A benefit to using the systems and habits approach to improvement is that after a time when your routines get off track, you can more easily get back on track than if you relied solely on effort to reach a goal.
Because the focus is on developing routines and habits that move you towards your goals, after a long holiday weekend or after having the flu for several days, those habits tend to be there ready to be utilized again. It takes less time, then, to get back into the routine and have those habits driving behavior again.
Everyone tends to have ups and downs in their improvement program. Some days it seems easy to follow the new exercise plan or financial budget but other days it seems impossible. This is normal and further proves why we have to focus on the ingrained thoughts and behaviors that determine what we do instead of always expecting motivation or willpower to always be “on”.
These ingrained thoughts and behaviors are incredibly important during these times when motivation seems to disappear. You will start to make decisions where you don’t even completely notice the thoughts driving the decisions. You will behave based on ingrained habits that you might not even notice.
So if you find yourself off-track after a long weekend or some other disruption, get back to the fundamentals of the systems and habits approach to improvement. Don’t stress about how far you slipped, instead start where you are and focus on small steps to get you back.
Using the set the minimum technique is very helpful here. By starting very small and setting a small minimum amount of something to do, you slowly ease yourself back to the positive routines. Instead of using all-out effort to try and out-do each day, you keep it small so that the focus is only to accomplish this small piece.
After the small piece is accomplished, it is much easier to keep going and adding more. If we don’t follow the rules for setting the minimum we can quickly see that our all-out effort yesterday is now a deterrent today. We think, “There is no way I want to do that again.”
If, however, we change the following day to go back to the very small minimum that we set, we make it much easier to keep going. Because we can keep going we can have enough repetitions to form new habits and routines.
This is an example where effort can sabotage our attempts at improvement. In this case we likely have no idea what we are doing to ourselves by trying to keep pushing harder and harder. So we end up just blaming ourselves for not having enough motivation to keep going. But that is misleading.
If you find yourself stuck after getting off-track, get back to the basics of systems and habits improvement. Set the minimum and start small. Whatever it is, make sure you get back to better actions as quickly as possible so the off-track behaviors don’t become the new norm. They will soon form new habits and routines and grow in their power over time. The sooner you attack them the more likely you will quickly overcome this misstep and get back on track.