If you are using systems and habits to set process goals to ultimately become the person you wish to become, you will certainly find that the journey isn’t always smooth. Anytime we go after goals there are obstacles and no amount of contingency planning can account for everything. But how can we better prepare and better face the challenges on the road to improvement?
One of the most common obstacles that I come across in system development and habit improvement is called the slip. The slip happens when I am making some progress but then make a small decision that takes me away from my goal.
Here are a few examples of slips:
- If you set a budget and are working towards your goals but then decide one day to stop for expensive coffee
- If you have an eating plan but decide to get cake with your meal
- If you are playing the guitar but decide to take a vacation and leave the guitar at home
- If you are writing a book but oversleep one day and can’t write the page minimum that you set
The good new is that slips are some of the easiest obstacles to overcome. They tend to be small and are not a huge issue unless they occur for several days in a row. The best way to overcome slips is by being lenient. Just as an athlete who makes a bad play has to have a short memory, you have to quickly get over it and get back to your routine.
The next obstacle that can get in the way is a stumble. Stumbles are much bigger but still represent a one-time event rather than a systematic problem. Instead of buying an expensive coffee you decide to buy a boat. Instead of having cake with your meal you decide to take on the hot dog eating champion. Instead of going on vacation and not practicing guitar you break the neck of the guitar and don’t get it fixed. If you are writing a book you decide that everything you wrote is terrible and delete it all.
Stumbles are bigger problems but they still require a lenient mindset. Don’t nag yourself to death over it. But instead of just being lenient and then getting back to your routine, you should ask the question, “what system can I put in place so this is much less likely to happen again?”
By addressing the reason it happened you can then craft a new system to be assured it won’t happen again. Can you put in place a limit on your credit card to avoid a large, unnecessary purchase? Can you have a spare guitar to make sure you can practice even if something breaks on your primary guitar?
By remaining lenient and making systems adjustments, you can be better prepared going forward and more likely to avoid such stumbles in the future.
The last obstacle comes when you suddenly have unanticipated stress. This may because of a sudden job change, relationship loss, car accident, etc. It can take many forms and can be brutal at times.
While this may pull you away from your systems goals and represents the biggest obstacle for most people, it can be overcome. This may require a step away from the systems and habit work to address the new, unanticipated stress.
But it also might help to continue with your systems work, even if you reduce the minimums. This gives you a sense of continuity and consistency that can help navigate the new stress. Plus it can help you keep your mind free to focus on the new stress inducer directly because the other aspects are taken care of.
The benefit to systems and habit work is that after you solidify the habits and they become automatic, they can help during times of stress and hardship. They can become the stable rock that you rely on to make sure you continue to make progress despite setbacks.
The key to overcoming slips, stumbles and unanticipated stress is to remain lenient. Don’t guilt yourself to death and instead look for ways to be flexible and improve the systems in your life. By doing this you will start to realize the great power of an improvement mindset.