5 Steps to Get What You Want out of Life

I am acquainted with Ray Dalio's 5-step process for success for a few years now, and had been implementing it with some success. Initially, it seemed too simple, ill-matched for the "complexity" of my problems. But as I gained more experience in executing well, I have a deeper appreciation for the nuances in its application. As I have said before, everyone knows it, but is everyone doing it? Similarly, this process is simple, but had I really been applying it well? Not really.

There are many competent summaries of the 5 steps, including this one: https://le-james94.medium.com/the-5-step-process-to-get-what-you-want-out-of-life-572b6aab0224. In this post, I want to focus on my personal reflection of how I do along the 5 steps, and where I need to improve.

  1. Setting clear goals

I am middling in this skillset. While I am familiar with SMART goals, recently, I find myself falling back into setting goals which are not crisp and crystal clear at work. I also set work goals without reconciling with my personal desires, resulting in low motivation. In my personal life, I used to have vague aspirations, and have a hard time picking a goal for fear of missing out. Recently, with some coaching, I had improved in picking mid-term goals which are crisply defined.

2. Identify and don't tolerate problems

I am pretty good at perceiving and synthesizing problems, especially personal ones. I have no fear in exposing my own weaknesses, and dissecting them with other people. This is one of the benefits of meditation. The self is an illusion, a result of the interactions of multiple psychological and mental processes. Against the backdrop of a goal, these currents interact with each other to produce outcomes.

I am also unafraid of holding difficult conversations with people around me, once I am really clear about the problem. I had to do that multiple times as a manager. Where I sometimes tolerate problems is when I don't have a good plan for dealing with the 2nd-order consequences of solving the problems. For instance, letting someone go might trigger a bigger morale dip in the team.

3. Diagnose problems to get at their root causes

This is one of my strongest suits, especially for systems-level and people problems. I am fairly astute at grokking why people act the way they do, and also looking at a massive system at distilling the main forces at work. Where I can still improve on though is leveraging data more rigorously to identify counter-intuitive root cause analysis. Hadn't had to do this thus far for the level of problems I am solving now, but I might come against that ceiling soon.

4. Design a plan

By far my weakest link. And not just by my estimations. It is always painful to revisit my OKRs, because I have a dismal record. My team has also reflected this back up to me.

Part of it is a lack of real-world engineering and product leadership experience, so I couldn't accurately predict a realistic path to achieving my work OKRs. Part of it was due to a "move fast and break things" startup mentality, which I misinterpreted to mean minimal planning.

Another reason is that I used to be weak on execution, and so, was subconsciously unwilling to design a rigorous plans with milestones. I had the mindset of "I'd figure it out along the way with resourcefulness", but of course, that created incredible stress for my future self, and does not consistently work out.

5. Push through to completion

I had made tremendous progress on my executional muscles. I used to be weak on follow-up, because I will say "yes" to every request in an attempt to please and impress. I did not have a concept of bandwidth management for my future selves, and I almost never buffer for the inevitable setbacks.

When it came to engineering tasks, I also carried this baggage of being a self-taught developer, and would constantly second-guess my plans. And of course, I would commit to tasks beyond my skill level, due to my unwillingness to take stock of my actual skill level.

Finally, I did not have a proper task management system. I kept things in my head, and execute them as I remember them.

I am glad to say that these were all ghosts of my past. After 3-4 attempts, I have managed to get GTD to stick. There is significant overhead to setting it up, but I have finally paid my setup dues and am reaping the productivity benefits now. I am now inculcating habits that promote deep and valuable work - once again, concepts and tactics I have read and known about for years, but never sunk deep enough to get me past the activation energy barrier until now.

Next steps

I have learnt from my coaching about the importance of setting specific, measurable, time-bound and accountable actions toward my goals. A quality I was missing before is patience for results. Now that I am more accepting of the irreducible path toward big goals, I am more at peace with a consistent, 20-mile march.

I want to home in on my planning skill, or step 4. More specifically, I am now setting dedicated time to planning execution, especially playing out the movie script of who does what at what time. I'll start with my Q4 OKRs, and gradually expand that to my personal goals.

Subscribe to Seah Ying Cong (YC)

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.