When Do We Talk About Systems?

Seth Godin on the systems hiding behind the problems we face:

Your back hurts and you think you need surgery to help with the pain.

[When can we talk about the technique you use when you go running every day?]

Your employee shows up late regularly. How can you get them to care more?

[When can we talk about your hiring and leadership approaches?]

There’s racial injustice and unfairness all around us.

[Can we talk about persistent indoctrination around caste?]

We spend most of our time focused on problems because frankly, there are a lot of them. Problems are common and often immediate:

How do I pay this bill on time? What do I do about this pain I’m feeling? How do I resolve this argument with my spouse?

Because problems are sitting right in our faces, demanding that we solve them, we often give much less thought to the systems which generated (and will continue to generate) those problems).

Systems are the rails that guide our lives, problems are the fallen trees or mudslides that occasionally block them. Tackling immediate problems is, of course, necessary. But changing the tracks that our systems put us on is usually a better-though more demanding-use of our time.

The Habit Dip

A great piece on Leo Babauta on something he calls the “habit dip”:

This dip is something everyone faces when changing habits: we lose motivation, we get discouraged, we encounter difficulty, we lose focus because other things get in the way, we get sidetracked by life.

This is something I’ve found to be a challenge not just in building new habits, but in in creative and business ventures too. At some point your initial momentum starts to fade, the project still doesn’t have enough momentum to move under its own weight yet, and the temptation to stop pushing, or at least to stop pushing as hard, becomes increasingly difficult to resist.

As Leo points out, this is is also an important opportunity for learning and growth. Ultimately, dips are inevitable in life, no matter what we’re doing. Each time we face one, we teach ourselves to get better at overcoming them, or we each ourselves that giving up is the best option.

When things are going well, everything seems easy, and you just have to keep doing the same thing. There isn’t a lot of learning there.

But when things are hard, you have to face the difficulty if you want to keep going, if you want to avoid going to your usual pattern of discouraging yourself or quitting.

The dip is where the most learning can be found.

That’s not to say that we should never give up, but to say that the temptation to do so should be treated with suspicion. Sometimes the dip truly is because what we’re doing isn’t working, but sometimes, it’s a sign that another peak is just around the bend.

"The greatest enemy of knowledge isn’t ignorance, it’s the illusion of knowledge."
Why Small Goals are More Ambitious Than Big Goals

When we set goals there’s a tendency to adopt a “Go big or go home” mindset. Goals should be difficult, lofty, ambitious.

Setting goals like this can certainly help us to achieve great things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to be successful. Here, Stephen Guise argues that big goals can be counterproductive to reaching our full potential.

Because of the psychology of smaller goals, you are more likely to adopt a limitless mindset. Not only are you accustomed to overachieving your initial aim (the fundamental idea behind limitlessness), but you lack that upper limit goal that tells you when to stop.

Large goals are an end. Small goals are a beginning.

With my 50 words a day mini habit, I’ve written more than 5,000 words in a single day. (If you knew how lazy I am, you’d find that more impressive.) But I would never had done that much with a larger goal of say, 2,000 words a day. Once I hit that magic number, I would feel immense satisfaction and stop for the day.

I’ve always found that small “hyper-achievable” goals work better for me than larger, more demanding ones. When the goal is so easy that I have no excuse not to do it, I’ll do it, and then I’ll do more. There’s never a time when I’m tempted to make an excuse because the effort required not to fail is so low that’s easy to get started. Then, once I’ve started, it’s easier to keep going.

Success is often about overcoming that initial inertia and small goals are super effective at doing that. String enough of them together, and the sky tis truly the limit.

5 Simple Mindfulness Practices for Daily Life

With life being what it is, starting in the moment can be difficult. Most of us are just too busy moment to moment to actually be in the moment. Luckily, as with anything else, we can develop mindfulness habits, moments when we deliberately stop for a second and take in what’s going oil a conscious way.

Here, Mindful.org brings us five mindfulness practices that we can integrate mindfulness into ordinary activities like exercise, eating, and even waking up:

1. On waking, sit in your bed or a chair in a relaxed posture

2. Take three long, deep, nourishing breath

3. Ask yourself: “What is my intention for today?”

There’s more detail in the full post, but I think this by itself is already a far better start to the day than most of us are getting. Better yet, it doesn’t require a lot of time or any special effort of willpower to do. Best of all, you can do it when you’ve got your full drool-covered zombie face on and nobody will know.

The Choice

Life is made up of choices.In the moment they seem small, but if we repeat them enough, the effects of these tiny decisions can be massive.

This beautiful little video, without a single word and set to the strains of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”, follows the life of an ordinary man as he chooses between working hard or slacking off, going to the gym or sitting on the sofa, eating potato chips and coke, or salad and water for breakfast…ok, both of those are weird choices.

