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Do what you can

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.  

Do what you can

Scott Miker

When it comes to designing systems and habits in your life, you will likely get to a point where you can’t continue with your systems.

For me it came when I found out that I had a hernia that needed surgery to repair. I was told to limit any lifting to 15 lbs or less. I was told to reduce exercise to only basic walking.

These instructions were specifically before I had the surgery. Afterwards, I was to limit lifting to 10 lbs or less (slightly over the weight of a milk jug). I was told that it would be 6 weeks before I was 100% and could go back to exercising at the same rate that I had been prior to the injury.

At first I ignored some of the advice. I continued to exercise. I limited it significantly but still exercised every day. About a week or two before surgery I finally shut everything down and forced myself to rest.

The first day I woke up to my alarm and realized I didn’t actually have to get up filled me with a happy feeling. I realized I could sleep in compared to my normal routine of waking up early enough to get a good workout in prior to leaving for work.

For a couple days I was happy to hit snooze and get an extra hour or so of sleep. But soon it became normal to sleep in later. What I missed was the “wake-up” feeling I get from exercise. Instead of getting my blood flowing and my mind tuned up in the morning, I woke up groggy and it took a while to fully wake up.

It seemed like the week before surgery took forever. By the time it arrived, I felt as though it had been months since I worked out.

After surgery I started to slowly get back to normal. It took less time than I expected but I was worried if I pushed myself too hard I could damage my body causing more time away from exercising.

I started walking and moving as much as possible without any heavy lifting. I started to try to wake up at an earlier time but it was difficult with nothing to do.

I finally decided to get back to my routines and just sit on the bike instead of exercising. It seemed strange at first but actually started to have a great benefit. I could continue with my other systems (listening to positive music, reading, writing etc.).

I quickly found that this might not give me as much energy as it would had I done a full workout, but it did help me get mentally prepared for the day. I could keep my systems going enough that as soon as I was told I could exercise again I could easily change my routine very slightly to get back on track.

The only change would be to pedal instead of just sitting there. Everything else would be the same. I would wake up at the same time. I would listen to music and read just as I had been doing.

To me this is demonstrates the flexibility of systems. Most people hear about systems and assume it means a very rigid approach but this isn’t the case. We can tweak our systems in all sorts of ways. The reason we typically don’t is because we have developed systems that work.

When you have systems that work, why change them? You may experiment to see if there is a better way but otherwise, why change something that is working?

If you have been using systems for a while or are fairly new to the concept realize that there is great power in using systems to improve, even if it means you have to adjust to keep them going. But the more consistency you have the better you will be to continue to improve by using the right systems and habits.