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You already know what to do

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.  

You already know what to do

Scott Miker

When I talk to people about their goals and aspirations, I often find that feel they just don’t know what to do.  But that isn’t the case.

The more I ask about what it is that they want, they usually state that they should do this or that, but that they just can’t seem to do it enough to see any benefit.  

We have all experienced this.  We may want to get healthy.  We know we should exercise and eat healthy but for some reason we can’t keep doing that over and over enough to see the benefit.  We quit before we can reap the rewards. 

Or we want to better budget our money.  But then we see a great Black Friday deal on a new TV.  Somehow we end up talking ourselves into the purchase. 

Or we want to get a promotion at work.  We know we need to do more networking and get to know more people in the organization.  But we don’t schedule lunches with coworkers because we like to do our own thing at lunch.  We don’t attend networking events because we have to get home to relax and eat dinner.

What people usually realize when I talk to them is that they have an idea of what they should do.  It isn’t that they don’t know what they should do.  Instead it is that they don’t know how to do those things.

The reason is simple.  They sound easy.  From a distance it is easy to think we will start to wake up early and run a couple miles.  But then our alarm goes off and we can’t drag ourselves out of bed. 

Saving money sounds easy.  Networking with coworkers sounds easy.  All of these things sound easy from a distance.  But the closer you get the more likely you are to find it difficult.

There is a concept called the Hot Cold Empathy Gap.  This concept states that when we are in a cold state, things are different than when we are in a hot state.  The cold state occurs when we are talking about doing something in the future.  The hot state is how we feel at the moment when we have to actually do what we said we would do.

So, yes, it all sounds easy… in a cold state.  But in the hot state it is difficult. 

Therefore we have to better understand the hot state.  Yet that is never even addressed.  Again, people know what to do, but they never really break down how they are going to do it.  Why?  Because it seems easy.

If you really want to succeed, you have to be a master at doing the right thing during the hot state.  Anyone can be in a cold state and sound like they have all the answers.  But when things get heated, that know-it-all suddenly realizes the complexity and difficulty and usually quits. 

The systems and habits approach to improvement is all about addressing the hot state.  It is a prescription for how to succeed but doesn’t state exactly what you have to do. 

It says that we have to start slowly and change our habits.  We have to look at patterns and structures more than one-time events.  We have to focus on the process more than the outcome and fall in love with the process. 

We can take a goal such as getting healthy and start by incorporating a few, small steps.  Maybe we set a goal to eat a vegetable at every dinner.  Or we start to pack our lunch instead of hitting up McDonald’s between meetings. 

We focus on the how and detail out how we are going to do this.  It might mean preparation.  In order to avoid the drive-through maybe we have to think ahead and have a premade lunch.  Maybe we have to change how we grocery shop to make sure we aren’t just getting a bunch of frozen dinners.  Maybe we take a cooking class to be able to better prepare nutritious meals, instead of quick fix food options.

The good thing is that there isn’t one specific thing to do.  You can find what works for you.  The bad thing is that there isn’t one specific thing to do.  You have to find what works for you. 

If your goal is to save more money and budget more effectively assuming that you can just stop buying things is ridiculous.  How are you going to stop buying things?  What is changing?

Maybe you can start to use cash instead of credit cards so you can better see where your money goes.  Maybe you can write down every purchase and then categorize to see where you have excessive spending.  Maybe you can pull 10% out of your paycheck automatically so you don’t even realize it is gone. 

Building a career takes time and effort and one area of weakness for many people is networking and building connections.  Maybe you commit to just attending at least one networking event a month.  At first you can just attend and not even talk to anyone.  Over time you can slowly start taking to one person at every event.  Then talk to two or three.  You can start slowly to overcome an area that you need to improve in order to grow your career. 

The process is what is important.  What are you regularly doing towards your goal?  Start here and start incredibly small.  Then turn that into a habit and add more to it.  Over time you will find that structures and mental models in your life start to change. 

So don’t assume you don’t know what to do because you do know.  But what you are missing is the most important part… the how.  Shift your focus to be on how can do what you know you should and you will find that your goals and dreams are within reach.