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Make improvement fun

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.  

Make improvement fun

Scott Miker

When it comes to improving some aspect of your life, you likely view it as a chore. Whether it is to lose a few pounds, save more money for retirement or go back to school for more education, the necessary work is probably not one that excites you a great deal.

This is normal. This also signals that we have certain mental models around this subject that are probably taking us in the wrong direction. Part of the structure that we have built to be in the position we are in, is due to these mental models.

This can make it more challenging than it needs to be. Instead of just trying to change behaviors, which is difficult enough, we also have to change how we think.

For example, I was at work the other day and someone offered me some birthday cake. I normally have a rule to only eat healthy items during the week but I also try hard to make sure I accept people’s gifts and offerings. I find it useful to accept a gift or offer of help to sustain and grow relationships.

So I had two conflicting thoughts. The thought that won out was actually a third. The cake looked REALLY good.

I ended up scarfing down the cake in minutes with a big smile that turned to guilt about 10 minutes after I finished.

But this instance is a great example of a behavior that can prevent me from reaching my health goals if it forms a pattern. Do it once and it isn’t a big deal. Do it a couple times a week and suddenly the extra few hundred calories add up to thousands of extra calories every month.

So whenever we want to improve some aspect of our lives, we will come into conflict with mental models that seem to go against our goals.

One thing that I have found useful is to start really small and start with something at least partially enjoyable.

I experienced this about 15 years ago. At the time I hated to exercise. I thought it was a waste of time and uncomfortable. I felt life should be enjoyable and exercise made me miserable so I avoided it.

But there were times when the guilt around my extra weight pulled me towards a desire to start exercising. So I would commit to running a few miles each day.

I would usually start out strong from the motivation I felt. But after a day or two the motivation dwindled and my old habits won out.

What changed for me was to change the type of exercise and how much exercise I was doing. Instead of trying to run a few miles each day to start, I started to ride my bike.

I knew that bike riding was considered exercise and as I started I realized that I really enjoyed it, as long as I didn’t push it too much.

So I started out with going for a leisurely bike ride a few times per week. When winter hit I found an old exercise bike and used that for 10 minutes a day.

Because it was such a small step and I enjoyed doing it, suddenly it became easy to stick to these new behaviors. My attitude started to slowly shift as well. The mental models that I held that told me that exercise was a waste of time evaporated when I started to experience the benefits.

I developed a whole new appreciation for exercising. It all started because I found something that I enjoyed and was actually pretty fun. Then I made a conscious effort to start very small and work my way up slowly. This allowed the enjoyment to remain as I built up my ability to do more and more, eventually becoming an ingrained part of my life.