We all go through life trying to make the most of our situation at any given time. Sometimes that means planning for the future. Sometimes that means enjoying the present. Sometimes that means learning from the past.
But doing this over time, I have realized that sometimes I hit the mark and sometimes I completely miss the mark. Sometimes I miss it so badly that my life seems to get turned upside down. It turns into a mess.
During these times, I have learned to stop. I stop what I’m doing to pull my head up enough to see what the heck is going on. What I usually find is a bunch of areas in my life that need to be cleaned up. I drifted away from good systems and habits in an area and I am starting to see the consequences of such a slip.
One of the reasons I am so sensitive to this structure when I notice it, is that this is usually the first glimpse into a feedback loop. Feedback loops are structures that take the output of a system and put it back into the system in the form of an input.
An example could be if we fail a math test in school and then decide it isn’t worth it to study math because you are bad at it anyways. That leads to a poor result on the next exam, which then leads to more of a feeling that it isn’t worth it to study. On and on it goes creating someone who is inept at math.
But if we realize we are starting a reinforcing feedback loop early, we can change it. The earlier we catch it the easier it will be to turn around.
If we realize what is happening after the second exam, we can commit to doing extra work to prepare for the next exam. This might just be enough to get us back on track. If we wait until test 87, then it will be extremely difficult to change any study habits or ingrained beliefs. More than likely improvement efforts will fail initially when we try to take on too much.
So as soon as you realize that an area needs to be cleaned up, stop and commit to breaking the feedback loop. Use the systems and habits approach to improvement to determine the next steps to create a feedback loop headed in the right direction.
In 12 Rules for Life: An antidote to Chaos, author Jordan B. Peterson says about cleaning up one’s life, “Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better?”
I love his approach. Instead of getting sucked in and then assisting the creation of the feedback loop you stop and question what you are doing. This gives you pause and helps to realize that we have options.
We can decide to challenge our current situation and work to improve. We can clean up the areas in life that have gotten messy and out of control. But doing so means taking on a different mindset and working to do the work necessary to become better.