Looking at things systematically and working to improve slowly over time by focusing on changing habits isn’t a new concept. But too often people confuse systems and habits with rigidity.
But the systems and habits approach to improvement doesn’t mean rigid thinking. It doesn’t mean creativity is absent. It doesn’t result in an inflexible model that ignores realities.
One of the best examples of a systematic approach can be found by looking at the scientific method. Merriam-Webster defines the scientific method as “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and formulation and testing of hypotheses.”
The scientific method has changed the world. Because of the ability to grow collective knowledge systematically, we don’t have to answer the same questions over and over again. We are able to build on previous research. This method results in the vast knowledge the human race has obtained.
But the scientific method isn’t a complete look at the acquisition of knowledge over time. Certainly there are the ideas and hypothesis that the scientific method relies on that encompass creativity and innovative thought.
But to me that is the genius of systems. They allow us to take a creative spark and do something with it. They allow us to leverage our inspirational thoughts and ideas in a way that we can build over time rather than constantly being faced with the same unanswered questions.
For personal improvement this means that we have to find ways to improve systematically. To do this we have to rely on the power of patterns and routines in our lives. We have to leverage habits in a way that allows us to solve a problem and then move on, rather than always trying to solve the same problems over and over again.
But how many of us struggle with a few key areas of our lives that we can’t seem to improve? We may have a difficult time getting healthy, or saving money, or staying in a meaningful relationship.
The answer for me has been to stop looking to instantly change in these areas. If an area continues to bring challenges we have to look at it systematically, like the scientific method does for acquiring collective knowledge.
First we have to observe and research the area we are struggling. Then we have to form a hypothesis (these are our ideas about how to solve the problem). Then we have to systematically test those ideas. We have to find ways to test and see if this change is something that we can do. If it isn’t, that usually means it is too big. Break it down into smaller parts. Then test those smaller parts to see if we can stay with it.
What this does is it forms habits. It helps us develop the right behaviors that will slowly take us where we want to go.
So don’t ignore systems and habits because of a desire to be free and creative. Instead realize the value of using systems and habits to leverage creative inspiration and use it to constantly improve.