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Work until it becomes reflexive recall

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.  

Work until it becomes reflexive recall

Scott Miker

Last night, while watching the NFL Monday night pre game show, I heard Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young say that the Jets’ quarterback needs to “work until it becomes reflexive recall.”  He emphasized that performance on the field was directly related to the ability to strengthen proper habits during practice.  This way, when it comes time to react in a game, habit will take over and the Jets’ quarterback can rely on the habits he created and solidified through practice in order to make the right play.

I love this concept.  To hear that a Hall of Fame quarterback puts so much focus on building the right habits shows the difference between talent and deliberate behavior modification.  Coaches preaching fundamentals know that the fundamentals become habits and habits translate to success on the field.  Yet when they perform at a high level on the field we attribute this to talent, not necessarily habit, even though the habits were a large factor.  

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes reflexive as being “characterized by habitual and unthinking behavior.”  While we may react in a way that suggests limited control, the control comes prior to the behavior.  We gain control of reflexive behavior by spending time and effort building the right responses.  These become the habits that drive our every action.

The other day I was watching The Big Bang Theory where one of the main characters, Penny, had some financial hardships.  She ended up borrowing money to pay her rent because there were unexpected expenses that arose. She attributed her lack of funds to her current situation, yet her financial habits were displayed later in the episode when she purchased things that were unnecessary, showing that she is willing to use her limited funds on material possessions.  

I have seen the same situation throughout my career.  Many employees see a promotion of a coworker as a one-time situation and completely ignore the daily behaviors and work ethic of the promoted worker.

Or we see someone develop health issues and ignore the nutrition and exercise habits that they may or may not have focused on for years.  Yet everything seemed fine until this incident.  

It is human nature to miss the important aspects of habits and systems.  The underlying systems and habits usually go unnoticed but the rewards and achievements are clearly visible.   

What I have learned is that common perception is usually wrong.  We attribute a system reaching a critical point of success or failure and point to talent, a one-time situation, or an unfortunate circumstance.  Yet the reality is that things have likely been progressing in one direction due to habits and systems.  

One of the areas that I find fascinating is in how we react in social situations.  Some people seem to be able to talk to anyone and others have a hard time striking up a conversation with a stranger.  Some people naturally put others at ease and some people seem to say or do the wrong thing and illicit a negative reaction from others.  

If we look at behavior in a social situation through this reflexive recall perspective, we can see that all of these things are simply our tendency to rely on specific behaviors.  It isn’t that someone is good or bad or that someone was born a better networker.  It is that over time they have developed and refined their behaviors in these environments.  

It can be overwhelming to think about our lives in this way.  Instead of thinking that we are who we are and others should just accept us for who we are, we can start to evaluate how we can improve and grow.  We can look at the small behaviors and take the Kaizen approach of constant improvement.  Start small and solidify the habit, then build on that.  Eventually you will get a breakthrough.  But don’t be surprised when that breakthrough is attributed to luck or circumstance or some other factor.  Only you will know just how much hard work and improvement went into the change.