The process of building systems and habits to take you towards your goals will start to show you the magnitude of the habits in our lives. Our habits form as we repeat behaviors, actions, and thoughts. This means that positive or negative, habits will form when you make the same choices and decisions over and over again.
This is great when you are trying to create positive change in your life, but it also means that a one-time mistake could easily turn into a bad habit if unchecked. All of the work that you put into building your exercise routine could easily become undone if you decide to take a day off and then make that same decision a few more times. Before you know it, you have completely stopped working out.
There are three principles that you can apply when you first notice a mistake that starts to repeat. They are:
The first principle is to remain flexible. Too often we attribute flexibly to weakness and rigidity to strength. But over time the rigid will break while the flexible can adjust. It is much more stressful to fight every situation with a refusal to change. It is better to be flexible and know that tomorrow may uncover a new situation that may require a shift in order to maintain success. Use this by telling yourself that if something changed and you made a mistake, quickly identify how you can get back on track.
The second principle is to be lenient with yourself. Guilting yourself into things won’t work in the long term. You have to accept that people make mistakes and you will get off track. This isn’t an issue if you start again tomorrow. The only way that it becomes a problem is if you continue to go in the wrong direction. Therefore be lenient with yourself and nudge yourself back to where you want to be.
The last principle is to create systems and habits that are incredibly sticky. Sticky habits are ones that are very difficult to avoid doing. When I wanted to start eating oatmeal in the morning for breakfast I found that I often felt rushed and would skip breakfast or stop somewhere on the way to work. I started to get all of the ingredients set up the night before and noticed that it made it difficult to avoid eating the oatmeal. I had a choice every morning to eat and then clean up or to put everything away without eating. This made the choice an easy one because I already got everything out and I would have to put everything away anyways. The only difference was in actually eating the oatmeal.
What you will learn as you continue to work on the systems in your life is that you will start to see things as systems. Systems are all around us and give us a different perspective. They show us more than cause and effect and more than goal and outcome. Systems give us the various factors and ramifications of actions and provide the important how part of our goal. Systems thinking provides a high level observation with the specifics necessary to truly improve.