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How to build a system that sustains

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.  

How to build a system that sustains

Scott Miker

There are three elements to a strong system.  First, it has to be simple.  Second, it has to be sticky.  Third, it has to be self-regulating. 

Simplicity is a key to a system being able to sustain because the more complex it is the more likely steps will be forgotten or skipped.  If it is complex, it may never even get going because the complexity would be a deterrent for someone trying to take on the system. 

Being sticky means that the system is hard to stop following.  It has a quality that makes it easier to follow the system than to stop or quit the system. 

Self-regulating means that the system can be sustained over time.  This means that it is cyclical and doesn’t have a break point.  

The example I use to show these factors is to look at smoking.  Smoking is a strong system with a bad outcome.  But it is a strong system because it has all three elements to a strong system.

Smoking is incredibly simple.  It doesn’t take much in order to learn how to smoke.  There aren’t classes or training to start smoking and most people can pick up smoking without much effort. 

Smoking is sticky primarily due to its addictive nature.  Not only are there habits being reinforced with each cigarette but the nicotine creates an addiction and makes quitting very difficult due to the physiological effects. 

Smoking is also self-regulating.  There is a clear indication that one needs to buy more cigarettes and I’ve certainly never heard of a smoker that quit because they just forgot to buy another pack.  The cyclical nature of smoking and buying more as the pack gets used makes it self-regulating; there isn’t anything external that needs to happen to remind us to keep going with the system. 

So if we want to use the power of systems in order to achieve our goals and strive to build systems with good outcomes instead of bad outcomes we have to understand these three elements. 

Our goals have to be simple.  We can’t have complex goals that leave us more confused on how to actually achieve the goal.

The goals have to be self-regulating and have a clear cyclical structure to keep going and going.

But most important is that they have to be sticky.  We can’t rely on addiction to make positive goals sticky, so we have to explore other ways.

One of the best ways that I have found to make positive systems sticky is to perform them over and over and over again.  The repetitive nature builds a habit.  Once a behavior is a habit it starts to happen automatically. 

The best habits are the simplest ones.  That is why starting small and building very small steps and then systematizing them (turning them into habit) can be a powerful approach.  It leverages time so that over time they become more and more powerful.  Then we work to add more small steps or make iterative improvements while still focusing on doing it long enough to become habit. 

In order to build positive systems in your life start to realize the three important elements to a system and build new behaviors with those elements in mind.  Make sure to account for each and you can start to build lasting systems in your life and help take you where you want to go.