Using the systems and habits approach to improvement, we have to be willing to try different, new tactics in order to succeed. We can’t just keep doing what we currently do; otherwise we end up with exactly what we have.
But change can be scary. We are wired to find the dangers first, and then the opportunities second, and only if no danger is present.
This made sense when we were cave people wanting a piece of fruit but making sure the area was clear of saber tooth tigers before retrieving the fruit.
This also makes sense today in a lot of situations. We want to make sure we don’t invest money in a get rich quick scheme that is known to take our money and provide no actual benefit.
We can quickly see the next pyramid scheme or con artist coming from a mile away. We can learn to see why a new business will fail or why someone can’t possibly fix a problem they are having.
But this doesn’t do any good to the person who wants to improve. In fact, what this does is it starts to list all of the reasons that we will fail. As bad as it is to do this, it does it all before any real action has even taken place! We haven’t taken step 1 but we can see that at step 4 we will hit an obstacle that will crush our efforts and knock us all the way back to start.
This seeps into our subconscious thoughts and suddenly we start doing this out of habit, without even realizing that we are mentally stacking the deck against our own success.
Once it becomes an ingrained habit, we become closed off to new opportunities. We assume we know that failure will come if we try something new. But this isn’t some newfound truth and can lead us away from improvement and success because of a fear of what could happen.
In Brain Briefs – Answers to the Most (and Least) Pressing Questions about Your Mind by Art Markman, PhD and Bob Duke, PhD, the authors say, “People who are closed don’t really acknowledge that they dismiss things just because they are new. Instead, they find all kinds of reasons why the new thing is a bad idea: It won’t work; it will be too time-consuming; you might make a fool of yourself; it will not succeed, and thus be a waste of time; there are other people who will do it better. You get the idea. New things are a bit scary, so people who are closed respond to that fear by avoiding change, living life as they were living it before.”
But to fully utilize the systems and habits approach to improvement we have to let our actions and behaviors become habit by doing something new or different. In fact, we can’t just do it once. We have to do this new behavior over and over again.
One technique for getting around this is to set a minimum. We find some incredibly small step towards our goal and find a way to keep doing it over and over again. Doing it becomes more important than how much we do or how much effort we put forth. The important aspect is simply that we keep doing it.
We also have to be aware of our propensity to immediately see all of the cons without seeing any pros. This can help us hold off our negative thoughts and assumptions while we search for any possible opportunity.
Doing this over and over we start to see that opportunity almost never comes clearly into focus first. It almost always starts with an idea that it won’t work.
But changing to be able to quiet the cons while we search for pros, gives our brain a chance to get past the initial habitual thought process gravitating towards fear and danger. Soon we can start to see this pattern shift and can start to find more opportunity when previously we saw none.
The systems and habits approach to improvement is a great way to start making progress towards your goals. Of course there is always risk that something won’t work, but there is also opportunity that it will work. The more we can see the opportunity the better equipped we will be to truly evaluate a situation to know the good and the bad.