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When things get difficult focus on the next 5 minutes

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.  

When things get difficult focus on the next 5 minutes

Scott Miker

One thing that always seems to come up when we start to improve through systems and habits is that things get difficult. We may start out fine but at some point an obstacle will come up and things will get harder.

In systems thinking we call this a balancing feedback loop. It often feels like we came to a brick wall and just can’t push through it.

Sometimes this means that there is some resisting force that we need to get past. Many times the best approach to move forward isn’t to try harder and use willpower it is to find out how to reduce the limiting factor.

Let me share an example to illustrate what that looks like. If we start a business and grow it to a level where we can no longer do everything alone, we usually look to hire someone to help.

Doing this is an adjustment and often feels like an obstacle to get over. If we try to power through doing everything alone, it will not be as effective as working to develop better ways to allow others to provide the help needed to grow beyond the individual owner as the sole worker.

Many business got to that level of success by doing everything their way. But now they suddenly have someone else doing the work. Now they have to ease up on the expectation of that person acting exactly as they would act. They have to adjust to make sure the business continues to grow. Many owners successfully overcome this by creating the right procedures and processes for the new hire to make sure it gets done at an appropriate level.

But in our own journey to improve we may find that the balancing feedback loop seems to be stopping us from gaining any real traction. When I was smoking I hit a balancing feedback loop that kept pushing me to smoke.

The force pushing me was habit and was the exact thing I was trying to change. In this instance I needed to reframe my point of reference.

Instead of setting the goal to never smoke again, I simply set small, process goals that focused on shorter time frames.

Instead of tackling every future craving, I learned to focus on the individual craving I was facing.

I would tell myself that I wasn’t quitting forever and would probably smoke again BUT this wouldn’t be the time that knocks me back.

It completely changed my ability to stop smoking. Suddenly I could just tackle one craving, which was significantly easier.

As I did this, the momentum started to build and each time it became slightly easier. I slipped a couple times when a stressful event came up or I was drinking and my willpower took a nap on me.

But with my new approach those weren’t total failures they were simply speed bumps. I could get right back to where I was and could start to build up the momentum again right away.

It could be that you hate exercise and feel uncomfortable as soon as you start jogging. But it could be that you just need to overcome the next 5 minutes. Focus on small intervals, such as the next 5 minutes, to get through the difficult part and start to build momentum. This could be the key to unlocking tons of potential but requires a shift in mindset from trying to solve everything all at once, to tackling little bits at a time.

So the next time you hit a balancing feedback, realize that blindly pushing through is probably not the best approach. Instead reframe it so you focus on the next 5 minutes. This will be easier than trying to push through a brick wall and will allow you to find ways to overcome the obstacle by addressing the balancing force.

When you do this what you are doing is tricking the force behind the balancing feedback loop. By easing up and shortening the frame of reference it loses power. Then you can keep going. This slowly turns into a new habit, one that you can then grow and leverage to gain more and more over time.

Getting past life’s balancing feedback loops can be difficult but it isn’t impossible. It just takes a slightly different approach than the one you might be using.