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Change is about more than effort

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.  

Change is about more than effort

Scott Miker

Change is all around us.  Even though we all understand that change is necessary most of us still resist change with everything we have.  We cling to our old way of doing things, or looking at things, or we cling to a job that isn’t helping us advance in any way.  

Embracing change isn’t easy or natural.  It takes a lot of work in order to truly change yourself.  On a popular TV show, Modern Family, a character says that change is possible but people can really only change plus or minus 15 percent.  I found this very interesting but I’m not sure that it is true.  

There is no shortage of quotes, advice, books, articles etc. that try to explain why change is good and how we can effectively deal with change.  The problem that I have with much of that information is that it only addresses the mental aspects of change and not the behavioral aspects.

Understanding change and agreeing with a need for change are still not truly embracing change.  The reason is that our systems and habits are incredibly powerful.  They are not found in our conscious thought, however, they are found in our subconscious.  Because of the automatic nature of our systems and habits, we can think about change and know we have to change but still hunker down and resist when it comes time to actually change our behavior.

A better approach to change is to look at the underlying systems at play and try to understand how they will need to change.  If your boss tells you that you need to be on time more often for meetings, it isn’t enough to simply think about showing up on time.  Because this is an actual behavior, and one that is rooted in habit, you will need to look at the systems and make changes.

It may be to change your watch time to be a few minutes fast, or to set up reminders on your calendar or to set 15 minutes before every meeting for preparing.  In either case it isn’t enough to think about changing, you have to change your habitual behavior.  

The same principles apply here as with all systems and habits.  Starting slowly, making it simple, making sure there are aspects that are sticky, and focusing on changing your habits will ultimately lead to a behavioral change.  

Getting past the ability to change “plus or minus 15 percent” takes a focused effort on changing your systems and habits.  Thoughts aren’t enough.  Effort isn’t enough.  Relying on thoughts, effort, short-term changes, etc won’t get to the underlying system.  This means that after a short time period you will go right back to the powerful systems and habits that have been established.  They will outlast effort and are too ingrained in our behaviors to be influenced solely by thought.

The next time you realize that change is necessary, try to look for the underlying systems and habits that are determining your behaviors.  This will provide insight into where change is needed and help you avoid the common traps of relying on thoughts or effort to enact great change in your life.