The systems and habits approach to improvement gives us a general way to go about improving any aspect we choose. We can get better in any number of areas as long as we follow the general systems guidelines to build the right structures, patterns, routines, and habits in our life.
One of the major differences between this approach and others is that other approaches rely almost exclusively on effort and motivation. The systems and habits approach uses much less effort and motivation and is more concerned with consistency.
Here is an example. One of the techniques is called setting the minimum. In setting the minimum we are trying to build a new habit. We aren’t trying to crush a goal or reach some great new height.
So if we want to get healthy and lose weight we can set a minimum to do a daily, short exercise routine. We don’t want it to be difficult. The easier the better.
The reason we want it to be so easy is so that we stick with it enough to start to wire into our brain the pattern. Over time it will become easier and more automatic to stick with this new routine.
The harder we make it in the beginning the more likely we are to quit before it becomes habit. And those first few workouts are meaningless. Nobody lost weight and got healthy by working hard for a day or two.
Over time, as these new behaviors turn into habits, we do them more and more without thinking about them. We can slowly add more to them and grow our routine. But initially the focus is solely on starting and staying with a new routine. We do everything we can to achieve that goal.
I am big fan of the author and speaker, Dr. Wayne Dyer. Dyer has a great communication style that offers insight and wisdom in an understandable voice.
In one of his books he evaluates and explains the ancient text, the Tao Te Ching. The book is called Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life. The parallels to the systems and habits approach to improvement can be found throughout the book.
In one section in particular he talks about using less effort to achieve more. The section is called “Accomplish much by trying less.” He says, “Effort is one piece of the whole; another piece is non-effort. Fuse these dichotomies, and the result is effortless action without attachment to outcome.”
In other words, we can start to move towards our goals without fixation on the goal! We can separate from the outcome we desire and instead work the process to move forward, inching closer to our goal as we do.
It is paradoxical. It seems to be opposites, either we should work towards our goals with effort or we don’t work towards our goals. But as Dyer points out, there is a way to sort of floating along working towards our goals by continuing to take effortless action.