Personal Development Demystified: Apps vs OS

Your smartphone is a surprisingly accurate metaphor for your personal development.

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You can do personal development either by installing apps or upgrading the operating system.

Let’s say your smartphone doesn’t have many apps, well you won’t be able to do much other than make calls and look at the clock right?
Let’s say your smartphone has all the apps you desire but it’s running an operating system from 5 years ago, its apps are constantly crashing, it does everything very slowly, you can’t multi-task or easily switch between functions — you will frustratingly be able to see all these apps but not be able to fully utilize them.

How does this correspond to personal development?

Installing Apps

Is like…

  • Learning a second language
  • Acquiring career skill sets
  • Reading books
  • Studying philosophy
  • Writing daily
  • Getting coaching
  • Getting into entrepreneurship, pickup or social dynamics

Similar to your smartphone the more apps you have the more you can do.

Upgrading the Operating System (OS)

  • A meditation practice.
  • Optimizing your diet.
  • Brain training with Dual N-backwhich fits very precisely with our metaphor because it is literally like upgrading the RAM of your mind.
  • Practicing memory systems.
  • Heart rate variability training.
  • Doing aerobic exercise 90 minutes a week to stimulate neuroplasticity.
  • Getting outside of your comfort zone.
  • Habituating your heuristic reactions.
  • Practicing arbitrary discipline.
  • Sleep hacking.
  • Taking Nootropics that feed your brain the nutrients it needs.
  • Going to therapy to figure out your own blind spots and where you are sabotaging yourself.
  • Quieting your addictions or managing your vices.

While there is obviously some overlap with between some of these apps and improving the overall operating system, we’ve all met people who were really into personal development but they were overly biased towards just installing Apps, while they were always studying things or starting new projects they just didn’t have the discipline to accomplish much. They occasionally go through a spout of depression and then announce to the world (probably on Facebook) that they are starting yet another project.

We’ve also known people that only worked on the OS, they were very positive people to be around but they just didn’t have any real skills sets. They are always “networking” but they just don’t really have any value to offer because they don’t have any real skills sets. For some reason I’m thinking about people who are into MLM, networking marketing and life coaches, let’s not be like them.

So you are, I’m sure, expecting a little more nuanced point than simply saying stating the obvious given the metaphor: work on both side in a balanced way. I would suggest that you really immerse yourself either in Apps or the OS depending upon where you are at in life and how your personal motivational mechanisms work…

You probably have an idea of where your deficit lies…

If you are a younger person that is at the beginning of your career or lacking in formal or vocational education, you are probably a little short in the apps department. If you are financially struggling you want to focus on Apps. There’s this myth in self-help that if you just focus on OS and becoming really zen and enlightened money will come to you easily. This, as you’ve probably suspected before, is bullshit.

Whereas, if you are an older person, who’s been working a while on your career, yet you feel like you are just spinning your wheels and not really getting ahead despite having a lot of good skills and working hard, then it’s probably your OS that needs some work.

What’s interesting is that the Apps side of personal development, with a few exceptions, is mostly free to work on.

  • Nowadays you can learn a lot of good career skillsets, almost for free on the Internet (I taught myself in 3 years the career skill set that now makes me $89/hourly just watching Youtube videos…)
  • You can learn languages basically for free using free software and going to free language exchange events in your city.
  • Practicing entrepreneurship and social dynamics, at least in the beginning, costs only your time.
  • Getting coaching can be expensive, but some surprisingly effective coaching tools are cheap or completely free, like
  • Books are almost free.

Contrast this to the OS side…

  • Eating healthy, while there are some lifehacks (like coconuts!) is usually more expensive.
  • Good pharmaceutical-grade Nootropics are certainly expensive.
  • Regular exercise can be free, but it’s more likely that you will need to join a gym, take some classes and maybe even get some personal training.
  • Going to therapy is expensive.
  • The HRV training options start at $100 and go up from there.
  • You could probably find totally free ways to get out of your comfort zone regularly, or it could cost thousands of dollars if you (like me) travel internationally and live as a foreigner in foreign lands to get out of your geographic comfort zone.
  • Quitting or managing your vices could be free if you have enough will power to go cold turkey, but chances are you are going to get what you pay for in this department.
  • Meditation and brain training are almost free, and they really are some of the best ways to upgrade the OS, if you aren’t doing them daily, start now. Seriously.
  • If you are looking for a canary in the coal mine, type sign of what you should be focusing on, consider your comfort level. If you are very comfortable in life, it’s a pretty good sign that you should focus on the OS, whereas if you aren’t very comfortable, that’s probably reflective of your financial situation and you want to install some more apps so that you can become more effective at making money.

The good news is that the Apps are going to improve your financial situation, sometimes quite quickly. I hear stories all the time about people that learn some useful social dynamics skills and a few weeks later they double the amount of money they have been making. See my video $4100 in 50 minutes for a pretty simple communication protocol that has significantly increased my income.

For me, during my 20’s I was very focused on Apps; learning to be a good salesperson, learning the web development craft, but I hit a speed bump in my personal and professional life about 3–4 years ago. Then I got more focused on the operating system…

  • I really cleaned up my diet.
  • I started taking quality Nootropics regularly.
  • I got into brain training.
  • Then I started my nearly 4-year adventure of living in Latin America.

….as a result, I’m really happy about the career and lifestyle momentum I’m experiencing now. I wish I had gotten into the OS stuff earlier, as opposed to just being a work hard, play hard kind of guy, it would have minimized the speed bump I hit back when I was like 27. If I didn’t have the career momentum from the apps I had installed in my mid 20’s this speed bump would have been a real quarter-life crisis.
What’s sad is that a lot of people, a lot of men, when they hit the point of diminishing returns from working hard and playing hard, just get bitter and despondent — have a real mid or quarter-life crisis.

I hope this simple metaphor clarifies the often misunderstood topic of personal development for you.

In the comments below…

Let me know if you are working more on Apps or the OS right now and what are you doing?

Written by

Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸

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