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Consistency defines us; occurrence is ignored

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.  

Consistency defines us; occurrence is ignored

Scott Miker

There are numerous benefits to taking the slow and methodical, systems and habits approach to your goals.  One benefit that can be overlooked but is very valuable is that people tend to focus on what you consistently do rather than a single occurrence

This is valuable because when you take on the systems and habits mindset you start to slowly make progress in the right direction.  You start to show consistently.  This consistency builds trust.  The more trust you build the more a small mistake will be quickly forgotten and forgiven. 

Years ago I attended a seminar and the speaker talked about our “emotional bank account.”  The idea was that we all have this imaginary bank account where we keep tabs on our relationships.  If a friend does a small favor for us it adds a little bit to the bank account.  If a friend asks for a favor or needs help with something a little bit gets taken from your bank account to hers.  If we do big favor for a friend more gets added to the account. 

This concept adds an element to our relationships that we can then use to describe other aspects of our lives.  This idea of an emotional bank account made it clear why a friend can ask us to borrow money and we can have different responses depending on the friend.  A friend who has done a lot for us and built up their emotional bank account with us, can then easily withdrawal a little.  But we will be skeptical if someone who hasn’t built up his or her account wants a favor from us.  We also become skeptical when someone who always makes withdrawals without deposits, wants to withdrawal more.

The interesting thing is that we all start at different places.  Some people give someone trust whom they just met until that trust is broken.  Others refuse to give anyone trust until they earn it.  Either way the emotional bank account idea is helpful to get a better understanding of these relationships and why we are more willing to help some friends over others. 

The systems and habits approach demonstrates a slow movement in the right direction.  Over time you start to be recognized as a person that can be trusted a specific way.  That trust is a direct reflection of the consistency that is established when relying on system and habit changes and is the equivalent to making a lot of small deposits to the emotional bank account. 

This is why you can start to “get a pass” if you make a mistake.  If you are making progress and showing that people can trust you, a mistake isn’t further validating their assumptions.  It is normally looked at as a single occurrence that doesn’t fit with who you are.  People will be much quicker to forgive and forget as long as it isn’t an extreme mistake.

But if you are consistently making mistakes and not making progress towards improvement then people will use an occurrence as a sign of something bigger. 

Let’s explore a few examples to clear things up.  Let’s say that we take two employees, Mary and Sue.  Mary has a difficult time making it to work on time.  Sue is always prompt.  One day Mary runs into some additional traffic and is even later than normal.  Most likely her boss will be upset and use this to lecture Mary about the importance of making it to work on time.

If Sue runs into traffic one day and is a little later, her boss will likely respond different.  He or she may say something about getting there on time but won’t feel this is representative of Sue’s ability to show up on time. 

This is also true with projects at work, being willing to help friends out, building trust in a marriage and many other things.  The more we show consistently that we are doing the right things the more willing people will be to forgive and forget little mistakes that fall outside of the norm.  But if we are consistently making mistakes people won’t be as quick to forgive and forget. 

Next time you miss a deadline at work or forget to do something for a friend, take note of their reaction.  Did they seem to get over it quickly or did they seem to make a big deal about it?  If it wasn’t a huge mistake this may be telling you something about your systems and habits.  And if you start to see a trend, then make sure to address the problem consistently over time, not just this one time.