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Who needs another constraint in their lives? Between jobs, opening hours, taxes, and other rules, systems have a bad rep. Not surprising, they are limiting your freedom.

The magic box

motion gears -team force
photo credit: ralphbijker

But systems aren’t all bad, if you learn to use them well, they can be used to help you attain your goals.

How come?

  • They give a direction, helping you visualize the goal
  • They create space to focus
  • In time, they provide the comfort of a known situation and process

But be careful, not all systems are created equal.

Think outside the box

For a system to be truly effective for you, its goals and limitations need to be clear, which means, you have to look at it from the outside.

No system if all-encompassing, they are all limited. Decide what you want a system for, and look for the limits of the system, so that you are not subconsciously constrained by them.

Let’s take an example. If you want to do some exercise to keep in shape, you know that a certain regularity is needed. Depending on how you feel in your body and mind, you could need to show up once a week, or every day.

Let’s say you decide to run twice a week, every Tuesday and Friday, at 6.30 am, for 30 minutes, before you go to work. So, that’s your system. Sounds good? Take a minute to imagine what its limits are.

Done? Here’s what I came up with:

  • I have to wake up one hour earlier than usual. Can I do it?
  • What happens when I’m tired or don’t feel like running?
  • What if it rains?
  • If for whatever reason I miss one day, do I try to catch up the next day or do I just skip it?

These are all questions which hit the limits of the system. When building a system, you want to make sure that all aspects are covered so it’s effective. For example:

  • Find a running buddy to get support and accountability, it’s way easier to show up when someone’s counting on you.
  • Run everyday (or 5 days a week), so it can become a habit and you don’t have to change your all routine each odd day you planned to run.
  • Decide beforehand the amount of rain you’re willing to sustain, and a contingency plan in case you can’t run, don’t skip!
  • Be willing to change the plan if it’s for a better one long-term, otherwise, you’ll simply destroy the system for a short-term gain.

Every habit or lifestyle decision we make is in its own way a system. I am a vegetarian, my system is that I don’t eat meat or fish, even if they are the only things available (never happened). I trust and depend on that system. I know that when I started, had I tried to be vegetarian, I wouldn’t have been able to cope to the social pressure, but I created a box, a system, then trusted and followed it. It’s been 19 months, and counting.

Create within the box

Now that you’ve built the box, it is time to have fun and be creative. The system is meant to help you show up, and in the long term, attain your goal. But once you’ve showed up, it’s up to you to create whatever you want. You can make a challenge to run 10 miles in 90 minutes, or run slowly for 30 minutes then sprint until you’re exhausted.

If you want to create a system to help you write a book, the system will need to give you both limits (you can’t do anything else for an hour) and a space to create (you have a full hour to create!). You could try to write the worst draft you possibly can on one day, then the best one the next. Make it entertaining.

Me? I’m trying raw food, new ingredients, new ways of preparing and consuming food. I am much clearer on the effects of food on my body and mind. When you try different things, you learn. The system allows you to try.

Love the box

Ultimately, a system helps you show up, it works if you trust it enough to respect and follow it, so that it becomes a dependable part of your life.

Once you depend on a system, you don’t need to worry so much about your goal. If you run three times a week with a partner, each and every week, you won’t worry anymore that you “should” do something to keep in shape, it’ll be taken care of, by the system.

What’s one system that allows you to thrive?