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Just do it

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.  

Just do it

Scott Miker

When it comes to big companies and their marketing campaigns, even the most interesting campaigns tend to become very boring to me after a while.  Maybe it is the fact that I like to root for the underdog and most major TV commercials or corporate slogans come from the opposite of an underdog.

But some seem to stick with me past the airdates of their commercials.  One such phrase that seems to extend beyond the company that used it was with Nike and Just Do It.

I love that phrase.  When it comes to improvement, most people spend more time thinking, dreaming, planning, preparing and debating than actually doing it.  They spend all of their energy in the thinking space but don’t actually do it.

Part of the reason is they experience analysis paralysis.  They analyze so much that they get stuck and don’t feel they can make the perfect decision. 

Part of the reason is that the difficult elements come when you start to take action It means you get past simple fantasy thoughts and get down to doing the fun and the difficult, the things in our comfort zone and the activities that stretch us and move past our comfort zone. 

But without the action component we will never realize any significant improvement.  We always have to extend beyond our thoughts to the actions we take and the routines and behaviors in our lives.

This may seem opposite of what Peter Senge talks about when he explains systems thinking as an iceberg.  He says the top of the iceberg are the events, then below the water level are the patterns and structures, then deeper are the mental models.  He argues that the lower we get the more leverage we have to make a change.

However, changing mental models is much more difficult to do than most people realize.  This doesn’t just include our conscious thoughts.  This includes deeply held, subconscious beliefs, which are hard to access and ultimately change.

 Instead if we start with changing events then make sure we change them consistently over time (patterns) we can slowly start to change the structures in our life.  Once we are doing something it much easier for our mental models to change to accommodate our new behaviors, rather than expecting a change of mindset first. 

There might be more leverage if you can change mental models first, or structures first, but the reality is that most of us should change events first and then look to form new patterns from these changes. 

Therefore it comes down to Just Do It.  Instead of constant analysis or daydreaming, take one tiny step forward.  Then do that same tiny step again.  Then do it again.  Then work on doing it over and over and over. 

What will start to happen is that you are using time to leverage change.  Instead of expecting sudden change and then having to resort to extreme behaviors, you can work on the subtle behaviors that make up the system around that change slowly, solidifying the new routine through time.

This isn’t anything new.  Most people think that much of systems thinking follows common sense.  But it doesn’t follow common behavior.  When it comes to our actions, somehow they seem to have a mind of their own at times. 

We eat the greasy cheeseburger even though we claim to want to get healthier.  We skip the gym to go home and relax after work even though we want to feel better about our appearance.  We book a vacation even though we want to pay off our credit cards.  We quit our job because it is stressful then find the stress around being unemployed is even greater. 

Part of the reason is that the difficult choice in that moment is usually the one that delays gratification and puts us in a better position in the future.  This is difficult because we want everything now.

But this is why the systems and habits approach to improvement is so powerful.  It gets us to find very small steps that we start to take and form into habits.  Then we add more and more positive habits until our life starts to move in the direction we decide, rather than forming due to all of the times we choose instant gratification. 

In The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron, the emphasis on just doing it is very apparent.  Cameron states, “If you are creatively blocked – and I believe all of us are to some extent – it is possible, even probable, that you can learn to create more freely through your willing use of the tools this book provides.  Just as doing Hatha Yoga stretches alters consciousness when all you are doing is stretching, doing the exercises in this book alters consciousness when ‘all’ you are doing is writing and playing.  Do these things and breakthrough will follow – whether you believe in it or not.”

Cameron touches on a very important point that doing is what’s important to gain the benefits.  It can be explained over and over but if you never take the first step to do then you will never be able to improve.  And many times just doing it is what is necessary to get you going and on your way towards improvement.