Using the systems and habits approach to improvement, we rely on recurring behaviors to change the course of our lives. We establish new structure, new routines, new patterns, and new systems to guide in the direction that we want to go.
Because the focus is much less on short-term success and more geared towards leveraging time in a way that provides benefit in the long term, we will start to see the small changes we make today grow into powerful new habits in the future.
But we also have to realize that the more we follow the pattern the more powerful it becomes. If we don’t do it enough, then we always risk reverting to our old habits. But if we start to follow these new patterns for years and years they grow incredibly strong. Then when we get off track, it becomes much easier to get back to our positive, deliberately designed behaviors.
Nir Eyal explains in Hooked, How to Build Habit-Forming Products. Eyal states, “For one, new behaviors have a short half-life, as our minds tend to revert to our old ways of thinking and doing. Experiments show that lab animals habituated to new behaviors tend to regress to their first learned behaviors over time. To borrow a term from accounting, behaviors are LIFO – ‘last in, first out.’ In other words, the habits you’ve most recently acquired are also the ones most likely to go soonest.”
This may sound discouraging when you start because the odds are completely stacked against you. This is why the systems and habits approach to improvement starts with incredibly small steps so you can keep going long enough to start to build the new thought connections and automated behavior patterns. Over time these become exponentially more powerful, but initially they are incredibly weak.
The good news is that after years and years of building new habits and solidifying them, they become the more powerful habits that we revert to. When we get off track and follow a few bad routines, it actually becomes easier to get back to the positive habits we have built and hardened over the years.
So following the systems and habits approach to improvement starts to look like the exact opposite of a get rich quick scheme. It isn’t the instant success at all costs marketing ploy that many new programs follow.
We know that our attention spans are short so these immediate result sales pitches are the best way to get a large number of people to buy. This is why that approach is so common. It works to achieve its goals – quick, numerous sales. But it fails to do its stated goal of actually helping people, because we all tend to revert to old, powerful habits if we expect a sudden change.
But slowing down and focusing solely on changing these habits can be very beneficial. We can start to build new habits. We start so small that we don’t see much in the way of results. But done for long enough and the results start to flow.
We rewire our brains and reprogram the automatic responses to fit our idea of success. This helps us grow and improve and become who we desire to be.
Eyal then goes on to say, “For new behaviors to really take hold, they must occur often. In a recent study at the University College London, researchers followed participants as they attempted to form a habit of flossing their teeth. As one of its findings, the study concluded that the more frequently the new behavior occurred, the stronger the habit became. Like flossing, frequent engagement with a product – especially over a short period of time – increases the likelihood of forming new routines.”
Most studies say that within a year dieters gain back the weight they lost and then some. Many alcoholics completing a rehab program go back to drinking within a year.
Therefore, stop trying to rely on short-term changes. Set the goal to be to do something for the next 21 months, instead of the next 21 days. This means we have to make that thing that we do very easy and small. Otherwise we won’t be able to do it long enough for it to take hold and change our future. But if we do this we can start to rewire our behaviors to match where we want to go.