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Repetition is the key to getting something to stick

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.  

Repetition is the key to getting something to stick

Scott Miker

Striving to achieve a goal relies on addressing the underlying aspects of our lives.  We have to be aware of, and improve, the systems and habits that drive our behaviors, our thoughts and our decisions. 

When evaluating systems and habits, I use three criteria.  First I want to see if a system is simple.  This doesn’t mean there isn’t any complexity but it does mean that it is not unnecessarily overcomplicated.  Are the aspects of the system as simple as possible? Without simplicity, it is extremely difficult for a system to be effective.

The next criterion is stickiness.  How likely is it to remain?  Addiction is an example of a very powerful system because it is so hard to break away from.  It is very sticky and once it has its grip on us it is very difficult to break free. 

The third criterion is self-regulating.  Is the system able to sustain itself or is there a natural end point?  If the system has an end point it means it has to restart in order to keep going.  This drops all momentum and makes it difficult for it to keep going. 

Of the three variables, the one that is the most powerful is stickiness.  If we can take a new positive habit and make it very sticky, we can transform areas of our life.  But this is also the hardest thing to do.  How can we take something we dislike but know we should do, and make it sticky enough to stay with it?

The answer is repetition.  In John Kotter’s book, Leading Change, he talks about the importance of repetition in achieving change in an organization. 

He says, “The most carefully crafted messages rarely sink deeply into the recipient’s consciousness after only one pronouncement.  Our minds are too cluttered, and any communication has to fight hundreds of other ideas for attention.  In addition, a single airing won’t address all the questions we have.  As a result, effective information transferal almost always relies on repetition.” 

But this isn’t just true when changing the systems, processes and culture in an organization.  The idea of repetition spreads beyond communicating change in a company.

Repetition is what drives improvement.  By making sure we address our behavior changes over and over again, we can start to form new habits.  These new habits will promote change.  As long as we are actively working on forming positive habits, the repetition helps drive the stickiness of the new action. 

Without enough repetition we fall short of creating lasting change.  We have to understand the importance of repetition in the forming of new habits.  We have to strive to maintain consistent action, rather than solely looking at a one-time decision. 

There are a few ways to make it easier to utilize the repetition principle to form a new positive habit.  First start small.  Find small steps that you can take rather than trying to incorporate large changes immediately. 

Remain flexible.  Things always change and motivation comes and goes so make sure you aren’t too rigid in your thinking.  If you are, as soon as something unexpected comes up, you will find it difficult to keep going. 

Lastly, remain lenient.  Don’t expect a guilt trip to be the reason you keep going.  Guilt might motivate you once or twice but over time you will just find ways to reduce the guilt.  This doesn’t necessarily mean doing the right thing and doing the hard work.  It often means finding an excuse as to why you shouldn’t feel guilty.  Instead simply acknowledge the mistake and work to get back to your routine as quickly as possible. 

Forming new positive habits can be difficult if we don’t actively work on making it stick.  Some habits are naturally stickier than others.  If you find you want to build a habit that isn’t naturally sticky, then start small, remain flexible, and take on a lenient mindset to utilize the repetition necessary for improvement.