The final message of the video is simple.

Small choices become actions.

Actions become habits.

And habits become our way of life.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to put this one on every time I’m tempted to procrastinate by watching YouTube vide…dammit!

3 Simple Habits for Daily Mindfulness

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that seem the hardest. We’re so caught up with the big, scary urgent tasks that dominate our lives that the smaller, simpler things get lost in the chaos.

But sometimes it’s precisely those smaller things, like taking a moment to take a deep breath, that can make all the difference to the how the rest of our days, and by extension the rest of our lives, pan out.

Here, Henrik Edberg from the Positivity Blog lists 3 ways he reminds himself to stay in the moment. They’re all small, simple things, but sometimes all it takes are a few extra moments of mindfulness to change your experience for the better.

The Ripple Effect Of Small Changes

It’s easy to think that to make a change in your life you need to make huge sweeping changes to your routine. If you want to lose weight you need to eat nothing but salads. If you want to be more spiritual you need to meditate for an hour every day. If you want to get fit you need to spend even spare moment in the gym.

More often than not, these impossible standards end up becoming reasons to give up on your goals. More importantly, they’re not necessary. Stephen Guise talks here about the power of small changes to have a big impact on our lives. And the fact that this effect works in both directions:

When you’re frustrated with an aspect of your life, your mind will probably jump to big, sweeping changes you could make to improve it. But I encourage you to look at small changes instead. They are easier to make, more likely to stick, and have a large ripple effect that can bring about the bigger change you hope for.

5 Easy Ways To Build Superhuman Self-Discipline

It’s easy to believe that we have to brute force self-discipline. That our willpower has to be like a block of iron that we hammer our desires into shape with.

But it turns out there’s an easier way; control your environment. It’s the same logic that says don’t keep alcohol in your house if you’re trying to cut down on the booze or don’t keep cigarettes in your car or your desk at work if you’re trying to quit smoking. It’s not just common sense, this is clinically proven to work:

There’s a study that I mentioned in the book, from Massachusetts General Hospital. They went into the cafeteria at the hospital and they added water to all of the fridges and they also added some of those little rolling carts that have water in them by the food stations in the cafeteria. And that was all they did. They didn’t talk to anybody. They didn’t motivate anybody. And then six months later, water sales are up by 25%, soda sales are down 11%.

And I always think that’s interesting, because if you were to go up to nay person in that room and be like, “Why are you drinking a Coke?” they’d be like, “I wanted a Coke!” “Why do you have water?” “This is what I felt like having!” But the truth is some percentage of them chose it just cause it was obvious, just because of what ne environment nudged them toward.

We’re more sensitive to ur environment than we might think. SO if you’re trying to maintain a new habit, think about the things in your environment that you could change to make things easier for yourself.

The Habit Scorecard

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about habits here, and for good reason. Habits are the single biggest influence on our health, wealth and happiness.

Yet most of us spend very little thinking about our habits beyond, possibly, the very worse ones. James Clear suggests that we take all them a little more seriously. The idea behind a habit scorecard is to take an inventory of all our habits. All of the things that we do so automatically we’re barely aware of them. That way, we have the opportunity to decide whether they’re worth sticking with.

One of our greatest challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing. This helps explain why the consequences of bad habits can sneak up on us. We need a “point-and-call” system for our personal lives. That’s the origin of the Habits Scorecard, which is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior.

Why Habits Form And How To Build Them.

There’s an old saying that goes: “We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” As children we haven’t had time to develop habits. Everything we do is a learning process. Every situation is new and difficult and requires our active attention.

Over time however, we figure out how to deal with some of those situations in a way that resolves them; or at least frees us from the anxiety of thinking strenuously about them. If we continue to rely on these strategies they eventually become automated and lo and behold; a habit is formed.

Whether or not this is a good thing depends on the nature of those habits, and in the video above, What I’ve Learned explores how habits are formed and the benefits of learning how to direct the formation of new ones consciously:

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, analysed two groups of kids struggling with their grades. One group was taught that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neutrons in their brain would form new, stronger connections, and over time they would get smarter.

The kids who were not taught this growth mindset lesson continued to show declining grades, but those who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades. Carol says this kind of improvement has been shown with thousands and thousands of kids, especially with struggling students.

One I adopted this kind of growth mindset towards building habits, habit building started to actually feel fun. As Carol puts it, I used to be gripped in the tyranny of now, and not able to appreciate the power of “yet”.

Habits, whether good or bad, have an enormous impact on the course our life takes. Perhaps more than any other factor they govern our health, our career, even our sense of self-worth and the quality of our relationships. Our habits make us. So we do well to choose them wisely.