Turning goals into growth loops: the PARI system of mindful productivity

I had a coaching session today with a client where we discussed his daily routine and the way he was managing his goals. At some point, he said: “Maybe I’m just not disciplined enough.”

Many people think this way when they’re disappointed by their own performance. But did you know that 92% of people never achieve their New Year’s goals? Surely, “discipline” is not a skill only 8% of the population have mastered.

What people are lacking instead is a productivity system that works for them. A system that’s mindful of the way we think, feel, and work. The problem with most productivity systems is the absence of mindfulness. It’s all about getting things done, versus asking yourself why and how best to get things done. This is why I created mindframing and the PARI system for myself.

Instead of blindly cranking tasks, mindframing is about creating growth loops with constant feedback so you can be mindful of the way you achieve your goals. There’s no point getting something done if you damage your mental health in the process. There’s also no point getting something done if this was not the right thing to spend your energy on in the first place.

Mindframing is about continuous learning, personal growth, and mindful productivity. It’s about being the best you can while acknowledging the inherent flaws of your humanity.

Developing the right mind frames

The focus of this article will be on the PARI system, which is a practical approach to apply mindframing from the way you work to the way you learn. But before we dive in, let’s take a step back and look at what mindframing is.

At the heart of mindframing are three mind frames that need to be mastered in order to achieve your goals without sacrificing your mental health. Combined together, they can allow anyone to grow as a person in a sustainable and mindful way.

Mindframing - mind frames for the PARI system
  • Growth mindset. A growth mindset is the deep belief that growing happens through small, incremental steps, rather than big overnight victories, and that anyone can achieve anything with enough work and dedication.
  • Metacognition. A fancy way to say “thinking about thinking.” Metacognition is a conscious effort to stay aware of how you work, understand information, and the active process of picking the most effective strategies to achieve your goals.
  • Self-authorship. The ability to define and express your own personal authority. Instead of relying on external formulas to define your beliefs and values, self-authorship means you’re able to rely on your own internal voice to make decisions on a daily basis.

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Carol Dweck, Researcher at Stanford University.

While these mind frames will help you better apply the PARI system of mindful productivity, the good news is that the PARI system will also help you develop these mind frames. It’s all about designing growth loops so you not only achieve your goals, but grow as a person in the process.

Turning goals into growth loops with the PARI system

As James Clear put it: “Systems are for people who care about winning repeatedly. Goals are for people who care about winning once.” But a system without goals is like running a marathon without a finish line.

In reality, goals and systems work together. And in order for a productivity system to work, goals need to be simple and repeatable. This way, they will create a constant feedback loop which will foster the right mind frames. The right productivity system produces an unstoppable virtuous circle.

Creating this virtuous circle is what I had in mind when creating the PARI system for myself, which is the result of years of trial and error. I have tried Get Things Done (hard to get started and complex implementation), Don’t Break the Chain (focused on doing tasks without learning loops), the Pomodoro Technique (not flexible and can break your flow). The PARI system is focused on long-term goals, achieved through repeatable activities.

Mindframing - the PARI system of mindful productivity
  1. Pact. This is where it all starts. You make a commitment to dedicate a certain amount of time or a certain number of repetitions towards your goal. It is not about the outcome, but about the output. #100daysofcode is a great example of a simple pact you can make in order to learn how to code. “I will learn how to code” is not a good pact. “I will code every day for a hundred days” is a great one. “I will write a book” is bad, “I will write 500 words a day” is good. “I will run a marathon” is bad, “I will run three times a week” is good. You get the gist: simple and repeatable activities that will bring you closer to achieving your goal and will progressively help you develop your growth mindset. Ideally, you should announce your pact, either to friends, colleagues, or online. This will help you feel more accountable.
  2. Act. Time to actually do what you committed to do. One of the best ways to achieve this is to block time in your calendar. For example, I made a pact to write one new article every week day on this blog (please note I realise it would be a pretty ambitious pact for people who are just getting started with blogging, and your pact needs to feel reasonable). So I blocked an hour every day, first thing in the morning, to sit down and write. Blocking time in your calendar will both help you act on your decision to achieve your goal, and also build a habit so it becomes progressively easier to stick to it.
  3. React. Remember metacognition and self-authorship? Instead of just blindly repeating the same activity every day, it’s important to make time for self-reflection in order to consolidate what you learn and to adapt in case your approach is not working. There are several ways to go about it. You could tweet about your progress and the challenges you face, write blog posts, share your experience with your team on your Slack channel, record short YouTube videos. The medium doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you produce content that will serve both as a repository for your thought process and a way to reflect on your experience. Did you feel productive? Was anything in particular hard to learn? How’s your mood? What did you wish you knew before getting started? Of course it can be daunting to publicly share your thoughts, progress and challenges with the world, but this will ensure you’re not only being productive, but also mindful of your productivity.
  4. Impact. Once you feel closer to your goal, it’s time to work on something bigger that gets you out of your comfort zone. While this should not be your focus in the first phases, the “impact” phase can be your North Star while you’re focused on the “act” and “pact” phases. Have you been running three times a week? Time to sign up for a 10K. Have you been coding every day? Try to build your first application. This step will push you to do something you don’t quite yet feel comfortable to do. And that is exactly the point. If you have dedicated enough time to the first phases, you do have the means to achieve something bigger, and the repeated practice and self-reflection should give you the confidence to aim for a more challenging project.

The beauty of the PARI system is its flexibility. If during the “react” phase you realise that something’s not working, you can go back to the previous phases to figure out what can be improved. Sometimes it’s the way you implement your pact that’s not working, and you just need to try different strategies in the “act” phase—for example, time management or beating procrastination. Sometimes you need to go a bit further back, because the pact you made is not as simple and repeatable as you thought.

This mindful productivity process will not only result in achieving your goals, but also in knowing yourself better as a learner and a doer. You will soon have a collection of productivity strategies that work for you and that you can apply to achieve any goal you want. By sharing your experience with others, you will also connect with like-minded people on a similar journey. You will learn from them and they will learn from you. And that in itself is a powerful personal growth tool.

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