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Start your improvement journey by just showing up

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Start your improvement journey by just showing up

Scott Miker

I meet a lot of people that claim they want to improve in some way.  It might be to get a degree, a promotion at work, or drop 10 lbs.  But while the desire for improvement is there, most of the time there is such disconnect in how to reach that goal that failure becomes inevitable.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can make strides in the right direction and move towards our goals.  But we have to change our thinking.

In my opinion, the very first, absolutely crucial aspect is to show up.  Showing up is the one thing that can completely break your chances of success or can dramatically increase the odds of hitting your goal.

Even though this may seem obvious, I constantly meet people that claim they want something and are willing to do anything to get it, but when it comes down to doing the work they are nowhere to be found.  I’ve heard “nobody has ever wanted this more than me” too times in my life to believe that claim when I hear it. 

When I taught at a community college I would tell the students the importance of showing up.  We taught advanced audio engineering and the information we presented each day was intense.  Without being there, trying to catch up was incredibly difficult.  Not showing up meant they would have a much more difficult time learning what would have been easier had they just been there on the day the information was presented.

I also took attendance to emphasize the importance of showing up.  What I found was that attendance was almost directly related to the grade they received at the end of the semester.  Students who showed up every day or almost every day would usually end up in the A, B or C range and students who had trouble making it to class (even if many were excused absences) would end up in the C, D or F range.

I also noticed this when I ran a fitness center.  Those who tended to stick with their workout goals were generally the ones that showed up.  While this might seem obvious, what I realized was that this was more important than the workouts they were doing or how much time they spent on cardio.  Continuing to show up led to better workouts and was the catalyst for them reaching their fitness goals.

So if showing up is so important, how can we focus on that in our improvement journey instead of getting caught up in all of the other details?

First, understand that showing up is so important that you should do whatever you can to make that easy.  Do this by forming a habit of showing up.  One technique to build this habit in an easy and effective way is setting the minimum

Setting the minimum means that you set low expectations once you show up.  You essentially put everything into showing up.  You set a minimum expectation initially, and can increase that over time.

If you want to start going to the gym don’t start with a 4-hour workout.  Start small and set the goal to go to the gym every day.  But to make it easier to keep going, set the goal at 10 minutes at the gym.  This means that all you have to do is 10 minutes each day to meet this requirement. 

The small amount means it will be easier to stick with it long enough for it to become habit.  And each day, after the 10 minutes you can continue to workout if you choose to.  But the next day the goal drops back to only 10 minutes.  This makes it easier to stick to your goal each day.

The other thing is to stop thinking about forever.  Don’t tell yourself you have to go to every single class.  Start by telling yourself that all you have to do is go to this class right now.  Then the next days just focus on that day.  Stop trying to solve every problem and every time all at once.  This helps break it down and tackle it day by day.

I used this approach to quit smoking years ago.  I told myself that I would probably go back to smoking but this one urge won’t be the one that knocks me back into that habit.  Then I would tackle each urge to smoke independently and over time it built up the feeling that “hey I’ve done this before I can get through this time too.”  The confidence it gave and the ability to focus my efforts on now instead of “forever” were the reasons I was able to quit. 

There are numerous advantages to just showing up.  Without showing up the rest becomes pointless.  But if you can get past that difficult first step then you can start to build the right habits and routines.  Then you can add more and more and make strides towards your goal without having to fight against your negative habits that pull you away from your goal.