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The systems and habits approach to worrying less

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.  

The systems and habits approach to worrying less

Scott Miker

We all worry at times.  Sometimes we worry that our job is at risk and sometimes we worry that a new illness is something more than a cold. 

While everyone has moments of worry, some people worry more than others.  I used to worry about everything and it consumed my life.  At the time it felt like this was something I had no control over and just had to cope with. 


Why do we worry?

Part of the worry we all feel comes from our biology.  In Start Here, Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing, authors Eric Langshur and Nate Klemp, PhD talk about this worry that we feel. 

They say, “In addition to impacting memories, our brain’s negativity bias shapes our projections of the future.  Our brain is constantly running simulations about what might happen to help us anticipate future dangers that might threaten our survival.  It’s what keeps us awake at three a.m., churning through future worst-case scenarios.  In prehistoric times, it might have been helpful to think through how best to escape from predators, but in modern life this biologically driven tendency can leave us worrying about a disagreement with a coworker or imagining increasingly far-fetched, worst-case scenarios about life’s challenges (money, job, spouse, status, or reputation).”

It wasn’t until I starting reading a lot of motivational books that I started to evaluate my own levels of worry and realized how they were actually interfering with my ability to succeed.  Me worrying that something bad might happen, made it more likely that something bad would happen! 

As I started to discover this I also started to explore ways to change my natural thought-processes.  In Start Here the authors emphasize that we all have control over this and can change.  But they strongly emphasize that it isn’t a sudden change, like turning on a light switch.  Instead it is a long process of slowly changing the way we process information and form thoughts in our heads. 


Start to improve

So what can you do if you find yourself in a state of worry that you know is hurting your ability to succeed?  Being able to recognize it is a great first step.  Without this awareness you won’t even know that this is happening and you will continue to feel like a powerless victim instead of a participant in the system. 

We have to start to do things that slowly change how we habitually worry.  We have to be able to spot worry early and change the narrative.  We have to be willing to take action at times.  We have to be able to calm our mind and think through situations without the negativity bias. 

The systems and habits approach is a great way to tackle this issue.  It uses very small steps and then turns them into habits so they become more automatic the more we do them.  Then as they form into solid behaviors, we add more and more until we start to see the results we desire.


Improvement areas

There are many steps that can be utilized using this approach.  Here are a few:

Watch and read the news less

The News is filled with negative stories and horrible tragedies.  We feel we have to stay plugged in to be informed, but the news focuses solely on the worst of the worst, rather than an accurate assessment of the world.  If we can limit the intake of this negative information, it can help us see things as more balanced. 

Read more uplifting books

Getting in the habit of reading positive books can have an incredible benefit.  Instead of falling into negative thinking, the insight these books provide can start to shift the way we think about things.  Many times this starts to happen without us even knowing that it is happening.  We start to make connections to this positive information streaming through our heads instead of falling into negative patterns of thought that we all seem to be born with.

Learn how to relax

Utilizing Yoga, breathing techniques, tightening and relaxing of muscles, stretching, exercise etc. helps us learn how to relax.  I started using a technique where I sit or lay back and focus on my breathing.  Then I tighten my lower leg muscles and then relax them.  Then I move to my upper legs muscles, then my arms, then my stomach, then my face and head etc. 

It wasn’t until I started doing this that I realized I was walking around clenching several muscle groups.  All day long I was tense and never realized it.  By “feeling” what it feels like to relax the muscle I started to be able to do that without tensing the muscle first, but if I didn’t take that step initially I would be oblivious to the fact that I was walking around like I was in a minefield waiting for a threat to pop out at any second. 

An interesting thing happened around the time I started doing these relaxation techniques.  I had always wanted to be able to sing so I started vocal lessons.  I started to realize while doing vocal warm-up exercises I always help my diaphragm clenched instead of relaxed (muscles in our stomach/belly area). 

Because of this insight, I was able to make changes.  I would be at work and suddenly relax these muscles.  At first it felt strange, like I was pushing my gut out.  But it kept me focusing on keeping my body relaxed instead of tense all the time.

Learn to judge less

I used to judge everything.  I would slap a label on every situation and everything that happened to me.  I would say something was good or bad based on my perception of it.  But then I started to see that good things would come from bad situations and vice versa.  I started to realize that good and bad always exist together.  Slowly I stopped being so judgmental and instead would see that it is what it is. 

Surround yourself with positive people

We can’t always choose the people we want to be around.  We get paid to work and usually have to work with people that we didn’t choose to work with.  We also can’t change our family members and many times we have groups of friends with some people we don’t necessarily like being around. 

But we actually have a lot more power here than we probably realize.  We can start to avoid people that have a negative influence over us.  We can focus more on those around us who exemplify the happy, content lifestyle we are after and avoid those that always criticize and complain. 


Putting it into practice

The authors of Start Here emphasize the fact that we can’t just change these ingrained ways of thinking and behaving overnight.  It takes time.  But most people refuse to work on improvement in these areas despite the significant benefits that can be obtained. 

The systems and habits approach is a perfect method for slowly changing these areas.  We can use the Set the minimum technique to start reading some positive books.  We can focus on progress over perfection in relaxing our muscles to help slowly be able to relax instead of expecting to never again get tense.  We can remain flexible in who we spend time with so that we can carve out more time with positive people and less time with critics and complainers.  We can find distractions and other things to occupy our time when we normally turn the news on or pull out our phone to check the latest horribleness that occurred somewhere in the world.

Slowly, over time, we can make significant progress and start to shift how we think.  We can quiet the negativity bias and replace it with a recurring stream of positive thoughts.  We can start to see reality as both positive and negative and stop getting too caught up in judgment, which really doesn’t change anything except in our minds.  Doing this uses the systems and habits approach to improvement to tackle our worry habits so that we ultimately start to worry less.