you isolated the systems in your life that are holding you back and then consciously removed them?

If you made these improvements, do you think your life would get better?

This is the absurdly simple blueprint: If you put consistent effort into system improvement, you’ll reach your goal of living the exact life you want.

There is nothing mysterious here, nothing esoteric. There’s no cluttered and abstract theory. It’s just simple, real-world mechanics.

And so it makes sense for you to immerse yourself in performing system improvements, to spend a lot of time doing it. And what is the additional bonus beyond living the exact life you want? Because the systems approach is about how the machinery of life really works, you will become enchanted with simple reality. Life will become stunning just as it is.

Here’s what I want to hammer home: Since it’s incontestable that every future result in your life will be preceded by a linear process that executes over time, you must spend focused, deliberate effort—in this moment—managing those processes.

Oh, and what of those systems you can’t adjust, because they are not in your control? Relax. If you can’t fix something, forget it. Metaphorically speaking, if you don’t like the TV program, change the channel or turn off the set.

And know that as you manage these machines of your life—as you adjust them so they become more efficient and more powerful, producing better and better results—your circle will expand. How much time should you spend managing the systems of your life? I’d say, a lot. The more time you spend in this system improvement place, the more you will get what you want in your life.

Again: Seen or not seen, managed or not managed, the visible and invisible processes of your world execute. They’re working hard all the time, churning away in this very moment as you read these words.

Know this for sure: Too many people spend their time in the Results part of the 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 = Result formula, frittering away time and energy trying to repair the random bad consequences of their unseen and therefore unmanaged systems.

So, yet again, here’s the vital question: If you can see that the machines of your life have been executing randomly, are you going to get in there and get them straightened out?

But doesn’t everything happen for a reason?

As it is usually applied, this is an annoying platitude not grounded in reality. It sounds good. It’s why we hear it all the time, but think about it. The inference is that God is watching over us and knows better than we do about what should happen next. If something goes wrong, well, that’s OK, because God made that happen and we should just conjure up a smile and go with the flow. I viscerally disagree. Yes, every “thing” does happen for a reason, but the reason for each of those things is the linear system that preceded and then produced it.

Is God involved? I’m certain of it. But God’s gift to us is not a preordained future or a series of divine blessings we’ve earned through prayer, good deeds, or deep faith. God’s gift is bigger than that. It’s that every one of us has been granted the power to choose and act, to adjust the mechanical elements of our lives to make things better. The question is, do we put that power to good use?

I thank God for giving me the ability to see one layer deeper, for the capacity to adjust the things of my world in order to make them what I want them to be.

My special blessing, and yours, is the Systems Mindset.

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