Achieving a goal means that you do the things necessary to improve. As you form new habits and develop effective systems, you will start to see patterns emerge.
I remember when I first started to implement systematic changes to my life. I started with several areas where I was struggling and started very small and basic. I would start to exercise every day for 10 minutes. I would choose fish over a burger at a restaurant.
At first it didn’t seem like anything that I changed did anything. Despite criticism from those around me that I wasn’t doing enough, I stayed the course. I kept focus on these subtle changes and maintaining them instead of increasing them.
It took a while but I started to see a little improvement. I started to feel better and these changes suddenly seemed very easy. When I first started it was difficult to even do these small things but over time they became easier and easier.
I didn’t know it at the time but they were becoming automatic. They started to become a solid part of my routine instead of a one-time attempt to get healthy.
Over time I would slowly add to these habits. In some cases it took me years to add to a routine and other times I would seem to add several new layers over the course of a couple of weeks.
I continued to work at it and lost around 35 pounds over the course of several years. This may not seem too impressive, but prior to instituting these habits I was consistently gaining 4-5 pounds a year. I have been working on improving this process and after about 10 years I am still adjusting and adding to these habits. Some have been around for 10 years and others started 10 days ago.
The thing that I noticed about the improvement mindset is that it should be gradual. We get excited and want results immediately but it is more beneficial over the long term to focus on these small habitual changes to our routine. Then we can shift our focus to additional areas that we can explore.
I am reading a book right now called Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss by Georgie Fear. The book does an incredible job of outlining steps for changing our eating habits and providing the science behind the suggestions.
Early in the book the author states, “We’ll be taking change one habit at a time. Unlike attempting to completely overhaul your lifestyle, focusing on one detail at a time dramatically increases your chances of success. It enables you to concentrate your efforts on truly mastering a skill, repeating it enough that it becomes easy, intuitive and nearly effortless. This minimizes the physical and mental discomfort of losing weight. Incremental change and flexible behavior goals are far less stress-inducing.”
Reading this paragraph I was surprised at just how much overlap there is between Georgie’s techniques and the principles of systems and habits. In a previous article I discuss process goals versus outcome goals, which she refers to as incremental change and flexible behavior goals. Her focus on one detail at a time is a core part of systems and habit improvement. She even touches on the fact that we work at it until it becomes easy, intuitive and nearly effortless.
When I first started improving through systems and habit work I knew of a few authors who shared these ideas. But over time, the more I read and focus on improvement I realize that these principles are everywhere. Dave Ramsey uses them to improve our personal finances. Georgie Fear uses them to address weight loss. James Clear uses them to discuss bodybuilding. Dr. W. Edward Deming uses them to improve businesses. Michael Gerber uses them to discuss small business and franchises. Vince Lombardi used them to build championship football teams.
The reality is that these principles are everywhere. They are much more common than I ever imagined and the more I look for examples the more they jump out at me. This is encouraging and shows that there really are no shortcuts. Reaching a goal takes time and effort and the best way to use your time and focus your effort is on improving the systems and habits around that goal.