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Don’t get stopped

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.  

Don’t get stopped

Scott Miker

Have you made a great stride towards a goal and reached it but then quickly lost the benefit of reaching that goal?  There are many times that I have set a hard Outcome Goal and reached it.  But too often it wouldn’t take me long to fall back to my old systems and habits.  Once the drive was gone, because I already reached my goal, I just couldn’t get enough motivation to keep going.

A few years ago a close friend of mine decided to eat healthy and exercise.  He worked his tail off and ended up losing a considerable amount of weight.  But once he reached his goal, he stopped eating healthy and exercising.  

We tend to set goals that we think we should reach.  We create a budget for our finances, we go back to school for a degree, or we know we should lower our cholesterol so we set a goal.  But too often we don’t realize that temporarily changing our routines in order to reach a goal is meaningless if we can’t sustain that progress.  

In The Navy SEAL Art of War, former Navy SEAL Team 6 member Rob Roy says “When you set hard numbers, you draw a line in the sand.  You impose a self-limiting barrier between yourself and your untapped potential.  If a man says he can do twenty-five push-ups, he’ll likely stop when he gets to twenty-five, or close to it, basking in the accomplishment.  Even if he goes over that number, he’ll soon stop, because he knows he’s already reached his goal or stated expectations.  In his mind, he’s done what he set out to do.”

There is a reason why system thinkers say to set the minimum to reach consistently rather set a one-time goal.  The reason is that each day you will be unmotivated but think to yourself, at least I only have to reach this minimum today.  By trying to outdo yourself each day you will soon find that the motivation to outdo yesterday is too great.  Instead strive to only reach the minimum.  But after the minimum is reached, you can always do more if you can.  

What this does is it changes your mindset.  It sets the expectation that this will become a new habit.  It will be there day in and day out.  Suddenly the milestones you reach aren’t the stopping points, they become achievements along the way.  

Rob Roy continues and says “At the same time, SEALs know that self-awareness is a gift from God.  Some limitations are obvious and understandable.  But we never put limits on ourselves; we know the enemy will do that for us.”  He goes on to emphasize “we never bet against ourselves.”

The way to reach this level of confidence comes from accomplishing big goals and sustaining them.  The way to accomplish big goals and sustain them is to systematically evaluate and improve the systems and habits in your life.  When you finally start to make great progress over the long-term, you will start to realize that you have it in you to succeed.  

This mindset also works in the reverse.  If you are trying to remove a bad habit or change a negative routine, don’t set a hard goal.  Instead of saying that you will quit smoking forever, simply say that “today will not be the day that I go back to smoking.”  This shifts from 99% sure you can do to 100% sure.  It makes a difficult goal a little easier.  Being 100% committed is much easier than being 99% committed because you won’t even entertain the notion of failure.  

Over time the small accomplishments or avoidance of bad habits will grow and build momentum.  The momentum is what will carry you past the point where most people quit.  The momentum is part inertia, part habit, and part confidence.  This is the level that starts to feel that reaching goals is automatic and natural, where you can stop struggling to set and reach goals and simply continue to make small improvements in your systems and habits.